Sunday School, Disciplemaking, and Spiritual Disciplines

Tuesday 24th August, 2010

Can Sunday School help the church make disciples? That is the question I asked in Questions about Making Disciples Through Sunday School along with twenty other questions about the topic. Jesus commanded His disciples to "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them ...and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded." Sunday School can help the church carry out this work by reaching, teaching, and caring.

This is the sixteenth post I have written in response to the questions I asked in Questions about Making Disciples Through Sunday School. The question for this post was this one: How could Sunday School challenge attenders to grow in their relationship with God through trying various spiritual disciplines? Can Sunday School reinforce and utilize spiritual disciplines and in the process help attenders make spiritual progress? My short answer is "yes," but let's look at some of the ways to do so.

When Sunday School teachers and classes change mindset from teaching a lesson to making disciples, many things become possible. Time for Sunday School does not have to be limited to Sunday morning. Activities do not all have to be completed in class. Preparation and application become an expectation. Involvement is the norm rather than the exception. Instruction is personalized and used as preparation for impacting the world around me.

In the effort to become His disciples, some tools are more helpful than others. Some more naturally fit the context of Sunday School than others. And others fit some disciples better than others. Many spiritual disciplines can fit into a Sunday School context where making disciples is the desired outcome. Richard Foster in The Celebration of Discipline divides spiritual disciplines into three categories:

Inner Disciplines Outer Disciplines Corporate Disciplines
Meditation Simplicity Confession
Prayer Solitude Worship
Fasting Submission Guidance
Study Service Celebration

These spiritual disciplines are designed to direct our attention to God, to raise our focus on Him. Two of the first four inner disciplines fit well in the common practices of Sunday School: prayer and Bible study. Even these two disciplines need more reinforcement--or discipline. It would take little adjustment to encourage meditation in class and between classes. Fasting is a needed, biblically-based discipline that can benefit attenders. More explanation may be needed in some classes and churches.

All of the outer disciplines are needed, and Sunday School could easily challenge attenders to test them out to see how they fit. For many classes and individuals, solitude and service will be the two outer disciplines most easily adapted. I am not, however, saying that these two disciplines (done right) will be easy! But a teacher could challenge attenders to spend an hour alone with God. A random act of kindness or serving someone without them knowing it was us are two service acts that a teacher could lead the class to attempt and report.

As the term connotes, corporate disciplines are more for the group as a whole. While being careful not to embarrass, there are opportunities for a class to confess, worship, celebrate, and seek His guidance. With the right coaching, even these can be adapted to a group at church or on a class retreat.

Here is the issue: sometimes we need to shake up our routine in order to keep it fresh, in order to gain new insight. Sometimes attenders have not tried many of the spiritual disciplines and are relying on the same methods and grow quickly tired of them. I recently read a newsletter sent out by Josh Hunt in which he said he had discovered that he needed to reinvent his devotional plan about every nine months. Makes sense to me.

Help attenders in your class grow as His disciples. Help them try new spiritual disciplines. Lead them to get to know God and seek Him in fresh ways. Lead them to discipline themselves to be His disciples. As attenders grow, your class will grow in so many ways. Practice spiritual disciplines. Model them. Call for reports. Make disciples. Be revolutionary!

For more ideas about making disciples, check out these blog posts:

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