Sunday School “Jingles”

Many Baptist, church-going adults remember attending Sunday School as a child fondly. The quaint little classroom with the blackboard; Miss “Mumford” and her cool little flannel-graphs whose characters never seemed to face the correct way; the little offering basket where we put in our nickles and dimes; and of course, singing those short children’s songs that sought to take profound truths of God’s Divinity and Gospel Theology and condense them into “church-jingles.” Don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to Sunday Schools, the offerings, or even flannel-graphs (although I am not necessarily endorsing those funny felt characters). Maybe I am being a little cynical when it comes to the cute Sunday School songs, however. I believe that is useful and important to catechize our children and to teach them doctrine–using songs as a tool is perfectly commendable. The problem I see with much of the quaint little “jingles” we teach our children is not just the content of the songs themselves (although that is a serious and frustrating issue), but the assumption that children will understand what we are talking about simply because it is a “church song.” For example, growing up, I heard the song “Deep and Wide” almost every week. The lyrics for the entire song amount to the following: “Deep and wide, Deep and wide, there’s a fountain flowing deep and wide,” and repeat six or seven times and it is almost time for snacks! I know that children are capable of more than this doctrinally speaking, and to expect them to understand this song is crazy. Frankly, I am not sure what this song truly meant (I have my theories), maybe that is why the author remains anonymous–he’s embarrassed!

I do think we ought to be singing better songs than this and teaching songs such as “Amazing Grace” “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” and “God Moves In a Mysterious Way” to our children, but this is not the issue of this article. Songs like “Deep and Wide” being sung with no understanding is a symptom of a “deeper” problem in the church. We adults often do not take seriously the responsibility to thoroughly and passionately communicate rich doctrinal truth to children in such a way that they not only “get it” but that they live it. Whether we think they can’t handle it, we are lazy, or worse, we don’t understand the doctrine of the Gospel–we in this generation are failing to properly teach the Gospel so that it accurately resonates with the next generation.

“Deep and Wide” could actually become a useful illustrative tool in our teaching if we took the time to explain to the children that there most definitely is a fountain of forgiveness and restoration flowing from the wounds of Jesus Christ. Should we not express to the children who no doubt mindlessly sing this catchy jingle, that this fountain of forgiveness is indeed deep in as much as it absolutely forgives the vilest sinner who repents and believes the Gospel? Do we not have a responsibility to teach our children that even as far down as their depravity deepens, so the depths of God’s grace and forgiveness pursue? Can we not impress upon them that there is a fountain of redemption that flows from the side of Jesus Christ, and its breadth extends further than the east from the west? Should we not passionately show them that there is no sinner who is beyond the scope of God’s free and sovereign grace and their is no sin which God cannot or will not pay for through his bloody cross? In other words can we not teach them that there is indeed a fountain that is both deep and wide? Maybe we do not need the “jingle” to do so (I doubt we do), but we must teach the Gospel truth of God’s amazing atonement to our children.

I honestly have no idea where this song came from and I would be perfectly fine if it disappeared from our classrooms being replaced with hymns that actually teach these truths plainly. Regardless of whether or not this song continues to be a classic in Sunday School, it is my hope and prayer that we would see the great need to carefully, passionately, and accurately instruct the children God has blessed us with in our churches with the theology of the cross. I pray that we would not give children “soundbites” to take home and annoy mom and dad with. But we would give them doctrine that would change their minds and hearts to be melded to the mind and heart of Christ. I want my children to love Jesus and love his Gospel, and I am convinced that God uses consistent, theological, expositional, and practical teaching through the Word of God to do so–may this be what characterizes our Sunday Schools, children’s classes, or youth activities.

So yes, I am for the abolition of mindless yet catchy “jingles” instead of  doctrinally rich hymns of the faith in our children’s ministries. No, I do not think that removing such songs is the only answer. The answer is for us who are teachers of children to be so nourished up in Gospel doctrine that we intently and interestingly teach them the theology of Jesus Christ from an early age. We must make it our ambition to not take the instruction of children lightly, but to consider each little one as an eternal soul that God seeks as  his worshiper to worship him in spirit and in truth. And how can they do that if they are not intimately and intricately understanding of who he is in his revealed fullness?

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