Sunday School: most fruitful area for Christian Education in Vanuatu

by Rev Leinamau Seru

Date added: 28/06/2017

No comments in this article yet.     Start the discussion >>     (You need to log in first.)

Sunday school: the most fruitful area for Christian Education in the                            Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu

By Rev Leinamau Seru, Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu

Jesus called a child, whom he put among them, and said,‘Truly, I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’Luke 9:46-48



Christian Education is understood in this paper as meaning education that has Jesus Christ at the centre of a person’s life. This understanding brings with it a missional hope: the hope of activating a daily, Christlike life in that person.

As today’s life becomes more challenging in Vanuatu, and globally, with broken homes, drugs, domestic violence and other social issues that centre more around adults, I observe that Christian Education in our churches is leaning more towards adult needs than  those of children. An obvious, tangible expression of this is that children are often physically placed behind adults on important church or community events and told to be quiet. As a Gospel statement, this is immediately dubious. Jesus, when needing an example for his adult disciples to learn humility and the ways of the Kingdom, placed a child in the forefront. Perhaps this symbolises a simple way of trusting and believing in Christ without question: something adults would resist? Children are easily influenced and with good teaching and training, they could become potential leaders that could lead effectively and productively in the coming future. Today our churches need to reconsider their direction, if in teaching or focusing on present adults, future adults-to-be are neglected. Investment in children now is for a better future.  

This paper therefore argues that Sunday school; often a neglected aspect of Church community, is potentially the most fruitful area for Christian Education. Children have soft minds and hearts that can be nurtured and trained to be upcoming well behaved, loyal, loving and wise leaders for Christ’s church in the midst of today’s many diversities within Vanuatu and globally. Knowing and trusting Christ at an early age could build and nurture in them the natural gifts they already have to be wiser, humble and trustworthy for Christ and the Church. In Vanuatu we have a saying that goes: When the tree is young, we can straighten it, whereas left as it is, it grows to become strong and cannot be straightened. Familiar advice is given in the Old Testament in Proverbs 22:6 which says, ‘Train up a child in the way she/he should go and when they are old, they will not depart from it.’

Re-visiting Christian Education

Christian Education, although Christ-centered is held within a Trinitarian framework.  It implies being focused on God holistically and sharing faith as an experience of God to others. As Trinity embraces the fullness and wholeness of God, Church embraces the whole community of faith including children as persons integral to the whole. Christian Education in turn embraces more than just teaching and educating in one direction. A holistic approach values learning from those who are taught, however young they are, and using their experience to help others in the same context. What is learnt by the teacher from the taught one could be applied to make a difference where they live especially in a child’s world. The community context for the child is always vital. Thus if they are trained well, they could grow up as As Luke 2:52 says, And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour. The question is if Jesus grew up like Luke said He did in His childhood, why can’t our children grow up like that in the same way gaining favour with God and man? Seymour reflects that:  The goal of Christian Education involves the shaping of attitudes and behaviour which reflects the relationships and decisions of that community in their daily lives and from one generation to the next (1982, 60). The children needs his parents who are directly responsible, the Sunday school teachers and in our Pacific context, the extended family to be role models of a Christlike life for the child to be Christlike.

Children are always in need of contextually relevant teaching, guidance and practice to enable them to move forward in the right direction. Seymour (1982, 15, 59) defines the aim of education as ‘a centring of the person in the world … or the creation of meaning that utilizes all the potential given to each person.’ He emphasizes ‘to build up’, which does not only mean to gather in new members but to also nurture, teach, train and support their faith to grow in Christ. Part of that building up is also about seeing the end results of lessons taught in order to evaluate whether there has been the most appropriate use of tools, materials, resources and time.

Seymour’s ‘building up’ emphasis is helpful to set alongside the Presbyterian Church in Vanuatu’s main Christian Education focus which, presently, is more on the adults. Many tools and materials and a lot of resources and time are exerted trying to teach adults about church traditions and theology. It is fair to ask if this resources and equips adults in their daily contexts and ‘builds them up’? My impression is that Christian Education which majors on theology and doctrine often does not sit well in adult minds if they are a mum, or dad who already has commitments that fully demand their time, thoughts and strength. Partly this is for sheer practical reasons: the difficulty of concentrating on formal education in a church context when the context of daily life is so pressing. And partly because adult minds have become less receptive to new learning. Whereas the children are at the prime of their learning period in that they are going to school each day, doing homework and constantly absorbing. At this time of their lives it is their work to learn and early Christian and theological education sow seeds for life. Churches would be wise not to miss opportunities for early theological education and Christian nurture among the young who have no other commitments or work in the sense of responsibilities. They have the time and the curiosity.

However, it is also wise to consider learning as a process that takes time and effort, however open youthful minds may be. Churches can especially maximise on the creativity to help children learn well, think for themselves and find the truth for themselves. Thomas Groome (1980, 8) says that the goal of the church is to have an open and honest conversation about what Christian Education is, and the church needs to work out what it is doing: re-evaluating and re-visiting its goals and aims. Christian education with a heart to nurture as well as educate the young will want to make sure that children can benefit physically, mentally, spiritually and socially.

Spotlight on Sunday schools

In the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu, this organization consists of children as young as three and up to eighteen years or older, coming together once a week to worship and learn together. This is where the child gets his or her first lessons of theology in learning about God’s Word. It is also the place they start putting into practice what they learn. But to know right from wrong needs the right kind of advice, practice and the discipline of obedience. Children are dependent upon those older than themselves to help them make the right decisions. Marvin Taylor (1976, 68-69) states that children cannot defend themselves from parents, teachers, guardians and so forth because they are still developing and learning to do the simplest things such as what is right and what is wrong (especially in their conscience). It is the parents and teachers who have to pass on the right teachings to their children to carry them on to the next generation; thus faith in God is passed on. In the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) Moses tell the Israelites God’s words as stated, with particular instructions about faith transmission.

‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your hearts. Reside them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on your door posts of your house and your gates.’


Even though socialization is the process that enables persons to become responsible and contributing members of the community, it has to come with the right teaching from the right people as Pazmino Robert (1988, 788-79) states: It is not only a community that shapes or educates an individual, but an individual can shape or educate a community. In the world of the Sunday school, there is ample opportunity for both socialization to contribute to formation and teaching and example of certain individuals. Informal testimony among adult Christians often points to an exemplary person, or a mentor in the faith: possibly a Sunday school teacher, who has influenced them for good in the faith. The ultimate model for Christian Education will always be Christ himself, however, and a Biblical perspective is essential to point people towards Christ as the one to imitate above all. As the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:1, ‘Imitate me as I imitate Christ. According to children, teachers and parents are their role models, presenting Jesus whom they cannot see. Today’s lifestyles and technologies offer frightening quantities of other potential role models, exploiting and bombarding children with all sorts of alternative ‘gurus’ that claim their time, efforts, thinking and discipline. If parents disregard their responsibilities and models as mentors for Christ, children will have no firm foundation of faith in Christ and this will affect the church in the future to come. As Technology grows fast to become the life of today, it is essential that Christian Education which has Christ at its centre, must now weave technology within its framework to be able to accommodate its implications for good and useful work to help teach the children and the church as a whole as in communication skills, Bible in phones, good games for children and internet for good research work and so on.  

(i)  The Christian Education Trainer

            A key question now arises for established Churches and their models of Christian Education. Do institutionalised churches operate in ways that take seriously the high ideals put forward so far and offer practical ways to address them? In the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu’s structure, Sunday school comes under the Christian Education Department along with the Youth Desk. Every home in the community is linked up to a cell group, which makes a congregation, in a Session within a Presbytery going onto the Annual General Assembly. Within every Congregation, Session and Presbytery, there are Christian Education Trainers.

The Christian Education Department organizes camps, retreats and conferences for the children and trains the teachers who work voluntarily, through these CE Trainers. Work reports pass through these different levels to go to the Assembly and right back to the home.

            However, the Christian Education (CE) Trainer has to be trained well and skilfully. The tasks placed before them are immense. There is now a need to link the children, teachers and parents together so that evaluation of present operations can be done in an open and honest way in the different contexts in each place. The Pastor in the parish has always been the usual CE Trainer but due to too many commitments, another may be chosen to do the work. How are they selected and with what training and resourcing? It is particularly complex and complicated at times when people move to other places, thus jeopardizing the consistency.

            An important aspect of the CE Trainer’s responsibility is to be with the Sunday school teachers when they meet before Sunday to prepare lessons, talk about the main lesson, decide on what choruses to sing, (teach a new one) how to present the memory verse and so on. The teachers share the different parts of the program to which all gather together for about half an hour, before splitting up into classes to be taught and do activities. After the Sunday school lessons on Sunday, he/she meets up with the teachers to check on roll call, next Sunday’s lesson and encourage the teachers for their next get together. Since the teachers are voluntary, the CE Trainer encourages them in their faith and work for Christ by running studies, going through the lesson plans, explaining some teaching aids and methods to help them do their job well. Creativity is always encouraged. Here is one example outline:

(ii)  Sunday school programme





7:00 - 7:30am

Sing along of choruses with actions or learn a new one

Teacher in charge



Welcome and opening prayer

Teacher responsible


7:35am - 7:45

Review of last week’s lesson and with children

Teacher responsible


7:45 – 8:00am

Creative presentation of new lesson and the new memory verse

Teachers responsible


8:00 – 8:05am

Chorus, Offerings and prayer

Children responsible


8:05 – 8:10am

Announcements, closing chorus and prayer

Teacher in charge


8:10 – 8:15am

Go into classes

Teacher responsible


8:15 – 8:40am

Roll call, lessons in class & activities

Teacher responsible



Close with chorus and prayer

Teacher responsible



An evaluation is done each week on the children’s progress and a certificate given at the end of every year to encourage and prepare the child for the next level. In cases of absence, the class teacher investigates offering encouragement and prayer, likewise the teacher, whom the Superintendent visits.

On Sunday afternoons there are activities to help the children perform confidently in doing Child Evangelism. God’s words coming from a little child may be very effective and can attract and help adults, the elderly and other little children, for they are forthright in manner, honest and very generous. When children understand clearly what the Gospel is all about they can prove themselves to be talented preachers and missionaries. There are gatherings for each congregation, and at the Presbytery level, and a 3 year convention is held for teachers and children to fellowship and meet up to evaluate their work and change or improve if the need arises.

(iii) Sunday school curriculum

            There is a committee in my Church, the PCV that writes and discusses the lessons before the teachers use them. The urban area context is different from the rural area, because [i]Bislama is used. Our rural areas use their own languages, but our lessons are from the Bible and are in line with our Church Yearly Calendar and lectionary to coincide with events happening at certain times like Easter and Christmas or community events. There are usually thirty lessons in a book for the whole year and teaching skills are taught. However, due to our many different languages, it is hard at times to translate what we have put into Bislama into one’s own language for we need good translation that clarifies the Gospel message so that it is taught well and grasp with good clear understanding so that a positive response could be made in evaluation.

There is also the need to have a special focus concerning children and the community on social issues today to be addressed so that the child can make the connection between God’s word and what it says about the current Vanuatu or Pacific issues happening around them as in climate change, or violence and so on at an appropriate age level. Also how much critical thinking and questioning is allowed in the curriculum is essential, and the need to know about the children’s rights and human rights is important to construct a curriculum that will help the children, teachers and the parents to be aware of the bigger picture and how to work together for the child to understand which direction they are going. However, Christian Education is not only about giving answers or solutions to problems, but it is also about allowing space for the child to think, question and maybe critic in order to learn and understand.  


Creativity in lessons gives the children an opportunity to learn on their own with understanding, like using drama, miming, games, etc. For example: In the creation story, we buried a teacher in the sand drawing a man’s figure on it without letting the children know that someone was in there. Another teacher told the story and breathed into the sand which rose up to become ‘Adam.’ At first this shocked the children because they thought the sand had come alive! But it made a big difference to their learning: more than just listening to the story being told.

The PCV Five-Year-Development Plan for Sunday school (2013 - 2018)

This plan started in 2004 and is being reviewed every five years focusing on 4 major areas - Mission (Inward and Outward), Educational, Health and Social Services. Sunday school is placed within the ‘Inward’ Mission. (PCV Five-Year-Development Plan 2004, 8-9). This paper acknowledges the practical contributions that this structured plan is already making towards the investment in children and young people as the most fruitful area for Christian Education and offers this assessment.

 What the plan has achieved so far:

  • ·         Sunday school children are included in the 10am worship on Sunday mornings.
  • ·         All congregations have their own Sunday school and provide teachers for their children. Certificates, teaching resources and materials for Sunday school, Bible class and Junior Youth are provided.
  • ·         Training for Sunday school Teachers is ongoing with encouragement for long term teachers and the use of resource people.
  • ·         The relationship and network between other Sunday schools from other congregations and sessions are strengthened so it is possible to exchange classes sometimes to allow different learning environments with different teachers.
  • ·         Parents encourage their children to attend Sunday school, Bible class and Youth.

However, the issue of creativity and language in context invite further work, as assessed below.

What is still to be achieved:

  • ·         Each Congregation has to develop their own Sunday school resources and materials suitable for their children, especially catechism (Groome 1980. 26) in their own languages (rural area).
  • ·         More workshops are needed to teach new teachers coming in to be creative and have the desire to love and teach children.
  • ·         Sunday school teachers work voluntarily.
  • ·         Translation of overseas material need to be done according to [ii]our context.
  • ·          The relationship between Sunday school, parents and the church must be nurtured for the outcome to be effective in training and teaching the child holistically.
  • ·          Sunday schools need to have their own place rather than use the Church building.

It can thus be evidenced that Christian Education is being restructured and resourced somewhat in the PCV which is vital at this time. But despite the many programs and training opportunities held, and the achievements listed above, there are weaknesses within not just the PCV system, but the human condition and wider society which remain and invite attention. Some are identified below.


  • ·         Teachers need to know Christ personally before teaching Him to others
  • ·         Most Pastors are not involved with or committed to the vision of Sunday school
  • ·         Too much kava drinking destroys family worship and quality time together
  • ·         Parents need to support their children not to stop after Bible class but to go into Junior youth class. A lot of children leave Sunday school too early.
  • ·         Translators need thorough training to put SS lessons into their own vernacular
  • ·         Retreats for parents or families are much needed for awareness and encouragement
  • ·         Urban drift has separated children from their traditional culture, knowledge and values


Overall, this paper presents the PCV structure positively. It generally works well in evaluating the progress of Christian Education in all areas and creates space for children in Sunday school. Skills and creativity are taught and the use of local materials or resources encouraged. There is the community spirit of ecumenism in our children’s ‘get-together’ events which are lively and encouraging, especially where other faiths are involved

Our Christian Education Mission statement in Vanuatu states that Christian Education is the church’s ministry of teaching God’s message of salvation in Jesus Christ and of what God is doing as it affects individuals and Community life. It is a ministry that seeks to lead people of all ages into a life of service, liberation and development of the whole human being in all areas of life (Regenvanu 1972, 1).

When invested in properly, through human and practical resources, children can exemplify the ideals of this ministry. They themselves can be great missionaries for Christ, grown in the fertile soil of excellence in Christian Education.


Rev Leinamau Seru


Anthony, J Michael. (ed.) 1992. Foundations Ministry: An Introduction to Christian Education

for a New Generation. Grand Rapids: Michigan. Baker Academic.

Groome, H Thomas. 1980. Christian Religious Education: Sharing our Story and Vision.

Cambridge: London. Harper & Row, Publishers.

Pazmino, W Robert. 1988. Foundational Issues in CHRISTIAN EDUCATION: An

           Introduction in Evangelical Perspective. Grand Rapids:

Michigan. Baker Book House.

The Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu. 2004. The Five-Year-Plan for the Presbyterian Church.

Port Vila. Christian Education Department.

Regenvanu, Sethy. 1972. Christian Education in the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu. Port

Vila. PCV Christian Education Department.

Seymour, L Jack and Miller, E Donald. 1982. Contemporary Approaches: Christian Education.

Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Taylor, J Marvin. 1976. Foundations for Christian Education in an Era of

 Change. Nashville: Abingdon Press.










Post Presentation Points:

Dr Cliff: least concentration on this topic in our islands – how to build continuity? Likes the word ‘invest’ in our children. Currency of the topic is there.

Children in the Biblical world: socio-cultural background. Is ‘simple way of trusting and believing’ what you interpret Jesus to mean? Counter-cultural way of behaving – how the Kingdom is.

Socialization of children in churches and societies – very important.

Current Pacific issues – where are they in PCV SS curriculum? eg. Climate change, violence. Anglican Diocese of Polynesia – curriculum on violence against women, men and women – at age level appropriate.

Role modelling and mentoring. Parents and others. Lifestyle, relationships – words made flesh. Relevancy of the biblical texts in context of PCV.

Marie: opening up of music and fun programmes in PCANZ. Concern for policies. Code of ethics, sexual abuse etc. Safe environments.

+Graham: ‘physically, mentally, spiritually and socially’. Kenyan Bishop – why can’t every child grow as Jesus grew? Is there a traditional rite for child becoming adult? How is that reflected in life of church?

Dr Cliff: how much critical thinking and questioning is allowed for in curriculum. Child rights and human rights?

Kara: involvement of parents – we rely on SS too much but what are parents doing all week. Church preschools in Samoa.

Geraldine: policies and curriculum in Fiji – Christian Education in PCV – does it have influence in government system?

Mau: Curriculum from imported context; better to do our own

Val: Technology and its implications for Christian Ed.

Casi: Should we give answers? Is CE to foster questions? Does God question?





[i] Vanuatu has 3 Official languages: English, French and Bislama which is a mixture of broken English and some French but it is the used by all in Vanuatu due to the many different dialects in all the islands.

[ii] Due to our many different dialects and cultures, we use the Bislama nationally, especially in the urban area but in the rural areas, we encourage our congregations to use their own languages for the children’s sake to better understand the Bible stories and also to translate the choruses sang from English, French and Bislama to their languages.

Rev Leinamau Seru

Rev Leinamau Seru



Currently, there are no moderated comments on this article.
Interweavings: Graham's Blog