Thursday, February 27, 2014


Picture me sitting here, tears rolling down my cheeks, a tattered AWANA book beside me, and a pile of stuffed animals on my lap.

The stuffed animals were my two year old's response to the tears.

The tears were my response to the AWANA book.

Or more specifically, my response to other people's responses to my response to the AWANA book.

Didja get all that?

There was a time when I was only mildly wary of AWANA. (Sidenote, I'm gonna just call it Awana from here on out, because all that capitalizing is getting tedious.) Back when Thing One was an adorable little Sparkie, I bought him a book and a vest with absolutely no idea what it all entailed. It was like a foreign language or a secret club. To be honest, it wasn't that I was particularly interested in getting him into Awana. That's just what you do with your kids in our church. They hit kindergarten, you enter them in Awana. I didn't think it through. I didn't really investigate it at all. Just did it.

And during Sparks, it was relatively fine. Granted, I constantly felt like I had no idea what was going on. What's the Grand Prix? What's a share? Where did that stupid badge go that fell off the vest again? Why is he coming home with so much candy?

Oh well, doesn't matter. He's learning verses and having a good time. Look how cute he is with his ribbons. Oh, and he gets a plaque for finishing Sparks, That's adorable. Yay!

Enter T&T.

Enter problems.

All of the sudden, he's having to say at least two sections a week to keep up. Not just two verses, two sections filled with these questions and answers that leave me scratching my head. The way they are written is not intuitive, not fluid, not even grammatically correct half the time. But he's got to say them just so to get credit.

Maybe this would be fine if we had an hour every day to devote to a church club. But that's not realistic. We have a laundry list of other subjects (including our Bible curriculum) to tackle each day. I don't have time to hash out each section with him. There will be no flow charts, crafts, or graphs devoted to Awana in our schooling. There just isn't time. (Besides, isn't this what I'm paying Awana to do?) This does not mean Scripture is not a priority in this house. Far from it. It just means that in the list of Bible learning tools we have, Awana ranks pretty low.

And on the other hand, if everyone treated Awana like what it is (a church club for kids), it probably would be no big deal for him. Awana has been elevated to the gold standard in outreach programs for churches, so it's up on this serious pedestal that we're not allowed to disagree with.  Awana has the essense of performance based legalism, at least around here. If you love Jesus, you finish your Awana books. If you're having trouble, the struggle lies in  your heart, not the program. That is far too much pressure for kids who already struggle with reading and memorizing. Is it any wonder that kids with dyslexia so often have such horrible self-worth and struggle with the idea that God loves them and gives them grace?

It would also not be an issue if he didn't have learning disabilities. To be honest, and I know this from conversations with other parents, if he could do it on his own, I'd never even see the book except on the rare occasions I'd have to sign something. I have a feeling if more parents read through the book, these wording issues and problems would jump out at them and they'd see what I'm talking about. But until you have a kid who struggles each week, you probably wouldn't understand the depth of my frustration and hurt.

If anything, I feel like Awana is hindering my son's growth and understanding of the Word.

So, in essence, I'm paying money every year for stress, tears, and to confuse my son about the Bible. Awesome.

But heaven help me if I utter a word against this holy program. In our church, Awana is basically infallible. I'm going to go ahead and say it: it's an idol. It makes us feel like we're getting a gold star for teaching kids verses and reaching out to the community.

And if your child has a clear understanding of Scripture and no trouble memorizing random lists and verses, you'll probably love Awana.

And if your child is unchurched and has no grasp of Scripture, don't you worry. Your child will receive extra attention and Gospel sharing.

But if your child has a good understanding of Scripture, but can't memorize, good luck. He will surely fall through the cracks of the system. Most people won't say it out loud, but your level of spirituality will be judged. It won't be the program that needs to change.

I used to be one of those people. Makes me want to vomit now.

There are some bright spots, such as Thing One's leader this year. He is gentle, understanding, patient and good natured. He understands learning disabilities and gives grace. I thank God for him. There are many, many other leaders who have made Awana a good experience for my kids, despite the inherent problems with the material and the set up.

But not even wonderful people can make this a good fit for our family. I would have quit long ago if Thing One didn't love seeing his friends every week. I'm sure I was a part of a few things in youth that I loved and my parents hated. But now I feel like we're dancing on a line where we may have to pull rank and make the decision to remove them even if they really like it.

Because if people think I'm wrong when I disagree with what I see, even though I can rationally show why I disagree and point to specific things, how much worse will it be for Thing One when he doesn't feel right, but can't explain why? I don't want his standard of value to be finishing Awana books or getting trophies or knowing the answers to a million quizzing questions. This isn't a sport where he needs to learn to lose. This is God's Word. How we present it will teach him how to respond to God. We absolutely should be thinking critically and making long term decisions about stuff like this, not just leaving it up to our churches or a program to think for us.

I'm really beginning to think that being a follower here is just not worth the price.


Amy said...

you know my thoughts on this. <3

CJ Berry said...

I have such a strong agreement with this post. I was an AWANA attender and while I knew it had a good impact on my life, I really hated making scripture memorization a competition even as a kid. Whenever faced with unwanted competition I would just shut down, irking the ire of church members with comments like "our own church kids DON'T EVEN CARE while other kids are just THIRSTY for the scipture" said while tskking at me. Because memorizing for a prize rather than meditating on scripture was something to praise apparently! The same in summer camp with kids battling to learn large passages of scripture just to win a prize without any retention or actual lesson taken away. UGH.

katgo said...

Wow, This is how we feel. We have 3 kids with dyslexia struggles and are starting to not want to go because they can't read their books and are embarrassed. They can't finish a book in a year because memorization is a challenge not to mention the books are not grade level appropriate. I have been praying about next year and think it may be wise to change direction. Thank you for writing this post. I have felt like speaking up for my children but felt it would not be wise.