by Elmer Towns
Vince Lombardi, former football coach in the National Football League whose team won the Super Bowl, began each season by holding a football up before his veterans and announced, "This is a football!" Then he would point to the yard markers on the field to explain how they would hike the ball, block the opponent, and then run and pass the ball over the goal line for a touchdown. Winning football began when a team mastered the basics. A winning Sunday school begins when everyone on the Sunday school team masters the basics. The Great Commission tells us to reach the lost, teach them God's Word, win them to Jesus and mature them in the faith. This is the formula for a growing Sunday school.
Because our society is changing, some have suggested the age of the Sunday school is past. However, the future of Sunday school is bright, and I believe God will continue to use the Sunday school as the teaching arm of the church. However, the Sunday school must adapt its teaching techniques to continue its influence. The Sunday school must not change its purpose to be relevant, but it must go "back to the basics." That way it stays eternal.
The Sunday school is not an agency separate or apart from the church, but is perhaps the best-structured agency in the church for carrying out the teaching ministry of Christ most effectively. This is expressed in four terms: the reaching, teaching, winning, caring arm of the church.
Just as the New Testament church was built on teaching and preaching, (Acts 5:42) so the modern biblical church must be built on Bible study in Sunday school and exhortation in the preaching service. Sunday school is still functionally defined as reaching people, so you can teach them, to win them to Christ, then care for them spiritually. This four-fold nature of Sunday school is perhaps best expressed in an Old Testament verse which has often been used in the historic Sunday school conventions to express the nature of Sunday school: "Gather the people together, men and women and little ones, and the stranger who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the LORD your God and carefully observe all the words of this law" (Deut. 31:12). This verse reflects the four distinct areas of Sunday school ministry.
Sunday school is the arm that reaches all ages for Christ. Reaching is defined as making contact with a person and motivating him to give an honest hearing to the gospel. Reaching is basically pre-evangelism; for it gets people to listen to the gospel. In our text, it is expressed in the word "gather." Note those who are gathered: 1) fathers, 2) mothers, 3) little ones or children, and 4) the stranger. Most church members have someone within their sphere of influence who is a stranger to the church who could be gathered into the church.
Teaching is guiding the learning activities that meet human needs. The first step of teaching is expressed in the words, "that they may hear." The ultimate goal of teaching is "that they may learn."
Sunday school is also the arm of the church that wins people to Christ. Winning is defined as communicating the gospel in an understandable manner and motivating a person to respond to Christ. The Old Testament expression "fear the Lord" means bringing a person to reverential trust. It was a concept of salvation. Today we might describe "fear the Lord" as a person receiving Christ, or trusting the Lord for salvation.
Finally, Sunday school is the arm of the church that gives spiritual care to all members. One of the objectives of every Sunday school is to spiritually care for all, so everyone will "carefully observe all the words of this law." Some call this "nurturing," others call it "maturing."
This four-fold definition of Sunday school is like a mosaic when applied to individual churches. Just as it takes all the pieces of tile to make up a mosaic picture, so it takes all four aspects of the definition to describe a beautiful Sunday school.
But some focus on one section of the tile and lose the whole picture. This happens when some have a strong reaching dynamic, with an abundance of visitors, thanks to a dominant busing outreach, but the perspectives of teaching or caring are minimized. Others are strong teaching Sunday schools with a deep commitment to Bible mastery but no outreach. Still others are committed to soul-winning, measuring success by how many they have won to Christ or prepared for church membership, but they don't have a passion to oversee students so that they grow in Christ. Finally, some Sunday schools do a great job of caring for their students but ignore the other three objectives.
As important as each function is, don't forget to build a balanced Sunday school. The healthy Sunday school will perform all four ministries equally, i.e., reaching, teaching, winning, and caring for students.
From What Every Sunday School Teacher Should Know,
Copyright 2002, Regal Books, Ventura, CA 93003
Used by permission.