Missionary Sunday School, booklet review

Missionary Sunday School – One Mission, His Story, Every Person, by David Francis.

CONTENTS (page 3)
The Contents page gives us a look at the layout of the booklet:
– The Preface introduces the question we’ll be answering throughout the review:  What might a Sunday School look like if it saw itself as a missionary enterprise:  thinking and acting out of a missionary mindset?
1.  Chapter One will discuss Sunday School as a missionary movement in America.  It’s foundational stuff every teacher should know.
2.  Chapter Two will introduce telling the story of Jesus in a variety of communities (that is, in classes, groups, or life stages).
3.  Chapter Three focuses on the missionary principle of the people group.  By the end of this chapter, we will be asked to identify groups we can reach by starting new Sunday School classes.

The Contents page summarizes the remainder of the booklet as having a concluding challenge and then gives us a glimpse of some useful tools for operating our Sunday School.  Our full review will only take us through page 41.

A Peek at the PREFACE (pages 4-5)
On page 5 is clarification of some common terms.  One of those is “Bible Fellowship Group (BFG),” a name we gave to our new Men’s Class:  Men’s Bible Fellowship.  That wasn’t by accident for indeed, our classes are about studying the Bible and fellowship (or, community).  However, the author notes that rarely do small groups, or BFGs, or SS classes discover the joy of becoming a MISSIONARY ENTERPRISE.  This review will encourage and empower us to discover this joy – and embrace it – together.

Introduction (pages 6-7)
You’ll find a short read on a great 19th century pioneer missionary, Stephen Paxton, who organized over 1300 Sunday Schools where none existed.  But I think most importantly, author David Francis recounts the essence of what it means to be a transformational church and a transformational Sunday School class:  places where people become more like Jesus, the church acts more like the body of Christ, and the impacted community reflects more of the kingdom of God.

Chapter ONE (pages 8-21)
Before reviewing this chapter, let me quote from the end of the chapter, page 20:  “Being a missionary Sunday School does not require a radical new direction as much as it requires a radical reconnection.”  Our intent is not to change what we’re doing but to effect transformation in the lives of individuals, our church, and our community (pg. 8).

With this in mind, Chapter ONE gives us a beautiful history of the Sunday School movement in America.  Every teacher needs to know this, our roots.  Sunday School was not started by a denomination and in fact, history shows that it cut against the grain of the traditional church.  And Sunday School was not started by one person, although we recognize several champions of the movement.  The author, David Francis, reminds us that “One of the clearest indicators that something is a movement of man (if not indeed a heresy) is the claim that God entrusted the idea exclusively to one person” (pg. 10).  Thankfully and providentially, God planted the idea of Sunday School in the hearts of many people over a long period of time.  It “took off” when people acted on it in obedience.

Some noteworthy people of whom we know from other historical matters had a hand in the American Sunday School movement.  One man was Francis Scott Key who, in 1894, chaired the American Sunday School Union and led the “most ambitious effort:  the Mississippi Valley Enterprise,” with a stated goal “to establish a Sunday School in every destitute place where it is practicable” (pg. 12).

Missionaries working on the enterprise found themselves busy with talking to people, persuading individuals or families or communities to start a school, enlisting volunteers, providing resources, and then moving on to the next task.  Sounds a lot like what we do in our own Sunday School today, not only as a denomination but as a congregation.

The author cites Stephen Paxton as perhaps being the best known American Sunday School missionary.  With help from his 15 year old son, he established 61,297 schools with over 407,000 teachers, impacting 2.6 million pupils over a period of 50 years (pg. 15).  One of the many contributions that sprang from the Paxtons’ work was the formation of community libraries.  The author states that “(I)n 1859, there were 50,000 libraries in America; 30,000 were Sunday School libraries” (pg. 16).

We learn, too, that the Sunday School movement and public schools are historically intertwined.  Early on, Sunday School material was the “curriculum” used by public schools for reading.  Eventually, public schools displaced Sunday Schools in the learning environments of the frontier.

On the grand scale of the history of Sunday School, Southern Baptists now have LifeWay Christian Resources as our premiere organization through which our Sunday School work is resourced (as is VBS, camps, disciple training, and other diverse ministries).

The author concludes the chapter by discussing the future of Sunday School.  As it always has been, Sunday School is a “proven and effective way of reaching the lost in our communities, involving the saved in service, and mobilizing the local church for ministry” (pg. 18).  In other words, an effective Sunday School is organized to function as a missionary enterprise.

Sunday School serves to teach pre-conversion learners about Christ and His church.  Its other task teaches foundational discipleship to believers.  That’s a wide range of learning opportunities and no small task at that!  We discover, too, that Sunday School is effective at assimilating new members.  In other words, Sunday School is, and will be, a strong organization for helping people make connections at any stage from pre-conversion, to conversion, to post-conversion.

Our mission for the future does not require a radical new direction.  It requires a radical reconnection in making Sunday School a missional, transforming experience for everyone.

Chapter TWO (pages 22-28)
The author, David Francis, reminds us that “the centerpiece of the Sunday School movement is Bible study” (pg. 22).  We are introduced to a comparison of military training and denominational missionary training to training Sunday School members to be missionaries – to understand the story of Jesus and to share it and live it.

This story is powerful and speaks to people in every stage of life.  Our task, as leaders in Sunday School, is to know our small groups well enough that we are able to relate the story of Jesus in a way that will speak to learners in life-changing ways.

On page 25, the author clarifies why we grade Sunday School classes.  We age-grade in order to organize “as many classes as possible and practical so that the Bible might be studied among a group of people with similar learning abilities and life issues.”

In reaching every age group, we need to be certain to present the Bible (to each particular age group) as the whole counsel of God (pg. 26).  The Bible study plan needs to be realistic and fair, with regard to the time frame needed to teach the study.  And whatever study plan is chosen, stick with it!

The Sunday School ministry at First Baptist practices open group involvement, that is, we expect new people every week.  Our challenge is to select curriculum and teach each week as a complete Bible study experience.  The author says, “(E)ach lesson must also stand on its own if a class is to remain open” (pg. 27).  And, because some people attend infrequently, may I encourage you, as I do every week in the 6th grade class, to make sure your learners hear the name of Jesus spoken numerous times, especially if your lesson is in the Old Testament.

Because Sunday School is open and on-going (i.e., we meet every week year round), it’s important to have curriculum that helps teachers plan for Bible study that appeals to every age and every stage of people’s lives.  The author asserts that a missionary Sunday School is open, on-going, and employs a systematic Bible study plan (pg. 27).

There is a time for more advanced training, that is, deeper disciple-making, or discipleship.  Disciple-making groups are usually closed, short term, and intense.  Sunday school classes, as noted, are just the opposite.  We need to guard against turning our Sunday School groups into “D-groups” so that our missionary purpose is not compromised (pg. 28).

Chapter THREE (pages 30-39)
Author David Francis reasons that Sunday School is for every person.  It does not divide the family as some might argue.  Quite the opposite, it strengthens the family.  Sunday School, he says, “should be accessible to Every Person” (pg. 32).

Stop and answer this question:  What people group is your class assigned to reach, teach, and minister to?  The follow-up question is:  How does the people group you are trying to reach know that you exist for them?

The author asserts that when we clearly know the people group we are assigned to reach and teach, we are well-positioned to be a missionary Sunday School (pg. 34).

We close our review of this chapter by focusing on knowing our people group – know boundaries (who we can realistically reach) and know where to make the most productive contacts.

KNOW WHERE AND HOW to make your most productive contacts to the group you are assigned to reach.  Your church staff and ministry leaders are here to assist you in leading your Sunday School class to be missionaries.

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