I remember as a kid having the little fishbowl where my goldfish lived. I really remember when we upgraded to an aquarium and I got to have more than one fish! My parents even let me have one of those black snails that crawl around the sides eating algae! I fed them every day, cleaned their water, and my fish lived nice, comfortable lives. I remember how careful I had to be when I cleaned the aquarium. These fish are very delicate and easily disturbed. If they got stressed, they might even lose some scales and change colors. My fish lived very nice lives…very nice, very comfortable, and VERY artificial!
Let's go back to the purpose of Sunday School, which is to make disciples. Making disciples does not mean creating an artificial environment for people to attend! It does not mean that we pretend that we are all wonderful people. When Sunday School is at its best, it is a place of healing, transformation, and sending. Sunday School is not about spiritual navel gazing!
If you are an adult leader, your mission is to lead your class to be compelling witnesses to their lost friends and neighbors and provide a safe environment where people who do not know Jesus can explore the truths from Scripture and begin a relationship with Christ. You are to provide an environment where your people can become more and more like Christ and begin serving others. One thing your class is not meant to become is a holding tank where people can hide from ministry and service. Your class is not an aquarium!
How do you know if your class has become an artificial environment for church members to hide from ministry? One way to know is this… how many members are you sending out? Remember that the word "mission" means "sent", so if your class is on mission then it is sending people into the mission field, not to the back row of the class.
So who exactly could people in your class serve? I have now gone three consecutive days (and today is early) where I have had teachers in preschool or children's Sunday School classes tell me that they will be teaching alone this Sunday. From the desperation in their eyes, it appears that no help is coming soon. Sunday, a children's leader told me that she is 17 leaders short of having enough adults to minister to her church's kids. At the same time, each of these churches will have adult Sunday School classes this Sunday that are full of people who should be serving instead of sitting. Their teachers have created a Sunday School aquarium where these "disciples" can be happy.
If you perceive that today's blog has taken a personal turn, it has! Just to be honest, it galls me to have boys and girls in our Sunday School departments, many of them who attend do not have a stable family life, and so few of our adults are willing to invest a little time each week to leave a legacy in a little boy or girl's life. I mean seriously, we have grown men who are afraid of a 6 year old! But I digress…
Here are some ideas to help lead people out of the Sunday School aquarium:
- Elevate the mission of serving instead of sitting;
- Pastor – support the children's Sunday School from the pulpit, you can make a hero of those who minister to kids;
- Children's leaders – attend class fellowships. It is much easier to enlist someone to help you if you already know them personally;
- Adult leaders – make sure your group is inviting your associate members to class fellowships.
- Adult leaders – take pictures of adults who have left your class and serve in the children or youth departments and post them prominently in your room. Include the kids they serve in the pic.
- Take the focus off of your group's attendance. Whatever you focus upon will be perceived by your group as what is important;
- Share with your group that for many of those attending, their next step of growth is to leave the aquarium and venture out into ministry;
- Pray – pray for leaders because the opportunity to reach children with the gospel is great!
I have focused much of this article on the opportunity we have to minister to children, but there are many more opportunities to be "on mission" with other people too. Opportunities such as serving the homeless, ministering to widows and orphans, and more. I would love to hear how you are leading your class so that it is not an "aquarium".