By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35 NIV)
As I continue the thoughts about the components of community as it relates to Sunday School, I want to take some time today to write about the essential focus of personal relationships. In Jesus’s ministry we read an intentional process of building relationships with the disciples as a larger group, then the twelve and finally the inner circle of Peter, James & John. Whether it was taking time through everyday experiences to talk about the Kingdom of God, practicing the Kingdom of God through his actions with the disciples present or an intentional teaching time, Jesus understood the best way to change our world was an intentional process of building relationships that lead to a change in knowledge, attitude & behavior.
Some questions to ponder:
How intentional is your class at building relationships that grow deeper in faith in the class?
How intentional are your class members outside the class in growing closer to God and each other?
Too often even at church we take on the “I’m fine” syndrome, and never really let others in our lives deep enough to see beyond the façade. Others focus on the problems of the world, the weather or sports trivia and never move into the personal realm. Church and the Sunday School/Bible study class needs to be a safe, confidential place to let down the façade and seek to pray for, encourage and challenge each other in and outside the class.
I want to make a few suggestions for you to consider as a way to bring your class members closer to God and each other:
1. Speak the truth in love and respect everyone’s opinion without hidden agendas. We are all seeking to discover truth from God’s Word. We need to recognize this passage: Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, (Philippians 2:12 NIV) We also need to recognize this passage as we discuss God’s Word:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
In other words, do not allow agendas, power, control and other manipulation to control your class. Allow every person to share their understanding of God’s Word. That is the Baptist principle of Soul Autonomy. It is fine to ask persons to back up their opinion with God’s Word as well as to agree to disagree. Never make a person out to be the enemy. That will cause persons to not share their convictions. Love each person no matter what, because love covers a multitude of sins (I Peter 4:8 NIV.)
2. One minute phone call: As the teacher take time on Saturday evening to call each person on your ministry care list (Remember I don’t like the idea of calling it an attendance roll!) You simply say: I am going over my lesson for tomorrow, and I wanted to pause and see if there is anything I can be praying with you about. Call active and inactive members, and make it brief! God may use this as an opportunity to begin deeper relationships with the entire class.
3. Encourage your class to group three people together and commit ninety days of praying for each other. It is encouraged to meet once a week outside of class to get together and pray. This may be the kickoff of an inner circle with God.
4. Have opportunities to get together throughout the year for fellowship (At least once a quarter.) Often I experienced God closer with our class in someone’s house for dinner, discussion of Scripture and fellowship than I did inside the class. People were not as intimidated to open up.
5. Find ways to serve together. I encourage every class to have an ongoing service project. There are people who will come and serve with you from your inactive list that may not come to the formal class. As you serve others in the community, be intentional in your relationship with these members as well.
More than anything else, this world needs to see us differently than the rest of society and I believe it begins with a deeper love in relationship for each other. (Read I John 4:7-21)