Summary: This sermon examines the Biblical purpose that is fulfilled through a Sunday School ministry.
Today, I want to lead you in a celebration of the Sunday School. Why do we promote Sunday School since it is not mentioned in the Bible and Jesus did not establish it? Where did it come from? Sunday School began in the 1700’s in Gloucester, England with a man named Robert Raikes. Mr. Raikes, a member of the Church of England, had a burden for poor children who were forced to work long hours each week with no opportunity for education. Thus, he established schools that met on Sunday. These schools were not necessarily for religious instruction. Those early Sunday Schools were characterized by several important traits.
1. They used paid teachers. (Tease: wouldn’t you Sunday School teachers like to get paid?)
2. They taught secular courses.
3. They taught mainly poor children.
Over the years Sunday School has evolved into what we know today. It is an organization that focuses on teaching the Word of God. When Robert Raikes started the Sunday School Movement, the Archbishop of Canterbury called together the bishops to see what could be done to stop him, for, he said, it was a violation of the Sabbath.
(Contributed to Sermon Central by A. Todd Coget)
In celebrating the Sunday School I want to speak with you about its purpose. Before doing that I want to address two important principles.
1. The first principle is that purpose is what makes something special. Sometimes we get confused and celebrate things because of their tradition. There is nothing in the name or the function of Sunday School that makes it special. It is special because of the purpose it fulfills. It is an organizational tool for reaching, ministering and helping people to grow spiritually. A tool is no better than the purpose that stands behind it.
2. A second principle involves organization. There is nothing sacred about organization nor is there anything evil about organization. Over the years I have run into people who opposed certain practices because they involved organization. Some people oppose Sunday School because it is an organization. Even Jesus used organization. When he fed the 5,000. (Mk. 6:39-40) he instructed the disciples to seat people in groups.
There is nothing inherently evil about organization. However, there is nothing sacred about organization. For example a cemetery is one of the most organized places in the community but I do not want to live in one.
Sometimes we start traditions and organizations and then act like they fell out of Heaven as a gift from God. In our country, when the Sunday School movement began, it was looked upon with suspicion. Park Street Church in Boston had a major rife in the early 1800’s over whether to allow Sunday School. Their arguments:
1. It might be a desecration of the Sabbath.
2. Children ought to be instructed by their parents at home.
3. Professing Christians ought to be at home engaging in reading, meditation and prayer, instead of going abroad to teach children of other families on the Sabbath. (Illustration 6234 in 7700 Illustrations…Editor Paul Lee Tan)
Now that we have those matters out of the way let me address the purpose of the Sunday School. As we celebrate the Sunday School I want to use Acts 2:41-42, 44 as a text. “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers… Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common.” In this text we see the early church fulfilling three functions or purposes. The church was reaching people with the truth of Jesus Christ. The church was ministering to people. The church was helping people grow spiritually. That is the purpose of Sunday School. Lets look at the three functions (purposes) individually.
I.The Sunday School is organized for reaching people. That is the overall purpose of the church. In Acts 2:41 we find that there were 3,000 people who placed their faith in Jesus Christ. The churches purpose is to reach people for Christ.
This purpose is stated in the Great Commission found in Mt. 28:18-20. This command is summarized in verse 19. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus repeated this command before ascending to Heaven. In Acts 1:8 we find His words “you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’’
In Luke 19:10 Jesus repeated His purpose. "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.’’
You may ask, what does reaching people have to do with our Sunday School class? Reaching people should be the focus of every organization in the church. If people are not your focus then you have the wrong focus.