Discovering Easter every day: 4 Ways to Discover Servanthood for Sunday School/Small Groups

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Philippians 2:5-8 NIV

As I think about this Holy Week and Jesus having his eyes fixed on Jerusalem and a cross, I am reminded that the best way to transform a Sunday School class/small group, church and community is having the mindset of Christ as a servant. Picture the upper room where Jesus met with his disciples one last time for a meal. While the disciples had been arguing over which one was greatest in Jesus’ Kingdom, Jesus recognized there was not a servant to wash the feet of the dinner guests before the meal. (It was customary to have a slave of the host to do this menial task before a meal.) Jesus wrapped a towel around his waist and took a basin of water and did what was needed. Then he challenged the disciples to be servants.

In a day when we would rather have a gavel to judge and make decisions, Jesus wants us to grab a towel and be a servant. Are there things in your class, group, church and community you expect others to do without realizing you could do it? We all have chosen to use the gavel at times, while what was needed was a servant’s role. If we want to transform our Sunday School class/small group (and beyond), it is time to ask, “God, what do you want me to do? How can I serve you today?” So how do we change the mindset of our class?

Begin every class with a prayer, How can I serve you today Lord each day? If we are going to change a mindset, it has to start with us. Make prayer an attitude of asking what God wants instead of just what we want from God. I don’t usually quote a Michael Jackson song in sermons or blogs, but I was impressed with his song, “Man in the Mirror” many years ago.

I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways. And no message could have been any clearer. If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change.

                Develop a spirit of gratitude for what God has done. I have always enjoyed singing the hymn, “Count Your Many Blessings.” When I realize what God has done for me, I can’t help but feel grateful and wonder what I can do for God. As we approach Easter Sunday, there is no better time to rejoice for what God did for us through Jesus’ sacrifice on a cross. When we consider we have been set free from sin and death to eternal life, our perspective should change from self-centeredness to gratitude towards God. Dale Evans, the famous movie star, had wealth and fame, but it wasn’t enough. Her life changed when she discovered Christ, and said, “All of my life I looked for a pot of gold, and I finally found it at the foot of the cross.”

Find ways to involve every class member in serving. Set up care groups, get people to be in charge of service projects for the class, and outreach & fellowship events. People who serve develop a servant’s mindset. Spend a session on spiritual gifts and share a gifts’ inventory for them to take to learn what their gifts are. (I can help you with this piece. E-mail me at tony.brooks@bgav.org.)

Discover the joy of helping someone less fortunate than you are. It is easy for us to get so tunnel focused on our problems that we miss the less fortunate around us. As we begin serving the less fortunate, we discover joy that sets us free from our anxious filled problems and we find Christ. Matthew 25:40 (NIV) reminds us, “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.’

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3 Ways to Evaluate your Sunday School & Small Groups

28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? (Luke 14:28 NIV)

Recently I talked about the value of vision for effective Sunday School and small groups. Vision is essential. As you develop vision, the next step is evaluating your present groups. Now is the time to evaluate with a team that includes the Pastor/Education Minister, SS Director and someone representing the adults, youth, children and preschool classes/groups. There are three areas to consider your strengths and weaknesses:

How are you doing at Reaching new people for your group/class? At the heart of our mission is reaching new people for Christ and discipling them. What are your strengths and weaknesses in this area?

  • Are you starting new classes/groups? Don’t wait until a class/group is too large. Plan ahead!!
  • Are you intentional about reaching the people in the pew not in a class/group, as well as registering people at special events?
  • Are you developing an outreach program for reaching others in the community?
  • Are you starting new classes/groups in the community? (This is becoming a much greater effective way to reach the unchurched!

How effective are you Teaching in making disciples? We are called to make disciples, not just teach the Bible.

  • Are you seeing spiritual transformation of members?
  • Are you using creative teaching styles based on learning approaches? (E-mail me about some documents to help at brooks@bgav.org)
  • Are you facilitating others to discover the truth of God’s Word for their lives?
  • Are you getting to life application in your study each time?
  • Are you discipling potential teachers? (I hear all the time that we don’t have enough teachers to start a new class. Part of the teachers role is to mentor new teachers.)

How effective are you at Caring for the people in your class/group? People need to know that you care in order for them to care about what you say!

  • Do you have care groups to stay in touch and minister to members and prospects? (Contact me about a way to do this at brooks@bgav.org)
  • SS Directors & Pastors: Are you caring for the teachers and showing appreciation? Dr. Robert Dale always says, “You can’t make a bean plant grow by pulling on it.” Teachers need to be appreciated and shown that they are cared for!
  • Remember birthdays, anniversaries including grief anniversaries. Send a note, e-mail or call them.
  • Contact members and teachers on a regular basis to ask how to pray for them.
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Four Ways Storytelling can be Effective for Sunday School/Small Groups

One of the teaching techniques Jesus often used and is neglected in many Sunday School/Small Group teaching opportunities is the art of storytelling. Whether it was stories about farming, weddings, or other practical stories (parables) about the kingdom of heaven, Jesus knew how to captivate an audience, leave them pondering a truth from God and wanting more. It is time to develop this art in your setting. Here are some things to consider:

  1. Look for stories that apply the central truth of your passage. As you think about

the central truth in your lesson, search for stories that may help your students connect the dots. There are many great resources out there to help you in books and the internet. Many years ago, I used all of the Chicken Soup books like Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul to bring a point home. (You can get this one online for less than one dollar!) The internet is full of stories if you do some searching.

  1. Share stories from your own experiences with others. We see God working every

day in someone’s life. (Always ask permission before using someone else’s story.) Stories of people you and others in your Bible study may know enhance the experience of learning. It puts a face to God’s truths.

  1. Share your own experiences. Be honest and transparent with people about your

failures as well as successes. By sharing your experiences, you are giving permission for them to share their experiences.

  1. Find a storyteller in your Bible study class. Maybe you are not as gifted as

someone else in the class at telling stories. Let the person know what the central truth is a week in advance and allow them to share a story at the appropriate time. You may want to talk with them during the week to see what they have come up with and make sure it is appropriate.

Here is a story as an example I read a few years back:

Becoming As Little Children –Author Unknown

http://www.inspire21.com/stories/christianstories/BecomingAsLittleChildren

We were the only family with children in the restaurant. I sat Erik in a high chair and noticed everyone was quietly eating and talking. Suddenly, Erik squealed with glee and said, “Hi there.” He pounded his fat baby hands on the high chair tray. His eyes were crinkled in laughter and his mouth was bared in a toothless grin, as he wriggled and giggled with merriment.

I looked around and saw the source of his merriment. It was a man whose pants were baggy with a zipper at half-mast and his toes poked out of would-be shoes. His shirt was dirty and his hair was uncombed and unwashed. His whiskers were too short to be called a beard and his nose was so varicose it looked like a road map. We were too far from him to smell, but I was sure he smelled.

His hands waved and flapped on loose wrists. Hi there, baby; Hi there, big boy. I see ya, buster,” the man said to Erik. My husband and I exchanged looks, “What do we do?” Erik continued to laugh and answer, “Hi, hi there.” Everyone in the restaurant noticed and looked at us and then at the man. The old geezer was creating a nuisance with my beautiful baby.

Our meal came and the man began shouting from across the room, “Do ya patty cake? Do you know peek-a-boo? Hey, look, he knows peek-a-boo.” Nobody thought the old man was cute. He was obviously drunk. My husband and I were embarrassed. We ate in silence; all except for Erik, who was running through his repertoire for the admiring skid row bum, who in turn, reciprocated with his cute comments. 
We finally got through the meal and headed for the door. My husband went to pay the check and told me to meet him in the parking lot. The old man sat poised between me and the door.

“Lord, just let me out of here before he speaks to me or Erik,” I prayed. As I drew closer to the man, I turned my back trying to sidestep him and avoid any air he might be breathing. As I did, Erik leaned over my arm, reaching with both arms in a baby’s “pick-me-up” position. Before I could stop him, Erik had propelled himself from my arms to the man’s arms.

Suddenly a very old smelly man and a very young baby consummated their relationship. Erik in an act of total trust, love, and submission laid his tiny head upon the man’s ragged shoulder.

The man’s eyes closed, and I saw tears hover beneath his lashes. His aged hands full of grime, pain, and hard labor, cradled my baby’s bottom and stroked his back. No two beings have ever loved so deeply for so short a time. I stood awestruck. The old man rocked and cradled Erik in his arms and his eyes opened and set squarely on mine. He said in a firm commanding voice, “You take care of this baby.” Somehow I managed, 
“I will,” from a throat that contained a stone.

He pried Erik from his chest unwillingly, longingly, as though he were in pain. I received my baby, and the man said, “God bless you, ma’am, you’ve given me my Christmas gift. You see, ma’am, I never saw my child grow up. My wife and son were taken from me in an automobile accident when they were both too young. I was never able to get over it.”

I said nothing more than a muttered thanks and “I’m sorry to hear that.” With Erik in my arms, I ran for the car. My husband was wondering why I was crying and holding Erik so tightly, and why I was saying, “My God, my God, forgive me.” I had just witnessed Christ’s love shown through the innocence of a tiny child who saw no sin, who made no judgment; a child who saw a soul, and a mother who saw a suit of clothes. I was a Christian who was blind, holding a child who was not. I felt it was God asking, “Are you willing to share your son for a moment” when He shared His for all eternity? The ragged old man, unwittingly, had reminded me…

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” — Matthew 18:3 (NIV)

 

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5 Things to Discover about the Parable of the Pencil

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to go to Quantico along with our team to learn more about leadership. On this trip our lessons were from a retired Colonel Joseph Shusko in the United States Marine Corps. He was instrumental in changing the training for marines and martial arts at Raider Hall and around the world as he included training in body, mind and spirit. I was expecting discipline, toughness and responsibility as part of the training, but was surprised by his idea of mentorship and helping others. Part of the training includes what he calls “tie ins” which are moral parables to help these men and women build character.

Thankfully one of our colleagues bought each of us a copy of his book: Tie-Ins For Life: Stories that Teach Great Values and Inspire Moral Action.

 

The Pencil Maker took the pencil aside, just before putting him into the box.

“There are 5 things you need to know,” he told the pencil, “Before I send you out into the world. Always remember them and never forget, and you will become the best pencil you can be.”

“One: You will be able to do many great things, but only if you allow yourself to be held in Someone’s hand.”

“Two: You will experience a painful sharpening from time to time, but you’ll need it to become a better pencil.”

“Three: You will be able to correct any mistakes you might make.”

“Four: The most important part of you will always be what’s inside.”

“And Five: On every surface you are used on, you must leave your mark. No matter what the condition, you must continue to write.”

The pencil understood and promised to remember, and went into the box with purpose in its heart.

Now replacing the place of the pencil with you.  Always remember them and never forget, and you will become the best person you can be.

One: You will be able to do many great things, but only if you allow yourself to be held in God’s hand. And allow other human beings to access you for the many gifts you possess.

Two: You will experience a painful sharpening from time to time, by going through various problems in life, but you’ll need it to become a stronger person.

Three: You will be able to correct any mistakes you might make.

Four: The most important part of you will always be what’s on the inside.

And Five: On every surface you walk through, you must leave your mark. No matter what the situation, you must continue to do your duties.

As a teacher, allow this parable on the pencil to encourage you to know that you are a special person and only you can fulfill the purpose to which you were born to accomplish.

Never allow yourself to get discouraged and think that your life is insignificant and cannot make a change.

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Four Ways to Insure Sunday School is a Safe Place for Preschoolers, Children and Youth

One of the increasing concerns in church and any service organization, focused on children and youth, are safety & liability issues. Here are some things to consider:

  1. Providing a Safe Environment

We need to make sure furniture, toys and learning tools for preschool & children are up to date and sterile. Furniture (like tables and chairs) and toys/learning tools should be age appropriate and kept clean. (Please do not allow stuffed animals into the classroom. Stuffed animals breed germs and are hard to keep clean.) Small toys should not be in the preschool area, because they can be a choking hazard. Build wooden cubby holes for children rather than using eye level coat hangers that could cause serious injury to a child.

You need a First Aid Kit in the cabinet & properly trained persons in CPR. Keep a list of known allergies of children for healthy snacks. Phones are needed in nursery/preschool areas in case of emergencies along with a list of phone numbers of parents. Have an adult making security checks in the preschool/children’s area during Sunday School, worship and other church wide events for intruders.

 

  1. Preparations for workers of preschool, children and youth

Have background checks on all workers. The process through your local sheriff’s department is simple and cost effective. Don’t wait until there is an issue! I know in smaller churches we know everyone, but what happens when a new member wants to be working with children or youth.  You can’t single out new people without everyone having a background check. (If your workers are teaching in a public school system, they already have background checks at their school, and it isn’t necessary to do another one.)

Have a system for parents to drop off and pick up their child. There are many horror stories of an estranged spouse/parent picking up their child without the other parent knowing and leaving the state with the child. A simple way for checking in and out is to print some animal pictures and have them laminated. The parent gets a duplicate to take with them and one is kept with the child’s name and belongings. The parent must have the matching animal to pick up their child.

You need two adults to be present at all times with preschoolers, children and youth. In a day when one wrong move can deeply affect a child and one accusation can destroy an adult’s reputation, this is necessary! No adult should be left alone with children.

 

  1. You need special written permission to take minors on trips.

Get parental consent forms for special trips and avoid issues later. On a different note, I had a situation one time where a 17 year old youth left a youth event an hour early to go home and do homework, and I quickly called the parents to let them know. I was responsible and would be held liable if this youth got in an accident or was doing something inappropriately. The parents were very thankful I called, because the teen was not going home!

 

  1. Set policies and procedures for all workers as a covenant to sign about appropriateness of contact, and policies and procedures about safety precautions.

If there is an issue, you don’t want an adult to claim they didn’t know. The bottom line is we want a safe learning environment for our children and youth. We have the responsibility of making sure precautions are taken for this reason.

 

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4 Ways to Care now: Come Before Winter

21 Do your best to get here before winter. (II Timothy 4:21 NIV)

This passage has been preached by many pastors. For Sunday School/Small Groups, it is imperative that we reach out when persons are missing and beyond. Paul knew that winter may be too late to console him before he died. We never know when someone will no longer be with us. Here are some thoughts:

Set up care groups. Every class/Small group should set up care groups. This is where a person has five to seven persons on their list to contact. (Contact me at tony.brooks@bgav.org for the beginning stages.)

Pray for your care group daily. Spend time each day praying for your people. About once a month call/e-mail them to discover their needs. You may be surprised at their responses as they see you care.

Get other church members involved. You may discover certain needs you can’t handle. Let the Pastor, deacons and others know (if not confidential, always ask.) Often people slip through the cracks and stop coming, because others don’t know.

Send cards on important days. Send a card on death anniversaries. Remember and contact them on birthdays and other anniversaries. You never know what encouraging word might help.

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Dreaming New Dreams for Sunday School/Discipleship: Head, Heart and Hands

“‘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)

I just watched one of my favorite movies, Dead Poets Society. In it we have some who dream dreams and other who are realists. Which one are you? Can we do both as Christians? In this time, God needs us to dream dreams and see visions, as we help others t0 see a new reality!
Is your Sunday School class/Small Group realizing what is necessary…Head, Heart and Hands? Here are some thoughts:

Head: Are you looking at your class and their spiritual needs? Has there been any dramatic change in lifestyles based on spiritual transformation for members in the class? Is it time to change curriculum or start a small group at another time? Sunday School is meant to reach new people. It is not to be the only spiritual growth element for discipleship. If most of your members have been in the same class for years and not involved in other spiritual disciplines, it may be time for a change for them.

Heart: Is your group caring for each other? Does every person in your group feel as though they belong and their needs are being met? If not, it is time to set up care groups. Each person needs to feel that they belong, and they are cared for. (Email me at tony.brooks@bgav.org for suggestions.)

Hands: Persons in your group need to feel they are contributing to the class and the community. I have stated all along that every class (first grade and up) need to have an ongoing service project. You should be serving in some way outside the class. I have ideas if you need them. Just let me know.

In the world we live in we need mature disciples who are making a difference in the group and the community. It is time to allow God to help us dream new dreams and see a better future in the group, church and community.

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