Why Sunday School?

I believe everything has a shelf life. That is why there are dates on food labels. That is why you cannot find 8 track tapes, dial up telephones, or typewriters any more. The paper mill in our community, which produced the best quality grade of writing/typing paper in the world & employed more than 2,000 people, has closed down. Why – people are storing things on computers & flash drives. Paper is becoming a thing of the past. You are reading this online, not on paper. Smart phones are replacing computers. Someone shared with me recently that thy wanted to buy an old type flip cell phone – not a smart phone, only to discover they do not make them anymore. A salesman went to the back & pulled one out of the trash and gave it to them. Things come and go and things change. Has the time of Sunday School reached its shelf life?

If you want to increase overall attendance, connect people, help them learn the Bible, grow as mature Christians, increase offering, or see your total church grow – the answer is Sunday School. But I said everything has a shelf life – what about Sunday School? There will always be a need to teach the Bible, bring people together, and connect folks. That is what Sunday School is all about! Maybe you need some fresh ideas or new expressions for SS to make it more effective?

As you read these ideas, you may think, “that would never work in my church or Sunday School or folks will never go for that.” So is your class “stale”? Someone once said, if you keep doing things the same way you can always expect the same results. Do you need or want different results?

How about getting your class to pray for your teacher & class members- for more life, excitement, enthusiasm & people? Or having prayer partners to ask God to intervene & re-energize your class?

How about making it a point for everyone to invite someone new to your class every week? When was the last time you had a guest or new member? What are you doing to bring them in? When was the last time you invited someone?

Why not do some type of social event with your class like go out to a restaurant together or have a covered dish? It could be as simple donuts & coffee. Always invite someone who is not in your class to join you.

At a former church, our Sunday evening event had gotten down to single numbers in attendance. There was a restaurant close by that had sparse attendance in the winter months. During
Jan – March we met at the restaurant, sat in booths or tables for 4. They would order from the menu (and pay for their own meal.) While they were waiting for their food & even after it arrived, they had a sheet of paper with a scripture passages and questions that they were to answer & talk about together. The group loved the concept & grew to more than 40. And they studied the Bible. Who said it had to be at 10:00 in the educational building for Sunday morning?

Some of the most insightful questions are related to why someone would want to come to your Sunday School class? Do you go out of your way to make them feel a part or special? Do people talk to them & introduce them to others? Will someone sit with them in church showing your appreciation for them being there & how special they are? Is the lesson prepared well so that the class is engaged & encouraged? How do you connect the passage to everyday life? The shelf life of Sunday School is not over, however there may need to be some tweaks or adjustments or changes needed to make it more effective. What would make your class better & involve more people? Maybe your class can talk about that one Sunday soon.

The guest writer this week is the Reverend Tommy Speight, Pastor of Courtland Baptist Church in Courtland, VA.

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A New Mindset

“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17 NIV)

In Edward Hammett’s new book, Recovering Hope for Your Church: Moving Beyond Maintenance and Missional to Incarnational Engagement, he challenges us in the preface to moving forward-

Moving Forward calls us to be people of God, not just good people.

Moving forward calls us to be people of faith, not just people of tradition.

Moving forward calls us to be holy people who follow God rather than hollow people who are empty vessels.

Moving forward calls us to pray without ceasing rather than pretending to pray so we can stay the same.

Moving forward calls us to study Scripture to be transformed anew rather than symbolically studying Scripture so we can preserve our class fellowship and convince others we are spiritually mature.

Moving forward means rediscovering and recommitting to why we do what we do, and for whom we do it.

Moving forward means listening and following God rather than listening to sermons and being spectators in worship.

I want to challenge this week to a new mindset as the Spirit leads you to see visions and dream dreams! What would Sunday School/Bible study look like if we lived into the statements above? What would need to change in your life and the lives of others in your class? Share these statements in your adult classes this week. Encourage them to form prayer partners to pray for the Spirit to move you to incarnational ministry.

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Grief Care and Sunday School

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4 NIV)

As I have mentioned before, Sunday School/small group bible studies are as concerned about care for their members as they are sharing God’s Word. My uncle Johnny passed away Saturday morning, and I was reminded of the need to show care. He was a Christian example and leaved a good life we can celebrate, but it doesn’t mean we don’t grieve. Persons need to know we care for them to trust us enough to hear what we have to share. During times of grief is an important time to show care. Here are some practical ideas for classes to show care during times of grief:

Your presence is more important than what you say. Often we feel inept in knowing what to say to someone grieving. Keep in mind you do not need perfect words. What is important is holding their hand, listening as they share their pain and memories. A simple prayer for comfort and strength at the end of the visit may be enough words. (In times of tragedy, words can actually cause people to go away from God if we are not careful- See the blog: Helping Children Deal with Tragedy.)
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15 NIV)

Familiarize yourself with the five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Read the classic book by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross “On Death and Dying” or search a website that deals with the stages of grief. Take notes on the material, and think about a time in your life when you have lost a loved one. Keep a journal. Revisit the feelings of the experience. This will help you empathize with the grieving family members.

Grief lasts longer than the funeral. We who have experienced loss know this to be true. Too often, the church is there for the initial grief through the funeral. A grieving person, after the funeral and loved ones go back to their normal routine, can be some of the most lonely and painful times. Call to check on the person. Offer to take them for coffee or lunch to check on them. Don’t pressure them to return to a normal routine, but be there to help them along the way. Help them to find a grief support group in the community as well.

Provide other support throughout the grieving process. Some grieving persons find it difficult to do the normal household duties and tending to basic meals. The church usually rallies the first few days to provide meals. Have different ones in the class volunteer for the first couple of weeks to provide meals and help with any household duties and yard work after the funeral. Think about practical ways to help at the time of the death instead of food. Provide trash bags, paper plates, utensils, napkins/paper towels and toilet paper. A grieving person often has many family members and friends coming to visit during the initial grief. Often person al items like the ones above are not thought about. Other practical ways of caring for weeks to come:

Prayer is more important than anything! Pray each week for the class member. If someone in your class dies, keep their name on the attendance roll/ministry care list for six months. Every time you go through the list of names, you will be reminded to pray for the family.

Send signed cards from class members to let them know you are still praying.

Have someone call each week to check on them and discover other needs.
Have members willing to help the deceased write thank you notes for persons helping with needs during their grief.

If you take seriously the caring of prospects and members of your class, you may discover you have learned more about what it means to “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.”

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Curriculum is More Than a Lesson

14 Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (II Timothy 2:14-16 NIV)

We have an awesome and challenging task as teachers. We are to rightly divide/handle/administer the Word of Truth. It is more than the lesson requires from whatever publishing company you use. Curriculum for me is everything you do. Here are some thoughts about it:

Total Period Teaching: That is the mantra from the 1980’s at Lifeway (then the Baptist Sunday School Board.) When people step in the room, curriculum begins! I would suggest that teachers should be in their environment fifteen minutes early. There should be questions, quotes, comments on the board as people walk in the room. Teachers want students thinking about the lesson and what is next even before the lesson starts.

Some prefer an object lesson along with something on the board. Thom Rainer did an article last year on why men don’t go to church. One of the reasons is: church is too predictable. Have an object lesson that draws men into wondering how the object lesson will be used in the Bible study. Anything to get your class focused on God’s Word and the lesson is good.

Demonstrate that you care. A new person will decide within five minutes whether they will return. Do you have greeters/connectors who will welcome newcomers? I suggest a friendly person who will discover what the newcomer is passionate about. What are their hobbies? I would want to connect them to three other persons before they leave church who have the same passions/hobbies. It will greatly enhance the possibility of them coming back. More importantly, the guest will feel welcomed and cared for. The same care should be shown to everyone in the class.

Don’t just focus on classroom time! People need to see you bearing fruit in your lives (John 15) and not just Sunday morning or whenever you have a Bible study. They want to see how Scripture and the Christian lifestyle affect your everyday life. Spend time with them during the week. Mentor them in parenting, marriage, living the Christian life in the workplace and beyond. We are called to make disciples!

19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

Curriculum is more than a lesson. It is a lifestyle!

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Sunday School & the Least of These Part Two

36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:36-40 NIV)

Sunday School/Bible study should lead our members to see people with God’s eyes. Some in our society discerns whether to care or not based on socio-economic level, race, and appearance. We are called to look at the heart, and see every person as a child of God. We are called to minister to the least of these. In regards to reaching new people, though some may not feel comfortable at first coming to your church for Bible study, they may join you in giving during a crisis in the news, and then join you for Bible study as they see your care for the least of these. Groups, like the Millennial generation, need to see you care with Jesus’ compassion. When you do, you are ministering to Jesus himself, and they get excited.

Virginia Baptists believe in reaching the least of these. Here is a recent e-mail from Dean Miller from our Glocal Missions Team in response to the Ebola Virus:

Virginia Baptists are preparing a response to the outbreak and will begin putting the plan into place as early as next week. We will focus on assisting Liberia at this time due to our historic ties with the area and trust that has been developed with the leadership in that country.

1) Virginia Baptist sent $15,000 today (15th) to the Liberia Baptist Missionary and Educational Conventional, Inc. in response to an official request they made through the Baptist World Alliance. These funds will purchase food and provide educational materials to the communities so they can quell some of the myths about the virus as well as inform communities about the real dangers and how they should protect themselves.
2) Virginia Baptists are partnering with an ecumenical/secular group (Virginia in Action for Liberia Against Ebola) forming across the state that will target Liberians living in Virginia and attempting to consolidate their response. We will assist this group by handling their contributions and assisting with the coordination of in-kind donations should they decide to become involved in that form of response.
3) Virginia Baptists have made a request and will work toward sending an emergency shipment of meals from Stop Hunger Now to Liberia.
4) A special fund has been established for donations and we will receive checks, cash and online contributions. These funds will be dispersed through a variety of ministries in Ghana to assist with this crisis that may continue to escalate for several more weeks.

Here is the link if your Sunday School class wants to get involved: http://vbmb.org/disaster-relief-update-ebola-virus-response/ Let’s make sure we minister to the least of these, and we may be surprised to see Jesus in our midst!

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The Future of Sunday School Revisited

“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17 NIV)

As you prepare for a new year of Sunday School, I thought it was time to repost a blog that was one of the first for me:

In the last few weeks I have heard some religious practitioners suggest that Sunday School is dead (or at least on its way to the coffin.) I must admit that I would agree…at least to some of the practices that some churches are using! I want to suggest a few areas that we must address for Sunday School to be revitalized and going strong:
Sunday School must be focused around Bible study anywhere and anytime. Sunday School was traditionally on Sunday morning because of Sabbath (Blue laws) where worship & Bible study happened on Sundays (Nothing else did!) Now we have 20-40% of the adult population who work on Sundays and others involved with children who are on traveling teams (sports) on the weekend. What are we doing to provide Sunday School for them? Let me suggest some options:
1. Have a parent of a child who is on a traveling team offer to have a Bible study at a convenient time on the trip.
2. Offer to have a Bible study at hospitals, fire departments and police stations at the shift change or break time.
3. Have a member skip Sunday School one Sunday (yes…I said skip) with the purpose of going to grocery stores and other places where people work on Sunday and talk to them about alternative times for Bible study.
4. Have Bible studies in the workplace (with permission) at lunch for those who want it.
5. Go to community stores and other places where people gather each week and ask if they would be interested in Bible study there (remember “Biscuits & Bible.”)
6. Have a Bible study in your residence one night a week and invite neighbors to join you.

One of my most successful bible study times was Friday nights with a potluck dish dinner with about six families in the parsonage. Another was a young men’s class that met a Panera at 9 a.m. on Sunday. (They wouldn’t meet at 9:30 a.m. at the church, but were there for breakfast at Panera’s!)

Sunday School is Bible based…not curriculum based and leads to discussion rather than lecture. Let me digress…I recently visited a church where the teacher read the students quarterly and then asked, “What do you think?” Of course he took time to talk about his political opinions. That Sunday School class will not gain many new members and will diminish at some point unless something changes! Bible study should focus on application and transformation not knowledge and needs discussion and students delving into Scripture for learning retention and transformation.

Sunday School needs to take advantage of technology. There are several things to consider here:
1. We have some churches who already are taking advantage of Facebook, e-mail, texting and other ways to follow-up the lesson with questions of ongoing learning outside of the time set aside for Bible study. More classes need to take advantage of it!
2. Do you have someone in the military or one who has to be away on the weekends for work? Skype them in with a laptop and wireless network. (Some may not have this option, but do you have a member with a laptop and a wireless card?) Can you imagine the dynamic of having a military person, who is a member of your church, being able to participate in Bible study?
3. Finally let’s dream a little: Young adults are more inclined to have a Bible study by Google Plus with a circle of friends or Skype (computer video conference) at 10 p.m. at night than come on Sunday mornings. Is there a night owl in your church who could facilitate a bible study?

Sunday School is soon to be dead unless we begin dreaming new dreams and discover new possibilities to reach people for Christ through Bible study. Are you ready to dream and see that dream come to fruition?

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Sunday School and Operation Inasmuch

‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25:35-40 NIV)

As I have mentioned before, every Sunday School class (1st grade through adult classes) should have an ongoing mission project in the community. The project provides depth in relationships for members of the class, strengthens spiritual maturity through serving, and demonstrates the embodiment of the Matthew 25 passage to the community.

I met with Dan River Baptist Association last night for dinner and heard about the churches’ plans for Operation Inasmuch the week of September 13th. (Read the story about Operation Inasmuch at the following website: http://operationinasmuch.org/) The idea for this ministry is to involve as many church members as possible on different projects in the community where you live to show the love of Christ.

I do believe every Baptist Association in Virginia is preparing to do this ministry sometime in the Fall. I want to suggest to you that this would be a great time to encourage every class to begin some ministry in the community on a regular basis. Some of the ideas shared by churches last night may stir within you some ideas for your own. Here are some of the churches represented and their ideas:

Clover Bottom- Free Give Away Day on September 13th where there will be a free yard sale and lunch. They will be making bird feeders that week for a local nursing home and providing gift bags for the nurses and others working at the nursing home.

Beth Car- An Appreciation Lunch for the local fire department, sheriff’s department, city police and other service personnel will take place. They will have a canned food drive that week for the local food pantry (Good Samaritan) as well as working on other local projects in the community.

Ash Avenue- Will have a Laundromat ministry that Saturday by providing quarters for person to wash and dry their clothes. They are planning a free car wash, collecting canned goods for neighbors in need, cookies for Sheriff’s department and police department, providing meals for shut-ins, and helping with some household projects.

First Baptist South Boston- Will have a blood drive, free car wash and several projects in the community.

Mt. Vernon- Will have a Cancer Benefit Walk and will provide supplies/care packages for God’s Pit Crew and the local rescue squad.

Winn’s Creek- Will have an Epilepsy Awareness Walk, softball tournament and other local projects.

Hitesburg- Will do some lawn work and provide firewood ministry for a disabled man in the community, and cleaning house for a disabled woman in the community.

Scottsburg- Will make homemade cookies and take to neighbors in the community.

Mulberry- Is working on supplies for a ministry in Nigeria, and has church members helping persons in need with lawn care and providing home grown vegetables for persons in the community.

(Look at my blog, “Serving Through Sunday School” for great ideas for children and youth.)

More than ever we need to be outside the church walls and sharing the love of Christ with the community. For when you are ministering to the least in society, you also are ministering to Christ.

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