The sound of an electronic droplet announced the arrival of yet another E-mail message. Like the hundreds before, this E-mail shared new information to be added to my already overflowing mental reservoir. I found myself wanting to shout, "No more messages," only to hear the droplet as another message plopped into my crowded in box.
Anyone who works in a modern office environment knows the feeling of information overload. Phones ringing, pagers vibrating, fax machines spitting out reams of paper, and the never-ending information flow from the Internet threaten to consume us.
Adult Sunday School classes can be guilty of producing similar mental runoff if their primary emphasis is passing along information. People in these classes often walk out of Sunday School with swimming heads and unchanged hearts. When this happens, we squander valuable opportunities to make clear the biblical warning, "Do what God's teaching says; do not just listen and do nothing. When you only sit and listen, you are fooling yourself" (James 1:22, NCV).
Is Your Class an Information Booth or Training Center?
Far more than information booths, adult Sunday School classrooms are training centers, offering both information and practical preparation for the various ministries of the church. Nearly all of the ministries of the church are present in some form in a properly structured Sunday School. The ministries of prayer, hospitality, follow-up, giving, organization, teaching, service, encouragement, leadership, outreach, and kindness are all necessary components of a successful class.
Many of these ministries go undone in a Sunday School class or are done by the teacher. Neither of these options is biblical. Teachers are not to do all of the work. The teacher's role is to equip people to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16). To fulfill this assignment, teachers must develop plans that purposely aim to help people fulfill their obligation to God and His church.
Many Sunday School teachers act like contestants on the old TV show, I've Got a Secret. They know that there is more than enough work to go around, but they withhold that information from their students. Some teachers do this because they like to feel needed. Others are afraid that if they enlist another to do some of the work, the person they ask won't do it very well. Still others are afraid that if they ask, they will be turned down.
Many people who are sitting back doing little simply aren't aware that there is work they could be doing. Many of the uninvolved would do their part if they were challenged. It is the teacher's responsibility to make students aware of the many ministry opportunities open to them in the Sunday School community. Teachers must help students see that each one has a role to play in the Sunday School ministry and each is responsible before God to do so.
Provide Hands-on Training.
It is the teacher or class coordinator's responsibility to train people and help each to succeed in some element of ministry. Handing a person an assignment without training will generally lead to dissatisfaction on the part of all involved. Training may be simple, like showing the person responsible for making coffee where the supplies are. Or it may mean taking a person with you to do visitation and follow-up.
Because training will take time from your already busy schedule, it is important that you move slowly. You should enlist others who can help you train workers. Develop and follow a systematic training plan to be sure that each ministry responsibility is covered in an appropriate manner.
Empower People To Do Ministry.
When people begin to take responsibility for various areas of ministry, you may be tempted to step in and help them when they seem to be having problems. Resist this temptation. If you step in it, will signal that you don't value the person's ability and that the person isn't needed after all.
Although it is uncomfortable to watch a person fail in his or her responsibility, often it is through those failures that ultimate success comes. Be prepared to assist when the volunteer asks for assistance, but don't offer to bail someone out. Allow people to grow in the ministries they have embraced.
Expand Their Ministry Vision.
As students begin to perfect their ministry skills in class, they should be encouraged to look at opportunities to minister in the larger church context. This may mean that the substitute teacher takes a class of her own or that the class greeter becomes involved in a greeting ministry for the whole church. Students should be challenged to use their skills beyond the classroom and be a blessing to the entire church.
Enlist those who have embraced a larger vision to train new ministry recruits to take their places in the Sunday School classroom. This process of ongoing mentoring will ensure workers in all areas of the church for years to come.
The adult Sunday School class can be a place where the saints come and sit or a place where they come and grow. Learning about Jesus is important, but it is incomplete if not followed by service to Him and His saints. Your class can be more than an information kiosk. Your class can become a training center that will minister to your class, to your church, and ultimately to the kingdom of God.
Clancy Hayes is training coordinator and district liaison for the Sunday School Department, Springfield, Missouri. Sunday School. All rights reserved. Used with permission.