I am on a mission!


Forty years ago, "Made in Japan" meant "cheaply made trinket." Today, "Made in Japan" stands for quality and excellence.

I am on a mission.

Today, a "Sunday School answer" means, "a shallow, non-thought-through answer."

My mission?

To make a "Sunday School answer" mean, "an interesting, fresh, thoughtful, deep answer."

I am on a mission.

For "Sunday School answer" to mean this, three things need to happen in every Sunday School class." [By the way, I applaud the changes that some churches are making to calling Sunday School something other than Sunday School. Sunday School has in image  problem. It has a coolness problem. Changing the name to "Adult Bible Fellowship" (ABF), "Life Groups", "Bible Study" or "Small Group" is probably a good idea. ("Small Group", of course, should only be used if they truly are Small Groups--some Sunday School classes have 40 or more in attendance. This is not a small group. In principle, I prefer groups about the size of Jesus' group--12. But, that is a topic for another day.)

We want a "Sunday School answer" to mean, "an interesting, fresh, thoughtful, deep answer." What do we do?

People need to be engaged.

A couple of rules of thumb to shoot for.

  1. The teacher ought to talk about as much as everyone else in the room combined. The teacher ought to talk more than anyone else in the room, but not any more than half the time.
  2. Everyone else ought to talk more or less evenly. No one ought to dominate; no one should be left out. Let's talk about each of these.

The teacher ought to talk more than anyone else. That is why we call you the teacher. It is your job to do the things we are going to talk about next--bring something interesting and deep to the table. This takes time. There is nothing wrong with the teacher teaching. The modern word "facilitator" suggests that you are just to guide a free flowing conversation. While that helps us avoid the extreme of a lecture, don't take it to the other extreme. The teacher is to teach. He or she should have something to say and should take time to say it. Sunday School is about participation, but not about pooled ignorance.

But, it is important that everyone else be allowed to participate as well. Jesus taught that we are changed more by what we say than what we hear. It is what comes out of a man--what we say that changes him. For more on this, see http://www.joshhunt.com/mail314.htm

We want everyone to talk more or less evenly. No one dominating; no on left out. If someone doesn't ever talk you might (do this carefully) draw them out by calling on them from time to time. Don't push too hard; if you get on a topic they are interested in, they will share. From time to time do a question where you ask everyone to share.

We don't want anyone to dominate. If they do, pull them aside and say, "I want everyone to participate like you do. In order for that to happen, I need you to hold back a bit. Do you think you could do that?"

So, we want the teacher to talk about half the time, and everyone to participate in an even handed way. Using this formula alone, you could still produce a lot of, "Sunday School answers." We need more than this to change what we mean by "Sunday School answer."

People need to hear something they have never heard before. Group life needs some depth.

If I have heard it once, I have heard it a thousand times, "Sunday School has no depth." It is shallow. Exactly what do people mean by this? How could we study the most profound book ever written (the Bible) and it not be deep? What exactly are people looking for?

They want to hear something they have never heard before. They want to think about the Bible in ways they have never considered before. They long for a Hebrews 6.1 experience: "Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God."

So, here is the test: did they hear anything yesterday that they have never heard before? Did they think about anything yesterday in ways they have never thought about before? If not, they probably felt like they wasted their time.

I have been in enough Sunday School classes to know there is a reason why many of these classes are not growing. (This is not true of all of them; I don't want to paint the situation as more negative than it is.) In the research I did in preparation for the soon-to-be-released book Make Your Group Grow we discover just how many teachers are way below the bar of "half-way decent."

In my lessons--Good Questions Have Groups Talking--I include quotes from the great minds that have thought about and written about Scripture--people like John MacArthur, Henry Blackaby, Tozer, Wiersbe, Lenski, Barclay and many others. I provide quotes from some of the great commentaries--Holman, Life Application, New American, and many more. These are the same commentaries your pastor likely uses as he prepares his sermons. No one ever accused John MacArthur of being shallow.

But--here is a shocker--you can engage everyone, you can quote from the great writers and commentators, and Sunday School can still be boring. You need the third element.

People need to be entertained a bit.

That is right, you need to entertain your class.

Webster's defines "entertained" as, to "keep, hold, or maintain in the mind". www.dictionary.com says, "to hold the attention pleasantly or agreeable" (Holding someone's attention with a gun doesn't qualify.)

This is why Jesus used stories when he taught. Matthew 13:34 (CEV) "Jesus used stories when he spoke to the people. In fact, he did not tell them anything without using stories." Stories are interesting. Stories entertain.

You need to have something in every lesson that grabs their attention--even if it is slightly off-topic. (Better, of course, if it is on topic.)

I was teaching yesterday on the idea that "Praise is always the best first response to a mess." (Always a good idea to be able to reduce your teaching to one Big Idea.) One illustration was Jonah. Jonah worshiped from the belly of the fish.

When I heard the story of Jonah growing up, I got the picture of Jonah inside this big cave that looked like Carlsbad Caverns. Carlsbad Caverns reminded me of a web page I saw last week that included "dumb things people have asked park rangers." Things like:

  • "At what elevation do deer turn into elk?"
  • (At Grand Canyon) "Is the mule train air conditioned?"
  • (At Carlsbad Caverns) "How much of the cave is underground?"

The local New Mexico folks got a good laugh. The comment was not completely on topic, but it didn't take a lot of time either. Stories like that that grab and hold people's attention go along way toward making Sunday School more interesting.

Every lesson ought to include interesting, funny, touching, sad or fascinating stories that get and keep people's attention. If they are thinking about work tomorrow, you are not making disciples. I have a whole section on this in the Disciplemaking Teachers Seminar

As Bill Hybels says it, "Move me, scare me, anger me, frighten me, but don't leave like I was when I walked through those doors."

Finding this material takes time

How do find material that is fresh and deep and insightful and interesting and funny and sad and provocative and keeps everyone's attention?

This is my life's passion.

I spend the better part of every working day digging through commentaries and illustration books and trade publications trying to find the best material I can to help you be the best teacher you can be. The lesson I write correspond with three of LifeWay's outlines plus the International Standard Series so you have access to all of that material as well.

Each lesson consists of about 20 ready-to-use questions that make preparation a breeze. They engage the group in conversation. Because preparation is easy, finding teachers is easy. See http://www.joshhunt.com/good_question_story.htm

This week, I am offering Good Questions at an incredible savings of 55% off for new all-church subscriptions. This works out to only $89.99 for all of your church to use these lessons for a whole year. ($200 on subsequent years if you choose to renew; no commitment to do so.) This offer only good new NEW church subscriptions.

I am on a mission. Let's make, "Sunday School answer" mean, "Deep and profound."


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