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Is there detention in Sunday school?

by Jesse Graves

If you ever want to test the limits of your patience, your sanity and your ability to avoid bursting your gizzard from laughing out loud at exactly the wrong moment – in church – try teaching a junior high boys’ Sunday school class sometime.

You’ll thank me or hunt me down to kill me… or maybe both.

My parents started bringing me to church from the time my mother thought I was just an annoying gas bubble, and they continued taking me until the pains I caused went far beyond anything a dose of Mylanta could relieve. So you might say Sunday school is in my blood – or at least my bowels.

My wife and I have been teaching our three daughters’ Sunday school classes since they were in kindergarten. In fact, I’ve been told that teaching kids’ Sunday school is my spiritual gift. But after doing it for 18 years, I’m pretty sure it’s a spiritual gag gift, and God has enjoyed every minute of it.

When we taught elementary-age Sunday school, it was all crafts, Bible stories, and sing-alongs. The main things I worried about then were getting someone to the potty in time (including myself), misplacing someone during a trip to the potty, or failing to memorize the Bible verse of the week and being shown up by some seven-year-old theological prodigy who could recite the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic – on the way to the potty.

But the real fun of teaching Sunday school to elementary-age kids was getting them in a circle on the carpet for group prayer time, when some of them took the opportunity to reveal their most embarrassing family secrets. What started out as a solemn and reverent time of sharing often transformed into a combination of “Dr. Phil,” “Maury,” and “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” If, for example, someone prayed for their Aunt Roxanne’s impending fourth marriage to take place in the county detention center visitor’s area, all I could do to maintain order was say a quick “Amen” and ask if anyone needed to go to the potty. (Everyone always did.)

And speaking of the potty, I’m currently teaching a class of junior high boys, which is like trying to discuss theology trapped in an overcrowded zoo exhibit of agitated spider monkeys. Based on my experience and careful study of classroom management techniques, I’ve found that for adolescent male children, a generous supply of Little Debbie Treats and Jolly Ranchers provides an effective, short-term source of positive reinforcement–also known as bribery.

But sometimes, even the persuasive qualities of high fructose corn syrup can’t calm the onslaught of pubescent doofusness. In fact, during a recent Sunday morning small-group lesson, I asked the boys to give me an example of how believers can offer acceptable praise to the Lord. One of my “regulars” responded by lifting his right hip and releasing a thunderous blast that ricocheted off of the hard-plastic chair and reverberated throughout the cavernous church youth building. All I could think to do was say a quick “Amen” and ask if anyone needed to go to the potty. (Everyone did.)

Moments like these only strengthen my firm belief that God has a keen sense of humor. How else can you explain ear, nose and back hair? It also reminds me that one time long ago, I, too, was a junior high goober tormenting my long-suffering Sunday school teachers with uncontrollable giggling when they read any Bible verse containing the word “loins.”

I guess it’s true that “what goes around comes around,” and lots of problems can still be solved with a quick trip to the potty. Amen!

Graves is an award-winning humor columnist from East Texas. His columns have been featured in Texas Escapes magazine, The Shreveport Times, The Longview News Journal, and The Kilgore News Herald. Contact Graves at

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