NASHVILLE, Tenn. — If doing Sunday school the same way Sunday after Sunday brings unsatisfactory results, why would a church continue doing it that way?
Usually, it’s because the Sunday school leadership needs some new ideas.
About 130 Sunday school leaders from across the country came to Nashville, Tenn., Oct. 28-29, 2011, to attend the Black Church Sunday School Leadership Training conference. The black church area of Lifeway Christian Resources sponsored the event.
Elgia “Jay” Wells, director of the black church area, told the group that as culture changes, churches have to change to reach out. He cautioned, however, that does not mean watering down the truth of Scripture.
“The Word is still powerful, but we just have to make sure we speak to the culture in a way they understand,” he said.
Chandra Bennett, Lifeway’s editorial project leader for magazines and devotionals, reminded the group that Sunday school in the black church has a long, influential and rich tradition.
“Sunday school in the black church began in the 1790s in Philadelphia,” she said. “It was formed to educate the black children in the area of literacy and life skills and to learn about Jesus. Those influenced through the black Sunday school included Nat Turner, Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth and Harriett Tubman. They all escaped from slavery and that happened, in large part, because of the impact of Sunday school.
“Freedom from bondage and sin relates to freedom from the bondage of slavery,” she said.
“Sunday school is not a dinosaur!” Bennett said with a laugh. “Just some of the people who are leading it are. Sunday school is a wonderful opportunity to partner with God to change people in His glory.”
Transformation in Sunday school
“You are here because you want to see people changed in your Sunday school,” said Charles Grant, Lifeway’s black church relations church consultant. “You want to see transformation take place in the lives of your people and the people in your communities.
“You recognize when transformation is taking place when you see people become more like Christ, churches act more like the people of God, and communities reflect the Kingdom of God,” he said.
Obedience is a result
Jeffrey Curtis, a church consultant at Lifeway said, “Worship is less about a service than it is about obedience. When you look at the Bible, obedience leads to worship.”
He called worship not merely an event, but a lifestyle that the believer carries with him wherever he goes.
“As we go, it’s important to remember that being missional for your Sunday school is about reaching out and going out and reproducing,” he added. “In this act of obedience, you demonstrate worship.”
Grant reminded the Sunday school leaders that most people come to Sunday school for one simple reason — someone personally asked them.
“We must be intentional about inviting people to church and Sunday school,” he said. “Most people come not because of our programs, but because someone extended a personal invitation.”
Wells reminded attendees the principles they learned — personal invitations, connecting with their communities, intentional teaching — were not new.
“These things are all in the New Testament,” he said. “We have forgotten that Jesus spent a lot more time outside the church than inside. We’ve let ourselves become more on the inside and self-serving.”
Audrey Ellis, director of Christian education at First African Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, Ala., was a first-time attendee to the Lifeway training event. She said what she gained from the conference will be invaluable to her church.
“I learned so much about how we can do things differently,” she said. “We have to be more transformational. Our board has met to set goals for our Sunday school and what I learned will help us meet those.
“The best relationship we have must be with Jesus,” she said. “When we have that we can build relationships with others with the overarching purpose of love.”
In addition to the large group teaching time, attendees were able to choose from a variety of breakout conferences. Among these offerings were age-group Bible teaching, retrieving dropouts, teaching for impact, transforming your Bible study through prayer, children and salvation, and the digital revolution and why it matters to the church.
Next year’s Black Church Sunday School Training event will be Oct. 26-27 at the Lifeway home office in Nashville.
by Polly House, Communications Department
Photos by Devin Maddox.