September 17th, 2012 at 6:00 am
Just to be clear, the “d-word” is “discipleship.” And it’s controversial at times.
Many of us were trained in Christian education at a time when most Southern Baptist churches had the same standard church program organizations: Sunday School, Discipleship Training (a.k.a. Church Training or BYPU for those who have been around awhile), Women’s Missionary Union, Brotherhood and age-graded choirs. Each church program organization had distinct tasks. For example, Sunday School’s tasks included “Reach people for Bible study,” and “Teach the Bible.”
“Discipleship” wasn’t officially on the list of tasks for Sunday School. Discipleship Training was a completely different church program organization with its own tasks, including “Equip church members for discipleship and personal ministry,” and “Teach Christian theology, denominational doctrine, Christian ethics, Christian history and church polity and organization.” Every good Baptist knew we had Sunday School on Sunday morning and Discipleship Training at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday night.
In a system like this, it was quite natural for some to get the idea that each organization should stick to its own business and leave the others alone. Not out of a competitive spirit, mind you, but out of respect for the necessary and distinct role of each. Only problem was, when folks didn’t make it back on Sunday night they missed “Discipleship” as a planned part of the work of the church. And “make disciples” has been our clear mission since Jesus walked with his disciples in the first century.
Long gone are the days when we can afford to leave the task of “Discipleship” to one particular organization or segment of the church (if we ever could/did). Yet there may still be some remnants of that old thinking in the way we plan and lead our Sunday Schools. The largest gathering of the church besides the worship service is typically the Sunday School/small group ministry, and it only makes sense that these groups should incorporate “the d-word.”
So how might a Sunday School leader integrate discipleship on Sunday mornings and other days? Let me suggest four ways and invite you to come up with more.
- Redefine success. Leave behind any tendency to think of yourself as the sole source of knowledge for your class each week. The mark of success in your teaching ministry is not what learners know but how they go. Do they go from the Sunday morning experience equipped with a sense of calling to represent Christ visibly in their world? Have they been challenged to live confidently because of their identity in Christ? Is your class seen as a safe place to ask difficult questions and find acceptance in the face of life’s troubles?
- Teach toward transformation. Make sure God has room/time to speak when your group is together. You say that’s not ultimately under your control? Bingo! God’s call to teach is a call to help others discover for themselves what He wants to do in their lives. You can’t play the part of God, so don’t try. But you can create experiences that give God a better chance to reveal himself through his word and Spirit.
- Broaden your curriculum. Continue to use Bible study helps provided by your church, but also view class projects, parties and other shared activities as opportunities (or at least illustrations) for teaching and learning. For example, use a Saturday group mission project as a springboard for Sunday discussion of the planned Bible passage. Or connect ministry to a sick class member to an upcoming lesson on servanthood. Break down the (artificial) separation of “spiritual” and “secular” that may prevent group members from experiencing a meaningful walk with Christ every day of the week.
- Lead with vision. Don’t allow difficulties in the church, community or world to dominate group interaction. Regularly challenge your group to reach positive goals that make a difference in the kingdom of God. For instance, could your class launch a new group in 12 months to reach others? How can your group encourage your leaders each month? Who are your group members praying for to receive Christ, and how can you encourage them to share? What do you and your group believe God wants you do as a result of your relationships with him and each other?
If you are a Sunday School leader, be glad that God has called you to join his work of making disciples. Challenging your group to deal with personal change and growth can be difficult and unsettling. But the risks of using the “d-word” on Sunday morning are well worth it, as you build up God’s people for works of service (Ephesians 4:11-16).
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