Music has a powerful effect on the human mind.
Ancient cultures would pass on their traditions using dance and song.
Modern advertisers use jingles and pop songs to create an emotional connection with their brand.
School students sing along times tables and months of the year to aid memorisation.
And our church members will typically leave a Sunday service with the words from the last chorus or hymn ringing in their ears.
There is no doubt that the use of music is a powerful teaching technique, and therefore can be used both for the communicating and memorisation of biblical truth. However, because of the educative nature of SRE, it can be tricky to find songs that are appropriate for the specific SRE context.
Many of our favourite Christian songs are about our subjective experience of God and the gospel. That is, they talk about the singer’s personal faith, or are a personal response to the saving work of Jesus in the singer’s life.
A good modern example is Rend Collective’s My Lighthouse in which the singer, and us as the congregation, sing about God’s commitment to us in our Christian life and recommit ourselves to follow him, our eyes fixed on Jesus despite the seemingly tumultuous circumstances we are currently in.
While many of the children in our SRE classes do claim a personal faith, typically, an SRE classroom also has students who do not claim a personal faith, or are not sure about their own faith. These students are in the class because their parent has given them permission to explore the Christian faith through SRE, but their engagement is more educational, rather than personal. For this reason, it would be disingenuous to ask them to sing songs which claim a personal faith in the God of the Bible.
So, how might we use music in the SRE classroom, that allows those students who have faith to express it boldly, while also allowing those who do not have, or are unsure about personal faith, to explore Christianity without being coerced into speaking or singing words that may not be true at that moment in time?
Here are three suggestions.
Songs as faith communication
A number of Christian songs are ‘simply’ memory verses or poetic restatements of key theological truths. These songs can be sung regardless of personal faith, because their content has to do with the religious truth claims of Christianity, which it is the role of Christian SRE to communicate.
One song that my kindergarten class like to sing is Our God is a Great Big God. From within the framework of the Christian faith, this song makes objective statements about God:
“He’s higher than a skyscraper and he’s deeper than a submarine”
“He’s known me and he’s loved me since before the world began”.
While an outsider can disagree about Christian theology, from a Christian faith perspective these objective statements fall within what we are rightly expecting to be teaching those who have enrolled in our SRE class, regardless of their own owned beliefs.
Therefore, singing memory verses, or songs like this is akin to children singing through their times tables; it is communicating the content of the SRE lessons through a helpful and memorable medium.
Songs as faith reflection
Other songs, including those that have personal faith claims, can be used as a reflective activity within your class. You could lead your class through an exploration of what it might look like to express faith in God through song, but still within the bounds of an educational activity.
Again, taking the example of My Lighthouse. In an upper primary class, you could hand out the lyrics and play the song and then ask a series of questions:
What metaphor does this singer use to talk about God?
Why does he use that metaphor? What part of God’s character does it help him describe?
How does thinking about God as a lighthouse make him feel? Why?
What metaphor would you use to describe God? Why?
Songs as faith expression
As stated earlier, we do not want to put children in a position where they are asked to sing faith statements that are not in fact true. However, SRE is also an activity where those who do have faith should have the opportunities to express their faith. Therefore, while I am encouraging you to be thoughtful about the lyrical content of the songs you use, I also want you and the Christian students in your class to have the freedom to sing songs about ‘subjective faith’ within the SRE classroom.
The advice here would be to allow students to opt out of that song if they wanted to. This allows each student to decide for him or herself whether they wish to own these particular faith claims. Of course, we still expect that non-participating students are quiet and respectful during singing time. But as long as the non-participating students are not a distraction to the lesson, they are welcome to choose their level of involvement.
There are many creative ways to use good Christian music in the SRE classroom, and no hard and fast rules about what we should or shouldn’t use (although users of Connect must adhere to the accompanying SRE Multimedia Policy and submit content for review). What we do want to do, however, is provide our students with quality, educational engagement with the Christian faith, while allowing for the student themselves to dictate when and how they give expression for their own owned faith.