Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Main Thing

Here at the beginning of this new Sunday School year, may I offer you a challenge, an encouragement, and a reminder of the most fundamental part of what God has called us to do as Sunday School teachers?  The main thing we have been called to do is teach the Word of God.  Yes, we lead our groups in nurturing a desire to grow.  Yes, we lead our groups in organizing to serve.  Yes, we lead our groups in reaching new people.  Yes, we lead our groups in keeping our people connected.  But the most fundamentally important task we have is to faithfully study the Word of God together.  It is from this discipline that we understand the importance and necessity of all the others.

Take pride in that task and calling.  Find your identity in doing it well.  Let’s look at a particular passage in light of some of the wonderful nuances with which different translations allow us to deepen our understanding of it.  Listen to the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:1.

New International Version
This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.

In this passage, Paul is teaching the Corinthians how to understand his and Apollos’ role in their discipleship, so that they can understand their own role in discipling others.  We as teachers are to be understood as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.  I love that language.  We are servants entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed to mankind. This is true of all believers as we live out the biblical mandate to make disciples of others.  However, James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”  In light of this serious admonition, we can only understand that this message we have been given to teach…is of the highest importance.  In the same passage, 1 Corinthians 4:1, the ESV uses a different phrase than those “entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.”

English Standard Version
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

It uses the word “stewards”.  A steward is one to whom a responsibility has been given.  A steward is one who has been tasked with the management of a resource.  Proverbs 4 : 20-22 says, “My son, give attention to my words; Incline your ear to my sayings.  Do not let them depart from your sight; Keep them in the midst of your heart.  For they are life to those who find them and health to all their body.”

We are servants of Christ entrusted to manage the resource of the words of life.

The NLT translates 1 Corinthians 4:1 using the phrase “put in charge of explaining God’s mysteries.”

New Living Translation
So look at Apollos and me as mere servants of Christ who have been put in charge of explaining God’s mysteries.

The most simple and straightforward understanding of what it means to execute that charge…is to explain…to explain the words of life.  To teach them.

This precious privilege that we have been charged with is to explain the words of life to men and women and children who are growing in their faith as they become fully devoted followers of Christ.

Which leads us to 1 Corinthians 4:2.

Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.

Let us be faithful in our stewardship of explaining the words of life my friends.

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Spies in Church

When I was in seminary I heard stories about certain countries sending students to American seminaries to study missions.  No big deal, pretty cool actually, right?  Sure, unless it is a country that is closed and hostile to the gospel.  Apparently the potential exists for these countries to send students as “undercover spies” to learn the strategies and methods of missionaries who are posted in countries where preaching the gospel is outlawed.  These “students” then return home and set up sting operations to catch missionaries and persecute them.  That’s a pretty scary scenario.  The good news is that I also heard stories about these individuals, who as a part of their undercover mission are required to take classes in Bible and theology, were so touched in the heart by the gospel message that they converted and embraced Christ.

That, however, is not the kind of spies that this article is referring to.  Today’s article deals with spies in church.  These spies aren’t sinister, they’ve actually been hired by the churches that they visit.  Many retail businesses retain the services of “secret shoppers” to visit their stores and evaluate customer service.  In this same way, it has become popular for churches to hire people to visit and provide an evaluation of their experience so that weakness can be addressed.  Chuck Lawless, Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary wrote an article about the most commonly reported problems these undercover church visitors discovered.

If someone visited your Sunday School class next week and did an undercover evaluation, what would they find?

spy

Below are the findings from Lawless’ article, and a comment of mine regarding how our church might be evaluated in each category. 

1. Church websites are often outdated, boring . . . and useless.

We typically tell the spy only the name of the church and the city, and we ask him/her to learn about the church first from the website. More than one spy has called us to say he cannot find the service times, isn’t convinced the map is correct (if there is one), called a phone number no longer in order, cannot determine the church’s basic beliefs, or thinks the church will be old and boring based on their Internet presence.

We recently had a couple visit, who informed me that they first heard about PSBC by discovering mypsbc.org.  I took that opportunity to inquire about the helpfulness of our website.  I was relieved to hear that they were impressed, and found it very informing.  I know that our web site is a major tool for connecting with new people, as is our church Facebook page.  Both sites connect with more and more people weekly.  Anyone wishing to help with these digital gateways should contact me to find out more.

2. Churches are not friendly.

Our spies know to take note of how many people greet them apart from a time when the worship leader tells the congregation to welcome one another. More often than not, no one greets our representative before or after the service. Churches are friendly, but most often only to people they already know. I once served as a spy myself, and the church greeter escorted me to the “friendliest class in the church” – where not one of 60+ attendees spoke to me!

We had an article recently which evaluated our friendliness as a church.  We cannot have too many reminders though, that friendliness can’t be banked.  It has to be displayed each and every week, and it has to be authentic.

3. Church facilities are not generally marked well.

Church signs often have more cluttered information than a person can read when driving by. Guest parking – if any exists – is not apparent until an automobile is far into the parking lot. In larger buildings, which entrance is best to use is not clear. Signage inside the building is not helpful. In some cases, the church can be an easy place to get lost!

This is an area in which we must improve.  We need to do an evaluation of signage and have someone make some practical suggestions for improvement.  I have some ideas about small sandwich signs which could be placed outside main entrances each Sunday directing people to the sanctuary , and children’s areas.  Let me know if you would like to help with this.

4. Churches aren’t prepared for guests.

Sometimes there is no guest parking. Often there is no welcome center (or there is an unmanned welcome center!). Our spies have attended churches with no means to secure contact information from guests. Some have attended small groups that gave our spies no study material for the day. I can count on both hands the number of churches that later followed up with our spies – who were, to the church’s knowledge, their guests.

We make a strong effort each week to follow up with guests through pastoral contacts, the Cookie Crew, and through Sunday School.  As far as I can tell we have adequate guest parking, though we need some parking designated for parents with small children or expectant mothers near the children’s wing.  We have an attractive welcome area in a prominent location, and Darlene Bacon does a wonderful job of keeping it staffed.  Again, this area requires vigilance each week.  If you would like to join in these efforts, please contact me.

5. Churches are poorly equipped for protecting children.

If our spies take their children with them, we tell them not to do anything that makes them wary in releasing their children to child care workers. If the children’s area is not secure, if the worker does not require needed information, or if our spies simply feel uncomfortable, they keep their children with them. That happens quite often.

We are taking strong steps in our preschool and children’s department to build a culture of security.  Required background checks on all workers, detailed registration with emergency contact information, and strict attention to who is allowed in and around children/preschool classes are just a few of the ways we are strengthening this area of our church life.  If we are to be a church that strengthens families, we must be a safe place for families to bring their children.

6. Worship through music often needs improvement.

Our spies understand that churches have different worship styles, and they know to contextualize their assessment as much as possible. What we hear from them is that worship through music is often poorly done, regardless of style. Musicians have not practiced, lyrics are difficult to sing, and leaders lack passion.

Our worship service is without a doubt, one of the great strengths of PSBC.  Credit is due to Christopher, but also our dedicated and skilled musicians, choir members, and sound/light technicians.

7. Churches are not always clear in “what to do” in response to worship.

We ask our spies to do their best to think as the unchurched, particularly in trying to follow the direction of worship. Too often for my comfort, our folks reported they would not have known what to do if they wanted to follow Christ, join the church, or deal with a sin issue. I can only wonder if others left the same way.

This is probably an area in which we can improve as well.  We need to provide clear instructions in spoken word and in writing for new and unchurched people as to how they might respond if they feel led.

These are a few of my first reactions to an interesting approach regarding church evaluation.  What are your thoughts about these findings?  Again, how might your Sunday School fare in such an evaluation?

Categories: Sunday School, Wants to Grow | Leave a comment

Sample Small Group Covenant

Rick Warren has developed a “Small Group Covenant” which I believe is an incredibly important tool that Sunday School classes could leverage to encourage health in their group.  This week I want to share the contents of that covenant and one other thought about Warren which is relevant to small group health.

We are at the beginning of a new Sunday School year.  The truth is that “new Sunday School years” really matter more to preschool, children, and youth departments because it is the time when they promote.  Yes we start a new quarter of curriculum but we do that several times a year.  By the way, preschool, children, and youth are not the only people who can “promote” in Sunday School.  As adults, of course no one is going to be forced to move from one class to another…but people are always free to.  You might mention to your class that at beginning of this new Sunday School year, if they feel they have moved into a stage of life in which another class might be a better fit; this is a natural time to transition.  You may not have any takers, but there is something freeing and healthy about people being given permission to transition if they feel led.

Another natural opportunity that exists at the beginning of the new Sunday School year is to reinforce the purpose of the group and agree on some group values.  You may have done this last year, but hopefully you have some new people and they would benefit from hearing  healthy group values reinforced.  The following is the covenant from Warren which I hope will be a good tool for you.

GROUP PURPOSE:  ______________________________________________

(Hint: Use our W.O.R.K.S. acronym to inform your class of its purpose)

As a group, we agree to the following:

Attendance

To give priority to the group meeting.

Safety:

To help create a safe place where people can be heard. No quick answers or judgments.

Confidentiality

To keep anything that is shared strictly confidential. What’s said in group, stays in group.

Accountability

To give permission to group members to hold you accountable to the goals you set for yourself.

Assimilation

To keep the door open to others in our community (unconnected and unchurched people) who need what we have.

Responsibility

To take an active role in the responsibilities of this small group.

“If you are a member of a small group or class, I urge you to make a group covenant that includes the nine characteristics of biblical fellowship: We will share our true feelings (authenticity), forgive each other (mercy), speak the truth in love (honesty), admit our weaknesses (humility), respect our differences (courtesy), not gossip (confidentiality), and make group a priority (frequency).”

― Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here for?

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Organized to Serve

Here’s a great idea for getting organized with class mission projects.

Sunday School Mission Project Form

The link above is to a form that one of our Sunday School groups uses to organize their mission project calendar.  I thought it was great, and wanted to share it with you.  Feel free to adapt it and use it if it helps.

One of the marks of a church that is making disciples, is ministry in the community.  A fascinating thing happens when people begin to wake up spiritually to the reality of what God has called them to do, and be, in life.  They find purpose.

When you look with the eyes of Christ at the world around you, things jump out to your attention that need to be done.  “That widow needs her yard mowed.”  “There is a family who needs groceries this week.” “A ministry down the street needs volunteers to help organize the food pantry.”

People who are growing disciples even start to think about outrageous displays of love and grace.  “It’s going to be cold in a few months, wouldn’t it be great if we could donate coats to some local schools for needy children?”  “With school starting, wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to donate completed school supply lists to the families in our community who are struggling the most?”

Jesus inspires good works in those who have faith in Him.  But how are we supposed to accomplish the good works He inspires?  Our job as the church is to work together to accomplish the work of Christ in this world.   The church is God’s plan, His vehicle, to accomplish His will around us.

Naturally, service of this sort should flow out of Sunday School groups.  Sunday School is the church, organized to serve.

In addition, our vision is also a discipleship strategy.  Worshiping God, Strengthening Families, Changing Lives.  People come to worship, then take the next step of getting their family connected to this family of faith in Sunday School.   Sunday School builds community in the church, and in community, we serve. People’s lives are changed through ministry and missions.  Ultimately, new people who have been reached get engaged and begin the process all over for themselves; worshiping, connecting, serving.

We are the body of Christ.  We are his hands and feet.  We are his eyes and heart.  Jesus told us that the wold would know that we were His followers by the way we love.  So let’s love…loud.

Categories: Organized to Serve, Reaches Out to New People, Sunday School | Leave a comment

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