I really do love the ministry known as Sunday School. It has introduced untold millions of men, women, boys, and girls to Jesus. It has made people more biblically literate. It has served as a place for entry-level discipleship. It has provided ministry and care to people in crisis. Sunday School is a tangible expression of many church’s primary attempt to obey The Great Commission. But in spite of all the good things Sunday School has done, it has challenges. One of the biggest it faces is the campus-centric nature of its ministry in many churches. Getting people to realize the best Sunday School actually takes place from about noon on Sunday through the late evening hours of Saturday is a big challenge. Effective groups know that the mission of Sunday School is “out there.”
Beyond the Walls
I believe that Sunday School groups must move beyond the campus to be fully legitimate. That means groups that see their role as a Sunday morning event are not seeing the job at hand. Those groups have only a partial understanding, or worse, a partial obedience, to the real mission and potential of Sunday School. We are to engage the culture and make disciples. If you think Sunday School is about Sunday morning, you don’t see the job. The mission isn’t 9am – noon on Sunday.
Mobilizing your group members
To move your group members beyond the 4 walls of the room where they meet, you’ll want to do a few things well:
- Talk about the need to move beyond the classroom with your group. Do this regularly. Work it into your Bible studies. Bring it up at lunch after church. Constantly point people to see needs outside the church.
- Pray often. Be the persistent widow mentioned in Scripture and break down your Heavenly Father’s door with petitions and requests for your group to get serious about mobilizing for ministry.
- Enlist a person to lead your group to focus on people outside your group. There’s probably someone in your group right now who would be proud to take the lead and organize your group for maximum ministry impact. These are the “Exodus 18 people” – the ones who, like Jethro, see potential to accomplish more by delegating work to others.
My group beyond the walls
This week the Bible study group I lead worked with a local ministry to women. As a group, we served an evening meal to about 60 women and their children. Then, these women and their children, plus a small number of people from my group, spent the night at our church. These women have no home, and they live from place-to-place each day. This is just one way my group has moved beyond our classroom walls to serve others.
We’ve also served a local homeless ministry by providing meals for the residents. In addition, we have worked at another local ministry that helps lower income families; we spent the day sorting clothes and tidying up their storeroom area.
This coming Saturday we will take part in a neighborhood flyer distribution – a time when we place door hangers on people’s doors as a way to invite their families to attend our Fall Festival. And of course we are scheduled to work a booth as a group at that Fall Festival. We need to do even more as a group, but we are on the right track.
The natural inertia of any group is to turn inward
As my friend David Francis has said (David is the Director of Sunday School at Lifeway, and he and his wife Vicki teach a preschool Bible group on Sundays), groups naturally turn inward unless there is strong leadership to keep their eyes focused on the lost all around them. Groups often turn in on themselves, wrongly concluding that the group exists to meet their needs.
Do you see the job?
I hope that you are consistently encouraging your class to reach out beyond the 4 walls of your meeting place. Sundays are great, but there are six more days we can be about the task of serving and discipling others. If you think Sunday School is supposed to be about serving and discipling others beyond Sunday morning, you may be starting to see the job!
Q: How is your group serving and discipling others beyond the walls of your classroom? I’d love for you to share what you are doing on off-Sunday morning times.
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