Five Ways for Sunday School to Become a Transforming Intimate Community of Faith

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)

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Sunday School as Community Revisited

In 2012, I wrote this blog, but it deserves to be revisited. Our team leader, Ken Kessler, sent me a resource guide today with lots of valuable information on spiritual formation. You can find it at The resource is “Process Not Program: Adult Faith Formation for Vital Congregations” by Diana Butler Bass. Today I want to use part of her work on what it means to be “community” as I apply it to Sunday School/Bible study.

I want you to think for a moment about your Sunday School in regards to being in community. For us to do the best we can at disciple-making and spiritual formation, we need to be intentional as leaders about community as it relates to space, hospitality, studying the Bible and relationships. Let’s start with space and hospitality for today:

Does the space you have in your Sunday School class express warmth, care and lead to an intimate discussion of God’s Word? If this was your living room, would it be white walls, chairs in rows and no aesthetically pleasing visuals? I can see some of you cringing at the thought! So why do we think that is the environment best for our classes?

Too often in classes we have rows of chairs facing a podium, (no visuals on the walls) and a marker board- which does not provide the best learning environment or promote intimacy. If it is a large class in a fellowship hall, I would suggest small round tables with chairs if possible. In smaller classes, chairs in a circle may work best. (You want to make sure people can see each other while they are sharing.)

If you are using a master teacher model because of the size of the class, break them down into smaller groups by row for some discussion and fellowship. Sunday School/Bible study is about transformation not Bible knowledge. We need an environment that lends itself to transformative learning. If we have our classes like the old school model, are there some adults who decide not to come because it reminds them of school? We want this to be community and not school.

When I walk in early to a Sunday School class at church, I like the idea of music in the background, artwork about the theme/central Bible truth for the day, beverages and possibly a light breakfast food to share while I fellowship with others. Even better would be an activity as I walk in for me to discuss while I fellowship. I still believe in Total Period Teaching, which means that every moment in the class is an intentional teachable/learning moment.

My fondest memories of Sunday School happen to be times that we had covered dish dinners in someone’s home, followed by Bible study in the living room on a Friday night, or dinner and Bible study with a small group of men on a weeknight around a kitchen table. This is Sunday School- transformative bible study in a community of faith which leads me to a short word about hospitality.

How do you practice the ministry of hospitality in your Sunday School class? (Look back at my blog on Newcomers & Sunday School, Sunday School: Classroom vs. Community, and Soul Care.) If you have the ideal space with elements mentioned above, but have not prepared your people for the ministry of hospitality, you will have difficulties forming real Christian community with new people. Have some training with your folks about ways of connecting newcomers to others in the class. Wear nametags if it is a class with lots of visitors coming. Have someone from the class sit with visitors in worship, introduce them to others and even take them to lunch if possible.

As I have mentioned before, “Teaching God’s Word is as much about cultivating and nourishing the soil as it is about planting seeds.” Working on space & hospitality will lead to more fertile ground for the seeds to germinate in a person’s life.

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Mentoring and Sunday School/Bible Study

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17 NIV)

I could easily have used the Great Commission here, but I have used it plenty of times to talk about the “Why” of Sunday School/Bible study. There is a mandate throughout Scripture to invest in others. This was innately a part of my life because many teachers and pastors invested in me. I, in turn, have tried to model and teach it all of my life. We need a mentor and we must mentor others! Here is one inspiring story to recognize that impact.

I met this youth when he was a freshman in high school through a youth activity at church. He was rather guarded the first couple of times like many new youth. (I was as well at that age.) I believe that God has a special purpose for each person, and I saw that in him. Soon I discovered he was an incredible musician. He loved to play the guitar. I have often shared his story as someone who can listen to a song on the radio and (within an hour) play it just as he heard it.

My wife (Katrina) and I begin spending time with him as he searched for answers. He had deep theological questions. (By the way, it is okay to say you are not sure of some answers. Just follow up and search for answers together.) He became part of the youth group along with his sister despite no parental involvement in faith or church. I encouraged him to use his gifts in youth group, at Summer camp and in morning worship through our Youth Sundays. He became a Christian and one of the leaders in the youth group.

After I was called to Pastor a church in Virginia, we stayed in touch some, but not as often. I knew he was teaching high school at one point, was a worship leader at a church, continued to tour some with his band for Christian events. He got married to his wonderful wife and became a father of five. Last week I got the rest of the story when he asked me to join him for lunch.

After catching up on his family and mine (He met our daughter, Tara, as a toddler and saw our son, Joe, soon after he was born), he told me something I didn’t know. He and his father didn’t get along. Before he came to our church, he would lock himself into his bedroom after school and contemplate ways to kill himself for several weeks. With tears in his eyes, he thanked me for being there to encourage him, invest in him and show him that God has a plan for his life. He has been investing in others ever since. He is a man after God’s heart!

My wife and I could probably share some of the memories we have of those early days with him, but we wouldn’t have known how God would use our investment to change a life and see how he has changed others. The little things you do to invest in others, show God’s love and show them God’s purposes do matter. Who is your mentor? Who are you mentoring? Thank you my friend for reminding me that iron sharpens iron!

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Faith while Dealing with Tough Issues

Source: Faith while Dealing with Tough Issues

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Faith while Dealing with Tough Issues

How do you help people in your class remain faithful to God when they are facing difficult circumstances in life? All of us face them at some point in life. Allow me to share an example of someone who faced the difficulties with faith. Jason was a young adult in my last church. He was a strong Christian, who loved serving his Lord, and caring for people. Besides faith, we found common likes as avid sports card collectors, Atlanta Braves & SEC football fans.

I would discover soon after I met him that he had a long bout with a kidney disease since he was 17 years old. He had two kidney transplants and had lots both before I met him. I discovered the sacrifices and trials he faced each week with dialysis, while he continued to work and do his best to serve in his church. I saw firsthand what this disease was doing through countless experiences with him at church, with the young adult Sunday School class, in and out of the hospital and through the many hours we would spend texting back and forth through some of his dark nights of the soul. There was the occasional question of “Why me?” usually followed by “I don’t mind what I am having to face as long as God will show me the purpose behind it.”

Of course I was always honest with Jason. There are no easy answers to the why question. None of us know on this side of eternity why we face what we face. Only God knows. I, however, had an answer for how God was using him through it all. Jason chose to be a person of faith despite his trials. He chose to keep serving God and trying to do what he could in life despite his circumstances. There have been countless times through the seven and half years that I knew him where Jason had been a testimony and witness to me and to those who knew him. When we look at what he had to face, and the way in which he faced it as a person of faith, we simply were inspired by his life and witness.
I was inspired to love more, live more and share God’s love more. I was inspired that when things were tough for others I counseled with, that there are others like Jason facing much more difficult circumstances who continued to serve faithfully, and so should we.
So how can you encourage someone in your class who faces crises?

1. Listen to their hurts without giving the pat answers. Give them words of comfort, encouragement and faith filled messages. Pat answers are used to relieve our anxiety, but not help the person going through the struggles. The best thing we can do is follow Romans 12: 12-15:

12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

2. Pray with them on a regular basis. Often I would call Jason and after hearing the latest challenges, pray with him. I was honest in those prayers as well. Like the book of Psalms, we can be honest with God when we don’t understand and hurt with someone. The Psalmist was honest, and faithful at the same time.
3. Set up Care Group Leaders to stay in touch with members and prospects. If a person misses three Sundays in a row, there is a 50% chance they won’t be back. You need help caring for your members and prospects.
4. Help them to see that Faith is in following Jesus even when things are tough.
Jason’s faith inspired me to write a sermon in which I said the following about the Christian life:

In the Gospel of John (Chapter 15), Christ does not say that we are to think about him or to believe in him. Rather we are to abide in him. We are to follow: to live in the world and do what he did. Christianity to Jesus is being a follower. Christianity is not a set of beliefs. It is a matter of following. Faith in Jesus is not believing in Jesus; it is following Jesus even when life is tough. Faith is in following.

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Three Ways to Enhance Spiritual Growth in Sunday School

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27 NIV)

Sunday School/Bible study is about spiritual growth. It is putting into practice God’s Word for life transformation. It requires change of mind, heart and will which the Bible calls repentance (metanoia is the Greek word.) Jesus puts it in the Great Commandment as “loving God with all your heart, soul and mind.” So here are some questions to reflect upon:

Are your class members through Sunday School growing in their knowledge of God?

Are your class members taking on the mind of Christ (See Philippians 2:1-11) and his attitude towards others as a servant?

Are your class members living a different lifestyle than others in the world?

For us to be effective teachers, it requires more focus on life application. Here are some ways to move in that direction:

Make time for discussion that is open. Ask questions of the class that are open-ended in nature towards life application. “Based on the lesson today, what is God saying to you? What needs to change to live out of this text today?” These are called Kairos moments. It is God showing us something new that we can follow or ignore. “How can I help you/ pray for you to grow in your knowledge, attitudes, and lifestyle to be more like Christ?”

Find ways to follow up during the week. Provide questions, inspirational stories and allow discussion to happen during the week about the text. This can be done with a handout to take home and work on, or text, phone calls, Facebook and other technology to send to your class during the week.

Set up prayer partners in the class to process during the week. I know I have shared this before, but it works! If you have a prayer partner to talk to during the week, there is a greater chance of accountability towards change. They can process your follow up questions together.

Through my discipleship huddle experience, I read this story from Mike Breen’s bonus chapters tied to Building a Discipling Culture about Kairos moments based on Mark 1:14-15:

Francis Schaeffer and the 2 snowflakes at Le Brie (Heʼd take his disciples to the peaks
of the Alps and show them 2 rivers: The Rhone and the Rhine. To the left is the Rhone,
the dirtiest river in the world, to the right is the Rhine, the cleanest river that goes by beautiful French countryside and ends up in the balmy Mediterranean. Up until now, up until Mark 1, we could only go left. But now we can choose to go right. Kairos moments are like these snowflakes. There are many of them and we choose what we do with
them. Do we ignore them (and thus the snowflake going left) or do we engage with them
to discover what God is trying to say (and thus the snowflake going right)? We choose
every day.!

Now we can choose what to do with these moments. You have the opportunity to live in
and engage with an entirely different reality or shrug it off like you always have!

Are you building your house on the rock by allowing God to change you through Kairos moments in Sunday School? For more information about the discipleship huddles, contact John Chandler at or Laura McDaniel at from the Spence Network:

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Four Ways to Help When the Storm Comes

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. (Psalm 46:1-3 NIV)

My heart has gone out to all of those affected by the storms this past week. I heard from team members today who have family in S.C. how bad things are for many people. I do believe that a small group Bible study Class in our churches and campus ministries should respond in several ways for the Kingdom when storms cause hopelessness in our world. You can provide hope! Here are four ways to consider:

Open your eyes & hearts: It is easy for us to be bombarded with our own stresses and concerns. We can put blinders on much like the crowd in Mark 2:1-12, and miss that there was a paralytic that needed Jesus more than them. Pay attention to what is going on in our world. Pray for persons in harm’s way. Ask God what God would have us do.

Open your church. Many years ago my church was the only one with power in an ice storm. Open your church and provide meals as well as spiritual and emotional guidance in tough times.

Open your pocketbooks and time to volunteer. You and I have one of the best mobilizing force through disaster relief. The BGAV is one of the first phone calls the Red Cross makes when disaster strikes. Get trained. Volunteer. Provide money to help support disaster relief. Here is the link to learn more:

Open God’s Word to address needs. It is okay to skip a lesson from your quarterly. The textbook has always been and should always be God’s Word! Quarterlies are a tool. Allow your group to discuss what God’s Word has to say about disasters. Psalm 46 is a great place to start! The Psalmist discovered the power of God through a storm in Psalm 29. Mark 4 and Matthew 8 discuss Jesus calming the storm. Storms in life will happen. May we be faithful to be God’s presence and offer a word of hope when they come!

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