Do We Hurt the Sunday School When We Address People’s Needs?

Saturday 21st June, 2008

I read an interesting article by Elizabeth Steele entitled How Responding to People's Needs Hurts the Church. She contends that "because of the blurred line between want and need, no matter how much we speak of needs or perceived needs, it puts the church in the position of being defined not by its faith or history but by people’s wants." There are some parts of what she has to say that make a lot of sense.

Steele goes on to ask and state the following:

What occurs when they do not get what they want? They believe the church is letting them down. It is failing to do as promised, which they see as a breach of contract. In response, they may leave, or they may challenge whatever is happening and whoever is in charge until the promised care-taking and attention are provided.

I, too, believe there is a blurred line between want and need in our society and in our churches. I believe it often enters into our Sunday School classes and ministry as well. On the other hand, I would counter Steele's contention in at least one way: Sunday School lessons and sermons should be an intersection between the truth of God's Word and the real spiritual and life needs of the people in the class and congregation.

In other words, a lesson should address real life issues of attenders. What are their struggles? How do they need to grow more like Jesus in order to live for Him in their community? Which fruit of the Spirit are individuals needing help in learning and applying at work, school, play, and in the marketplace? These are needs which every teacher and preacher must discern in order to appropriately communicate and lead attenders to apply the truth of God's Word.

I believe this is far different from what Steele was talking about in the article. She is addressing churches (and classes) who design their ministries and responses around the outcries of preference of attenders. I am, on the other hand, supporting helping believers to grow in specific ways that are needed in order mobilize them most effectively in obedience to our Lord's commands (Matthew 28:19-20).

Teachers and preachers need to spend time with attenders in order to understand them better and to target application most effectively. Generic application has less impact. Needs for spiritual growth and life-change of real people need to be understood and addressed.

How would you agree or disagree with my perspective? Let's get a dialogue going here! Do we hurt the Sunday School when our lessons are targeted to address attenders' needs? What do we need to do to become more effective in our classes? How can we avoid addressing attenders' wants in the way we do ministry through the Sunday School? Assess your class, Sunday School, and church? Is this a problem? What can we do about it? It is time to stop being mediocre. Be revolutionary!

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