Monthly Archives: November 2013

The world doesn’t need Superman.

Neither does your Sunday School class.

superman

They need you.  More precisely, they need Jesus as His strength is revealed to them through your weaknesses.

The reality is that you teach a small group full of people who struggle.  No matter how much pressure you and I (as church leaders) place on ourselves to be super human, super spiritual, or super anything…that’s not what the world needs from us.  The world (and especially the small groups we lead) need us to be authentic, honest, and real.

The Bible promises that where we are weak, God is strong.  In our weakness, His strength is perfectly sufficient.  It doesn’t bless the people we serve to make them think that you and I have our act together.  It blesses them to see that we don’t, but that Jesus loves us, has purposes for us,  and redeems us anyway.

Consider the following words from Rick Warren, as he shared about one of his long time weaknesses:

One of the things I’ve figured out is that God has used this to build a praying church at Saddleback. I wouldn’t think of preaching without having my prayer team praying for me during the message. And they pray for me during each service through the entire service. What’s the lesson? God uses weak people! Paul had a handicap and he said, “I glory in my weakness.” It is an absolute myth that you must be a super human being to be effective in ministry. The goal is to last. What kind of ministries last? Ones that are real and authentic and vulnerable and honest and non-hypocritical about our weaknesses.

I believe that there are two great pillars of ministry. Paul’s confession and Peter’s confession. These are the two great pillars of ministry. Peter’s confession was, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Obviously, ministry is built on that one, which is found in Mark chapter 8. But Acts 14:15 is just as important, which is Paul’s confession at Iconium where he says, “We are but men.”

I have met many pastors who are very interested in declaring their spirituality. But I haven’t met too many pastors in my life who are interested in declaring their humanity. But your humanity is actually one of your greatest strengths.

God loves to use weak people to work his life through and work His work through. Why? 1 Corinthians 1:27 says, “God purposely chose what the world considers nonsense in order to put the wise men to shame. And what the world considers weak in order to put powerful men to shame. He receives glory.” God puts His greatest gifts in ordinary containers so that He alone gets the credit.

You can read the entirety of his comments here.

So my encouragement for you today is not to worry about being super spiritual, or super human in front of your small group.  Be honest, real, and sincere.  Give God the glory for doing the things only He can do.

I leave you with this wonderful word from Jesus about his expectations of us:

Matthew 11:28-30

The Message (MSG)

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Categories: Studies God's Word Together | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

3 reasons why it’s not a bad thing that we missed our goal on “high attendance day”

Our Better Together weekend at Poplar Springs Baptist Church was a tremendous success.  On Saturday morning, our Preschool Sunday School leaders provided childcare, and Children’s leaders provided breakfast for our Sunday School small groups who mobilized into service all around our community. We had as many as 12 adult small groups who got up early and went out serving on Saturday morning.  Every age group from preschool to senior adults were involved.  Here are just a few examples of some of the projects we accomplished:

  •  landscaping at the local fire department and providing food for the firemen.
  •  visiting elderly and physically struggling families, doing yard work for them and home improvement projects.
  •  visiting a local children’s home and organizing their clothes closet.
  •  visiting a family in need and covering their home with love by doing laundry, deep cleaning, painting, and organizing.
  •  putting together care baskets and delivering them to elderly shut ins and spending time with them.
  •  doing a huge yard sale and raising over $200 for missions.
  •  deep cleaning in the church sanctuary
  •  yard clean-ups (bushes trimmed, leaves blown, trees cut, buildings painted, etc)
  •  visiting a nursing home and sharing hope and quality time with residents

All day on Saturday I received feedback from people who were blessed by the service projects, and from people who were blessed to serve.  Here is an example from one message I received:

DUDE!!! I cant even describe how awesome today was for our small group. Life changing for us and the family we were helping. Our people serving and coming together was like nothing I’ve ever seen. Turnout was unbelievable, which was good because we needed all the help we could get. Can’t wait to show you the before/after pics. The impact we made is hard to measure with words… But we will sleep soundly and know that we literally changed someone’s life completely.

You can’t measure that kind of impact in the way we have traditionally measured success in church.

We served together on Saturday, and then worshiped and studied the Bible together on Sunday morning.  The energy in both worship services was amazing.  Here is an example of just one of the comments that was shared on social media Sunday afternoon:

I had the most awesome time of praise and worship today at PSBC ever. My soul just opened up and soaked it all in. Jarrett McNeely reminded me that we need to let Jesus rub off on us…amen. And Julie Putnam McNeely sang about The Blood and I thought I was gonna exlpode, then my Pastor spoke from Proverbs about bringing up a child in the way he should go and he won’t depart from it….it has been rough year and today just helped me put so much in prospective. Thank you PSBC for loving God and loving me…..

I think there were moments in both worship services when we all felt like we were about to explode.  The presence of God was overwhelming.  That kind of unity in heart and spirit is a work of God that man cannot manufacture.  We also had a wonderful morning in Sunday School, with more than 20 visiting families in attendance.  In the past 2 weeks our Sunday School average is 643, with 668 in Bible study yesterday.  Our attendance numbers are steadily climbing from week to week over yearly averages.  The energy and morale of our small groups has never been higher.   I believe we need to plan another weekend similar to this early in 2014.

But there was a moment before the second service when I felt deflated.  Clint and I usually meet in the sanctuary before the 2nd service.  Sunday we met and I asked about whether we had met the attendance goal.  Clint responded that we had fallen short.  We stood there for a moment letting that sink in, and then it was like we both looked at each other and realized that it didn’t matter.  We resolved to share the joy and excitement of the weekend with the congregation, and give God the glory for all the great things happening around us.  Why should anyone feel deflated or discouraged?  Clint did a wonderful job of celebrating God’s work and placing the number in context. “We are having church in here today” he said, “and we had church out there yesterday!” I could not agree more.

In light of these thoughts, here are 3 reasons why it’s not a bad thing that we missed our goal on “high attendance Sunday”:

  1. It provides us with an opportunity to rethink our scorecard for success.  I am not opposed to setting number goals.  I think they can be helpful.  But we can never make them the bottom line.  We are a spiritual family and we ought to measure success by spiritual standards.  Attendance numbers can be affected by lots of variables, and while they should not be ignored, they can’t become the bottom line for measuring spiritual health and growth.
  2. It creates a moment that we can learn from.  By every conceivable standard, we had a great weekend experience serving, worshiping, and being in small groups together…except one.  We set a number goal and fell short.  Perhaps we should seek God’s wisdom and pray for his leading in how we plan special emphasis weekends.  In the past we have set number goals, taken commitment cards, created incentives for meeting the number goal, and had success with that model.  This time we did it differently.  We set a number goal, but we planned other activities and created spotlight moments on service projects and included the worship service in our emphasis.  The service projects were a tremendous success, and the worship service full of energy.  Sunday School attendance was very high, even if it wasn’t at the goal level.  It’s my observation that we had a rich and meaningful weekend that will leave deep spiritual impressions in a variety of ways.  In light of the contrast however, we may be able to learn that there is a broader and better vision for special emphasis weekends than driving high Sunday School attendance alone.
  3. We are reminded to value people over programs.  We are not here to build a big Sunday School.  We are here to build healthy disciples.  The danger always exists as we create special attendance drives, that as people are invited they may feel used, or like a statistic. “Well, its ‘high attendance Sunday’ again and they’re inviting us back to church so they can have big numbers.”  Obviously that is not the point of what a high attendance Sunday is.  And I have confidence in our people to communicate more effectively than that as they make invitations.  But the bigger a deal we make of the goal number, the more pressure we create to live or die by it.  We must be a church that cares about what God cares about.  God wants us to grow, and wanting to grow is one of our core values.  Healthy things will naturally grow, especially healthy churches. Today however, I am considering the best ways to express that desire to grow, and what modes of growth really matter to God.  There is deep spiritual and real physical value to the things we accomplished TOGETHER this weekend.  Our people grew in ways that a number cannot express.  We didn’t meet the number goal, but I am thankful to God for what was accomplished.

You did a great job this weekend Poplar Springs.  You expressed in beautiful ways that we are Better Together.  There is not a single thing that I want you to feel deflated over.  Give God the glory for the great things He has done, and let’s pray together about what we might learn from our wonderful experience together.

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

What puts the cool in Sunday School?

I enjoy reading a variety of resources from people who I find to be honest voices in the world of church leadership and faith life.  I don’t always agree with the people I read, and I wouldn’t always express things the way some do, but I find working through a variety of perspectives to be challenging and insightful.  Today I want to highlight a few points from an article which is an example of one where author and I see the world differently on the subject of Sunday School.  To be fair, the author of this article is highly successful and has worked at several churches that I greatly respect.  Also, I have always enjoyed reading his thoughts and found them to be very good.  We come from different places in our approach to spiritual formation and discipleship in church life, as I am an advocate of Sunday School and he has served in churches that have moved away from having a Sunday School as a part of their small group philosophy.  Certainly, there are a variety of ways for churches to have deep spiritual formation programs.  Churches in Southern California or South Sudan might not have what we think of as a traditional Sunday School model, and be growing deep disciples very effectively.  In our context here at PSBC however, Sunday School is part of the church’s DNA and I believe is a very effective way to accomplish discipleship.  For what it’s worth, I think the author of this article would agree, and not advocate churches everywhere abandoning Sunday School in favor of some other form of discipleship strategy.  The key is the level of excellence with which you do something in your context that makes it effective in most cases.

We talk on a regular basis about qualities which, if present, assure that Sunday School W.O.R.K.S.  Certainly there are churches in community contexts where Sunday School should be effective, but is not, because it’s done poorly.  It may be those Sunday School experiences that have led some to want to move away from it. That seems to be the case with the author of this article, though I don’t know what his denominational background is.  It’s the reasons why Sunday School does work, and makes a huge difference in people’s lives that drive me to be committed to it.  In this article, the author highlights a few core values that are lost when churches abandon Sunday School.  I would add to his list, but I thought that it would be interesting for you to see what he highlights:

Basic Bible knowledge

From Kindergarten on we had the basic Bible stories drilled into us.  As much as I hated Sunday School, by the time I graduated I had a pretty good understanding of the basic scope and sequence of the Bible.

Connection with peers

My best friends growing up were the kids I went to Sunday School with. Part of it was affinity, part of it was age proximity and part of it was surviving an hour every Sunday together. Even though I hated Sunday School I actually liked going because my friends were there. I felt accepted and connected.

Relationship with an adult who (ideally) loves kids

Once in a while we would have a Sunday School teacher who taught because she really loved kids. I remember one teacher who hosted an Easter Egg hunt just for our class at a park near her house. That made a big impact on me. I also had another teacher who would come faithfully every week to our midweek class (our version of Boy Scouts) even though I was often the only one who showed up. (I was the pastor’s kid, I had no choice). He wasn’t a talented teacher or leader, but he cared about me. I didn’t have the maturity to recognize it at the time, but [he] taught me how to love like Jesus.

Spiritual heritage

My Sunday School class is where I learned my spiritual heritage. We talked about the heroes of our tribe; missionaries who made the ultimate sacrifice for the Gospel. We learned the tenets of our faith and the nuances of doctrine the set us apart. Much of it was legalistic and some downright whacky, but I understood who we were and what we believed. The core that I learned in those classes is still what I cling to today. It is a basic part of who I am.

A church needs a primary vehicle for small group fellowship, organization that makes service easier, consistent small group Bible study, keeping up with one another, and connecting new people in a personal way.  Without it, many crucial things that make the church what it should be are lost.  Churches with different models than ours have sought to replace these qualities with other strategies.  Some have been more successful than others, but we must focus on OUR responsibility to build fully developed followers of Christ.

It is unwise for us to measure our church health by the success, or lack there-of, in other churches.  What matters to us is how effective we are at doing God’s work in our context.

I believe that our strategy is good and biblical approach.  I see evidence everywhere that it is effective, and that lives are being changed through what we do.  Sunday School is a rich part of our church’s discipleship heritage. Generations before us were faithful, and our task is to keep up the good work.

It’s also important that we pray for, and pull for other churches to be successful as well, even if they do it differently than we do.

The article I’ve referenced ends with this statement:

So am I suggesting we bring Sunday School back? Heaven forbid! I just think we need incredible intentionality around the elements we’ve lost. My fear is that we are raising a generation of children who love the entertainment we provide on Sunday, but have little understanding of the Bible, no close church friends, little connection to Christian adults (other than their parents) and a lack of knowledge about their spiritual heritage. In other words we have unchurched children growing up in the church.

Such a reality is a danger for churches who don’t have Sunday School, and for churches that do Sunday School poorly.  Let’s keep working hard to make our discipleship strategy accomplish God’s work in a powerful way!  In the end, its the personal care and hard work of the people who lead Sunday School that make it fun, memorable, cool for young people, and essential for grown ups.  May God continue to bless the church with His presence through our service.

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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