Moving Sunday School from Knowing Toward Obeying

Wednesday 6th May, 2009

Over the years in conferences, I have regulary challenged Sunday School leaders to consider what they are supposed to accomplish through their efforts to teach the Bible. I lead them not only to examine the target for their teaching (attenders and God) but what should happen as a result of the Bible study encounter. When we lead attenders to meet God in Bible study, lives should be different as a result.

In addition, Jesus commanded us as we are going to "make disciples of all nations baptizing...and teaching them to obey." He did not command us to teach them only to "know." And that failure is impacting the work of the church around the world. There is much difference between head knowledge and obedience, between knowing and doing.

Recently I read an article by Larry Peers entitled Bridging the Gap Between Knowing and Doing. In the article, Peers focuses on congregations who "make plans for change but don't seem to get anywhere." But the first four practices that he shares have application to the Sunday School Bible teaching-learning session and the hours between. Consider Peers' following four practices in all capitals followed by my commentary:

  • ENCOURAGE DISCOVERY. Our job on Sunday morning is to lead them to get in God's Word. He has the power to change lives when they do. We must lead them to open His Word and examine the truth and its application to their lives. We must lead them to meet God in His Word. That means lecture will not be enough. That will primarily be a testimony of our encounter. For them that will be a second-hand experience, and a life-changing experience must be first-hand. Questions can be great tools for leading them to discover the truth and God Himself. Having attenders read and reflect on His Word is essential. Breaking large groups into smaller groups so every person present can be involved is vital.
  • IMAGINE POSSIBILITIES. Too often attempts to impart knowledge are given all of the time. Almost no time is saved for or dedicated to application and obedience. In some ways, we simply make attenders more guilty as we help them to know more while not leading them to put it into practice. Instead, we must take time to lead individual attenders to listen to God. They must apply the truth to their lives. They must see the truth's impact upon their daily interactions at home, school, work, and beyond. And they must imagine the difference that the impact of the truth of His Word would make in their daily life. It helps to consider possible ways that they may practice the truth. Then they must commit--choose one or more ways to implement the truth.
  • DESIGN FUTURES. For teachers, efforts to encourage attenders to obey truth can sometimes be challenging. That's when it is helpful to paint a big picture. What would happen if we did obey? What would be the ramifications for the individual and the gospel? That can motivate attenders to consider the design or steps needed to make that future a reality. What small actions could ensure the accomplishment of the larger desire in response to the truth? What steps are needed in order to become fully obedient? How can we design the successful accomplishment of obedience? What obstacles should be expected and how can they be handled?
  • ENSURE DELIVERY. This is about accountability. What can be done to make sure that the commitment to obey is kept? What deadlines need to be set and checked? Who could encourage us along the way? Perhaps the teacher could ask the class next week how they did in obeying last week's truth. Perhaps the class can pair off and call each other during the week. Maybe jou rnaling would help. How about writing a commitment to yourself for the teacher or someone else to mail to you in a week? A caring class can encourage obedience without badgering.

What are you doing to encourage discovery in your class? Do you need to lead them to imagine possibilities in order to motivate them to take action? Do you need to allow them time to consider the design and steps needed for obeying? How can you ensure the successful completion of their commitment? Which of these four needs strengthening in your teaching plan? What step do you need to take this week to help your class become more obedient? Pray. Take a step. Be revolutionary!

For more ideas about moving toward obedience, check out these blog posts:

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