Sunday School: When Disaster Strikes

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a]have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 NIV)

I was not expecting what I saw on Monday morning at Calvary Baptist Church in Emporia. I got an e-mail on Sunday night from Ken Kessler that there was an electrical fire and could I go check on the church. As I approached the church Monday morning, I noticed their three story educational building had major damage, and was a total loss. The sanctuary had smoke damage and will not be available to be used for 6-8 months as well. After talking with their Pastor, Dr. Walter Laseter, I was relieved to hear no one was in the building when the fire took place on Saturday morning.

After hearing the good news, I wondered how they will handle such grief of losing this very important part of their church? There will always be questions of “Why?” We don’t know the answers, but we do know according to Romans 8:28 that God is working in the midst of whatever we face. With the support of God and others we can work through the grief and see God opening new possibilities for the Kingdom. The Body of Christ will work through this crisis together with God’s help.

In the meantime there are a few questions to ponder: What will they do for Sunday School and Bible study space while rebuilding? Their sanctuary was still intact, but the water for their property will be off for an undetermined amount of time. They had worship on Sunday morning at a local park with frequent interruptions of trains coming through the nearby tracks. What do you do when the major hub for Bible study, Sunday School and program space is no longer there?

Here are a few thoughts, but I would love to hear from you. If your church has gone through renovations, disaster or other means that took your Bible study classrooms, what did you do? Perhaps you can assist Calvary Baptist in coming up with possibilities. Here are some of my thoughts:

1. Check with local churches about using some of their space. There may be churches close by not using their space when you need it. Perhaps it is a smaller congregation with space to share.

2. Check with local government, civic and support agencies. Are there buildings nearby not used on Sundays from these groups who could offer help? In the case of Calvary Baptist, the local rescue squad has offered their building to help out for worship.

3. Rent modular units. Some churches during expansion, renovation and other times have rented modular units to help with space.

4. Provide Bible study in homes. Are there members living close enough to the church to offer Bible study in their homes?

I do believe God will see Calvary Baptist Church through this time, and God will be glorified. Thew day before the fire, the church sign had this message: I WON’T GIVE YOU MORE THAN YOU CAN HANDLE. YOU MIGHT BEND BUT YOU WILL NOT BREAK

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Prayer and Sunday School

11 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
2 He said to them, “When you pray, say:
“‘Father,[a]
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.[b]
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.[c]
And lead us not into temptation.[d]’”
5 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7 And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity[e] he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for[f] a fish, will give him a snake instead?12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
(Luke 11:1-13 NIV)

Prayer is essential in everything we do. I have been reading 14 Habits of Highly Effective Disciples from BaptistWayPress and noticed a great illustration:

The surgeon Atul Gawande’s book, The Checklist Manifesto, shows how doctors can use checklists to save lives and reduce mistakes, especially during surgery. Gawande’s surgery checklist includes the following three “pause points”: before anesthesia, before incision, and before leaving the operating room. Each pause point is to designed to add a “speed bump” before an important task so people stop and think about what they are about to do. The results are striking.

That’s also a good idea for every follower of Christ. Developing pause points throughout the day and using these moments to pray could produce miraculous results.

What a great word for us to hear. Brother Lawrence in The Practice of the Presence of God suggests everything we do should be done in an attitude of prayer. I realize most Christians are not at that point, so providing pause points will be a good idea. As teachers, how are you encouraging your students in the practice of prayer? Here are a few ideas:

Set up prayer partners. If every class from youth through adults had prayer partners it would be easier to process what they learned in Bible study and show the importance of prayer. I am not naive to believe every person will have a prayer partner, but those who do will grow in many ways!

Make prayer an essential part of your class. Make sure that prayer is a part of the beginning and ending of class. Ask others to consider leading the prayer. Make sure you ask them ahead of time. Some do not feel comfortable in leading a public prayer.

Ask for prayer concerns during the week. Call, text, or Facebook your class members about prayer during the week. It shows how important prayer is to you as long as you remember their prayer concerns, and ask them how God is answering that prayer. Some have chosen to call on Saturday evening to ask about prayer, and it is a reminder for Bible study the next day. Your class needs to know you care!

Communicate the need for prayer during special occasions and concerns. Set up a prayer chain by phone and Facebook for special needs during the week for every member to be called. Set a prayer time during fellowship events and during special times of the church’s calendar like revival. Invite them to a cottage prayer meeting at your house the week before revival.

Homebound/Shut-ins can pray! The homebound and shut-ins often feel they have nothing to offer. Encourage them to be prayer warriors for the church. Each month give them a special prayer list to be praying over. This is not your weekly prayer concerns for persons (though you should be giving them this list as well.) Have them pray about events that are coming up in the life of the church and to be praying for the leaders of the church.

Memorize the Lord’s Prayer and pray it daily. The disciples never asked Jesus to teach them how to minister or preach, but they recognized the power of prayer and asked the Lord to teach them how to pray. Use the Lord’s Prayer as a daily part of your routine.

May our lives be expressed daily through prayer.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6 NIV)

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On Time for Sunday School

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15 NIV)

Timing is everything for teachers & Students! I have heard pastors complain about teachers who are not on time for Sunday School. Actually I have witnessed it for myself. As an Associate Pastor years ago, I would visit every class before the actual time to start Sunday School. A few minutes before class was to start, I was surprised one morning to see that the youth teacher was not in the room. The room was dark (the lights had not been turned on) and the only one in the class was a visitor! What did we say to that visitor? YOU ARE NOT IMPORTANT! Teachers should be there fifteen minutes before the time to start.

Teachers, the first lesson is to recognize you need to be fifteen minutes early to greet people and be ready to teach. The kingdom of God may start fifteen minutes before the class. A visitor may have questions about God, life and church, and you need to be the presence of God at that moment. If there is an emergency, the teacher should have a greeter that they contact to be there early.

Timing is everything for students! I have heard many teachers complain that the students are coming in fifteen minutes late. Teachers are waiting for the students to arrive, and only have twenty minutes to teach. Transformation cannot happen in twenty minutes. Here are a few options to encourage people to be on time:

Have a breakfast & fellowship time before the class starts. Classes that provide breakfast see a dramatic change when people arrive. At my last church we had a breakfast hosted by different members each week (at another church, it was a different class each week.) We discovered that some families had been late because they were preparing breakfast. People arrived early to see what breakfast items would be there, and to enjoy catching up from their week.

Provide transportation. As a teenager (with a dad who was not a Christian), I would have to walk to church on occasion over a mile. Naturally it was difficult to be on time. Teachers need to be sensitive to children and teens that do not have a ride. Have a transportation committee to provide rides for children, teens and senior adults who do not drive.

Have a great teaser at the beginning of the lesson. Have an object lesson, great questions or a dramatic monologue. Once the word gets out about how great the opening is, people will want to arrive early and see what the fuss is about!

Recognize some will be late as habitual latecomers. Some enjoy being late and want the attention. Go ahead without them. They need to recognize that the class does not revolve around them. It is better to see transformation/kingdom moments for the ones who are there than to wait

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Sunday School and God’s Word

How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, LORD; teach me your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. (Psalm 119: 9-16 NIV)

Teachers, more than anything, we need to provide an environment that inspires our people to study God’s Word daily. The Psalmist in Psalm 119 expresses joy & praise for God’s Word as he expounds about it throughout the Hebrew alphabet as an acrostic. Here are some thoughts to inspire your class:

Share appropriate passages with your people outside of the classroom. Look for opportunities to text, e-mail, Facebook passages as they apply to life at that moment.

During a thunderstorm, share Psalm 29. This is a powerful imagery as the Psalmist praises God and God’s power as he watches a thunderstorm.

During the birth of a child, share Psalm 139:13-18.

During a crisis or grief, share Psalm 46 or Isaiah 40:28-31.

Set the example of daily Bible reading and share with your class your plan. There are many “read the bible through” plans out there and devotional books. Pick one and begin sharing with your class some options. If you have a smart phone, you can get the app, “YouVersion,” for a daily Bible plan, verse of the day and devotionals of many kinds.

Encourage memorization of Scripture. One of the passages I memorized as a child was Psalm 119:11(NIV): “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Jesus often quoted the Hebrew Scriptures when facing temptation. If Jesus did, so should we! Encourage Scripture memory by placing a verse from the passage each Sunday on a poster on the wall. How can the truth of Jesus set us free if we do not know the truth from God’s Word?

I have also discovered from personal family experience that Scripture memory and hymns brings comfort when our memories fade later in life. Alzheimer patients may not remember their name or their family. They become frustrated trying to remember, but Scriptures and favorite hymns stay with them. My mother-in-law had Alzheimer’s disease and could not remember us at times. If you began reciting the Lord’s Prayer, she knew it by heart!

Scripture brings guidance for life. Psalm 119:105 (NIV) reiterates the passage I started with: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” There have been many times in my life when I faced crossroads. Prayer, Scripture reading and reflection brought answers from God. If we are to be teachers of God’s Word, we must spend time daily doing so and not just to prepare a lesson!

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Sunday School and Evangelism Revisited

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

In many churches, Sunday School has become a time of fellowship for believers, studying the Bible and caring for each other. We are missing some very important components, as Sunday School was birthed out of an experience of missions, social ministry and evangelism around 1890 by Robert Raikes in Great Britain. He discovered that many children from poor families had to work during the week instead of going to school. He also noticed that many needed clothing and food. He began a “Sabbath School” to teach them how to read, provide social ministry and help them read the Bible to discover the Gospel for themselves. 

Evangelism was essential as part of the original Sunday School in North America around the time Raikes was beginning Sunday School in Great Britain. We have lost the missionary and evangelistic fervor of the Sunday School movement. Today’s culture needs to retool in understanding the importance of evangelism and how to share the Gospel in more effective ways. Though the street preacher may win a few to Christ, building relationships with the lost is essential in this day and time. George Hunter in The Celtic Way of Evangelism is a great place to start understanding the cultural shift and effectiveness of evangelism for today.

According to Hunter, the typical church today is similar to the Roman church in the time of Saint Patrick (the early fifth century A.D.), in that it ignores two populations:

  1. The people who aren’t “refined” enough to feel comfortable with us.
  2. The people who are too “out of control” for us to feel comfortable with them.

To put it another way, many church people today are like Jonah from the Bible in that they assume the “Ninevites” do not deserve God.

The Roman model for evangelism consisted of presenting the Christian message, inviting them to decide to believe in Christ, and welcoming them into the church and its fellowship if they decided positively, similarly to the Western church in the modern era. The Celtic model for evangelism, on the other hand, took this in pretty much the opposite order, allowing them to belong before they believed. In other words, the first step was to establish community or bring them into the fellowship of the community of faith. Then, within the fellowship, the next step was to engage in conversation, ministry, prayer and worship. Finally, in time, as they discovered that they now believed, they were invited to commit themselves. Summarizing the differences between the Roman model and the Celtic model:

Roman Model

Celtic Model

1. Presentation

1. Fellowship

2. Decision

2. Ministry and Conversation

3. Fellowship

3. Belief and an Invitation to Commitment

The supreme key to reaching the West again is the key that Patrick discovered-involuntarily but providentially. The gulf between churched people and unchurched people is vast, but if we pay the price to understand them, we will usually know what to say and what to do; if they know and feel that we understand them, by the tens of millions they will risk opening their hearts to the God who understands them.”

Brian McLaren  in More Ready Than You Think says, “Post modern evangelism is relational.  In essence, Christians are converted first in authentic spiritual friendship.  Good evangelists are people who engage others in good conversation about faith, values, hope, meaning, purpose, goodness, beauty, truth, life after death, life before death and God. Good evangelism is the process of being friendly without discrimination and influencing all of one’s friends toward better living, through good deeds and good conversations. Engaging in spiritual friendship will not only help others become Christians, it will help us become better Christians, who love God more than ever.”

For Sunday School to move forward in evangelism it is about building non-judgmental relationships with people in our community, understanding their reality and helping them see a God who loves them and wants to provide an abundant life. Are you pointing them to the abundant life in Christ?

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10 NIV)

     

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Discovering the Resurrected Lord and Sunday School Revisited

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. Luke 24:28-35 NIV

             If you read the entire passage (beginning in verse 15), you see two distraught men heading home from Jerusalem. Having been there for the Passover and heard the news of Jesus’ death, they had hoped he would be the Messiah that brought Israel back to its glory days and would overthrow the Roman government. Suddenly Jesus appeared and walked and conversed with them. Jesus began to interpret the Scriptures for them about his death and the resurrection, but they didn’t get past their own way of seeing the Messiah and what he was supposed to do in order to see here was Jesus.

            Now before we judge these men harshly, I want to ask you a few questions to see how your Sunday School class is seeing the Resurrected Lord.

             How are you encouraging class members to share what God is doing in their lives? Mike Breen in Building a Discipling Culture calls these Kairos moments. Some prefer calling them Kingdom moments. These are moments when we stop and observe something good or bad and begin reflecting upon what God wants us to do. To carry it to spiritual growth we need to:

Observe what God is saying

Reflect on what God wants us to do

Discuss with another brother or sister in Christ to flesh out a plan

Make a plan

Have a prayer partner to encourage us and hold us accountable

Act upon the plan

Look at my blog- Burning Bush Experiences to see more about Kingdom moments.

            Are you providing a learning environment to see with fresh eyes the Bible and what God wants to share? (See Isaiah 43:19) Part of the problem with these men on their return home to Emmaus was they saw the Messiah with tunnel vision. They did not expect his death. As we share familiar passages, do we have a tendency to remark, “Well, I know you have heard this before, but…?) Is there a way to use drama, music and video to enhance the experience? Curt Cloninger has some great vignettes of people in the life of Jesus in a DVD called “Witnesses.” Look for fresh ways to share the Story.

            How are we inviting Christ in our everyday lives? Notice the men got what was most important right. Jesus was walking away when they strongly urged him to come in to their house. Had they not done so, they would have never known it was Jesus! Encourage your class members to find ways to invite Jesus in their lives throughout the week to look for Kairos moments and abiding in Christ (John 15.)

            What events do you have outside of the class to encourage Kairos/Kingdom moments? Notice they recognized Jesus as he broke the bread and blessed it. What ways do your class members have opportunities together to do the same? Have a meal together once a month and allow conversations about everyday life to lead to Kingdom moments. Plan service projects on a regular basis to see Jesus in the “least of these.” (See Matthew 25)

            Years ago I shared a sermon during revival about this passage in a church in Roanoke. An elderly gentleman approached me afterwards and shared a recent Kairos/Kingdom moment. He volunteered at a local food pantry each week, and a woman came in with four children needing help. Her husband had left her, and she had no food in the house for her children. The workers were given an allotted amount to share with each family, but he felt God’s nudging to do more. She was given twice the allotted amount. As she prepared to go, she, in tears, thanked him and reached over and kissed him on the cheek. As she kissed him on the cheek, he felt Jesus’ kissing him on the cheek. “That which you do for the least of these you also do unto me”, he thought.  

            Where are you discovering the resurrected Lord in your life?     

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Sunday School is Hard Work

 

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. (Luke 14:28-33)

Doing Sunday School the way of discipleship is hard work, and we need to count the cost. It requires sacrifice and thinking beyond the traditions of the past 50 years! There was a time we could simply invite people to Bible study on Sunday mornings, and people would come. Today, churches need to go back to the inception of Sunday School and see it as a missionary movement. What does this require from our churches?

This type of Sunday School requires a different mindset. It requires getting past the voices that say, “We have always done it this way.” The persons in charge of Christian education need to get beyond age graded classes for adults to affinity based groups, from Sunday morning in classrooms to anytime and anyplace, as well as, thinking about places in the community where persons gather who are not in Bible study. It is best to gather a team to do this kind of work and bathe it all in prayer.

This type of Sunday School requires teachers to see themselves as missionaries looking to provide an environment for transformation rather than knowledge. Teachers are seeking to be facilitators of transformation rather than experts (See “Relationship not Bible Knowledge”.) Leaders need to have their teachers begin to think and pray about Sunday School as an evangelistic/discipling endeavor rather than traditional models from the past (See the blog from my archives: Missional through Sunday School.)  See the blog “Sunday School as Part of Discipleship” to move to transformation rather than knowledge.   

This type of Sunday School requires teachers to see themselves as disciple-makers. Whether it is teaching a lesson for transformation in discipleship or discipling someone else to teach, teachers need to move in this direction. Someone who teaches has a 90% retention rate in what he/she learned from the lesson. Inviting others to teach leads to spiritual growth for them. As discovered in most churches, churches need more teachers. Every teacher needs an apprentice to provide more teachers to start new groups.

A quote to consider as you pray about the work of Sunday School:

The religion that costs nothing, that demands no hard sacrifices of other things, that does not lift the life out of low-level motives, is worth little and makes little difference to the life.  The type of religion on the other hand, which costs the all, which makes the cross the central fact that dominates the life as its one driving power, becomes an incalculable force and turns many to salvation.

– Rufus Jones, from The World Within — p. 43

Count the cost, know it requires work and sacrifice and move Sunday School to a new level in Christian education!

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