Shifting sands in small group life, Sunday School
Have you ever seen a movie that shows the blowing sands of a desert? As the desert winds howl and the sand comes alive with motion, did you notice that the landscape seemed to change before your eyes? Imagine trying to navigate that terrain with little or no landmarks to guide you. Well, our Sunday School ministry is in a period of transition and the following shifts are happening even as I write this article.
In my last article, I shared with you four of the seven “shifting sands” that Timm Boyle wrote about in an article titled “The Shifting Small Groups Landscape” (found in the Fall 2007 Willow Creek magazine). The first four shifts were “From a Program to an Environment,” “From Having Meetings to Building Community,” From Small Groups as a Church System that Delivers Church Programs to Groups Practicing a Lifestyle,” and “From Content to Process.” Each one of these “shifts” can be seen in our current Sunday School ministry. The same can be said for the remaining three “shifts.” The fifth shift is “From an Optional Ministry to an Essential Practice of the Church.” As Southern Baptists, we have been blessed with a rich history of Sunday School ministry and the tradition is solidly entrenched in our DNA. Sunday School, by design, is the one organization in the church specifically designed to fulfill the Great Commission. All five of the functions of the church (Acts 2:42-47) can and should be found in each Sunday School class. Additionally, Sunday School is where people make a connection with the Body of Christ and relationships can be forged that allow new people and those “checking us out” to find a place where they “fit.” Community is very important in today’s culture and people are looking for a place where they can belong. Sunday School ministry should not be seen as something we “have always done,” but rather a great opportunity to connect with the lost and unchurched in our church field and with those already in the “family of Christ.”
The sixth shift is “From Training Leaders to Training Groups.” At first glance this seems to be an odd statement but it fits so well in our current Sunday School ministry. We need to train and equip leaders for the Sunday School ministry and that will never change. But we need to go farther in the process and equip and train our class members how to be “players’ and not just “spectators.” Our students need to have opportunities to develop their gifts and talents in the context of the class. This leads to a “shared leadership” mindset. When a guest enters the classroom, everyone participates in the process of “connecting” them to the class. We need to make them feel welcome and valued (we need to do that for our class members as well). Class members can no longer see all of the leadership needs being fulfilled by a few; rather there should be a mindset that all participate in the leadership responsibilities found in the Sunday School class.
The seventh and last shift is “From An Institutional Approach to An Incarnational Approach.” It has been said that “People don’t want to be invited to a strategy, but they do want to be invited to a relationship.” Not only must we be prepared to build the relationships identified in the sixth shift but, more importantly, we must be diligent in providing every opportunity possible for people to experience a personal relationship with Christ. When a group of believers lives out the presence and power of Christ in their own lives, collectively they will be a powerful force in their church and community as they demonstrate and live out a Christ-centered life for all to see. Current research has told us that the “Gen-Xers” and the “Mosaic” generations want to align themselves with a group of believers (the local church) that is being the church, not just doing church! What a powerful influence to the lost and unchurched to see a Sunday School class living out their faith in many and varied ways throughout their community.
Well, these seven “shifts” are happening in small group life everywhere – are they happening in your Sunday School class? I urge you to give some thought to how you can make them happen in your class. If you need some help in implementing them or would like to discuss these “shifts,” contact the Sunday School/Discipleship Team at 1-800-736-6227 Extension 461. (Bruce Morrison is the MBC’s director of Sunday School / discipleship ministry.)