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 http://www.congregationalresources.org. 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.