Is there a bookshelf in your child’s Sunday School classroom? If not, maybe there should be. And it matters what’s on it.
In many churches, the Sunday School classroom is the primary worship space for children. It’s where those heroic teachers (who are never recognized enough! Go thank your child’s Sunday School teacher ASAP, please!) introduce our children to Jesus, his stories, and his Way. In many churches, the Sunday School classroom is where our children first experience the delight, growth, challenge, and occasional tedium that comes with worshipping as the body of Christ. So just as we pay careful attention to the elements of the grown-up worship space, so ought we attend to the space where our little ones learn to worship.
And one element of that space ought to be a small, well-edited library. Why? This isn’t exactly school, is it? Well, yes, it is. For some children, this is the only space where they will experience the language, motions, and sounds of worship. For others, it is the space where they learn how to be the church; a beginning tutorial in a lifelong call. And while there are lots of pieces to this — the curriculum, the setup of the space, the sounds and rhythms of the time spent together — having a good selection of quality theological books can enrich children’s worship space.
How so? What are some criteria for ministry leaders and parents who want to select the books that will inhabit a worship space? Since space and resources are always limited this side of the Kingdom, here are some ideas to keep in mind when stocking a Sunday School library:
- In general, books that tell Bible stories well can be a good complement to a Sunday School curriculum. Picture books, especially give children another entrance into the story, another imaginative encounter with something they’ve recently heard. (This is especially important because children vary so widely in learning styles!)
- Books about the church and its worship are also welcome additions to a Sunday School class. They can remind us all (teachers, children, parent aides) what it is we’re doing here week after week. Books like What is the Church or Come Worship With Me help place children’s worship in the big picture of the congregation and the church universal.
- A good story Bible or age-appropriate collection of Bible stories is a must – especially in the younger classrooms. While there’s no substitute for reading Scripture itself with children, no 4-year-old is going to page through a copy of the NRSV. When I’ve been in a Sunday School classroom, I’ve been so thankful for Ella Lindvall’s Read Aloud Bible Stories during those chaotic transition times, or for quiet moments between activities. The children love hearing (and helping re-tell) simple versions of the stories they already know.
- Lastly, what about books that afford moments of real praise together? Books of the psalms, illustrated hymn lyrics, or expostulations of praise invite children and adults to worship together in their very reading. Which is what we’re all there to do in the first place, after all.
Next week, I’ll post a list of suggested titles by classroom age. In the meantime, we’d love to hear if and how your church uses books in its children’s programs. What works? What doesn’t? Any titles you’d like to recommend?