The Importance of Sunday School

Series: -- Preacher: Date: August 31, 2003 Scripture Reference: Matthew 4:23, 25; Matthew 7:28-29; Ephesians 4:11-13; Matthew 28:19-20

Matthew 4:23

23 – Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.

Matthew 4:25

25 – Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed Him.

Matthew 7:28-29

28b – …the crowds were amazed at His teaching,

29 – because He taught as one Who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

Ephesians 4:11-13

11 – It was He Who gave some to be apostles, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,

12 – to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

13 – until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Matthew 28:19-20

19 – Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

20 – and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.

I don’t know about you but it seems to me that lately there has been a great deal of news about our nation’s struggle with obesity. In fact, earlier this week I watched a news segment that told of current studies indicating that here in the United States being over-weight is no longer a problem that is limited to adults because more and more children are obese. They often carry around many more pounds than they should.

Well, because so many of us-young and old-fight our own private “battle of the bulge”-grocery stores stock more and more diet brands of pretty much everything. Have you noticed? I mean, when I walk the aisles at GIANT, in every section I see words or phrases like, “reduced fat” or “fat free” or “low calorie,” – or one of the most POPULAR diet words these days: “lite,” spelled “L I T E.” I think it’s interesting to note that this word itself must have been on Weight Watchers because it is trimmed from it’s original spelling- “L I T E” instead of “L I G H T” – four letters instead of five! And this trendy word is applied to all kinds of products. You can buy “lite” bread, “lite mayonnaise,” “lite syrup,” “lite butter,” “lite fruit juice,” etc. I keep expecting them to come out with “lite” water!

Well, this skinny little adjective is supposed to convey the idea that all these “lite” food items HAVE THE SAME TASTE BUT ARE LESS FILLING. In other words, consuming them won’t add as many pounds to our frame as the normal brands. And these products really are LIGHTER-because they have far fewer calories and far lower fat content-which makes them fit in with the current trend that says “LESS IS BETTER.” And, don’t get me wrong-when it comes to food, less IS better for many of us-including me!

The problem I have with this way of thinking-the reason I mention it this morning-is that this “Less is better” philosophy is now found not just in the aisles of grocery stores but also in the aisles of many churches! You see, these days people seem to want LESS church. I mean, they want the same “taste” when it comes to the “spiritual food” churches dish out-but they want it to be less “filling” when it comes to their weekly schedules. In short, they want what the church can give-but they aren’t willing to invest as much time in getting it.

Let’s review the last few decades of church history and you’ll see what I mean. When I was a kid, we Baptists went to Sunday School at 9:30AM and to worship at 11AM after which we went home for lunch and the obligatory afternoon nap. Then, we came back at 5:30PM each week for discipleship studies called “training union,” followed by another hour-long evening worship service-which was structured just like the morning service: sermon, choir, offering, announcements, the whole bit. Back then there was also the midweek prayer meeting which included a 45-minute Bible study PLUS all the other monthly meetings we went to-WMU, Brotherhood, various choir rehearsals, etc. I believe all this is what inspired Will Rogers to point out that the American people pay millions of dollars in taxes each year to build the country’s roads-but then the Baptists wear them out going to meetings!

Well, over the past 40 years or so, we have really reduced our contribution to the wear and tear on our nation’s highways because there has been a definite “lightening” of the typical weekly schedule of most churches. First, the discipleship hour on Sunday afternoons disappeared. Then evening services were abandoned. And as we begin the 21st century a further reduction is underway when it comes to the typical Christian’s intake of “spiritual calories” because more and more churches are taking even the SUNDAY SCHOOL HOUR out of their weekly schedule leaving only the Sunday morning worship service. These days the emphasis seems to be on WORSHIP ONLY because more and more Christians expect to have all their spiritual needs met in that one hour. So, I guess you could say that these days, “LITE CHURCH” is in because people want a church schedule that is trimmed down to one hour a week.

Now, I for one believe this is not a good thing. I mean, I know our schedules are hectic. I know we work long hours-and have little time to spend with our families-but I think we need to draw a line in the sand here because, in my opinion, to abandon Sunday School is a big mistake. And this morning I’d like to explain why I feel this way. I’d like us to remind ourselves why it is that this time of weekly corporate Bible teaching is so vital to our spiritual health.

1. And the first thing I’d like to point out is this: Attending a Sunday School class is the best way to get involved in the LIFE of a local church.

And that’s true of Redland because I can think of no better way to become an integral part of this wonderful church family. Now, we’ll talk more about this as part of our study of The Purpose Driven Life in a few weeks but I felt it was worth mentioning this morning as well. You see, you can’t really benefit from membership in a church like Redland, unless you are involved in a weekly small-group Bible study like Sunday School because this I where you meet people and interact with them as you study God’s Word together. This is where masks come off and accountability is shared. It’s where burdens are divided and joys are multiplied. It’s where we get to know each other well enough to encourage each other to develop and use our spiritual gifts. None of this can happen in a corporate worship service because we experience little or no interaction with other Christians as we sit in these chairs and sing or listen to sermons.

Well, the sad truth is in these “less is better” days many Christians only attend worship-they never join a Sunday School Class and so they miss out! They never really taste the church because you can only do that by being involved in a small group of Christians with whom you meet to study the Bible on a weekly basis. Someone once wisely said, there are two things you can’t do alone: be married and be a Christian-and they were so right because to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ we need interaction with other Christians. Proverbs 27:17 refers to this principle when it says, “As iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another.”

This summer I went on the New Hampshire Mission trip and one of the great joys of that week was that it gave me a chance to spend quality time with about 20 other Redlanders. We had devotions together each night. We ate every meal together. We worked together in Vacation Bible School and community ministry. We prayed together for that community. And because we did we really got to know each other. I grew closer to Gary Moore, Jim McIntire and his daughters, Kristen and Kimmee, Mike and Mary Ann Moore and their daughters Emily and Erin, Keith and Allison Main, Jim and Kay Main, Nancy Faulconer-not to mention Bill and Sandy Wehunt! This week of interaction helped me grow spiritually and it also gave me an opportunity to get to know one small group of Redlanders better. We developed a depth of friendship I couldn’t have by just sitting next to them in a worship service.

And that’s the way Sunday School works because each week you spend an hour together studying God’s Word-you also meet for fellowships and even take on ministry projects. So, this morning if you’re not involved in a Sunday School class I would encourage you to join one. I know I am somewhat biased but we have WONDERFUL teachers for all ages here-teachers of a spiritual depth and instructional capability I have not seen in any other church. They will stretch you and guide you such that you grow closer to Jesus than you have ever been. Plus-attending their classes will enable you to really get to know this church family. I promise, attending Sunday School will be more than worth the hour it costs you each week. You may say, “Well, Mark, worship is enough or me. I mean I just love the music and your sermons.” And you can say that as much as you want but I would reply, “If you think worship is great, you ain’t seen nothing yet! Come to Sunday School at Redland. Really get to know this wonderful church and give us a chance to really get to know you. There is no better way to do so!”

2. And then a second reason churches should keep Sunday School hour on their schedules is because it is a powerful way to INFLUENCE the lives of people.

And these days people need influencing! I mean, our fallen culture constantly barrages us all with lies and half-truths and we need a place where all this misinformation can be corrected. Well, the best BOOK to consult when it comes to counter-acting the negative influence of our culture is the Bible because as 2 Timothy 3:15-17 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed…[AND AS SUCH IT IS] useful for teaching, rebuking, CORRECTING, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Now the best FORMAT for Bible study is a small-group setting-like in a classroom-because experience shows that in that setting teachers can have an amazing amount of influence on people. By they way, this is why we set aside a Sunday each fall to pray for the members of our congregation who teach out in the world-as we have done this morning. You see, I believe this task is a calling from God-because Christians are desperately needed-especially in the classrooms of our public schools. This is one of the most efficient places for us to exert our salt and light!

My mom taught elementary school for nearly 30 years in Dover, Delaware. And she was a fantastic teacher-a godly instructor. I have been amazed at her influence. When we go home for a visit, I kind of dread going to the local mall with Mom because I know we won’t be able to walk six feet without some former student coming up to her and talking to her. Many of them have told her again and again the difference she has made in their lives. Well, a Sunday School teacher has a similarly powerful influence for as Jesus said in Luke 6:40, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” A teacher then becomes a role model for his or her students-talk about influence!

Now-let me share a familiar true story with you to illustrate this important principle. How many of you have heard of a man named Edward Kimball? Well, if you haven’t don’t feel to bad because he lived over a hundred years ago and his name does not appear in any history books that I know of mainly because most historians would say that Mr. Kimball never did anything that was all that newsworthy. He was just a “simple” Sunday School teacher in Chicago who taught a class full of teenage boys. Well one day he got a new student-a country boy who didn’t know the ways of the city or of the church. When he first came to his class, Edward Kimball handed him a Bible and asked him to turn to the Gospel of John but the country boy didn’t know how to find the Gospel of John. Edward Kimball realized how little the boy knew so he ignored the snickering of the other boys, opened the Bible to the Gospel of John and handed it back. When he asked the boys to take turns reading the Scripture, the country boy always fumbled along. But Edward Kimball saw possibilities in the boy. He worked with him, and after a few months he went down to the store where the boy was working, into the back room where he was stacking boxes, and led the boy whose name was Dwight to embrace a personal faith in Jesus Christ.

That was the beginning of the ministry of Dwight L. Moody, one of this continent’s greatest evangelists during the last century. But that’s not the end of the story. You see, Moody, whose international speaking took him to the British Isles, once preached in a little chapel there pastored by a young man named Frederic Meyer. In his sermon Moody told an emotionally charged story about a certain Sunday school teacher he had known who personally went to every student in his class and led every one of them to Christ. That message changed Meyer’s entire ministry, inspiring him to become an evangelist like Moody.

Over the years Meyer came to America several times to preach. Once in Northfield, Massachusetts, a young preacher sitting in the back row heard Meyer say, “If you are not willing to give up everything for Christ, are you willing to be made willing?” And, that remark led J. Wilbur Chapman to respond to the call of God in his life. Chapman went on to become one of the most effective evangelists of his time.

A volunteer by the name of Billy Sunday-a famous baseball player-helped set up his crusades and learned how to preach by watching Chapman. Sunday eventually took over Chapman’s ministry, becoming one of the best known evangelists of the 20th century. In the great arenas of the nation, God used Billy Sunday’s preaching to turn thousands of people to Christ. Inspired by a 1924 Billy Sunday crusade in Charlotte, North Carolina, a committee of Christians there dedicated themselves to reaching that city for Christ.

The committee invited the evangelist Mordecai Ham to hold a series of evangelistic meetings there in 1932. And a lanky 16-year-old sat in the huge crowd one evening, spellbound by the message of the white-haired preacher, who seemed to be shouting and waving his lone finger at him. Night after night the teen attended and finally he went forward to give his life to Christ. His name was Billy Graham-the man who has undoubtedly communicated the gospel of Jesus Christ to more people than any other man in history. And all this started with the work of a faithful Sunday School teacher named Kimball.

So, you see Sunday School teachers have the potential to make an amazing impact on eternity. They have a unique opportunity to disciple people because they meet them one on one. They get to really know them and become a part of their lives.

So, wouldn’t you agree that it would be a big mistake to cut this from our schedules!

3. And this leads to a third reason Sunday School classroom time is important-because of the TEXTBOOK we use.

As I said a moment ago, that textbook is of course the Bible-God’s Holy Word-a book that is different from any other book that has ever been written because every word in ths book is, “…GOD-breathed.” ( 2 Timothy 3:16) In other words, unlike any other book, the Bible is the inspired written Word of God. Because it is, as the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message says, the Bible, “…is truth without mixture of error.” This is why studying it is “…profitable for correction and training in righteousness.”

W. L. House once wrote, “The Bible is no ordinary book. And no Sunday School class session is an ordinary period of time. [You see] when the teacher reads the Bible, God speaks. When one takes this library of 66 books into a classroom and teaches it, he or she is dealing with the most unusual BOOK in the world, the most unusual MESSAGE in the world, and is spending the most important TIME in the world.”

Within the pages of this “Sunday School textbook” is the truth that all mankind hungers to hear. Studying it together in a small-group setting is the BEST use of our time for it’s wisdom is PRICELESS! Dr. Robert Gehering is a practicing physician and a professor at Baylor University Medical school in Texas. He’s also an ex-alcoholic and drug-addict. In giving his testimony once, he said, “I spent $22,000 on psychologists to no avail. Then I found all the help I needed in a $10 Bible.” Like countless others he discovered that there is amazing power in the words of the Book we teach from in Sunday School each week. As Jesus said, “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. (John 6:36)

And, even non-Christians, like Gandhi, have discovered this principle for he patterned much of his life on the teachings of Jesus-specifically the Sermon on the Mount. It inspired his nonviolent approach that helped India gain independence from British oppression. You see, although he was an unbeliever, Gandhi understood the power of Jesus’ written teachings. He once referred to the Bible and said, “You Christians have in your keeping a document with enough dynamite in it to blow the whole of civilization to bits; to turn society upside down; to bring peace to this war-torn world.”

Gandhi was correct-the textbook we used in Sunday School is a unique book-a POWERFUL book. In my RBC101 classes I always go over our essential beliefs as a church family and on the Sunday that we talk about our convictions about the Bible I tell them the story of a play that was written many years ago before the fall of the iron curtain in the then atheist nation of Russia. The purpose of the play was to mock Christianity and it was entitled, “Christ in Tuxedo.” The opening scene showed a bar in a church building with nuns in their habits standing at the bar drinking and gambling. The purpose of this scene was to degrade the church-to depict it as a den of iniquity. The actor who was to play the lead-a Russian star performer-was to walk on stage and begin reading a few verses from Matthew 5-Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. He was to then put the Bible down and make fun of this text. Well, he entered on cue and began to read but strangely he could not. He continued to read on and on as if he were under an irresistible compulsion. A quietness fell over the actors and a stillness fell over the crowd. Finally, with tears in his eyes, the actor raised his hands in prayer and said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” The curtain fell permanently. The Soviet Union never allowed this play to be presented again. Because even in mockery, the Word of God broke through the minds of the people because God’s Word is alive and powerful. As Hebrews 4:12 says, “The Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

We dare not give up this weekly time of tapping into this source of Spiritual power! This is not a time to cut spiritual calories!

4. And then the final thing I want to point out as we address this issue is that when someone teaches the Bible as they do each week in Sunday School they are following JESUS’ example.

You may not know this but our Lord referred to Himself as, “Teacher” and He was given that title by other people more than any other designation. This is no doubt due to the fact that while He was here bodily on earth, Jesus spent more of His time teaching than He did in any other activity. In fact, His teaching was a CENTRAL part of His ministry! In other words, when Jesus taught He wasn’t just biding time. He wasn’t just treading water until the time came for Him to go to the cross. No-He was fulfilling one of the main purposes of His life. You see, Jesus didn’t just come to DIE FOR us. He also came to TEACH us how to LIVE.

The gospel writers were very clear in stating this. For example, our text from Matthew 7 tells us how Jesus began His earthly ministry in the synagogue when it says, “…the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one Who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”

And then, do you remember the time in Jesus’ ministry, when the Pharisees wanted Him arrested and they sent the temple guards to bring Him in? John’s gospel records that instead of arresting Him, these temple cops just listened to Him. Later, when the Pharisees and chief priests asked the temple police why Jesus had not been arrested, they answered, “Well, no one ever spoke the way this man does!” (John 7:46) Even these hardened guards recognized the power and authority of Jesus’ teaching. This was one of the main reasons our Lord came to earth-TO TEACH!

And at this point, I want to be sure that we understand that there is a bond that cannot be severed between Jesus’ role as Savior and teacher.

You see, since His followers learned Jesus could be trusted as a TEACHER, after the cross and the resurrection they decided to put their trust in Him as their SAVIOR. People would follow Him, and they would discover that He knew what He was talking about-that His teaching could be trusted-and that led them to give Him their lives. So Jesus’ teaching ministry is central to what He came to do. It was central then and it is central now. And that means that when we teach the Bible in Sunday School each week we are following in our Master’s footsteps. We are ministering in the way that He ministered most while He was on this earth. We are doing what Jesus would do!

Plus, we are obeying Jesus’ command! Do you remember the words of His Great Commission to us? In Matthew 28 it records Jesus’ own words when He said, “Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit AND TEACHING THEM to obey everything I have commanded you.” Then, Jesus went on to say what? “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” And this final phrase should remind us that, when someone accepts the call to teach a Sunday School class Jesus is literally with them-that when a teacher asks Jesus to guide and empower him or her to obey His command and teach His word-He does! And when that happens in essence Jesus CONTINUES to teach, as He indwells that person through His Holy Spirit.

This morning, if your weekly schedule doesn’t include the Sunday School hour, I would encourage you to add it! Get out your day timers and write it in right now! If God leads you to do so, walk this aisle today and join our church but don’t stop there. Commit to walk out that door and up the stairs into a classroom! And then, if you are here and are not a Christian, I would urge you to invite Jesus into your heart and life-repent of your sin and ask Him to be your teacher-your master. Let Him teach you how to live. Won’t you come now as we stand and sing and share your decisions with me?

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