Monthly Archives: September 2012

6 Healthy Habits of an Effective Sunday School Leader

What are the habits of an effective small group teacher/leader?

I have read tons of articles and books on the subject.  I took multiple classes on the subject in seminary.  In all of my reading and research, the same set of habits emerge as key characteristics of a small group leader that is having a huge impact.   Here is the list, and a brief thought about each:

1. Consistent Devotional Life :  You’re ability to lead is directly related to your discipline to read.  Christian teachers and leaders should be consistently reading God’s Word, and something devotional that affirms and applies christian spiritual disciplines in their life.

2. Balanced Family Life:  The first and most important small group God has called you to care for is the one that lives in your home.  It’s true for pastors, deacons, teachers, and everyone.  Your family’s needs don’t compete with the needs of your class or group.  You will never be able to care for the needs of your group with integrity if your family’s needs are not met first.

3.  Develop Leaders:  Healthy classes and small groups produce leaders.  Who have you identified in your group as a potential leader, and what are you doing to bless them in their growth?

4.  Invite New People:  The greatest obstacle to the growth of your group is people not inviting someone new.  As leaders, we set the pace.  Our lives should reflect a commitment to inviting new people to church and Sunday School.  If our people don’t see that we are excited enough about the class to invite folks, why should they feel that way?

5.  Make Contacts with Guests:  Follow up.  It’s a discipline that we all have to work on.  A simple contact expresses value, and makes people feel loved.  Any contact is worth the time it takes.

6.  Dedication to Building Trust:  The class atmosphere should be open, honest, comfortable, and welcoming.  That is the environment in which people learn to trust, and no one ever experiences the  true beauty of the gospel outside of a trust relationship.  Leadership sets the tone.  Trusting relationships don’t happen by accident.  Leaders should be deicated to building trust within their groups.

These characteristics were highlighted in this recent article.  As was the following excerpt:

A PARABLE OF THREE GARDENERS

A man had a beautiful garden that yielded rich and abundant food. His neighbor saw it and planted his own garden in the spring, but he did nothing to it: no watering, cultivating or fertilizing. In the fall, his garden was devastated, overgrown with weeds and bearing no fruit. He initially concluded that gardening does not work. After more thought, he decided that the problem was bad soil or maybe that he lacked a “green thumb.” Meanwhile, a third neighbor started a garden. Though his garden did not immediately yield as much as the first man’s, he worked hard and continued learning. As he practiced new ideas year after year, his garden reaped an increasingly abundant harvest.

The truth of this parable is obvious. I traversed the globe to discover the secrets of small-group growth, and the same principles made the difference between cell growth and stagnation in every country, culture and church. Prayer, hard work and the steady application of proven principles set apart the successful cell group leaders. The insights outlined here will work for you if you are willing to pay the price. These habits require time and effort.

The proven principles we have agreed to steadily apply are the values that make Sunday School W.O.R.K.:  Wants to Grow, Organized to Serve, Reaches Out to New People, Keeps People Connected, and Studies God’s Word Together.

Successful cell leaders spend time seeking God’s face and are dependent on Him for the direction of their group. They prepare themselves first and then turn their attention to the lesson. They pray diligently for their members as well as for non-Christian contacts. But successful cell leaders do not stop with prayer. They come down from the mountaintop and interact with real people, full of problems and pain. They pastor their cell members and visit them regularly. They invite new people, visit newcomers and evangelize naturally in their small groups. By developing these habits, any cell leader can lead a group to grow and multiply. That is God’s heart and His Great Commission. How are you doing?

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment field below, or on facebook at facebook.com/dwalker96sc

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When it’s time to scrap the lesson…

It’s an odd thought.  One of the most important responsibilities of a teacher at church is spending time in God’s Word and good resources in lesson preparation.  But there are moments in the life of a small group when God is moving in a particular way, and the lesson becomes of secondary importance.  In fact, there are times when the lesson needs to be forgotten about completely.

I am an educator.  Teaching and serving teachers is my passion.  I have this inner drive to get that lesson taught.  It’s not easy for me to suggest such a thing as scrapping the lesson all together every now and then.  But we have discussed how the church is a family of families, and Sunday School is the living room.  We’ve talked about how Sunday School is where the life of the church happens.  We study God’s Word together, yes.  But we do so in the context of our lives.  We pray for each other’s needs and bear one another’s burdens.  We celebrate each other’s victories and encourage one another to stay faithful.  There are days when these moments are more important than finishing that lesson outline.

Part of the joy and responsibility of a teacher and leader is to recognize those moments and get out of God’s way.  If the thought of missing one of those moments intimidates you, (it does me!) I would encourage you to choose someone in your class who is sensitive to these things and give them permission to stop you if need be.  Work out an arrangement that allows them to give you a sign that says, “Be quiet for a minute, and see what God does.”

To help you think about some of the indicators that you need to scrap the lesson and let God go with it, here are some good suggestions from an article I recently read:

1. When someone or multiple people are crying, don’t miss the moment.

2. When someone confesses a sin, don’t miss the moment.

3. When two people who are at odds with one another and speak of making things right between them, don’t miss the moment.

4. When there is tension between group members, don’t miss the moment.

5. When the presence of the Holy Spirit is filling the room in an extraordinary way, don’t miss the moment.

6. When someone who has been hesitant to talk about their personal life or their journey with Christ and does, don’t miss the moment.

7. When a couple in the group tells the group that their marriage is on the rocks or a dating couple speaks of breaking up, don’t miss the moment.

8. When someone speaks of their anger with or disappointment with God, don’t miss the moment.

9. When the group recognizes and acknowledges a communal failing and, as a group, is willing to repent together, don’t miss the moment.

You can read the entire article here.

The good news is that you don’t need to feel inadequate here, or think you are ill-equipped to manage one of these moments.  At this point the group leader”s job is to quietly get out of the way.  These moments are God things, and He will steer the ship.  You may feel prompted to ask a question here and there , or suggest a time of prayer or scripture…you are called by God to lead the group after all. I would also add that we shouldn’t fear silence in these moments.  Times of silence when God is moving in a group can be healing and restorative.  We aren’t used to silence and it can feel awkward because we are so accustomed to noise.  But as you know God often whispers, and silence is the best setting to hear a whisper.

It is our privilege at these times to be encouraging and affirming to the class.  And it is also my privilege to be encouraging and affirming to you.  I believe in each of you.  You are each dedicated to God’s Word and to the group you serve.  You are always in my prayers as you lead and serve.

See you Wednesday night at our leadership meeting.  As always, call or message me if I can be of any service.  I would love to hear your thoughts on this article, either in the comment field below, or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/dwalker96sc

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Words: a teacher’s not so secret weapon

 

It’s no secret that words are powerful things.  Who ever said, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”  probably ended up seeing a therapist once a week.  Everyday, we all have opportunities to speak words that hurt, or words that bring life to those around us.  Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death.”  Words are especially powerful for teachers.  This is true for teachers in the academic world, and in the church world.  Let’s take a moment and examine the importance of Sunday School small group leaders being  intentional about how they use their words.

While the potential for good or harm may not be greater for teachers in church settings, it is certainly unique.  The setting and the subject matter are what bring this uniqueness to the situation.  People come to church to learn about God, and how God relates to them.  How and why God relates to mankind speaks directly to the value of man.   Scripture teaches us that God is at work in the world redeeming, rescuing, and restoring people through the power of the Gospel.  It also teaches us that God’s plan for accomplishing this work is centered around our willingness to be used by Him, and our faithfulness to act in His name.  Our Sunday School lessons should tell that story.

The  curriculum we use give us scripture passages and different emphasis each week, but every week we have the opportunity to call people back to the truth that God loves them and that they have a leading part in His redemptive plan for the world.  We’ve all been in Sunday School classes that devolved each week into gossip sessions, sharing of opinions on current events, or worse.

My challenge for you this week is this: be intentional about guiding the conversations in your class to stay on God’s message, and speak affirming words of life-giving purpose to those in your class.

Proverbs 12:18 says, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”  Don’t you want your classroom to be a place of healing  for those who are under your teaching?

Proverbs 15:31,32 speak of the value of a “life-giving rebuke” in a person’s life.  Listening to a life-giving lesson leads to wisdom.  But the lesson of that passage is that there are also conversations which are so unwise that they end up “life-taking”.

I recently finished a great book by Craig Groeschel called Soul Detox that discusses this and much more about the condition of our hearts.  I highly recommend it.  Let me leave you with some insight from his chapter on “Lethal Language.”

Creative words create.

Destructive words destroy.

Hurtful words crush.

Helpful words build up.

Toxic words poison.

Soothing words heal.

Faith filled words bring life.

Faithless words bring death.

What will you say this weekend that will intentionally build up your class?  What life-giving words will you use?  What creative questions will you ask that will reveal God’s handiwork in their lives?  What verbal pitfalls do you need to begin now praying to be delivered from?

Each leader in our Sunday School small group ministry means the world to me.  You are all world changers.  You speak words of life and hope to people every week, and I pray for you every day.  Always contact me if I can be there for you, or pray with you about anything.

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How does Sunday School fit into our discipleship strategy?

We have a discipleship strategy?!  I thought Sunday School was the discipleship strategy?!  That’s what we have Discipleship Training classes for, right?

Those are some of the responses I might expect to get when asking questions about our discipleship strategy.   But there’s so much more to know! We haven’t talked a lot about a discipleship strategy because we have only recently begun to develop a clear way to communicate it.  One of the most important steps in that process has been the development of our church’s purpose phrase.  “Worshiping God, Strengthening Families, Changing Lives” is more than just a slogan at PSBC, its our plan for spiritual growth and health. We want to see people coming together to worship, getting connected to the family through small groups, and involved in life changing ministry. I love the vision of our church!

This is our discipleship strategy, and it’s a bible based plan for building disciples who value the  things that Jesus values.

Jesus  tells us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul, mind, and spirit.”  We are committed to worshiping God .

Jesus tells us to “Love our neighbors as ourselves.” We are committed to loving each other by strengthening the family at PSBC.  

Jesus tells us to “Go and make disciples of all nations…”  We are committed to changing lives through missions and ministry.

Step 1: Most people have their fist experience with a church by visiting the worship service.  If it’s friendly, inviting, and they sense the presence of God, they keep coming.  But there’s a next step that they need to take.

Step 2: The next step involves getting connected to the family (the church family).  The best way to do that is through Sunday School.  This may happen after a guest enjoys some of our family friendly events or programs (TeamKid, VBS, Fall Festival Outreach, Wednesday Night Suppers, etc), but  Sunday School is the next destination.  I think it’s also important to note that Discipleship Training classes fit here as well.  The difference is that SS classes are open and ongoing, while adult DT classes are short term and usually require signing up.   I love the analogy that the church is a family of families, and Sunday School is the living room.  It’s where the family enjoys life together. But that’s not it, there’s still a next step! (this is why we will start highlighting local missions and ministry opportunities for your SS classes at our leadership meetings)

Step 3: Bible study and family fellowship are not the end goal.  We grow in our faith and knowledge and support of one another for the purpose of reaching out and serving others.  After making worship a priority, and connecting to others in small group bible study, we must reach out and draw  others in through ministry and missions.

That’s where the process starts all over again for someone new.  They visit worship because someone reached out through service and invited them, they join a small group, and then they get involved in service for themselves.  It goes on and on and the Kingdom of God keeps growing.

If someone is coming to worship and serving in a ministry, but they aren’t connected to a Sunday School class; something important is missing.  If someone is coming to worship and Sunday School but isn’t involved in ministry or missions; then something important is missing.  If  someone is in Sunday School and is serving in a ministry, but never comes to worship; something important is missing.  Any of these points COULD be an entry point for someone into the church, but knowing the next step is crucial. See how it works?

Every event or program at our church should fit into this strategy.  Every event or program should point to a next step.

A church of people who are worshiping, connected in Sunday School, and involved in missions and ministry is a dynamic church full of healthy Christians.  That’s our discipleship strategy, and Sunday School is at the heart of it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!  Share them in the comment field below, or on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/dwalker96sc

See you tomorrow (Wednesday) night at 7 for the Sunday School leadership meeting!

(We will also have our monthly Department Director’s meeting this Sunday at 5.)

Categories: Keeps People Connected, Organized to Serve, Reaches Out to New People, Studies God's Word Together, Sunday School, Wants to Grow | Leave a comment

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