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Today’s post by Sean Keith is the first one in our Coach’s Guide to Sunday School resource provided by the office of Sunday School and Discipleship. To see the full guide, visit ALSBOM.org/coachsguidetosundayschool.


Where Are You Going?

When I was around four years old, my seven-year-old brother decided to run away. My mother told him that she loved him, that she would miss him, and hoped he had a safe journey. She then made him a lunch, put it in a paper sack, and went back to her tasks around the house. My younger brother and I just stared at him as he sat in the chair for another 10 or 15 minutes. Eventually, my mother asked him, “Well, I thought you were going to run away.” My brother replied, “I am. I’m just waiting for you to take me. I don’t know where to go.”

We have become content with people just showing up at Sunday School and worship. Most of our goals and vision for Sunday School have been about getting more bodies, more buildings and greater budgets. But what do you want to see happen in people’s lives? When they show up at church and attend worship and Sunday School, what should be the result of all the time, energy and resources they expended to be there?

Author and researcher Ed Stetzer once said we are good at making people “fans” of Jesus, but not “followers” of Jesus. I know in your heart you want people to know Christ, understand His plan for them, and equip them to be and live as Christ made them. Do you know how to lead them there? What is your vision for what that looks like? How will you know you are leading them in the right direction? How will you help them discover the right path?

Where are you leading them to?

Do you know where yo u are going? A vision for your church and your Sunday School is a clearly articulated picture of what God desires your church to be, look and act like six months, a year, two years or five years down the road. What is your destination? Can you draw it on a napkin or can you explain it in a brief outline? Is it clear enough and functional enough for the average person to state or restate in his or her own words? Is it simple enough for each member to adapt their mission and purpose around this vision and find their role in achieving it?

Where Do I Start?

Pray! Pray! Pray! God is not hiding His will for you and His church. He will reveal His vision for the Sunday School or small group ministr y you lead when you are ready for it. Don’t take what I’m telling you too lightly. You ar e God’s person, leading His ministry in fulfilling His mission for your people and your com munity. Therefore, we must hear His voice and lead His people to accomplish His purpose . Pray with your leaders. Pray alone. Fast and pray. Ask others to pray. Then, when God g ives you His vision, ACT on it.

Evaluate – Accuracy is not your first concern, but having a realistic picture of the nature and status of your Sunday School or small group ministry is vital in achieving God’s vision. God’s vision is unique. Your church is unique. The people in your church are unique. It is necessary to take the time to know your people, know your leadership and know your community. You can’t lead people where they don’t want to go. You must show them not only where God wants them to go, but also how you plan to lead them there.

Understand Your Mission

Let’s be clear. The purpose of Sunday School is to assist the church to accomplish the Great Commission. Simply put, our job is to make disciple s. We are to make disciples who we hope and pray will in turn become disciple makers as well. These are simple words but a huge task.

In my book, The Value of a Vibrant Sunday School, I wrote that Jesus gave all believers and the churches to which they belong the assignment of making disciples. Whether you have a Sunday School, small group, or hybrid organization in your church—the goal is still the same…to make disciples. Historically, as Baptists we were taught to assign the responsibilities of the disciple-making process to multiple programs like Sunday School, Discipleship Training, missions and more. Unfortunately, the dynamics of today’s church are very different. Sunday School and small groups now play the primary role in the disciple-making process.

In Matthew 28:18-20, we see a clear picture of the disciple-making process.
1. We have the POWER – Verse 18 reminds us that the power and authority to do Kingdom work as a church, small group or an individual is available through Jesus Christ.
2. We have a PURPOSE – Verse 19 states that we are to go and make disciples. Our purpose is to make disciples as we are going.
3. We have a PROCESS – These verses describe our method for making disciples: to baptize (connect people with God and a local body of believers), teach them to observe (teaching believers how to live, act and worship like Christ) and to go (we are equipped to serve and minister as we go).
4. We have a PRESENCE – Jesus reminds us that He is with us—always. If He is with us, then He is IN us and working THROUGH us. We are never alone.

Jesus’ intent was for us to do more than make converts. He wants us to make disciples who will in turn also make disciples. In order to do th at we must lead them to Christ and make them a part of a vibrant community of believers who will assimilate and nurture them. Then we are to “teach them to observe everything I have commanded you.” Put another way: we teach people the Bible in order that they might love Christ and live like Christ. In today’s world, it is not enough to simply believe. It really has never been about just believing something to be a true fact. We also have to live, be and do as Christ would have us to. Jesus tells us in verse 20,“and lo, I am wit h you, even to the end of the age.” Christ has arisen, but He has sent His Spirit to dwell in us. In His power, we represent Christ in this world. We are to be a city on a hill, a light in the darkness, and salt to season the earth that it might see Christ as Savior.

As leaders in this movement we call Christianity, we must ask ourselves what we are leading others to do. How is our disciple making go ing? Are the folks we are leading becoming more like Christ? What is expected of them? Do we anticipate or expect something to happen in their lives? If so, what is it and how do we describe it? (from The Value of a Vibrant Sunday School by Sean Keith, pp.11-12)

Knowing Who You Are

Your Sunday School or small group ministry is three things. In some ways, it is and always will be a SCHOOL . We still enroll people. People attend a class. There is a teacher. They teach Bible lessons. We keep records so that we can keep track of people for ministry. All of these terms imply a school. But your Sunday School or small group ministry is so much more.

Focal to Sunday School and small groups is God’s Word. Everything we do in this ministry revolves around God’s Word. It is the tool God has provided. “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, HCSB). Those of us who lead in a Bible study ministry have an awesome task. Never grow weary in this great responsibility.

Your Sunday School or small group ministry is also RELATIONAL. It is and will always be about people. Our job is to connect people with God , with one another, with the lost and/or unchurched in order to fulfill the Great Commission . “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one anot her” (John 13:34-35, HCSB).

Your Sunday School or small group ministry is also MISSIONAL . Your ministry should be shaped by the fact that it is a small group of people functioning together to fulfill the Great Commission. We are in this together.

Practice Makes Perfect!

I love football. When I was young, I loved playing it. Looking back, I value the discipline and skills it taught me physically and mentally. The lessons I learned then still are foundational to how I think and live today. Principles that I learned then now illustrate how I execute my work and ministry today.

Practice – When game day comes, what you practice, you execute in the game. Great coaches throughout the years have taught the mastery of the basics in football like blocking, tackling, running and passing. At practice the coaches utilized drills to reinforce the skills and abilities that were foundational to the game of football. I remember best the tackling drills. We did these over and over and over. The more we practiced tackling the “right” way, the more natural it came to us during the game.

In leading a Sunday School, practice is critical. There are just some things that we should be doing regularly. We do them so often and so efficiently that we almost don’t notice that we are doing them. And yet, they are critical to the work of Sunday School. Things like starting Coach’s Guide to new groups, enlisting new leaders, training leaders, keeping accurate records, outreach, follow up, care groups, and more are vitally important. So much of what happens in Sunday School doesn’t happen on Sunday morning or whenever your groups meet. It is vital that you are leading a Sunday School that does the little things – the mundane things that are necessary to have an effective Sunday School ministry.

Over the years, many of our Sunday Schools have stopped “practicing” these often overlooked fundamentals of our ministry, thus many of our Sunday Schools are failing.

For instance, let’s take a look at one of the most overlooked practices of a healthy Sunday School: Starting New Groups. New groups help you reach new people, see people saved, minister to more people, assimilate people, make connections, develop new leaders, and gets people more engaged in Bible study, prayer, scripture memory, tithing and more. Even more significantly, new groups help you better fulfill the Great Commission.

My question as we begin is, do you value the best practices of Sunday School? We not only need to value new groups but also to develop leaders, quality teaching, quality resources, effective outreach and follow up, efficient ministry to ALL members, and connections with the community.

What does your vision for your Sunday School look like? Do you envision a Sunday School that reaches and connects new people, teaches the Word of God effectively and transformationally, and cares for the needs of members and your community? If so, your practice must demonstrate that.

Let me be candid. Leading a small group ministry of any kind that reaches, teaches and ministers effectively takes a lot of hard work. Let me identify three key areas that your vision needs to address in order to achieve the results you desire to see.

Clarity – Your vision needs to be clear. If you can’t explain it with a picture, a story or words that give people a clear understanding of what you are leading them to accomplish, then they probably won’t catch it. You know that you can’t do everything and meet every need. Prioritize. Focus. People need to know what is important. For Sunday School and small groups, three things everyone should prioritize are God’s Word, people and His mission. God’s Word is central to a healthy, vibrant small group ministry. Accept nothing less. People are important too. Leaders, members, prospects, lost people, all are important to an effective ministry. Lastly, our mission is to make disciples. God’s Word…impacting God’s people…to accomplish God’s mission – now that’s a statement!

Simplicity – If you can’t draw it, write it or explain it on a napkin, it’s too complicated. Amazingly, things like texting and Twitter have forced us to get to the point. People need to know the bottom line, and it needs to be shared and reminded often. Keep it simple and keep it clear.

God-Sized – To be honest, we don’t dream big enough. If we can accomplish a task using our skills, resources and energy, then why would we need God? Instead, pray and ask God to lead you as you lead your people to do something only God can do. Let God change you, then God can use you to change others. Together you can change a church. Your church can change a community. Your community can change a city, a state, a country, even a world. Not possible, you say? With God, ALL things are possible. Don’t settle—that’s so ordinary. Let God use you to do the EXTRAordinary.

Take time to write some things down. Let God speak to you. Read His Word. Read the book of Acts. Pray. Pray with others. Share your concerns and desires with other leaders. Develop a plan and work the plan.

God is ready to pour out His blessings. Be faithful to the people and mission He has given you. I can’t wait to hear what God has done and wil l do in your life and ministry.

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