If asked to start a new church, Martyn Payne would definitely not include a Sunday school in his plans.
‘My own thinking from more than 40 years as a teacher and working with churches has been challenged,’ said Messy Church team leader Martyn. ‘Like many, I used to accept that the best way to nurture children and young people into faith was to have separate groups for their learning and fellowship. Today, I am increasingly uncomfortable with this inherited proposition.’
He points out how research into children’s spirituality and how adults become rooted in the Christian faith, reveals that both family and other significant adults really make a difference. In other words, a multigenerational approach to faith nurture is something the church needs to rediscover!
‘Of course it was there in the Bible all along,’ continued Martyn, ‘where faith was passed on at festivals as well as family gatherings and definitely not in some special Sunday school arrangement for children or youth group facility for teenagers. The young need to be alongside the old, the old the young – arguably even more so today in our fragmented communities.
‘My own grandparent generation needs to be in touch with how young people and children are thinking – to be stimulated and refreshed in faith through their questions, wonderings and sense of adventure – every much as the young need to see for themselves that God remains faithful throughout all the stages of life.’
Martyn remains excited about Messy Church, which offers a successful model for bringing the generations together on a shared journey of faith.
‘This isn’t the traditional Sunday school way of things with children,’ he says. ‘In fact, were I to be asked to start a new church, I would definitely not include a Sunday school in my plans! There is an argument for some separate age and interest groups but not for the main church gathering, where for me the default must be togetherness. It might be messy but it is certainly the best way to form healthy Christians.’
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