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My Kid & Religion: Part 2 – Sunday School


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This is the second post in a series on My Kid & Religion

Growing up I spent the majority of my time in church. Not only one church mind you. Many churches. My dad was a Christian pastor for many years and my mom was a Sunday School teacher. We moved a lot when I was a kid and spent time at various churches over the years for various reasons. Small churches and mega-churches. Lutheran, Baptist, Vineyard, Nazarene, Missionary, Non-denominational, etc.

Attending Sunday School was fun. I have fond memories of Bible stories teaching me the importance of honesty, good works, and service. I want Wesley to have a similar experience. But when I think about it more deeply I also remember the overwhelming guilt I felt when I would break a rule. I was taught by some of those Sunday School teachers that my very soul was at risk of going to Hell unless I immediately repented to God and asked for forgiveness. Seriously, I remember one time when I snuck an extra cookie for dessert at home as a 5-year-old. I ate the Oreo. It was amazing, but then later that night I remember being in tears over it. I prayed to God repeatedly to forgive me for stealing and hoped I wouldn’t be punished for an eternity in Hell. My parents comforted me and told me I’d be fine, that God had forgiven me but I did didn’t really feel it. We had learned about God’s punishment at Sunday School the previous week and I was full of fear. That is exactly the type of memory I want to spare my son from. What a vengeful and hateful god is that? That’s no way to live. I was only the good kid back then out of fear of God’s punishment.

I was raised to be a good kid. I was taught the rules of life according to narrowly defined and translated views of the Bible and generally followed them. I believed anything my parents or pastors said as the only truth in existence without question as a kid. I began to have questions about my faith in junior high and high school but didn’t express them until I was in my early twenties. My wife had a lot to do with it. We spent tremendous amounts of time talking about our beliefs and dreams for the future before we got married. She didn’t readily disagree with me about any one thing in-particular, but encouraged me to ask questions. She simply wanted me to know why I believed the way I did and to find my own truth. I love her for that.

We tried to find a faith community as a married couple a few different times. Every time we tried, our questions and cynicism were met with less than welcoming responses. The desire to find a church home was there, but we never did find a place we felt fit our beliefs. In all honesty, if we found a church with a great Sunday School program I would strongly consider attending. I want my kid to have those happy memories. If we talk about the stories told each Sunday a nice dialog about morality could start. Or at least I can hope so.

Our culture is so entrenched in dogmatic Christianity. Keeping Wes out of the church might actually put him at a disadvantage when the topic comes up in conversation as he gets older. Abigail and I were talking recently about how deeply rooted in our society Christianity has become. We want Wes to at least know about the Bible. He should be able to counter some of the more obviously false claims people make when they say ‘God says such and such’ and then quotes chapter and verse. I’m just not so sure a church is required for it.

What do you think? Did you attend Sunday School as a kid? What are your experiences with guilt taught from the pulpit and how does it affect you today? Let me know in the comments and on social. 


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  1. yes, yes, yes! thank you, joel for this post. just read pt. 1 &2b wow! you have echoed my story; even down to how my relationship w/ my dad was affected when he came out because of my fundamentalist “leaning” at thr time. my kids are a bit older, but i still struggle w/ all this. i want my kids to have the community experience; just not the guilt & teaching of pleasing an angry god who hates everyone and is just waiting for you to screw up so he can shoot a lightning bolt up your butt…
    thanks again for sharing.

  2. I entered this post with trepidation, because so many times posts with titles similar to this are about how religion is a huge disservice. Give me a sec to breathe a sigh of relief before I dive in.

    I’m sorry that your Sunday School teachers led you to believe that you could go to Hell so easily. I’m sure you know now, but I’ll say it anyway, once you’ve accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior then you are saved. Literally. Saved from Hell, from death, et cetera. And it can be difficult when you feel overwhelming guilt about something, because it’s not like you ask for forgiveness and suddenly you hear a deep booming voice say, “That’s okay, son,” while a hand pats you heavily on the back. So then we have to have faith that God will do what He says he’ll do and forgive us. Many times, having that level of faith is really, REALLY hard. At least, that’s been my experience.

    In regards to something else you said, I can understand why cynicism would be met with a less than welcome response. As a knitter, the moment someone says, “Why don’t you just buy it instead?” my instinct is to shut down the conversation and get away from them. It’s not the best example, but I hope it illustrates my point. Cynical questions make me feel like I’m a moment away from being ridiculed for something that brings me a lot of joy, and no one likes to feel that way. HOWEVER, questions are how we grow as Christians. It’s a good idea to have people that you can ask about the hard stuff without feeling judged. Because there is a lot of hard stuff. If you feel like you can’t ask, I can only imagine that it will severely hamper your spiritual growth. I hope you will keep asking, and I hope that soon you find people who assure you that they want to answer your questions.

    Sunday School is a great idea, so I’ll be praying that you find a program that’s perfect for you. It’s good for socializing – in fact, Mark and I are such shut-ins that without it Conrad would probably only ever be around us and his grandparents. Gross. Not to mention Wesley will eventually study literature in high school and college that will reference things in the Bible, so he’ll be a step ahead of some of his classmates if he can recognize them. Good luck on finding a Sunday School!

    Ugh, sorry for the novel. I typed it on my phone and can’t proofread something this long on it very well, so hopefully it makes sense and there aren’t any egregious errors.

    • No problem. The length simply shows you really thought about the post and it spoke to you in some way. I’m glad it wasn’t what you expected it to be. You are right, I am much clearer on that theology now than I was at 6 years old. I’m just worried my kid might go through the same experience. It was terrible. Obviously. I can remember those feelings now (decades later) with almost the same intensity.

      Your message about the feelings of someone on the opposite end of the questioning makes sense too. Part of that reaction comes from immaturity and questioning of one’s self. Part of it is just human nature. I don’t question to harm anyone, I question out of curiosity and logic. I want to figure things out because what I’ve seeing in Christianity and what I’ve been told doesn’t match up.

      • Funny…I am actually trying to write a Sunday school lesson this morning and while searching for some info, I ran across your message!

        Can I say, THANK YOU!, for asking questions. Every time I crack open the Bible to write lessons for our Sunday school teachers, I freak out…and this is why! I want our kids to be taught actual truth, not religion (in the sense of rules and regulations). I try to handle each lesson with fear and trembling, praying that I give them an accurate representation of their Creator, Lover, and Redeemer. I beg that we teach them in such a way, that they will be excited about having the freedom to ask questions about some of the craziness we read in the Bible. Of course praying the Holy Spirit protects and guides them in their questioning.

        I myself am full of questions as I dive in. Realizing how many “discrepancies” and “odd” stories I find. Yet God continues to amaze me as He teaches me. One of my favorite speakers said, it’s not JUST about knowing the rules, but the principles behind the rules, and I would add…Knowing the Rule Maker–yes He is a just God, but also compassionate.

        Anyway, all this to say, thanks for questioning! Sorry that those questions have cause such issues for other Christians. I know we serve a Big God…with a BIG CHEST…He doesn’t fall off His throne, when we try to search Him and His precepts out. In fact, I think He is honored.

  3. I wish I could invite you to come to our current church. It took some time to find it, and that time was not without pain and discomfort, but I am so blessed right now by the room everyone gives for growing, for questions, for grace. Not everyone is exactly on the same page on every issue, but the focus is on “forming the heart” (the short form of the vision/mission of the church) and on being a community of believers – being supportive, being there for people, being transparent and genuine.

    It’s not perfect, but it’s perfect for where our family is at this point in our lives.

    I think that’s the important aspect of church that sometimes gets little focus. The point of church, whether it’s a formalized church with a building or just a group of people meeting in someone’s house, is to develop that community, I believe. To have people who can support you, accept you as you are while carefully challenging you to walk out your faith or maybe just walk it out better than yesterday.

    Perhaps the answer for the time being is to find a group of like-minded people to meet with regularly. Maybe there is a church out there close to you that has grace for wrestlers. Checking out church vision and mission statements online really helped us narrow down our options.

    • I’m all for finding a group of like-minded people. Perhaps this hashing out of my beliefs online is just preparation for that. I’m not looking for a community of 100% agreement. Nor am I looking for the perfect community. I’m looking for a place to belong. Is that place a church or something else? I don’t know.

  4. I’m so glad that here in Canada we have united churches. Sermons have far less to do with god and far more to do with being a good person. I haven’t yet heard our pastor saying to accept God into my heart. Instead he preaches doing good. He prays for those persecuted for their sexual orientation their gender (trans or otherwise) and prays that one day we will all be accepted as the people we are not the labels society gives us. I grew up in the united church and was very fortunate to feel accepted and loved by the spirit (whatever that may be) and never felt the guilt. My friends I have now went to Christian churches and say that they felt very guilty about everything, and that they would not be loved by god unless they were perfect. Its sad and distressing for me to think anyone may grow up feeling that. I too was always one to ask questions and that was at church camp, and I was very often pushed to the side because of it. I have now put my kids in sunday school, in hopes that it aides in their learning of accepting everyone and to first seek to help others before themselves. I am instilling those values in daily living, but I think that it helps to be enforced by an outside source.


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