Sunday School Appreciation Day 2003
In Deuteronomy 6:4-9, we read Moses words to the people of Israel, and more specifically, to the parents among the people of Israel. Read the verses with me.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou listest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine head, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thine house, and on thy gates.”
Moses goes on to tell the people that when God blessed them, they needed to be careful not to forget Him in their prosperity. This is a problem that is not unique to the Israelite people – it seems that no matter who, when, or where the people are, when God blesses, they forget. How could they guard against forgetting the Lord and raising up a generation of people who wouldn’t know the Lord? God gives the answer through Moses.
Put the Lord first in your own life.
You can’t teach what you don’t know – and you can’t pass down what you don’t have, so it’s an absolute necessity that you have and maintain a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might…” In other words, with everything that lies within you – love the Lord! Who is the Lord to you? We’re not talking about church – we’re talking about you and your God. Is there evidence in your life that supports what you say about your love for God? Does He have first place in your thoughts, in your actions, in your choices? Does the Lord have first place in your business? In your home? In your marriage? In your finances? With all your heart, soul and might, with everything you’ve got, love the Lord!
Honor the Word of God in your life.
Moses said, “These words, which I command thee this day, shall be in your heart…” I like what David wrote in Psalm 119:9-16. Listen to the words…
“Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee. Blessed art thou, O Lord: teach me thy statutes. With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth. I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches. I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways. I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.”
I think those are awesome words – words of a man’s love for the Word of God – and it’s obvious from God’s estimation of that man that he meant it. Parents, and all of you who are hear today, let me challenge you as emphatically as I know how to honor the Word of God in your life. I want you to determine to be a life-long student of the Word of God. You’ll never exhaust its teachings, you’ll never run out of stories, you never come to the place where you’ve figured it out. So, study, study, study!
The Word of God is more than dry history. It is more than boring doctrine. It is so much more than a few flannel graph kid’s stories. This book contains the Word of life! Jesus said to the disciples, “the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” Let me tell you something about the Bible – you’ll never experience anything so exciting as what you’ll discover if you’ll just apply yourself in study to its contents. I have never felt so alive as I do when I am studying the Word of God, and in the quiet moments of that time the Holy Spirit of God gently speaks Words of truth to my soul and inspires me, motivates me, encourages me, convicts me, and brings me to see the glory and the greatness of the only begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ. Now, Moses said to put God first, honor His Word, then he said…
Teach the Word of God to your children
What was the word the Lord chose when He said to teach His Word to your children? He said to do it diligently. Be serious about it. Be proactive about it. Take advantage of all those teachable moments your kids give you. That’s why he goes on to talk about when you’re walking and sitting and sleeping, about your posts and gates and hands and eyes. In other words, there ought not be any moment of your life, and there ought not be any place in your life where you don’t honor the Word of God and take advantage of your opportunities to teach it to your children.
Parents, God has given you the express responsibility of teaching your children the Word of God. It is your job to teach them what the Bible says about…
· the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
· the Trinity
· the inerrant Word of God
· the church
· love, humility, grace, kindness, and other virtues
· the relevancy of the Bible in today’s ethics and politics and relationships and everything else!
Now, I want to save what I think about how parents are doing in these things for another sermon. Today I want to draw your attention to two things: first, it is absolutely imperative that our children learn the Word of God. It is imperative because the future of the home, the church, and society as we know it depends on their knowing and living the Word of God. If we lose even one generation, we’ve lost them all. So parents, remember that it is your job to ensure that they are taught.
The second thing I want to draw your attention to is this: God has generously blessed our families in this generation with the gift of Sunday School, and in our church, with some wonderful Sunday School teachers. Did you know that the idea of Sunday School is relatively new? Sunday Schools didn’t exist as we know them until the 1800’s, and even then they were somewhat resisted. Why do you think people resisted Sunday Schools? From our 21st century perspective, we might say that people didn’t want to give up another precious hour of their time or something along that line. People in our world don’t seem to care enough about the Word to want an extra hour, but that’s not the reason. People in those days strongly believed in the authority of the Christian home and the parent’s responsibility to teach their children for themselves, so they didn’t want the church to infringe on that responsibility.
Gradually though, the idea of Sunday School was embraced, and it spread rapidly through our country to become one of the strongest and most important ministries of our churches. Now, to many people, Sunday School is a dying ministry that needs a decent burial. Listen to what researcher George Barna said:
“Sunday schools simply do not provide the quality of teaching and experience that people demand these days in exchange for their time.”
Now, I don’t disagree with the fact that people these days are looking for quality teaching, but we all are aren’t we? Don’t you want to learn in an environment where the Word isn’t just read to you or lectured on in a boring manner? I can’t stand for someone to approach the most fantastic book in the world and treat it like they were reading the owner’s manual to their coffee pot. I want to read to you what one preacher has written concerning Sunday School. I am reading it because I believe what he says with all my heart and I couldn’t say it any better. This preacher is Paul Powell, who wrote this while he was pastoring Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler.
“The real strength of a church is in its Sunday School. It is in the small class on an age-group basis that discipleship takes place and a caring and sharing fellowship is established. When church growth is built on the strength of the preacher’s personality alone, it will not be lasting. When the pastor moves on, attendance will drop off. We have tried to avoid that in our church. We have majored on building a strong, Bible-centered Sunday School so that no matter who is in the pulpit the church will continue to prosper and grow.”
In an eight-year period, that church grew from 711 to 1,807, and growth like that takes place largely through Sunday School. I believe that if our church is going to continue to grow, and it has been, it is going to take place largely through the Sunday School. Why so much emphasis here on Sunday School? There are several reasons Sunday School is important for our church and for you, but let me give you just three.
Because real discipleship takes place in Sunday School.
When you only come to the worship service, you only get what I can dole out in under this hour. Many of you hearing this message only come to this one hour of worship every week. I’m not hammering on this to make you feel guilty or bad – because you may not feel that way. I’m telling you that you’re missing the biggest part of what our church is doing when all you do is come to this service. Many of you ask me Bible questions about marriage and money and cults and family and so many other things. We talk about those things in Sunday School. It is in that class setting that we break open the Bible and take the time to look at what it says, answer questions, kick things around and learn what the Word of God says. It is in Sunday School that we learn what a disciple is, and it gives us an environment where we can challenge one another and encourage one another to be what we ought to be. It is too easy to be anonymous in here, and if that’s what you’re looking for, then you’ve missed the point and you’ve created a God to suit your own needs rather than giving Him your whole heart.
Because the Sunday School is an effective way to augment what you’re doing at home.
Some of you are teaching the Bible in your home and the Word of God is honored there. We want to help with the spiritual growth of the family. We want to help moms and dads know how to be better ones, to teach kids what the Bible teaches and how to apply it to their lives. We want to help families with real life, everyday truths that they can take home and plug in to their world. Sunday School is about helping you know the Lord and serve Him to the fullest.
Of course, we cannot escape the fact that many of our young people don’t get spiritual training in their homes. This may be due to the fact that the homes in which they live are non-Christian homes, and it may in fact be due to your not knowing the Bible or taking seriously enough your responsibility to teach it to your children. That gets back to where we began this morning. In these cases, Sunday School may be one of the only opportunities they get to study the Bible and know that someone cares about them enough to tell them what it means.
Because real relationships are built in Sunday School.
Do you know who I know the best in our church? The people in my Sunday School class. There are a few of you who aren’t in my class that I know from sitting with you in the hospital or other settings, but the people I have the closest relationships with are the people that attend Sunday School. We were created to be relational, and in the small group setting we can build those relationships.
Think about this: how many people did Jesus want to reach when He came to earth? All of them. He taught the multitudes, but He built a relationship with the 12. He then told them to do the same. Sunday School works on the same principle. I don’t care if my Sunday School class gets much bigger – I’d rather see someone in my class say, “Brother Kevin, I want to start a new class,” then they could in turn reach another small group. Right now we have 10 Sunday School classes. I’d love to have 20. I’d love to see our church with a Ladies Class, a Singles Class, a Young Couples class, a Seniors Class, a New Member’s class, topical studies classes, and so much more!
In the short time I have left, I want to thank our teachers. You are doing a wonderful job! Today is not a day for criticizing or pointing out what can be done better. Today is a day to thank you for what you are doing, and it is a day to challenge and encourage you to stretch your wings and reach greater heights of success. It is also a day to challenge and encourage our church to think bigger and broader in terms of what we are doing. We must be a people who have…
A Vision to See
Vision is not so much the ability to see the unseen, as it is the ability to see the obvious things that ordinary people overlook. Vision is seeing what needs to be done and how best to do it. Folk, I want you to dream, to act on your burdens, to accept great challenges. I want you to have the vision to see how those dreams and burdens and challenges give our church purpose and life and destiny.
Look around you! Don’t you see it? This paneling and these pews and carpet and pulpit and paint and classes and people – they are all the results of dreams that were born in the minds of people just like you and me! Because those people and some of you who were here then held those dreams in front of you we have what we have today! Now is not a time to perform maintenance on the dreams of yesterday – but a time to dream of what God wants to do through us today and tomorrow!
Teachers, why be content with one or two or five or ten people in your class? Don’t you have a burden? Aren’t there people in our church who could be in your class but aren’t? Then accept the challenge to reach them! Do you sit at home on Sunday mornings because there is not a class for you? Then accept the challenge to get it started! Teach it or find someone to teach it and get it going!
The Faith to Try
You don’t just need vision, you need faith to act on your dreams and burdens. Sometimes you kid me about being a dreamer. Listen, I serve a big God. D.L. Moody scribbled in his Bible one time, “If God be your partner make no little plans.” I believe that, and I believe that God wants to do big things through this church, using this people, with what we have in this budget. If we only do and try what we can accomplish in our own power and resources, then we didn’t need God.
I’m not talking about positive thinking, I’m talking about acting on what God wants by faith. Faith is believing God in spite of the circumstances. Faith is believing God even in the middle of the storm. Faith is believing God regardless of the unanimous opinion of the experts. Faith is believing God in spite of the weather reports. Positive thinking is believing in what I can do, but faith is believing in what only God can do.
So, teachers, demonstrate faith in your classes and attempt big things for the glory of God. Let me just name several more things that you can think on later, and I hope in time to come to develop these in greater detail. I want to encourage you teachers to
· Have the enthusiasm to care – there is no more powerful force on earth than a human soul of fire for the Lord.
· Have the energy to work – there is no substitute in your class for hard work
· Develop the skill to motivate
· Determine to stick it out – get some backbone to you and make your class better this year than it has ever been before
The teaching ministry of our church is perhaps the greatest ministry we have, so to those of you who teach, to those of you who have children and grandchildren, and to the rest of you, do this: “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.” That is your first and greatest duty. You’ll never be the parent or teacher you could be until you’ve nurtured your relationship with God first. If you’ve never entered a relationship with God, you need to know today that you stand before Him a sinner. You may not feel like a sinner or do the bad things you hear about on TV, but in God’s eyes you are offensive to Him. Because of your sinful condition, the Bible says that God will turn you away from Him the moment after your death and you will spend eternity in hell, but the Bible also says that God loved you so much that He sacrificed His Son Jesus Christ as the payment for your sin, so that all you have to do to change your destination is to change your mind about who you are. Admit to Him that you’re a sinner and repent of it – turn away from the life you’ve been living and come to Jesus Christ, believing that He alone can save you.
After salvation, you need to follow the Lord in baptism and church membership, and you need to get actively involved in church, this morning I want to specifically call your attention to the importance of Sunday School.
The Sunday School is not just another organization of this church. It is the church organized and functioning to carry out the Great Commission. The Sunday School is the church meeting, maturing, ministering, and marching for the Master. Right now it is the best ministry we have for outreach, discipleship, ministry and fellowship. Let me plead with you to give Sunday School the attention it deserves in your life. Come and learn and grow and meet and minister with us.
Perhaps today you’ve been saved, but you need to follow Him in some other thing. Has the Lord been dealing with you about some other thing in your life that you’ve been neglecting? Come to Him today and take care of that need.