I love rockets.
That is why when Perry Greene of Twickenham Church of Christ contacted me several months ago about doing a conference in Huntsville, AL my immediate reaction was, "only if I can stay over and tour the space and rocket center."
I had been in Huntsville earlier at Whitesburg Baptist and it whetted my appetite to go back and visit Huntsville's Space and Rocket Center. I have been to the Smithsonian Space and Rocket Center. Tim Turner of Ocala, Florida took me to the Kennedy Space Center. I have even been to the space museum in Alamogordo, New Mexico and the Alien Museum in Roswell, New Mexico. (Did I really mention Roswell's Alien museum and the Smithsonian in the same paragraph?)
As expected, we had a blast at the Rocket Center. (Think about that last sentence; you might find yourself smiling.)
Standing at the base of a Saturn V Rocket--they have two at Huntsville's Space and Rocket Center--one standing up and one laying horizontal like a fallen tree and looking into the base of those five huge engines--I was amazed at their size. I think I could easily fit my 6'3" frame into any one of them. I wondered what if felt like for Wernher von Braun to watch that rocket go up. The German defector was the real mastermind behind space travel. It was back in 1950 that the Huntsville Newspaper quoted Dr. von Braun as saying that "Rocket flights to the moon were possible."
I thought about the first time that rocket went off. They test individual parts and check and double check all the systems. But, there is always that first time. The first time complicated mathematical formulas known as rocket science explodes in a fiery canon that will eventually propel men into space--and to the moon.
I look at that rocket and think, "How in the world do they figure all this out? Why does the first stage boost the rocket to 35.8 nautical miles? Why not 35 miles or 40 miles? How do they know it has to burn for 2 minutes 40 seconds to do that? They know the exact latitude and longitude when this first stage will release and fall into the Atlantic ocean after burning fuel at a rate of 29,522 pounds per second. How in the cat hair do they figure all that out?"
I remembered talk of how carefully they had to calculate the entry into earth's atmosphere. Too sharp a descent and the crew would burn up; not sharp enough and the craft would bounce off the atmosphere like a rock skipping on water. Sounds reasonable. Just how much like a rock skipping on water is a spacecraft entering the earth?
I am amazed by rocket science and reminded that I am grateful that Sunday School work is not rocket science. Where as rocket science in unspeakably complicated, Sunday School is very simple.
My dream is to see the word-wide, "capital C" Church double in the next 20 years. How are we going to do it? It is not rocket science. We are going to do it by giving the ministry to laymen who are using their gifts to grow their groups to double their classes every two years or less. How do they do that? Five steps, none of them rocket science:
Teach a halfway decent lesson each and every week, nothing less will do. You don't have to be Charles Stanley, but it does have to be halfway decent.
Invite every member and every prospect to every fellowship every month. Do what Levi did, hold a great banquet.
Give Friday nights to Jesus for an informal time of Diet Coke, coffee cake and card playing. Be obedient to the command of God to "offer hospitality without grumbling."
Encourage the group toward ministry. It is not doing the work of 10 men; it is getting 10 men in the work. (Part of the "men" could be women!)
Reproduce. At the end of the day, it is not about going from 10 to 20 so much as it is about going from one group to two.
Simple. Not rocket science. Simple.
In order to get teachers to do this, pastors and staff must lead by example. There are other things we do to cast a clear and compelling vision, but leading by example is the most important part. Pastors, Ministers of Education, and Ministers of Music (am I dreaming?) must be involved in doubling groups if we expect to convince the masses that it is a wonderful way to live and an effective way to reach people.
I heard recently the story of one Sunday School teacher who had an incredibly effective ministry. His name was Walt. Walt had a sixth grade education.
Walt wanted to teach a Sunday School class. When he approached the Sunday School superintendent, he was told there were no openings. (I know this story sounds unbelievable, but it really is true.) Walt insisted, so the Sunday School superintendent told him, "Anybody you find is yours."
Walt went out into the community and found a boy playing marbles. "How would you like to attend Sunday School?" The boy was not interested. Anything that had the word school in it was bad news.
So, the teacher played marbles with him. (His version of giving Friday nights to Jesus.)
They played for a long time, and the teacher whipped the boy at every single game. He recalls, "By then I would have followed him anywhere." This illustrates the irresistible nature of simple love.
Walt picked up thirteen boys in the community for his Sunday School class. Nine of them were from broken homes. Eleven of the thirteen are now in full time vocational work. One of them is Howard Hendricks. You see some of his books and videos in the column to the right, as well as some of the works of Howard Hendricks disciple, Bruce Wilkinson.
It ain't rocket science, friend. It's marbles. Marbles and Diet Coke, and table games and a love that is very simple, earthy, pedestrian. If we love them, they will come, and they will come to love our Lord.
Howard Hendricks says this about his Sunday School teacher, Walt: "I can't tell you much of what Walt said to us, but I can tell you everything about him...because he loved me for Christ's sake. He loved me more than my parents did. He used to take us hiking. I used to love those times. I am sure we made his bad heart worse, but he would run all over the woods with us because he cared."
Simple. It is not rocket science.