At a recent meeting of State Sunday School directors in Nashville, I asked our group this question and threw it open for discussion: "Is it time to bury Arthur Flake?" For those of you who do not about Flake and what is now called "Flake's Formula", you might want to do some noodling on this guy. Arthur Flake is the patriarch of the modern Sunday School movement. Almost 100 years ago, Flake became the Sunday School director for the Baptist Sunday School Board, now known as LifeWay Christian Resources. Flake pioneered several different aspects of Sunday School. For example, Flake recognized that Sunday School teachers teach theology in their classes, so Flake began the Doctrine Clinic, an effort to provide doctrine resources to pastors to teach their Sunday School leadership. But Flake is best known for what has come to be known as Flake's Formula or Flake's Five.
- Know your possibilities;
- Enlist and equip your leaders;
- Enlarge your Sunday School organization;
- Provide space;
- Go after the people
Although there is no book containing this formula in bullet-type format, you can find this formula scattered throughout the many books he wrote. In addition, Flake probably used this formula for his "talking points" as he drove all over the southern USA promoting evangelistic Sunday Schools.
Arthur Flake has impacted Southern Baptist life and culture for over 100 years. Perhaps only Herschel Hobbs and WA Criswell have had as much impact on Southern Baptist life as Mr. Flake. So the question remains, is it time to bury Arthur Flake and his formula?
I know that right now there are Sunday School leaders all over America who are downing entire bottles of blood pressure medication. Flake's Formula still works today for church leaders who understand and practice the five principles. But the question must be asked, is it time for Sunday School in general and Southern Baptists in particular to move on to a 21st century philosophy of Sunday School and thank Mr. Flake for his work?
First, a short critique of Flake's Formula. You may notice that God, prayer, Jesus, etc are not mentioned in the five principles. Spirituality is an assumption we put into the formula. This model would work in non-Christian church too. I have business friends who tell me that this is essentially the same formula they use to grow their business (by the way, Mr. Flake was a lay salesman). Also, let's remember that Flake's Formula was written to help build the church when society was more focused on institutions. Our culture today is less concerned (okay… maybe even skeptical) about institutional church growth and more concerned with personal growth.
I believe the time has come, not necessarily to bury Mr. Flake, but for leaders of small communities (Sunday School, small groups, etc) to begin a more earnest dialogue about how to transform lives in our culture. In other words, were Mr. Flake alive today, what principles would he be encouraging pastors and church leaders to use to reach our communities today as effectively as his generation reached his culture?
As a further note, I am writing a new book right to be released in March of 2010. The title: Flake's Hammer: From Methods to Missional Small Communities. I am going to address Mr. Flake and propose a different paradigm for reaching our culture today that I think would find Arthur Flake's approval.
Your comments are welcome!