I have been involved with the Montana Southern Baptist Convention in helping churches grow holistic Sunday Schools for the past 17 years. It was in a Lifeway December meeting where I heard Bill Taylor speak a truism into my life. He said, “Gentlemen, Sunday School is the employment agency of the Kingdom.” That statement rolled over my soul as I thought about how utterly true it was. I recalled being a young 23 year old student at Southwestern Seminary and how blessed I was to be called as the Minister of Music and Education to a small congregation on the outskirts of Fort Worth, TX. That little church was my perfect training ground. Everything that I theoretically learned in class, I could immediately field test the principle in my church. It was also in this setting that I begin to understand the truth of Bill Taylor’s statement. I commuted to school with a couple of other seminarians who said in the car one day, “I wish I were pastoring a church and gaining some practical experience. The only job I can find is stocking the Sears warehouse.” I immediately invited the two of them to come help me grow a Sunday School. I explained that a Sunday School class is the perfect microcosm of the church. It is practically the living cell of the organism, carrying out every function of the whole. They accepted my offer. One of them took on an existing class and his wife began to work in the children’s department. The other decided to start a new young adult class from scratch which I called a “paper” or prospect class. His wife became our church pianist and started a pre-school children’s choir. I watched Bill Taylor’s truism bear itself out. Today, one of those seminary friends is pastoring a large church in Mississippi. The other friend is a NAMB appointed church planter in the Northwest Baptist Convention. Through the years they have thanked me for giving them opportunity to learn to do ministry in a small urban church on the outskirts of Fort Worth.
Sunday School is a natural leadership development tool when done holistically. It is most natural if you are an age grade worker. You must become a leader to survive. This seems obvious to me. You must master the developmental level of your age calling. You must master the age-appropriate teaching principles. You must take upon yourself the humble servant leadership of Christ in order to patiently serve pre-schoolers, children, or students. However, I believe the greatest threat to leadership development might be the adult class. Leadership is not just a natural outcome of an adult class. You must be more intentional in this setting. In my observation of Sunday School classes in Montana, there is the tendency to sit, soak, and sour in an adult class. Members who sit and watch the one-man show every Sunday will not mature simply through exposure to the Word alone…even if they have an excellent Bible teacher. A Bible study group is not necessarily a holistic group and will not automatically produce leaders. We once conducted a needs survey of our pastors in Montana to discover that they declared the number one need of their church was leaders. The adult class has the potential DNA to become the seed bed of leadership for the entire church.
Here is how I teach our small Montana churches to produce leaders through Sunday School. Begin your Sunday School year with an organizational party. With everyone in the room, conduct a S.E.R.V.E card survey. (Available from Lifeway in the BodyLife participant’s manual by John Powers.) I also have them conduct the life-line exercise. (Available from Refocus Your Ministry through Church Resource Ministries by Terry Walling.) These exercises help every member discover God’s will for their life. Then we organize the class members into teams categorized as EDFMW+Prayer. (Available from Gene Mimm’s Kingdom Focused Life with an addendum by Thom Rainer.) Teams of Evangelism, Discipleship, Fellowship, Ministry, Worship, and Prayer are formed. Members of the class align themselves into these six teams according to their calling. Now, everyone must have a job on a team. We then construct our annual calendar. Activities such as fellowship parties, teaching assignments, VBS involvement, record-keeping, home group discipleship studies, outreach, missions and ministry trips, administrative responsibilities, etc, are all plotted on the class calendar and organizational chart. Team responsibilities are all assigned according to calendared projects. Now, do you see what has happened? This Sunday School class will become more than just a donut-eating, bible study which meets around a round table every Sunday morning. It has now become a small group that will morph into a ministry team. People in this class will grow in their calling and become the leaders they were meant to be. This kind of holistic class will produce other age group workers, pastors, missionaries, evangelists, worship leaders, and workers of every sort.
Through my 45 years of Sunday School work, I have tested God in this method of leadership development. And yes, Bill, the Sunday School can indeed become the employment and deployment agency of the Kingdom.