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Teaching Sunday School

Lisa Misner Sergent —  February 22, 2016

I have the privilege and challenge of attending a different church almost every week, but this past month I was able to attend my home church two weeks in a row. The first week, at the end of our Sunday school class, our teacher announced that he and his wife would be gone the following Sunday, and asked if any of us were available to substitute.

Our eyes met, and he smiled and said, “I don’t guess you will be here next Sunday.” I replied that actually I would, and a few minutes later I was walking out the door with his teacher’s book under my arm.

Teaching Sunday schoolI love teaching Sunday school. I’ve done my best to learn to preach over the years, but I’m really more at home in a classroom setting. I love the process of studying and organizing a lesson, of thinking through its most relevant, real life applications, and then planning creative illustrations or exercises that will help everyone take home some practical help.

But it’s more than just the teaching process that always made me love leading a Sunday school class. It’s living life with a small group of people week in and week out. It’s coming together outside class for fellowship and ministry. It’s doing missions projects together. And it’s making our class so fun and inviting and loving that we have lots of opportunities to welcome others in, and even send some of them out to do the same thing elsewhere.
That one week I got to teach Sunday school, I really only got to do the teaching part. Most of the rest of those benefits only come with consistent, loving investment in a group of people over time.

But the Lord did give us a special moment during that lesson. Our text in 2 Corinthians spoke of the burdens and hardships that Paul was carrying for the sake of the gospel. It wasn’t in the curriculum, but in my notes I had simply written the question, “Are we carrying any burdens or enduring any hardships for the sake of the gospel?”

When I framed that question for the group, I made it clear that I wasn’t just looking for a list of minor inconveniences, or for the self-absorbed whining in which we can readily engage. I asked them what burdens or hardships they were currently facing because they longed for someone to know Christ.

Frankly, I didn’t expect a lot of response. Sometimes teachers ask questions simply to create reflection or allow for conviction. But in the hallowed moments that followed, several in the class shared with quiet emotion the difficulties they were currently facing while trying to lead someone they loved to Christ, or back to Christ.

After a few minutes of sharing, we encouraged one another, and urged one another “not to give up,” as Paul had written. Paul labeled his own afflictions “momentary” and “light” compared to the glory that is waiting for us. And as our class shared our own burdens with one another in the context of God’s Word, we felt them get lighter as well. We walked out of that class with renewed determination and optimism. Now that’s Sunday school.

My one week back in teaching Sunday school reminded me again how powerful and transformational small group Bible study can be. And it gave me a renewed appreciation for my own Sunday school teacher, Matt, and for the thousands of faithful men and women that lead Bible studies in our churches every week.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

Five to thrive

Lisa Misner Sergent —  November 30, 2015

IBSA Annual MeetingSpiritual results aren’t always easy to measure. And they certainly can’t be humanly manufactured. But one metric that can be at least an indicator of God’s Spirit at work, and of thriving spiritual health in churches, is baptisms. Healthy churches should consistently see new believers born into the Kingdom of God and united into church fellowship.

For the past several years, IBSA churches have reported right around 5,000 baptisms per year. But when the 2014 Annual Church Profiles from IBSA churches were compiled earlier this year, the total had dropped to just over 4,500.

There were a few extenuating circumstances in 2014, and I hope the total will be back up this year. But this stable-to-declining baptism rate has led our staff at IBSA to ask, “Is there anything we should do differently?”

Those discussions led us to some research. And we discovered that, while only the Holy Spirit can convict people of their need for Christ, churches that consistently baptize new believers are often engaging in one or more of the following five, seed-sowing commitments.

Vacation Bible School. 43% of Americans come to Christ before age 13, and 64% before age 18. An evangelistic VBS is still one of the most effective ways to reach children, and their families, with the gospel.

Witness Training. While most born-again adults believe they have a responsibility to share their faith with others, only 52% have done so within the past year, and 31% say they “never” evangelize. Churches that are seeing people come to faith in Christ equip their members with a variety of strategies and tools for sharing their faith story. And they create an atmosphere of encouragement, accountability, and celebration within the church that makes it “normal” to talk about how and with whom members are sharing their faith each week.

Outreach Events. Some Christians are confrontational evangelists like Peter and Paul. But many are natural “bringers” like Andrew. Churches that baptize new believers regularly have worship services that are accessible and truly inviting to guests each week. But they also provide multiple outreach events throughout the year such as block parties, concerts, fall festivals, or even service projects. These give their members natural opportunities to invite friends and family to meet other Christians and feel welcome at church.

New Groups. Whether it’s a new Sunday school class, new home groups, or new ministries such as mother’s day out or men’s service group, new groups can give a church multiple settings in which personal, evangelistic relationships can grow. Each new group can be a new bridge across which the gospel may flow, and across which new believers can enter the Kingdom of God.

Evangelistic Prayer. According to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, more than 95% of those who accept Jesus as savior report that they were regularly prayed for by someone else for a significant amount of time prior to their salvation. An intentional, evangelistic prayer strategy may be the single most important commitment a church can make toward seeing people come to Christ. It is prayer that sensitizes the church’s heart toward specific lost people. And it is prayer that invites the Holy Spirit to be at work in their lives.

At the IBSA Annual Meeting this month, messengers were challenged to consider and commit to these five evangelistic actions. 146 of them did. During the coming year, our IBSA staff will be working in a focused way with these churches. If your church would like to be part of a regional cohort to focus on these areas, please contact us. We believe that churches that embrace these evangelistic commitments will thrive. And that just happens to rhyme with five.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond to his column at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.