Sunday School Problems are not Sunday School Problems

What is the problem with Sunday School? Why is it not working in so many places? Why is it--not everywhere, but in many places--weak, ineffective, (dare I say it?) boring?

It is not organization. It is not strategy. It is not class size or literature, or our understanding of Sunday School theory. Sunday School problems are rarely Sunday School problems. It is deeper than that; far deeper.

But, we are comfortable

I often talk to groups about the vision of growing and dividing, growing and dividing, growing and dividing. A group of ten that doubles every eighteen months can reach a thousand people in ten years. There is a world wide movement by which this is happening. I have told this to many groups. The normal response is, "But we are comfortable doing what we are doing." This is no longer a Sunday School problem. What someone has just told me--and they have told it to me many times--is that their comfort is of greater importance than reaching a thousand people in the next ten years. This is not a Sunday School problem. They did not tell me that they disagree with the strategy or that they don't think it will work, or that they do not think it is realistic. They did not tell me they have an alternate strategy that they think is more effective. They simply respond to the idea that we can reach a thousand people in the next ten years by saying, "But we are comfortable." This is not a Sunday School problem. This is a values problem.

I rarely have people tell me that my ideas won't work. Rarely do people doubt their potential. But, I routinely hear--and I suspect they say if far more often when I can't hear--that we are comfortable and we don't want to do that.

This is not a Sunday School problem. This is a heart problem. This is a maturity problem. This is a discipleship problem. This is a priorities problem. This is a values problem. It is a problem when someone thinks, much less suggests, much less says out loud with brazen confidence that our comfort is to be placed above reaching one person a year, much less a thousand people in the next ten years. It is a problem, and it is a big problem. But, it is not a Sunday School problem. It is an us problem.

The problem is we fundamentally misunderstand what the gospel message is all about. It is all about the paradox of finding yourself by giving yourself away. It is all about finding life by throwing yourself into the cause of reaching others. It is all about the thrill of following God in the daring adventure of reaching people for Him. It is about the breathtaking exhilaration of following God to heaven knows where. It is all about following Christ to become fishers of men.

In most Sunday Schools, there is not a lot of daring adventure. There is not a hint of breathtaking exhilaration. If you look up adventure in an encyclopedia, you are not likely to find a picture of a Sunday School class there.

When Jesus called the disciples to follow Him, they were not at all sure what was next. What was next was risk. What was next was uncertainty. They were leaving their nets. He would call them to walk on water but they must, in the words of John Ortberg, get out of the boat. It was adventure. It was thrill. It was so not Sunday School.

It was not comfort. Christ didn't call us to comfort; He called us to follow Him in the daring adventure of becoming fishers of men.

We are not willing to do that

I talked to one man once about growing and dividing. More accurately, he talked to me. He said, "I don't think we are going to be able to double our class." I asked why not. He said he was in a room that had eighteen men in a room that held twenty chairs. I suggested they divide the class--move half the men down the hall and start a new group. I will never forget his response:

"Oh, we are not willing to do that."

"Not willing to do that." I have been thinking about that response for a long time. I want to invite you to think about that. What do you think about a Christian brother who, when confronted with the idea that we can reach a thousand people in the next ten years by being in a group that grows and divides, grows and divides, grows and divides and he says to me he is not willing to do that. What do you think?

Here is what I think. I have been thinking about this for a long time and I have come to the conclusion that these are words that no believer ought to ever say to their Lord about anything. "I am not willing"? Excuse me?

This is not a Sunday School problem. This is a Lordship problem. This is a discipleship problem. Somewhere along the line we walk down the road of discipleship and we walk through the door called Lordship. In walking through this door, we realize a very profound, life-changing truth. God is God and I am not. He is Master I am servant. He is boss I am slave. He is in charge I am not.

I have been thinking about that statement for a long time. Here is my conclusion. Those are words that no Christian ought to ever say to their Lord about anything. "I am not willing"? Really? Who is in charge here? Who is boss here? Who is Lord here? Who is God here?

Again, this is not a Sunday School problem. This is a Lordship problem. This is a discipleship problem.

But, we are happy the way we are

I hear this a lot. I used to be set back by the statement. I used to believe it. No more. I have talked to too many people who have doubled their classes. I have seen the smiles on their faces. I have sensed their enthusiasm. I could feel their zeal for the work.

People who are not doubling their groups sincerely think they are happy. They think that because they don't know what happiness is. There is a whole other level. People who are doubling their groups are some of the happiest people I know. They have often said to me, "My group is that most exciting thing in my life." They have engaging careers and good marriages and take trips to exciting destinations but they have said to me, "Watching my group double is the most exciting thing in my life."

By comparison, groups that are not doubling are half a sleep. They are happy, but happy in a drowsy kind of way. Groups that are doubling every two years or less are happy in an exhilaration kind of way.

It is an important point because people often say to me, "OK, I am convinced. But, how do I convince my class to embrace the vision of doubling groups?" At the end of the day, you have to convince them it is a better life, and it is.

The problem with Sunday School is we don't believe this. We don't believe that life is better on the playing field than it is in the bleachers.

But again, this is not a Sunday School problem.

To fix the problems of Sunday School, we can't look to Sunday School answers. We have to fix the people. We have to fix us. I wish it were simpler. We have to exchange our values with a value that suggests that people matter to God and that reaching them is more important than my comfort. We have to willingly, eagerly, joyfully surrender our will to His and become willing to do whatever he asks. We must embrace the great adventure of joining God in seeking to double groups every two years or less.