Vision for Your Sunday School
Welcome to the game —leading an exciting, dynamic Sunday School in your church. You may not know it, but you are about to undertake something that could have a profound impact on your church. Put simply, you are about to embark on a mission. It could become the mission of a lifetime.
Understanding the nature of the game makes the first and most important difference in the way you lead Sunday School. The truth is, what you believe about Sunday School affects how you see its role, the people who make up Sunday School, how you pray and work with those people, and how you lead them to victory. There is an old saying that “Seeing is believing.” Don’t believe it. Believing is seeing. It is what you believe about Sunday School that determines how you see Sunday School and how you see Sunday School determines how you lead it.
What you believe about each of these affects how you see Sunday School in your church and each of these affects how you lead Sunday School. You could be seeing Sunday School in your church in three different ways.
1. Seeing Sunday School as a SCHOOL.
You would be in good company for seeing your Sunday School as primarily a school. For over 200 years of the Sunday School movement, Sunday Schools have been seen as schools. It is in our terminology. Start with the name: Sunday School.
Check out the other terms we use and see how many school terms are basically. Enrollment, Attendance, Class, Teacher, Lessons, Records; These suggest a strong relationship to education and academics. In fact, we often measure the success of today’s Sunday School by observing two of these criteria—attendance and lessons (or study). The average member feels that Sunday School has been successful in proportion to the number of people who show up (attendance) and if the lesson has been presented (Bible study). Those are pretty important concerns, for sure.
Chances are you report Sunday School attendance each Sunday and measure your Sunday School’s success by that standard. You believe that Bible study takes place because you have enlisted teachers and have provided Bible study materials to teachers and students. By those standards you have been successful, perhaps. Why, then, do we feel something is missing?
With these standards alone, a church can still have a stagnant Sunday School.
There’s more to Sunday School than attendance and studying lessons, as important as those things are.
2. Seeing Sunday School as Small (Relational) Groups.
The emphasis on relational groupings came to the forefront in the last thirty years or so. Seeing Sunday School as primarily made up of small relational groupings adds an important dimension to our view of Sunday School. People bond together in small groups. We feel included, accepted. We know one another. We may share similar interests, or at least be in similar stages in our lives. Younger adults relate better with younger adults. Youth bond better with youth. Median or senior adults with each other. It’s not that people can’t relate to people of other ages or life circumstances—rather it is that we feel more comfortable in smaller groups of people who know each other and who build continuing relationships over a period of time.
Relationships are a powerful dimension of Sunday School. Research indicates that the main reason people attend Sunday School is because of relationships. Small relational groups can emphasize meeting needs, healing hurts, praying for one other, and enjoying fellowship with each other.
When you visit people about attending Sunday School, chances are you will describe your Sunday School in terms of relationships—“we have a wonderful class, our people are friendly, they care about you, you will be welcomed.” How long has it been since you invited people to Sunday School because you wanted them to study? Bible study is important in this view, but it occurs in the context of relationships.
Success in the relational or small group view of Sunday School is measured by how well classes enjoy each other and how strong the bonds of fellowship are.
However, there can be a major flaw to this view of Sunday School. Many times the fellowship we enjoy is more with one another instead of with people outside the Sunday School. While we may be friendly with each other, we may not be viewed that way by a stranger or an occasional visitor who feels left out and not welcome because he or she does not fit the style of the group.
So how can we have a quality school plus a warm, caring fellowship and still reach out to people who are not part of the Sunday School?
We need to see the Sunday School in a different light.
3. We can see Sunday School as… Teams of People on Mission for God.
Sunday School is not just about classes and organizational structure, as important as those are, but about how we function as a people. Sunday School is about teamwork. Teamwork becomes a style of working together. We join together in mutual commitment to the team’s goal. A Sunday School director functions more as a coach. Teachers function more as team captains. It is simply a way of thinking about our work together more than about changing organizational structure. We can still have classes and departments. The difference is that we become a team!
When you think of teams, what characteristics come to mind?
Did you think of things like: Teams have a goal. Teams work together. Teams share a common vision. Teams have fun! Team members each have a special role on the team. Teams study the game. Teams employ strategies to win the game. Teams are measured by how well they play the game. Teams want to win! It may seem strange to think about teams as a concept for Sunday School. That’s true until you add that we are to become teams of people on mission with God.
Sunday School, then, has a “mission” purpose.
Think about where your church’s mission field begins. It begins right at your doorstep. As people leave Sunday School and worship on Sundays, they reenter their mission fields. Your members’ mission fields consist of their families, friends, work and school associates, neighbors, and anyone else with whom they have contact during the week. Their mission field begins where they are and extends ultimately around the world. God has called us to be on mission—His mission in the world.
We cannot understand Sunday School apart from mission. The reason we gather, pray, study the Bible, have fellowship with each other is to prepare ourselves to once again go into the mission field. We do this each week. Every Sunday is preparation day for all the teams of people who make up our Sunday School. Every class is a team of people. Every department is a team of people. Those teams have a mission to accomplish. It is best described in the Great Commission — Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19–20. (NASB)
Sunday School’s measure of success becomes how well it is fulfilling the Great Commission.
Attendance is only one part of the measure of success.
A purpose driven church needs a mission driven Sunday School.
Quality and consistent Bible study is only one part of the measure.
Fellowship and caring about one another is only one part of the measure.
Being on God’s mission is the final and most important measure of all.
A successful Sunday School, then, is one that prepares its people to be on God’s mission in the community and around the world.
Do you believe that about Sunday School? Do you see that in your vision of Sunday School?
Until a leader gains a deep conviction about the mission purpose of a Sunday School, it is doomed to become just one more activity a church does. God did not call us to lead just another activity, but to lead the most important thing-His mission.
Read about the first Sunday School we know about. Read Luke 24:13-35. The resurrected Jesus joined two men walking on the road to Emmaus. You might think, “Come on, you can’t be serious. This wasn’t a Sunday School.” Before you conclude that, check out a few things:
1. It took place on Sunday—actually resurrection Sunday!
2. It was a small group—two men and Jesus, the teacher.
3. He joined them in their journey—a teacher joins students in their life journeys.
4. He began with a question “What are you talking about?” Teachers must begin with students where they are and with what they are discussing among themselves.
5. He found out that they knew something about Jesus, that they had hoped there might be someone like Him — many people know something about Jesus. Most hope there could really be someone like Him. But they are not sure.
6. He opened to them the Scriptures—He taught the Bible. Like today, even then they still did not quite get it. (And He was the resurrected Jesus teaching on resurrection Sunday!)
7. Their eyes were opened—when Jesus had fellowship with them. Just like today, some people will not “get it” until we get out there with them, in their homes and in their lives and become examples to them.
8. They became people with a message—a good news message— to share with others.
Being on God’s mission is the final and most important measure of success!
The above article, “Vison for Your Sunday School” was written by Keith Wilkinson. The article was excerpted from www.todayssundayschool.com web site. “A Coach’s Guide To Sunday School” June 2017.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”