We have said that Sunday School (and all of the small group Bible studies that are in its orbit) is foundational to the health and future of any church.
Sunday School is the foundational strategy in the local church for leading people to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and for building Great Commission Christians through Bible study groups that engage people in evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, ministry, and worship.
Let's pick out those five strategies and learn more about them.
Sunday School as a Discipleship Strategy
1. Sunday School provides the primary organizational framework for involving families and individuals in the comprehensive work of the church including evangelism, discipleship, ministry, fellowship, and worship.
2. Sunday School provides foundational discipleship -- and by this we mean learning and living the truths in God's Word -- and encourages members to strengthen their Christian walk by participating in other discipleship opportunities.
3. Sunday School emphasizes that every member who is a believer must become accountable for the responsibility God has given him or her as a minister and missionary to the world.
4. Sunday School supports all other church ministries and intentionally encourages its members to be good stewards, fully involved in the church’s overall mission.
Diagnostic Questions for Your Group
Do I regularly lift up the Bible as God’s Word?
Do I have at least one foundational truth that I emphasize and teach toward every class?
Do we pray for spiritual transformation in our class meetings?
Do I follow a long-term plan that spans the entire Bible and covers all of the basic principles and foundational truths we believe at my church?
Does our class intentionally pursue and provide an environment that gives God an opportunity to transform all class members through careful study and discussion of the Bible?
Am I expecting my class members to become Great Commission disciples of Jesus Christ?
Simple Tips to Make It Happen
In addition to using those diagnostic questions as a checklist. These simple points will help guide you the right direction.
Everyone in your group is different. Their maturity, needs, characteristics, and learning styles will heavily influence how they respond to your lesson. Effective discipleship starts with being aware of the people in your group.
An effective teacher must be willing to adapt to the needs and styles of the people in the group. In other words, you have to be willing to teach outside of your comfort zone for the purpose of communicating as effectively as possible. This also means consistently seeking out new means and methods of communicating biblical truth.
Great Commission discipleship is comprehensive. Jesus told us to teach everything He commanded us. While there's nothing wrong with "majoring on the majors" as they say, make sure you are also teaching the more obscure or difficult passages of the Bible.
Ask open-ended questions. Yes/no questions don't usually lead to the kind of discussions that really help people learn and adapt the truth into their own life. Ask questions that encourage people to think and understand.
Always lead toward application. While you want everyone to draw their own conclusions and applications, the truth is that some people need help understanding what a passage means to their unique life. Have some potential applications identified, and get group members share their own ideas.
Keep application bite-sized. Yes, we need to pray constantly, share Jesus with everyone we meet, and read the Bible a lot every day, but that's a hard goal to set and it might lead to discouragement and defeat. Instead, help people set goals that will lead them to another step with Jesus -- one step at a time.
Go through your lesson yourself. What did you learn? What did you struggle with? Your experience will help you lead others through the passage. Have an end and goal in mind. Try to focus on one foundational truth and behavior to make sure that everyone in your group leaves with a clear direction.
The Process of Spiritual Transformation
If discipleship is the process of following Jesus and becoming more like Jesus, then it's not as easy as learning a trade or a skill. This is about being changed into a new person. Jesus left us a pattern to consider. You want to make room for these steps in your lesson plan -- but obviously, you can't force them! That's why I call it "making room". Leave plenty of space for the Spirit to do work while you lead your group through the passage.
You may have to give time to your learners during the week as they process the passage and begin to see what it means to their day-to-day life.
Acknowledge Authority (Control)
The first step of transformation is realizing that the Bible has authority over us, not the other way around. Indeed, it’s a war every time we pick up the Bible to learn and apply! You must help your learners submit to the authority of the Bible.
Search the Scriptures (Content)
The second step is learning what the Bible actually says. How would the original hearers have understood this passage of Scripture? What do the words and phrases actually mean? What is the historical context? You must help your learners learn how to learn the Bible.
Discover the Truth (Concept)
The third step is learning what the Bible means. The Bible does not simply contain facts and stories, it contains abiding truths that guide our lives. As you go through a passage, you must help your learners see these abiding truths that the Holy Spirit intends to teach all people in all times. Every lesson you teach should have at least one ‘central Bible truth.’
Personalize the Truth (Context)
The fourth step is realizing that the Bible means something to me in my life today. Even though the Holy Spirit may have a central truth that applies to all people in all times, it may have a unique meaning to my life and where I am today, my work, family, etc. You must be totally dependent on the Holy Spirit to help your learners make this important step because you simply don’t know everything about the people in your classroom. But the Spirit does!
Struggle with the Truth (Conflict)
The fifth step is understanding that the Bible affects me. The idea of ‘transformation’ is that God is trying to change us. Change can be tough because it means we must give up control of our lives, change our habits, makes sacrifices, repent of sins. This, again, is the work of the Holy Spirit. Your job as a teacher is to help your learners talk through this process and realize that the process can be hard
Believe the Truth (Conviction)
The sixth step is accepting the need for change. This is the point at which the learner realizes what changes need to be made in his or her life (perhaps coming to Jesus for the first time). You want your lessons to be as specific as possible so learners can’t hide behind vague resolutions.
Obey the Truth (Conduct)
The true goal of Bible study is actually to obey what the Bible teaches. This is the end of the spiritual transformation process (in that specific area), when we actually do what Jesus commanded. The bottom line question is quite simple: To what extent will I obey the Holy Spirit’s leadership in what I think and do in relation to what we have learned in this lesson?
Repeating what was said above, you want to go through the steps of transformation in your own life with respect to the lesson. Not only will that help you decide what to focus on and what to gloss over, it will also give your learners a model to follow as they struggle through the process themselves.