Reggie McNeal was at the Kentucky Baptist Convention building today. Reggie always makes me think. His insights are fresh, biblically based, and practical. Today was the third day of meetings for me, but the time today went by too fast because it was Reggie. His topic was the missional church, and he shared out of his experiences and from his soon-to-be-available book, Missional Renaissance.
What he shared made me think of the part Sunday School plays in Baptist churches. Consider three different pictures of Sunday School that I have seen:
- INWARDLY-FOCUSED. Far too many have become inwardly-focused. They are only concerned about the needs of those who gather every week, the regulars, the members. They spend all their money on themselves. They stopped inviting people to their classes years ago and are surprised when guests attend. No additional literature is ordered for or given to guests. These classes don’t follow up. All ministry efforts and prayers are focused on each other. In many ways, members of these Sunday Schools are in survival mode and have no purpose except the habit of gathering and caring for each other.
- EXTERNALLY-FOCUSED. Other Sunday Schools, are balanced between internally and externally-focused. These Sunday Schools do have genuine concern for each other and organize to meet each others’ needs. However, they are also interested in people outside the class and can come to the aid of others when a member is passionate about a specific case or need. These classes participate off and on throughout the year in ministry/service projects and touch others beyond the class. Because the members enjoy the class, they often invite people to come to Sunday School and even occasionally to a class fellowship. And when guests do attend, the guests are treated well, invited back, and followed up. But the overall focus largely remains on what happens when the group gathers and on each other.
- MISSIONAL. A handful of Sunday School classes are becoming missional. They are intersecting with society. They care. They pray. They get involved. They develop relationships with people they meet along life’s paths. They don’t go once and then move to the next need. They keep going back to help people, schools, organizations, and others. These classes are listening to the still, small voice of God and joining Him where He is at work. They are taking caring relationships, God, and His Word to people where they are rather than expecting them to show up on Sunday morning. They are Kingdom-focused and work to build up the Kingdom. Money, time, energy, and priorities focus outside the walls and relationships of the class. Yes, the class still gathers and cares for each other, but they have a mission and purpose beyond the walls and time they gather. Reggie used so many biblical illustrations and faith-stories here that it was hard to believe any classes should be anything but missional.
Look through the three pictures. Where is your Sunday School? What can you do to help your class or your Sunday School as a whole to begin to take steps from inwardly-focused to externally-focused or from externally-focused to missional? What is the first step? Without vision and leadership, the people flounder. Pray. Lead boldly. Make a difference. Be missional. Be revolutionary!