No one ever told pastors, directors, teachers, or members to stop spending time with God. But over the years, many of them have stopped. They no longer invest the same amount of time they once did on Bible reading, study, prayer, solitude, meditation, and scripture memorization. They have become less passionate about what once was a newfound relationship with God through Jesus Christ. They are not as eager to hear from God. They have stopped making appointments with Him. They have stopped meeting Him.
Jesus talked about how essential abiding in Him was when he said:
Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you (John 15:4-8, NIV).
Jesus does not mention that it “might be nice if you abide in me.” No, he is clear. There are consequences for those who do not abide in Him: “apart from me you can do nothing” and “such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” At the same time, there are significant rewards for being connected to Him: “he will bear much fruit” and “my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” Wow! The contrast is black and white. The consequences are so great: death or life, fruitlessness or fruitfulness. And does this neglect of abiding in Him impact Sunday School? Of course it does!
HOW DOES NEGLECT OF ABIDING IN HIM BEGIN? Why, then, have Sunday School leaders disconnected? How did it happen? In reality, if there had been pressure for these leaders to STOP abiding in Him, the result might have been different. There might have been enough rebelliousness in them to have stood their ground. Instead, Satan and life simply filled up their schedules with “good” things rather than the best. These good things distracted them from time previously spent with God in Bible study and prayer. Busyness drained energy from them so that they were just too tired to desire the time with God that they had previously wanted and even needed. It happened slowly over time. And the change in passion, time, and quality of an encounter with God was so gradual that it was hardly noticed until it had been practiced for so long that reversing the change was difficult.
Abiding in Him impacts everything the Sunday School does. When it is neglected, the Sunday School suffers. In fact, it is the single-most serious area of neglect facing Sunday School today. Neglect of abiding removes power. There is a lack of understanding of why Sunday School is important and for whom the work is done. When Sunday School leaders attempt to serve in their own strength, what they do has less impact. Without abiding in Him, there is a lack of God-provided vision and direction, a lack of awareness of and sensitivity to God’s leadership. As a result, Sunday School leaders are less confident and competent in their own leadership responsibilities.
Without abiding in Him, Sunday School members and leaders lack a complete basis for understanding the responsibility to care for others (in and out of the church) and how Sunday School can play a significant role. Without abiding in Him, Sunday School becomes more concerned about inward issues of growth rather than an appropriate balance of outward issues as well. Neglect of a biding imp acts planning and makes it much more short-sighted and based upon sight rather than upon faith. Neglect of abiding in Him leads to a neglect of everyone except ourselves and/or our closest friends. The focus shifts from loving God and others to loving me.
Obviously, the neglect of abiding in Him impacts lesson preparation and presentation. Both become more history lessons and lessons “about” the Bible than encounters with the living God who has a word for us. When a relationship with God in prayer and Bible study is neglected, Kingdom understanding is diminished. The need and willingness to apprentice new leaders and launch new classes is not understood. Finally, the need to continue to grow can be lost when abiding in Him is neglected. Training tends to be avoided rather than sought.
Neglect of abiding in Him has a noticeable impact upon the Sunday School. People in the church and community know the difference. They can tell when Christians are different because of a living, breathing relationship with God. They notice it in preaching, teaching, and life. Too many Christians today are faking it. They are living off of history, of past experiences with God in Bible study, prayer, and worship. They are neglecting the most important opportunity, privilege, and responsibility in the world: abiding in Him. Sunday School cannot survive, let alone thrive, when this neglect is practiced.
Check out Part 1 of this series, The Accumulation of Sunday School Neglect, Part 1.