Transformational Class, booklet review

Transformational Class – Transformational Church Goes To Sunday School, by David Francis.

The Table of Contents
In the Table of Contents, author David Francis, discloses what he will discuss as he walks us through transforming our classes:  Mission-mentality, Leadership, Relationships, Prayer, Worship, Community (fellowship), and Mission (anticipate how this is different from and compliments mission-mindedness).

As you can see, the first subject involves mission-mindedness, and the question, “What would our Sunday School look like if our teachers thought like a missionary?”  We’ll come back to it in chapter 7.

The Introduction
In the book, Transformational CHURCH, page 95 is this quote:  “God called us not to be great but to make His name great.”  That’s what we must do in our classes if we are to experience transformation of peoples’ lives.

The author of our current booklet, Transformational CLASS, references the book just mentioned.  His purpose is to narrow the scope of church work to class work – the single, solitary, small group class that you teach (p. 7).  He ends the introduction by stating, “You have a story…  Your class has a story…  That story is not complete…  If you’re satisfied with that story, you can stop reading now.  But if you’re ready to be challenged to consider Transformational Class as the next chapter of your story, then let’s get started!”

Chapter 1 – Missionary Mentality
The author states that discernment is a requirement for understanding our culture and socioeconomic context.  He then outlines the historical roots of Sunday School and reminds us of the essence and intentionality of what we’re doing in all age groups.

Sunday School was birthed in England by Robert Raikes in 1780.  It was originally intended to teach children how to read and write, “thus equipping them to break the cycle of poverty and, in the process, preventing them from resorting to lives of crime.”  In the 1790’s, Sunday School came to America.  Missionaries from various denominations were appointed to lead the movement, a focus that continues even today, especially in our own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention.

A missionary movement with a missionary mentality is needed NOW to keep Sunday School alive and well, and to reclaim its intended purpose:  to teach the Bible – not in learning “the 3R’s” but in equipping people in foundational Biblical living.

With that missionary mentality in mind, the author reminds us that we need to clearly establish who it is we want to reach.  The question often comes up:  What would our Sunday School look like if our teachers thought like a missionary?

CHILDREN & YOUTH TEACHERS:  The author gives us good reasoning for age-grading Sunday School.  Read it on page 12.

ADULT TEACHERS:  On page 13, the author suggests combining life-stage and average age when grouping adults.  I’ve recently mentioned this to our teachers and asked them to give it some thought and narrow down a definition for their classes.  This is what will happen:  We’ll REDISCOVER more people groups, which will cause us to start more Sunday School classes (which, by the way, we need)!  The author says, “The key is being able to describe your class in a distinctive way so that you clearly know what people group you are responsible to reach.  It defines your mission…  with a missionary mentality!”

Chapter 2 – Vibrant Leadership
On page 16, the author states, “(E)ffective Sunday Schools are led by vibrant leaders who may try different organizational schemes or experiment with new ideas, but who hold fast to two key principles and one irreducible law.”  Let’s explore those three concepts:

Principle #1:  Open Groups.  Our Sunday School classes are open, all of them.  No one is excluded from Sunday School at First Baptist Church, Kearney.  Closed groups, on the other hand, are short term “discipling” classes that usually do not receive (or at least advertise for) new attenders during the course of the study.  There is a time and place for closed groups, but it is NOT during Sunday School.  That’s where leadership comes in.  A leader leads a class to be open and to expect new people every week.  Among other responsibilities, a leader makes sure that every lesson is a complete and satisfying Bible study experience.  Vibrant leaders ensure a safe place for people to get to know more about Christ, and about Christians.

Principle #2:  Open Enrollment.  Very simply said by the author, “You can belong before you believe.”  On the other hand, in most closed or discipleship groups, one must be a follower of Christ since the focus is discipling believers.  Open enrollment in Sunday School is one defining characteristic of how a leader keeps a missionary mentality.  (Remember the question, “What would my class look like if I thought like a missionary?).

Principle #3:  The Irreducible Law of Kingdom Growth.  START NEW UNITS!  Vibrant leaders understand, support, and emphasize this “law.”  It’s what makes us missionaries in our own church and community.  My hope is that we as leaders in Sunday School will rise to the challenge of persuading and equipping our classes to reproduce themselves.  This will come up in chapter 7.

Chapter 3 – Relational Intentionality
Relational intentionality simply means a purposeful focus on individual people.  This is especially true as people move along the way in their discipleship process.  The author mentioned a two-step strategy regarding this process and proclaimed Sunday School as the place where these steps could be taken.

STEP ONE is a beginning process of getting people connected to open Bible study in Sunday School.

STEP TWO is another stage where people become more involved in their group.  This does, indeed, mean that we need to focus on people one person at a time.  In other words, intentionally relating to individual persons so that they are moved from point A in their spiritual journey to point B.

The author discussed the value of care group leaders in Sunday School classes that take the lead in relational intentionality.  The care group leader is responsible for 6-7 people (or more if practical), contacting them each week.  This means contacting absentees as well as regular attenders “to let them know we care, to learn of needs that may require prayer or care, and to share opportunities for them to participate in praying and caring for others” (p. 24).  It’s also a good way to tell or remind people what is going on the life of the church.

ALL AGE GROUP TEACHERS:  Let’s clarify the concept of “steps” in discipleship.  While this might imply a linear movement especially regarding the depth of one’s spiritual growth, it also means that a person takes steps to be involved in more than just one or two groups or activities like Sunday School (where there are multiple “steps” to move through), gender-specific Bible studies, age-specific Bible studies, mission involvement, discipleship training, church leadership, deacons, core groups, small groups, youth groups, off-campus small groups, and other venues through which a person steps up his/her walk in faith by doing and leading.

Chapter 4 – Prayerful Dependence
Prayer, of course, is one of the most important things we do BEFORE a class starts – not only during the week but also right before class begins as we stand in the room and pray for those who will soon arrive.  The author says that one of the most appropriate things to do – right in the middle of a lesson – is to stop and pray.

When it comes to prayer time, there are three levels, one at which a class will find itself most of the time:  class, community, and commission (read about these on page 27).  These levels are real indicators of a class’ or small group’s prayer-time health.

Finally, this chapter presented practical way of utilizing prayerful dependence.  Try this:  At the end of your class, divide up into same-gender groups (even older children and teens can do this) and ask the two groups to pray for specific prayer requests shared in their group.  If your class is all male or all female, you’re already at this step.  If so, try dividing by age groups.  The author asserts, “You may hear (more intimate) prayer requests in a large group but you are more likely to hear them if the class breaks into same-gender care groups” (pg. 27).

Chapter 5 – Actively Embrace Jesus
The author’s main focus appears to be on assimilation.  There are two different types of assimilation in this regard:  assimilating someone into the church and assimilating a believer to work in the church.  Both are in reality aspects of worship.  According to the author, “…Sunday School and worship services have always been a powerful tandem in the local church” (p. 29).

This chapter assures us that the main assimilation solution is Sunday School.  On page 30, we learn that among those who only attend worship, fewer than 20 percent are still active after five years.  However, among those who attend both worship and Sunday School, over 80 percent are still active after five years.  It’s a great testimony to the importance of getting and keeping people involved in Sunday School.

The work is certainly daunting at times.  We must be found faithful talking to people about Jesus, introducing people to the community of believers, and Lord willing (which He says He is), leading people to know Christ Savior.  This model of evangelism is diagrammed by the author as:

Conversation  >  Conversion  >  Community

Chapter 6 – Community:  Connect People With People
On page 34, the author described what he calls “an effective triad” of components necessary for people to experience a sense of community:  “1) Scripture, the Bible, is the textbook of the Sunday School.  2) Stories are the vehicle for effective learning and for building community.  3) Shepherding is the facet that pulls together the 24/7/365 ministry we call Sunday School.”  While we consider the pastor our shepherd in the overall life of the church, teachers are similarly shepherd-like for their classes (under the leadership of our pastor and the authority of Christ).

We can define a Sunday School group or small group as a class, a community, or a commission.  These are the same levels we learned about in chapter 4.  At the community level, members are ready to embrace the work of a missionary.  This means that a group has a mindset of multiplication, that is, planting or starting a new class.

Chapter 7 – Mission
We’ve already considered the question, “What would our Sunday School look like if teachers thought like a missionary?”  Now, let’s act on that mission!  The following will challenge some of you:

RELEASE – “A great step for a class that wants to become missional is to release members to serve in preschool, children, and student classes” (p. 38).  Adult teachers, are you treating your class members like missionaries, especially those who are teaching in other areas?  This is a great work:  preparing and RELEASING members on mission.  You can only feed them so much.  Help them exercise, too!

REPRODUCE – “Another huge step for a missional class is to be intentional about reproducing itself.  …(B)ecome intentional about doing it yourself!” (p. 38).  As some adult teachers know, we need to be active and alert in starting new classes.

REACH – Reach out in conversation about the Bible, missions, and personal experiences.  Make each lesson and class experience personal, moving, and relevant to the overall mission of reaching out to people in all ways.

Although this chapter seems aimed at adult classes, children and youth teachers should remember that they are part of an adult class, too.  Plus, these young classes impact a large segment of adults:  parents.  Children and youth teachers can release kids on mission, even reproduce classes as needed in a given year, and reach out to kids in life-changing ways.

Conclusion
Here are some key points from each chapter:

1.  Missionary Mentality – A missionary movement with a missionary mentality is needed NOW to keep Sunday School alive and well, and to reclaim its intended purpose:  to teach the Bible – not in learning “the 3R’s” but in equipping people in foundational Biblical living.

2.  Vibrant Leadership – Effective Sunday Schools are led by vibrant leaders who may try different organizational schemes or experiment with new ideas, but who hold fast to two key principles and one irreducible law:  open groups; open enrollment; and the irreducible law of Kingdom growth.

3.  Relational Intentionality – Relational intentionality simply means a purposeful focus on individual people as they move along the way in their discipleship process.

4.  Prayerful Dependence – In the disciple of prayer, most of the time a group will function at one of three levels:  class, community, and commission.

5.  Actively Embrace Jesus – In the life of the church, the main assimilation solution is Sunday School.

6.  Community:  Connect People with People – There are three components necessary for people to experience a sense of community:  1) Scripture, the Bible, is the textbook of the Sunday School.  2) Stories are the vehicle for effective learning and for building community.  3) Shepherding is the facet that pulls together the 24/7/365 ministry we call Sunday School.

7.  Mission – In the Sunday School ministry at First Baptist, we need to release our class members to serve, reproduce our classes as we grow numerically, and reach others for the glory of God.

Let’s end where we started:  What would our Sunday School look like if our teachers thought like a missionary?

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