Have a “Catch & Release” Sunday School Class

I’ll admit that I’m not much of a fisherman.  My dad enjoyed getting out on the lake in his boat, and I can remember summers when he’d bring back 30 catfish on stringers (I remember because I got to help him clean the fish as a young boy).  If my dad caught it, he’d eat it.  For him there was no such thing as catch & release…it was always catch and eat.  He held onto his prized fish.  Release them?  No way.

Well, catch and release is a pretty good practice for adult Sunday School classes.  Unfortunately if we aren’t careful, we who teach might develop the same philosophy my dad had…hold onto the ones we catch.  I’m not talking about fish, obviously, but people.  One of the greatest signs of a healthy adult Sunday School class is that it regularly releases people to serve in other areas of the church…it releases the adults it has “caught” over the past year or two through its inreach and outreach efforts.  The measure of a great class isn’t how large it gets, but how many people it releases to strengthen the church’s ministries.  The class I’m in, a small one, has recently released several people to go and serve in the Sunday School as teachers, or as core members of a new class start.

Years ago a mentor and friend of mine, Dr. Darrell Eldridge, told a group of Sunday School teachers that “Sunday School is not a storehouse…it is a clearing house.”  Those words have stayed with me over the years, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve repeated them when I’ve led workshops.  My encouragement to teachers has always been to hold on to the people in the class with a very loose grip.

Acts 13:1-3 contains some wonderful truths for those adult teachers who struggle to let go of their people.  The Bible says, “In the church that was at Antioch there were prophets and teachers:  Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen, a close friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.  As they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work I have called them to.’  Then after they had fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them off” (HCSB).

Some observations about “catch and release” from this text:

1.  The church had many prominent teacher/leaders.  God was very specific in calling out Barnabas and Saul to be released to serve elsewhere and in other ways.

2.  The Holy Spirit told other leaders to set apart Barnabas and Saul…He didn’t tell Barnabas and Saul directly…the calling to be released to serve elsewhere came from other leaders in the church!  Sometimes you and I may receive a similar word from the Lord as we observe people in our classes…people whom God is calling to use their leadership gifts outside the class.

3.  The only right option for Barnabas and Saul was to be obedient to the Spirit’s leading, so they released themselves from the fellowship of the church and went on to minister in other ways, especially leading the way in establishing new churches and groups who would in turn reach more people for the Lord.

4.  Even when the church released two of its best leaders, others were still there to provide leadership…the work of the church at Antioch would continue without Barnabas and Paul.  The work was bigger than both of them, and it was a God-empowered work.  Your class will survive just fine if you release talented leaders to serve elsewhere in the church.  The work and ministry of your class is also Spirit-empowered and is not dependent on any one person.

So keep your eyes peeled for those leaders in your class who ought to be released to use their gifts and talents in the preschool, children, or student ministries of your church.  Hold onto the people lightly…loosen that grip…and “throw ’em back” so they can continue to grow.

To learn more about releasing people to serve, read David Francis’ book Great Expectations.  You can download a free copy through the iTunes bookstore in PDF format, or you can visit a special site that contains information about David Francis and his other Sunday School books by clicking here.

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