I was nearing graduation from Southwestern Seminary in May 1993 when an opportunity arose for me to serve a mission church as its education pastor. In November 1992, I accepted the church’s call to join the pastor as his only full-time staff member. The church had a total of 44 members in Sunday School the day my wife and I were called to serve on staff. Like the early church in the book of Acts, this church experienced phenomenal growth that can only be explained as a work of God. Over the next ten years from 1992-2002, the Sunday School grew from its original 44 members to a thriving Sunday School ministry with over 2400 members! The church was recognized as the “Outstanding New Church Start” in the Southern Baptist Convention at the annual meeting in Orlando, Florida, in 1994. After I left the staff, the church sold its property (12 acres) and relocated to a 60-acre tract just a few miles from its original location.
A Critical Decision One of the best decisions of my education ministry took place in these exciting early days of my ministry. I decided to build the church’s education ministries around a culture of weekly teacher training (since we met every week for Sunday School, it seemed right to meet every week to prepare and train for this important ministry). As God added members to the church, we continued to add new teachers in every age division. We worked hard to equip and train teachers, who were the real “front line” ministers. As the church grew exponentially we added new education staff members and we all worked hard to communicate the vision and mission of the Sunday School in our weekly training meetings; in this Sunday School, a commitment to teach was paired with a commitment to attend the weekly training time. I know that many church staff would argue that people simply won’t come to weekly training meetings, but I beg to differ.
Transplanted Training After being on that church staff for over ten years, God called me to another church. My new church did not have a culture of teacher training. Before they voted to call me on staff, I clearly explained that if I came to serve with them, I would establish a culture of teacher training and ask all Sunday School teachers to attend a weekly training meeting. Although my second church had a very different personality than the church that experienced record growth, one thing became clear: teachers in both churches responded well to the challenge of ongoing training. It was something that “transplanted” from one church to the other.
It’s Not Quite Dead You may have heard some people say that Sunday School doesn’t work any more. To them I would say, “Sunday School works if you work Sunday School.” You have probably heard the expression, “The grass is always greener on the other side.” In my experience, the grass is always greener where you water it. Too many Sunday Schools have turned brown – not because Sunday School doesn’t work, but because the church, its teachers, or its staff have not been committed to working Sunday School and watering it with their time, attention, and teacher training. In my 18 years of full-time education ministry, weekly teacher training was an important part of my ministry each year, and I know it can help your Sunday School raise its level of intensity several degrees.
What Next? In part two of this series, I will define what a 2120 Sunday School is and why ongoing teacher training doesn’t have to be a thing of the past. I will share a number of reasons why weekly training will work for your church.