My first year here is one I’ll not soon forget
What a year!
It’s hard to believe that it has been almost a year since I came on staff at the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) as the General Officer and Adult Sunday School Specialist. It has been a most informative and rewarding year for me. I have certainly learned a great deal about our state convention and the state of Missouri. I can just about call everyone in the Baptist Building by name and I have almost learned how to use the phone system. As for the state, I now know where places like Crane and Piedmont, Lexington and Marceline, Clarksville and Richland, Green City and Park Hills, and many other towns in Missouri are located. I’ve had the great pleasure to go to these towns this year and either lead Sunday School conferences, preach, or both.
I’ve discovered in my travels around the state that Missouri is a beautiful state, rich with history and an abundance of great people. It is also very diverse – from the Ozarks to the Missouri River; from the Mississippi Riverboat towns to the starting point of the Pony Express, from the boyhood home of Walt Disney to the home of the “throwed rolls.” Missouri is a great place to live and I am thankful that God has brought my wife and me to live here.
I’ve also discovered that Missouri Southern Baptists are very diverse. It is exciting to see churches that have continued to serve God over many years. I have been to so many churches that were founded back in the early years of our state’s history and continue to be a beacon of God’s saving grace in those communities today, some in their original, or at least very old, church buildings. (The oldest Baptist Church west of the Mississippi and north of the Missouri River is Ramsey Creek Baptist Church in Clarksville. The top of their sanctuary has lookout towers where lookouts would stand watch for Indian raids during the worship services in the early days of the church.)
I have had a chance to visit many Sunday School classes across the state and talk with many pastors, Sunday School directors, and ministers of education. Through my discussions with them and with my co-workers at the state convention, I have had the chance this year to implement three new strategies for Sunday School promotion in the MBC:
First, “Show-Me Sunday: A Statewide Sunday School High Attendance Day” was promoted for Oct. 26. This was the first statewide Sunday School High Attendance Day that the MBC has promoted in several years. Many churches across our state used the materials provided and promoted high attendance on Oct. 26, or on a different Sunday that fit their church schedule better. (For a sample of testimonies from some of our churches, go to www.mobaptist.org/ssd). We have learned several things from this experience and will make improvements for Show-Me Sunday 2009.
Second, “Show-Me Growth: A Missouri Sunday School Growth Award Plan” was also instituted this year. Designed to draw attention to Sunday School growth in our churches, the plan has three levels: bronze, silver, and gold. Each level has several requirements that must be met to receive a Certificate of Recognition from the MBC Sunday School/Discipleship Ministry. Esther Baptist Church in Park Hills became the first church to receive a certificate. Our prayer is that many of our MBC churches will take the initiative to meet the requirements and apply for recognition. More information can be found on the Sunday School/Discipleship web site listed above.
And thirdly, the Missouri Baptist Religious Educators Association (MBREA) was revived with the planning of our first “MBREA Spring Professional Development Seminar” on March 23 at Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Springfield. The featured speaker will be Roger Patterson, co-author of the book, Leading from the Second Chair. This will be a time for “second-chair” ministers, whether full-time, bi-vocational or volunteer, to come and learn how to be more effective in their ministries and their relationships with the “first chair” (pastor). This would also be a great time for pastors to come with their staff members and volunteer leaders to learn how to blend their gifts and talents to make a stronger and more effective team in the church. Again more information can be found on the web site listed above.
One observation that I would like to share from my travels and meetings around the state this year: I have discovered some wonderful churches and dedicated Sunday School teachers, but most do not really understand the true purpose of the Sunday School. Most of the Sunday School classes that I have visited are still focused inwardly, spending time in prayer for members and studying the lesson for that week. None that I have visited have really spent time discussing visits made to prospects or assigning contacts for members to make during the week. Not one class enrolled a new member the day that I visited. And, as far as I could tell, most of the people attending were already Christians – no lost people in attendance. The reason our Sunday School attendance and enrollment has been and continues to decrease is that we have lost sight of the Sunday School’s true purpose – to reach lost people for Jesus Christ. In order to do that, we must invite lost people to attend our Sunday School classes. We must enroll new members weekly. We must organize our classes for outreach and ministry.
In 2009, as it has been for this past year, my goal as the MBC State Sunday School Director will be to challenge our pastors and Sunday School leaders to catch a new vision for Sunday School – one that involves reaching new members, teaching for transformed lives, and ministering to the needs of both members and prospects. In order to accomplish this goal, the MBC Sunday School/Discipleship Ministry will initiate a new strategy for 2009 and beyond: “Show-Me Purpose: Simultaneous Sunday School Growth Campaigns.” This will be a multi-year strategy, focusing on a handful of associations each year. Our prayer is that when an association is targeted for a Simultaneous Campaign, each church in that association will participate in the campaign and benefit from the resources and training that will be facilitated by a trained Sunday School consultant assigned to the church and provided by the MBC and the association. This strategy is in the very early planning stages and will be announced in spring 2009 to the associations and churches. Watch for more details and begin to pray now about your church’s participation.
As I said at the beginning of this article, “what a year!” I have really enjoyed getting into as many churches as I could this year. If I have not been to your church yet, please hang on. I will try to get there as soon as I can. In the meantime, please pray for me as well as for all of your MBC staff as we try to further the Kingdom of God in this great state of Missouri. (Mark Donnell is Sunday School Specialist for the Missouri Baptist Convention.)