Seven Important Purposes Of The Sunday School
By Charlie Lowry
Based on my studies of scripture and church growth writers, I believe there are actually seven purposes of the Sunday school that must be addressed if a congregation is to experience healthy growth. The seven purposes are: equipping (teaching), edifying (ministry), encouraging (fellowship), exalting (worship), encountering (prayer), evangelizing (evangelism), and exhorting (reclamation).
Equipping believers through teaching and mentoring
Ephesians 4:11-12 tells us that believers are gifted “for the equipping of the saints.” Equipping is more than just teaching. It is preparing believers to actively participate in the ministry of the church.
Edifying others through ministry and service
Galatians 5:13 tells us to “serve one another.” Service and ministry are for the building up of the church as expressed in Ephesians 4. We need for our members to become ministers, serving one another with their spiritual gifts.
Encouraging one another through fellowship
Acts 2:42 states “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread.” One of the best ways to build relationships is to do so around the dinner table. Building healthy relationships is key to assimilating new members into the family of God. The leaders of the New Testament churches had a clear understanding of the importance of building their oikos, or family relationships.
Exalting God through worship
The greatest commandment as given by Jesus in Matthew 22 says “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” God is not only worthy our worship, but he also commands our worship and longs for our praise.
Encountering God through prayer
Acts 2:42 shows the church “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Prayer is how we communicate with God. Prayer is our source of strength and direction. Prayer is vital to the health of the church.
Evangelizing the world through proclamation and missions
Matthew 28:19-20, The Great Commission, says “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” We find in Acts that the early church proclaimed the word of God in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth, “and the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
Exhorting other believers to faithfulness
Ezekiel 34:15-16a says, “I will tend my flock, and I will let them lie down. I will seek the lost, bring back the strays, bandage the injured, and strengthen the weak.” In this passage the Lord gives us an example of what a Good Shepherd will do to care for his flock. He states that he will not only “seek the lost” (evangelism) but he will also “bring back the strays” (exhortation), “bandage the injured” (edification), and “strengthen the weak” (equipping).
Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:1 to “be imitators of God.” Therefore we are not only to evangelize the lost, but we are also to exhort or urge the strays to return to the flock. I believe this same sentiment is expressed in Luke 15 in the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the lost son.
I am concerned that in our zeal for evangelism we have missed one whole aspect of these parables. In examining these passages I have noticed that at one point the lost sheep was part of the flock; the lost coin had at one time been in the possession of the woman; the lost son had been an integral part of the family. This being the case, these parables are not so much about evangelism as they are about reclamation (exhortation).
In this light these scriptures show us the importance of actively seeking those who have strayed from the flock; who have been overlooked and pushed aside, forgotten; who have fallen into sin and left the security of the family. Not only should we welcome them back joyfully when they come to their senses, but we should intentionally go out and seek to bring them back.
This reclamation process is what I call exhortation, urging those who have become inactive to become active again. Most of our churches have as many non-attenders on rolls as we have attenders. Every community has scores of people who are born again Christians, but who are not involved in any church. These people are the lost sheep, the lost coins, the lost sons. They must be searched for and then urged, exhorted to come back to the flock where they can be fed and cared for properly as our Father taught us.
If we are to be the church that God intended, then we are going to have to develop an intentional plan for reclaiming (exhorting) our straying members as well as making sure we urge (exhort) our active members to remain faithful. In Ephesians 5, The Message paraphrase says it like this, “Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. … Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.” Exhortation is a task that we cannot overlook.
For a church to truly experience healthy growth, it must have a balanced ministry incorporating all seven of the purposes as outlined in the Bible. Healthy churches will demonstrate both numerical and spiritual growth.
Rick Warren says it this way in “The Purpose Driven Church,” “Without a system and a structure to balance the purposes, your church will overemphasize the purpose that expresses the gifts and passions of its pastor.”
So what do you do to insure balance? Because the church has seven purposes to balance, we must be intentional in setting up a structure or organization to help balance our efforts. The best organization to provide balance to our work is the Sunday school. You may call it small group ministry, or cell ministry. Regardless of what you call it, the Sunday school is simply the Church organized to accomplish its purposes.
I believe the Sunday school should be organized into ministry teams. According to John C. Maxwell, “Teamwork gives you the best opportunity to turn vision into reality.” In his book, “Teamwork Makes The Dream Work,” Dr. Maxwell shares what a team can do for you:
“It makes you better than you are.
It multiplies your value to others.
It enables you to do what you do best.
It allows you to help others do their best.
It gives you more time.
It provides you with companionship.
It helps you fulfill the desires of your heart.
It makes everyone on the team a winner.”
I suggest a structure consisting of the following four ministry teams:
Teaching Team – assigned the task of Equipping (Teaching and Mentoring)
Caring Team – assigned the tasks of Edifying (Ministry) and Encouraging (Fellowship)
Worship Team – assigned the tasks of Exalting (Worship) and Encountering God (Prayer)
Sharing Team – assigned the tasks of Evangelizing and Exhorting (Reclamation).
Enlisting people to serve on one of these ministry teams based on their spiritual giftedness will accomplish several things. First, ministry teams provide every member an opportunity to develop and use spiritual gifts doing ministry. Second, ministry teams distribute the work load so that the teacher can devote time to teaching and mentoring. Third, ministry teams promote balance in ministry in that each purpose is assigned to a ministry team. Fourth, ministry teams multiply the leadership of the teacher by empowering other team members to lead.
I believe this is what Christ had in mind when he commissioned his Church to make disciples. Rick Warren says, “You don’t judge the strength of an army by how many soldiers sit and eat in the mess hall, but by how they perform on the front line. Likewise a church’s strength is not seen in how many show up, but in how many serve in the ministry.”
The Bible is the inspired, authoritative, infallible Word of God. If we build our churches on its principles and design them to accomplish God’s purposes, he will bless his Church.
[Scripture passages taken from the New King James Version, the Holman Christian Standard Bible, and The Message.]
Charlie Lowry is a Church Central licensed consultant in Georgia. He studied consulting with Dr. Thom Rainer and also holds a Masters in Religious Education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Learn more or contact him at his Web site www.thewordconsultations.com or via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.