Especially in Sunday School, where we tell comforting stories about how Jesus welcomed the little children, but avoid concepts like judgement and atonement because they seem too confronting or difficult (and a bit scary if the parents find out what we've been telling their kids!).
But I've never forgotten the day my Sunday School teacher took out a little book with coloured pages and explained the way of salvation, complete with creation, sin, atonement, justification and heaven, in terms we could understand.
So I was excited to find the Children Desiring God website, which bases its Sunday School curriculum on the conviction that "children can handle deep truth at a young age. We want to fill them with solid Bible truth that will give them a foundation to fall back on when they go through deep waters." Wow!
I had a quick look at the sample lessons and was impressed to find that the study on the flood aims to teach preschoolers, amongst other things, that God knows everything, that people are sinners and can't save themselves, that God is holy and can't tolerate sin, and that God is merciful.
And the material isn't boring, even though (horrors!) it excludes craft as expensive and time-consuming. It uses vivid acted illustrations - substitution is taught to school children using a mess on the floor and a wooden spoon - to provide "an important bridge from what children see and understand (concrete thinking) to what they can't see and find hard to understand (abstract thinking)."
There is some other excellent Sunday School material out there, which takes no short-cuts in teaching children theology.
The best I've seen is The king, the snake and the promise, which gives the big picture of God's saving plan in the Bible. The 10 lessons come with a CD of children's music, and they trace the theme of "God's people in God's place under God's rule" from creation through Abraham and Jesus to heaven. You end up with a colourful banner as a permanent visual reminder of the big Bible story.
Stephanie Carmichael's Teaching little ones is reliable and fun, and covers lots of big Bible themes - like God's character, promises and kingship - for ages 3-5 and 5-8. It's inexpensive and easy to use. We use her material most weeks in our Sunday School.
Convinced of the need for Sunday School material teaching theological concepts, I've also written some of my own.In 2005 I wrote and led a 9-week Sunday School series on Romans 1-8 for primary school aged children. We discussed Christianity with an incredulous puppet, added a new line to our "Good News Rap" each week, and used lots of visual illustrations, to communicate difficult concepts like sin, hell, justification, faith, and atonement. It was fun! Every child took home a laminated book of coloured pages which they had illustrated themselves week-by-week, showing the stages of sin and redemption.
At the moment I'm working on a 10-week series on the Fruit of the Spirit for our little Sunday school (10 kids, ages 5-10, Aussie and ESL). I've decided to explain each virtue - love, joy, peace, patience - using the story of one of God's people, since that's what the Bible often does to illustrate a concept like faith (Romans 4, Hebrews 11). We'll talk about what each virtue means in the Bible, and apply it to the everyday experience of children.
I'll tell you how it goes.
Expect more on the topic of Sunday School over the next couple of days. Tomorrow I'm planning a post on the usefulness - or otherwise - of craft in Sunday School, and on Sunday I'd like to tell you why I've been collecting bad fruit all week.
You can e-mail me if you'd like to see my material on Romans or the Fruit of the Spirit (you'll have to wait for the last one!).