In an opening night address to the attendees at LifeWay’s Sunday School Week at Ridgecrest, NC., Dr. Thom Rainer, President of LifeWay Christian Resources reminded us that transformational churches are joyful churches, and that joyful churches are composed of joyful members. He told a very heart-felt story of a person named Van, a man he’d met while serving as pastor at a church in Florida. Van changed Dr. Rainer’s church after Dr. R led him to the Lord one afternoon. Van didn’t understand church culture and church lingo, but he changed the culture of the church as he asked questions and made observations that only a new Christian could make…and that Van’s joy over becoming a Christian was something special that made a lasting impact on the church. Dr. Rainer told us that the results of the research conducted for the book Transformational Church revealed that one characteristic of a TC is that it has joy. Dr. Rainer led us through a brief study of Philippians 4:4-5 that caused many of us to tear up. Especially moving was the point he made that “joy is defiant” (Phil. 4:4…”rejoice…always“)…and he challenged us to consider if our joy was based on homes, money, status, possessions, etc. If something had stolen our joy lately, then it wasn’t centered on Christ to begin with. Joyful people are gracious people, he said. Joyful people love one another and serve one another. Joyful people are being transformed by Christ’s love, and they in turn transform the world around them.
Dr. Rainer’s message makes me wonder first about the source of my joy, and it challenged me to make Christ the only true source of joy…not any of the “things” that we tend to value in life. The message then made me think about Sunday School (since this is Sunday School Week, after all), and whether or not our learners are living joyful lives that are causing others around them to wonder why they approach life and its difficulties with a different outlook and attitude. Oh, how I wish our Sunday School members could not just learn head knowledge, but that the Word of God would affect them deeply at a heart level and transform them into a person who has the character and joy of Christ. I am praying for myself to be a person of joy, and for that quality to be seen across our churches and in the lives of those who attend Bible study.