Some accuse me of believing that Sunday School can accomplish everything a church needs to accomplish. While that is a bit of an overstatement, I do believe Sunday School can help a church accomplish the five purpose (notice I said help): evangelism, worship, discipleship, fellowship, and ministry. Small group Bible study can be a vital link in the discipleship efforts of a church between worship (and church membership) and mobilization of God’s people in touching and ministering to the world.
One of the five purposes I mentioned above was discipleship. Sunday School and small group Bible studies have much to offer to help a church to make disciples–teaching those who have been baptized to obey Jesus’ commands (Matthew 28:19-20). This is able to be accomplished in so many ways through the Sunday School.
On his blog, Awaiting Rain, Bill Huffhine has written an entry entitled The Way of Jesus in Making Disciples: Part 1. In that entry, Bill says, “I suggest that the playbook has already been written and we need only to return to the Gospels to discover the way of Jesus in making disciples.” Now, I don’t know Bill Huffhine, but he then lists three ways of Jesus in making disciples that should be shared. The three ways are listed in all capitals followed by my commentary about how Sunday School can follow Jesus’ example:
- COMPASSION. Bill points out Jesus’ example in Matthew 9:36 (NIV), “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” I like how the parallel verse in Mark 6:34 (NIV) reads here: “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.” Jesus’ compassion led him to teach. Other times, his compassion led him to touch, to pray, or to heal. This should be the impetus for our obedience to the Great Commission. Our relationship with Him and our understanding of His love for us and for them should lead us to act in loving ways to love them to Him. Compassion should be clear in the teaching and ministry of every Sunday School class or small group from youngest to oldest. Classes/groups should organize to care through care groups, ministry teams, etc., but it should also become part of the fabric of who the group is in living out the Christ-life in the world every day.
- PROXIMITY. This one goes with the first. Compassion is not something you have; it is something you do. It is difficult to do compassion from a distance. Jesus himself was one who was unafraid to touch the leper who needed to be touch. He was unafraid to listen to and to talk to a Samaritan woman. He did not hesitate to go to the house of sinners. Bill even shared the ultimate proof of Jesus’ willingness to draw close to you and me by pointing out Philippians 2:6-8 (NIV): “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross!” People are more receptive to God in times of stress and need. Sunday School and small groups should look for opportunities to draw near in those time. Josh Hunt talks about “Giving Friday Night to Jesus.” We need to look for opportunities to invite unchurched and lost people to our homes. We need to reach out to help schools. We should seek intentional and spontaneous proximity with those in the class and maintain proximity with our Lord and each other at the same time.
- PARTICIPATION. Jesus enlisted disciples. He took time with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. He called disciples to join Him in His mission. He sent the seventy-two out two by two (Luke 10:1). He has given His body, the Church, his co-mission (Matthew 28:19-20). He said to his disciples then and now in John 14:12 (NIV): “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” Sunday School leaders, too, must seek greater participation. They must not limit the work by trying to do it all themselves. This calls for delegation, mentoring, apprenticing, and coaching. Sunday School and small groups should seek to mobilize every Christian into His service. We should help them discover their gifts, passions, and abilities in order to make the greatest impact for our Lord. We need the best people in the best places in order to make the most difference.
Do you want your Sunday School/small groups to make disciples as Jesus did? How do we arrive at a Sunday School/small group destination that follows Jesus’ example of compassion, proximity, and participation? We begin by praying for His leadership.
As we spend time with Jesus, we become more like Him. We know of His love for us and others. We love Him, and out of our love for Him, we choose to act lovingly toward others which puts us into proximity with them and calls for us to call others into participation with us and Him. Pray. Join Him. Be revolutionary!