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  • 10 May 2021 4:25 PM | Josh Hunt (Administrator)
    not one stone

    The catastrophic fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 forever changed the face of Judaism—and the fate of Christians in the Holy Land.

    Jesus predicted it 37 years before it happened. Herod Agrippa II and his sister Bernice, who heard Paul’s testimony at Caesarea (Acts 26), tried hard to prevent it, as did the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (our main source of first-century information). But the fall of Jerusalem and the burning of the Temple in A.D. 70 happened nevertheless, and it was a catastrophe with almost unparalleled consequences for Jews, Christians, and, indeed, all of subsequent history. It compelled a whole new vector for synagogue (not Temple) Judaism, it submerged the Jewish homeland for the next 19 centuries under foreign domination, it helped foster the split between church and synagogue, and it set the stage for rampant prophetic speculation about the End Times that continues to the present day. Few episodes in history have had that sort of impact.

    The Jewish rebellion in A.D. 66 that ignited the war with Rome was by no means inevitable. Judaism was a legal religion in the Roman Empire, and Nero’s own empress, Poppaea, was very interested in it. Contrary to biblical novels and movies, far worse things could happen to you in the ancient world than to be conquered by Rome. The Romans hung out the traffic lights in their sprawling empire, curbing piracy at sea and brigandage by land, thus providing security in the Mediterranean world. The apostle Paul’s missionary journeys would have been impossible without the Pax Romana, the “Roman peace” that ordered society. As for the “horrors” of Roman taxation, I would much rather have paid the tribute to Rome as a citizen of Jerusalem than American income tax!

    Still, Rome did have wayward governors who were not always disciplined, even if there was an extortion court set up for this purpose at Rome. Governors of Judea had a particularly difficult role, because according to Deuteronomy 17:15 it was heresy for any Gentile to govern God’s people: “You must not put a foreigner over you who is not your brother.” Nevertheless, the governors Rome sent to Judea in the first century were able enough, including Pontius Pilate, who could never have had a ten-year tenure there had he been the villain so familiar in sermons and novels.

    Gessius Florus, however, Rome’s last governor before the Jewish rebellion, made Pilate look like a paragon of virtue by comparison. Emperor Nero, perhaps distracted in the aftermath of the Great Fire of Rome, had not done a good job of screening overseas governors, and this wretch slipped through. Venal, corrupt, and brutal, Florus hoped that a Jewish rebellion would somehow cover his own crimes in Judea, and so he fomented discontent among his subjects wherever possible. Even the first-century Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus commented, “Jewish patience persisted until Gessius Florus became procurator” (History 5.10).

    Justifiably outraged, Jerusalemites rose in revolt, even though Jews who had visited Rome warned that war would end in disaster because of Rome’s overpowering resources. Zealots in Jerusalem—the “fourth party” after the Scribes, Pharisees, and Essenes, according to Josephus—carried the day, and the Jews won some surprising early victories against the Romans.

    Until, that is, Commander Vespasian landed in Galilee with three legions. After that, it was a steady Roman advance southward into Judea, with Jewish strongholds falling one after another along the way. In fact, Vespasian was at the walls of Jerusalem when news reached him of the turmoil in Rome following Nero’s death. Soon Rome’s eastern legions declared Vespasian the new emperor. Before hurrying off to Rome in 69 to don imperial purple, he transferred command of the Jewish war to his own son Titus (also future emperor), who would complete the siege and destruction of Jerusalem.

    The Burning of the Temple

    With careful strategy and maximum resources, Titus finished the job in a matter of months, despite fierce Jewish resistance. Spurning all overtures for peace, the Zealots inside Jerusalem fought amongst themselves as much as against the Romans, while Titus surrounded the city with a siege wall and simply waited. The starvation inside Jerusalem was severe because many of the Judeans from the countryside had taken refuge there. It got so bad, Josephus wrote in The Jewish War (6.194ff.), that dove dung went for premium prices, and one poor woman even ate part of her own baby!

    The best of friends wrestled with each other for even the shadow of food. Others, mouths agape from hunger like mad dogs, staggered along, beating on the doors like drunken men.… They put their teeth into everything, swallowing things even the filthiest animals would not touch. Finally they devoured even belts and shoes or gnawed at the leather they stripped from their shields.

    After furious fighting inside Jerusalem, the Temple Mount finally fell to the Romans. According to Josephus, Titus had ordered that the Temple itself be spared (though some historians doubt this), but one of the Roman troops hurled a burning firebrand through a window of the Temple and it went up in flames anyway. The date, August 30 in the year 70, was the very day on which Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed the Temple in 586 B.C. What was left was torn down by the victors, almost in literal fulfillment of Jesus’ famous statement, “Not one stone here will be left upon another” (Matthew 24:2). This was the catastrophic end of Temple Judaism.

    Might it have been the end of Judaism itself? Possibly. The Romans, however, permitted a Jewish sage named Jochanan ben-Zakkai to be smuggled out of the Temple Mount in a casket. He virtually re-founded Judaism in a rabbinical school established at Jamnia near the Mediterranean. The previous central authority of the Temple was now transformed into the regional authority of the synagogue—a tradition that has remained to the present day. Also in Jamnia, the Jewish rabbis established the canon of 39 books in their Hebrew Bible—the Christian Old Testament—in the year 93.

    The Bar-Kokhba Revolt

    Josephus, our major source for all this information, does not name a single Christian victim in connection with great Jewish War. Why not? With immense luck—or blessing—the earliest Christians largely escaped all this horror for two reasons: (1) Only four years before the war’s outbreak, James the Just of Jerusalem (the first Christian bishop according to both Acts 15 and Eusebius) was stoned to death by the Sanhedrin, which must certainly have led the struggling Jewish-Christian community to think about leaving. (2) Eusebius, the “father of church history,” also tells us that Christians were warned by an oracle to flee the city some time before war’s outbreak. In fact, they evacuated to Pella and other cities north of Jerusalem, and so escaped the Roman siege and conquest.

    After the war, some Christians returned to Jerusalem, where they must have kept a low profile since Zealotry and the yeast of Messianism among the Jews led to one last tragic uprising in A.D. 132 under a rebel named Shimon Bar-Kosebah. Rabbi Akiba, the leading Jewish sage at the time, put Bar-Kosebah on a white horse, led him through the streets of Jerusalem, and cried, “The Messiah has come! The Messiah has come!” He also changed his name to “Bar-Kokhba,” which means “Son of a Star” (showing us that the gospel writer Matthew did not invent the idea that the Star of Bethlehem was a messianic symbol for Jews).

    When the Zealots learned that Hadrian, the Roman emperor at the time, planned to build a new temple to Jupiter on the ruins of the old Jewish Temple, they rose up in revolt. Hadrian had a very difficult time conquering these rebels, some of whom hid out in caves on the western coast of the Dead Sea, where letters written by Bar-Kokhba have been discovered. Some 580,000 Jews perished, and the Romans also suffered great losses until they finally conquered the rebels. Furious at this renewed Jewish uprising and without a shred of patience left, they dismantled Jerusalem and rebuilt the city as “Aelia Capitolina” in honor of Aelius, Hadrian’s family name.

    All Jews were expelled from the city, and only Gentiles were allowed to live there. (This exile was moderated later when first Jewish Christians and then also Jews slowly returned to the city.) The Roman province of Judea now became Syria Palaestina—further diminishing Judaism in favor of the Philistines who had battled Saul and David a millennium earlier. It remained “Palestine” up through the British mandate in the 20th century and among Arabs to this day.

    In the second and third centuries, Aelia Capitolina (a.k.a. destroyed Jerusalem) showed barely a glint of its former glory. It was not a ghost town, but it was sequestered to the boondocks of the Roman Empire.

    Church and Synagogue

    An equal-opportunity desecrator, Hadrian attacked Christianity when he raised a shrine to Aphrodite adjacent to his new temple at the site of Golgotha, where Christians had held liturgical observances until they fled the city in A.D. 66. But in trying to desecrate the site, he merely helped identify it for later generations.

    It is no surprise to learn from Aristo of Pella, an early Christian historian whose works are not extant, that the Jerusalem church after the Bar-Kokhba revolt was now composed almost entirely of Gentiles. In his Church History (5.12), Eusebius lists 12 Gentile bishops of Jerusalem following Mark, the first.

    Early on, Christians in Jerusalem recognized the importance of the sites where biblical events took place. The early Christian apologist Justin Martyr (c. 100–c.165) was born of pagan parents in Nablus, Samaria, and after his conversion to Christianity knew the cave or grotto where Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Melito, bishop of Sardis, visited there in the 160s. The mightiest mind in early Christendom, Origen of Alexandria, spent the last part of his life (230–254) in Caesarea and regularly visited the sacred sites, including Bethlehem.

    Slowly, Jews were allowed to return to their Holy City. But other centers of Judaism across the Mediterranean world, such as neighboring Alexandria in Egypt, Ephesus in Asia Minor, Athens, and even Rome, could now compete through their synagogues for the authority once held by the Jerusalem Temple. Those Jewish Christians who had not abandoned the Temple (such as those described in Acts) now had to look elsewhere for cohesion and authority. The split between Jews and Christians only widened in the future.

    Both sides were responsible for this cleft. The first persecution of the church was by Jewish authorities in Jerusalem, and even the most cursory reading of Acts reveals the grief that Paul regularly received from synagogues along his mission journeys. Later, in some cities across the Mediterranean, Jews reported Christians to Roman authorities who had been lax in persecuting them. For their part, Christians attributed the destruction of Jerusalem to God’s retribution against the Jews for having crucified Christ. Church and synagogue have gone their separate ways ever since. One can only conjecture as to what might have happened to Jews, Christians, and all of subsequent history had Jerusalem not fallen and the Temple endured.

    Paul L. Maier is professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University and editor/translator of books by Josephus and Eusebius.

    Paul L. Maier, “Not One Stone Left upon Another,” Christian History Magazine-Issue 97: The Holy Land (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 2008).

  • 07 May 2021 10:18 AM | Josh Hunt (Administrator)

    What about the problem of unanswered prayer? This is a theological/ counseling problem that is of interest and significance to both areas of thought.

    Sometimes the Bible speaks about God not hearing prayer and of persons imploring Him, “Hear my prayers” or “give ear to my prayer” as though He might not.21 From this language some counselees have inferred that God (literally) doesn’t hear some prayers. If that were true, of course, that would be one reason why He didn’t always answer every prayer.

    But the word “hear” (and similar expressions) in such contexts must not be interpreted literally, as though it referred to the actual process of auditory perception. All things—including all prayers, audible or silent—are known to God. No prayer—not even the prayer of the heathen offered to idols—escapes His purview. That, then cannot be the sense in which passages indicating God does not hear some prayer must be interpreted.

    The word “hear” is used not only to refer to the actual physical process of receiving and translating sound waves into sounds and speech, but also in the sense of heeding (or, as we often put it, “paying attention to” what one hears). It refers also to listening favorably to a request, and (indeed) to granting the request.22 In Psalm 66:19, the Hebrew keshev means to “listen to heedfully,” or “pay attention to.”

    All of those passages in which God is asked to “hear” or to “give ear to” a request, or in which He is said to “hear” one prayer (but not another) must be construed to mean answering or not answering a prayer.23 When it is said that God did not hear a prayer, it means that He did not heed it (or look favorably upon it). Every sense that denies His omniscience or power must be rejected.

    In counseling (as elementary as it may seem) you will discover that these theological truths often are not apprehended by counselees. Even the idea that God (literally) hears all prayers may be news for some. Language used in idiomatic ways too often is construed literally by counselees. Bad theological training, or the failure to take good training, accounts (in part) for any number of problems counselors face; this area of prayer is no exception to that rule. The counselor has a responsibility not only to be careful about his own interpretation of the Scriptures,24 but also to see to it that he conveys no false understanding by his own use of language. Sometimes a detailed explanation of a passage (or perhaps at other times two or three sentences will do) is necessary to make it clear that God (literally) never fails to hear any prayers, but that He doesn’t heed them all.

    The Scriptures plainly teach, as I have noted, that God doesn’t “hear” (heed or grant) counselees requests under certain circumstances. What are these? The counselor will be asked; he must know.

    The Bible doesn’t specifically outline every concrete situation that might be imagined. Rather, general, guiding principles, applicable to all possible situations, are given. I shall mention some of the principles most frequently encountered in counseling.

    1. God doesn’t hear hypocritical prayer. When inwardly a counselee determines something other than what his lips speak, he prays hypocritically (cf. Ps. 66:18). In this verse, “regarding iniquity” in the “heart” is equivalent to saying one thing with the lips, but thinking another instead. It is praying with the fingers crossed! The heart is the inner person. Delitzsch translates, “If I had aimed at evil in my heart.” He says that raäh (to see), plus the accusative, means “to aim at,” “to have in one’s eye,” or “to design to do something. ”25 The hypocrite is one who says one thing but inwardly is aiming at something different. God will not hear such hypocritical prayer.

    Since this is true, it is quite proper (when a counselee complains about God not answering prayer) to ask (as one of several possible probes) : “Did you really want that to happen?” or “Was that what you wanted in your heart when you prayed?” Counselors, when they ask in love, will find such questions quite productive. Not only will they tend to put down complaints (not the purpose of the question; merely a by-product), but often they will uncover important data that otherwise might not surface. Underline this point and use it often in counseling.

    2. God doesn’t hear unbelieving prayer. I am not saying that in His mercy and goodness God will not determine to do for us what we doubt He will do; there are times when He does (cf. Acts 12:1–16). But, as James put it, a doubter “shouldn’t suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord.”26 Here, James speaks of the request for wisdom that God promises to give unreservedly to those who ask (without chiding them for asking). It is something every counselee needs, without exception. But He warns in broader terms (“shouldn’t suppose that he will receive anything…”) that apply across the board, that doubters will not be heeded. Indeed, the warning is first stated positively (“But let him ask in faith”) then negatively (“without doubting”).

    In giving this warning, James is but echoing Jesus’ words when He said, “Everything that you ask for in prayer you will receive if you believe” (Matt. 21:22). Indeed, He went further:

    …whoever… doesn’t doubt in his heart but believes that what he is saying will happen, he will have it. So then, I tell you, in everything that you pray and ask for, believe that you have received it, and you will (Mark 11:23,24).

    Again it is apparent from Christ’s words that prayer is not a magical open sesame. Prayer is not a matter of uttering the proper formula or ritual; rather, it involves inner faith and sincerity to validate the words spoken. Once again, the counselee must be led to see that his heart condition in prayer is uppermost.

    That means that the counselor may with equal concern ask questions of the person complaining about God’s failure to answer his prayer: “Did you really believe that God would do it if He wanted to?” or, “Did you really expect what you prayed for?”

    3. God doesn’t hear resentful prayer. In conjunction with his warning about doubt, and the need for faith (Mark 11:23, 24), Jesus went on to say,

    And when you stand praying, if you have something against anyone, forgive him so that your Father in the heavens also may forgive you your trespasses (vs. 25).

    Thus, it seems plain, a suppliant may not expect God to give him what he refuses to give to another.27Bitterness, resentment, hard feelings (and the like) surely form a serious barrier to the throne of grace. And as every biblical counselor knows, resentment is one of the most common problems that counselees struggle with. Often resentment is one strong link in a chain of complicating problems. When an original problem goes unresolved for a time, resentment often grows as a complicating factor. It, in turn (as the passage indicates), leads to further difficulties.

    While forgiveness must not be granted to those who do not seek it repentantly (“if he repents, forgive him”—Luke 17:3), the one who “has something against anyone” may not continue to hold it against him in his heart. Before God, in prayer, he is to forgive him (i.e., he must tell God that he will hold it against him no longer). He may not brood on it. But this forgiving in prayer (in his own heart before God) does not preclude his responsibility to pursue the matter with the offender .28 He does this

    (1) for Christ’s sake,

    (2) for the sake of the peace of the church,

    (3) for the sake of the offender and

    (4) for the purpose of reconciliation.

    The one who has relieved his own mind and heart of the burden of the offense in prayer growing out of a truly forgiving attitude, will have little difficulty granting forgiveness to his brother when it is sought. And, in the meantime, he will avoid the destructive results of resentment.

    Again, then, the astute counselor will ask a counselee who wonders why his prayers remain unheard if he is bearing resentment or grudges against another in his heart.

    4. God doesn’t hear pharisaical prayer. At least two faults, typical of the Pharisee, are observed in the New Testament:

    (a) The Pharisee often prayed to impress men rather than God (Matt. 6:5,6). The one who prays to be heard by others (Jesus said) gets just what he seeks—praise from men, but no response from God. The counselor’s question, when he suspects such a problem, is obvious: “Who were you concerned about reaching when you prayed—God or men?”

    (b) The second characteristic (in the end) amounts to the same thing (neither type of prayer is prayer at all). In the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9–14) we read that the Pharisee “prayed to himself.” His prayer wasn’t a prayer; it was merely a recital of his own virtues, self-righteous acts by which he sought to impress God through meritorious living. Consequently, Jesus points out, his prayer was not heard. Once more, the counselor’s questions are clear, “Did you think your prayer would merit what you wanted?”29

    The counselor must warn against these abuses as well as be on the alert for them. They may take similar form in other contexts: e.g., a husband may utter words he doesn’t mean (in sessions or out) to his wife (or in prayer in her presence) in order to impress her. But prayer must be to God; it may never be directed to others. Ways of avoiding insincere prayer in counseling sessions have been discussed supra.

    5. God doesn’t hear self-centered prayer— James is clear about this: “You don’t receive when you ask, since you ask wrongly—to waste it on your pleasures30.” While it isn’t wrong to ask for things that one needs, or even those things that he desires, plainly it is wrong for him to ask basically (or solely) for things for himself. Things used for one’s pleasures only (or fundamentally), James indicates, are wasted. God doesn’t answer prayer that is aimed at wasteful results.

    In prayer, as in all else that one thinks and does, he is to “seek first His empire and His righteousness.” Then “all of these [other] things will be added.”31 James warns against the sin of seeking “first” the fulfilment of one’s own desires. “Basically, why did you want it-for yourself or for God’s sake?” is the counseling question to be asked in one form or another.

    The counselee must be shown that his (often hysterically and repetitively self-centered) prayers are wrong. He must not come to God (or for counseling) demanding that his will be done. Contrary to any of his expectations, he must be taught that his own desires, and his own will, in any matter take second place to God’s. He must learn from Christ’s prayers in Gethsemane, in which intense personal desires are subjected to God’s will: “Yet don’t do what I want but what You want.”32 The words, “If it be Your will,” are a very significant addition that every counselee must learn to add (in his heart if not in his actual prayer itself) to every prayer. Either way, the qualification must be the basic presupposition for prayer. When it is, there can be no complaints about the answers to prayer, only thankful acquiescence. The praying Christian farmer who asks for rain and the postman who asks that it not rain, will both be satisfied by the outcome then, since they will be more concerned that the answer further God’s work and spread His righteousness than in fulfilling their own desires.

    Counselees, in effect, must be taught to pray this way: “Lord, I bring my requests to you, knowing so little. I may not be asking what is best, so please cancel or modify whatever I ask as you see fit, and make me satisfied with the outcome.” Close to this is the other basic premise: God’s will must be sought for His sake. When we rejoice in negative answers to prayer, it is not because of masochistic tendencies, but because of love—the desire to see God glorified. The glorification of believers33 is secondary, derivative (in conjunction with Christ 34), largely takes place in the future35 and even then is intended to enhance His glory.36 So, then, in prayer, first one is to seek God’s will, which is manifested in those things that He does to further His work and His righteousness, and secondarily, his own will as it corresponds with God’s.37 Which leads to another biblical teaching.

    6. God doesn’t hear unbiblical prayer. Jesus warned us about this when He said, “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you” (John 15:7.). This apparent blank check has conditions (“If”) that must not be missed. The first condition (“If you remain in Me”) indicates that it is only the believer’s prayers that God is talking about; no such assurance is accorded to the unbelievers .38 Those who “remain” or “continue” in Him are the saints. This is the doctrine of the perseverance (or continuance) of the saints. All true saints will persevere; therefore, all who persevere are true saints.

    But it is the second condition especially to which I wish to call attention: prayer must grow out of and be in harmony with Christ’s Word (which today is embodied in the Bible). His Word, stored up in, guiding and motivating the heart,39 will not only keep one from sin, but also inform his prayers. That is why praying with the mind (with understanding) -not by rote, or in mystical, magical or mechanical ways-is important. It is often wise to use biblical words and phrases (correctly interpreted and clearly understood) as a discipline for learning to pray properly.

    It should be obvious (but every experienced counselor knows, from the frequency with which he encounters the problem, that it isn’t) that a counselee ought not to request what God forbids (or will not permit). Prayer must be biblical; i.e., requests must be within the range of scriptural norms to be legitimate. To pray successfully is to pray intelligently and out of a ’knowledge of what God’s Word encourages and allows.

    Unbiblical prayer also is prayer that is contrary to biblical example. Nonsensical prayer falls into this category. Nowhere in the Bible will you hear a prayer like this (though you will hear it all the time today:) “Please, Lord, may last week’s meeting have been a blessing.” One may pray for that meeting before or during the meeting in that way, or a week later for blessing growing out of the meeting, or for future blessing stemming from it, but he has no biblical warrant for praying for something to happen after it has happened!

    7. God doesn’t hear self—addressed prayer. What is the warrant for prayer? What is the address on the envelope sent heavenward? Prayer must be made in Christ’s name.40 Prayer, in Christ’s name, isn’t prayer on our own merit, with some special phrase like “for Christ’s sake,” or “in His holy name” merely tacked on at the end. There is nothing wrong with such phrases if they are filled with meaning for the one who uses them. They must express the true intention and understanding of the praying counselee’s heart. The words themselves may (or may not) occur; the understanding beneath the prayer must.

    What, then, does Christ mean when He speaks of praying in His Name? He means that, in our prayers, we must ask God to answer our requests

    (1) because of Who Christ is and what Christ has done;

    (2) for Christ’s honor and benefit.

    Believers are assured that God will hear us because of Christ’s redemptive work, and under His intercessory lordship. He is the one Mediator Who can bridge the gap between God and man ripped open by sin. God will not hear us in our own names because (apart from Christ) we have no right to be heard-we are but rebellious sinners. We can demand nothing in our own names. But because of what Christ has done, and for His honor (Heb. 2:10; Rom. 11:36), we can approach God boldly for all those things that, by His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ obtained for us (Heb. 4:16). He has provided much; and encourages His followers to lay claim to all of it, but He makes one thing clear-such claims must be made in His Name. Prayer must honor Christ by acknowledging the fact that all we ask, we ask on the basis of a saving relationship with Him and that He may be honored by the granting of this request. God will have His Son honored every time a believer prays; and we will be reminded of this fact in every prayer.

    These seven conditions are not exhaustive, but they are (perhaps) the outstanding facts to keep in mind when discussing unanswered prayer with counselees. In many cases, failure in more than one of these areas will occur; don’t rest until you have the whole picture. It would be wise, therefore, to cover all seven possibilities in your questioning of a counselee. You can write the seven items into your Christian Counselor’s New Testament, and even read. them off to a counselee when appropriate (“John, there are seven common reasons why God doesn’t answer prayer. Let me read them, and I’d like you to tell me which ones—if any—fit you”).

    Keep in mind, too, that unanswered prayer also may be God’s favorable response to proper prayer. (It is not really unanswered in such cases; “no,” “not now; later,” etc., are answers just as truly as “yes.”) Because He knows what is best, remember (as I said earlier), God may temporarily delay an answer to prayer, or deny it, or substitute another for it-for our good (which is always also the best for His work; the two are never at odds). Having explored the seven hindrances to prayer, the counselor may find that this is the final explanation.


    In conclusion, let me reemphasize the fact that God is man’s basic Environment. That is why prayer, growing out of Bible study, is so crucial to his life, and why discussion of these areas is so important for counseling. Adam walked and talked with God in the cool of the day. Sin destroyed that fellowship. In Christ it is restored for those who trust Him (I John 1). Prayer now constitutes a significant part of the way in which a Christian comes into intimate contact with his Environment. Apart from the Scriptures (in which God speaks to him) and prayer (by which he speaks to God), a human being is out of touch with reality.

    Jay Edward Adams, A Theology of Christian Counseling: Introduction to Nouthetic Counseling (Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resource Library, 1986), 78–87.

  • 07 May 2021 9:00 AM | Josh Hunt (Administrator)

    When I first moved to Chicago, to Willow Creek Church, I called a friend of mine—the wisest spiritual man that I know—and I asked him, “What do I need to do to be healthy spiritually? What do I need to do to guard my heart?”

    There was a long pause.

    Then he said, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

    There was another long pause, and I finally said,

    “Okay, I wrote that one down. Now, what else do you have to tell me, because I don’t have much time, and I want to get a lot of wisdom out of this conversation.”

    He replied, “There is nothing else. Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. It has had other enemies in other days. In our day, in our world, hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life, because you can hardly do anything the way that Jesus did it if you are in a hurry. You cannot love in a hurry. You cannot listen to a child in a hurry.

    “Jesus was often busy. But there’s a real important distinction between hurry and busy. Busy is an external condition—a condition of the body. Jesus was often busy, but he was never hurried. Hurried is a condition of the soul. It is an inward condition in which you are so frantic and preoccupied that you are unable to receive love from the Father, and unable to be present with other people, to give love to them.”

    Things will not settle down in life. And if you wait to get around to what really matters, you will never do what God made you to do or be. Your soul will wither and die. Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day, and you must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life. No one else will do this for you—not your boss, or your spouse, or your kids, or your parents. You must do this for yourself.

    John Ortberg, Now What? God’s Guide to Life for Graduates (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).

  • 07 May 2021 8:42 AM | Josh Hunt (Administrator)

    As a young boy I did not have high-definition television. In fact, we did not have color television. Our family TV was black-and-white. Now go ahead and reach for your handkerchief because we only had three channels from which to select—NBC, CBS, and, if the aluminum foil on the rabbit ears was just right, ABC. Boy, have things ever changed. Television has been around for decades, and it has made drastic improvements.

    Like television, Sunday School has been around for decades. Most churches still have a functioning Sunday School. However, many questions have been raised as to the validity of Sunday School in an ever-changing world. What is the benefit of a Sunday School ministry in a local church? What role does Sunday School play in the context of the church's ministry? Does Sunday School fulfill a vital function in helping the church reach her mission? Are we just having Sunday School because we have always had Sunday School? Is it a worn-out method of yesteryear? Does Sunday School still have relevancy in the twenty-first century? These questions beg to see the context of Sunday School in the contemporary church. They seek to know if Sunday School has a vital contribution to make in the life and ministry of a local church. I want to give you six reasons why Sunday School is still a relevant, vital, and necessary ingredient in producing growing disciples and healthy churches.

    Sunday School Is Relevant

    1. Sunday School gives the church's DNA a natural, functional, practical expression.

    I serve the First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Georgia. Under the leadership of our pastor, Dr. Johnny Hunt, we have adopted a fourfold mission for our church that we refer to as our church's DNA. Our mission is to:

    • Worship God
    • Love Others
    • Serve God
    • Invite Others

    We want every member to be a disciple who loves God with his whole being in accordance with the first and greatest commandment. We want every member to love others, the second great commandment. We want every member to find a place of service and activate their spiritual gifts. We also want every believer to invite others to know Christ, to witness to them, and to invite them to church where they will hear the gospel. These four things are the ingredients of a disciple of Jesus Christ. These four things are the mission of First Baptist Woodstock. They are also the four things we want every one of our members to embrace because they are the church. We need a way to express our DNA, and Sunday School makes that possible in three ways.

    Sunday School gives a natural expression to the church's DNA. It is natural for a believer to want to be discipled, build community with others, minister to people's needs, and be on mission with others in the body of Christ. As believers, we naturally desire a supernatural lifestyle because of the One who loves us and lives within us.

    As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Pet. 1:3–4, emphasis mine)

    Through His divine power God has given us everything we need to live supernaturally. He has even invested His divine nature in us through the person of the Holy Spirit. We need to find a natural way to express that which is naturally in us, and Sunday School fills this need. Sunday School provides a natural mechanism for every believer to express naturally what is supernaturally in them. We have the purpose in our heads and hearts; Sunday School moves it to our hands and feet! Sunday School affords every member a natural way to express the church's mission.

    Sunday School gives a functional expression to the church's DNA. The book of Acts gives us the fivefold purpose of the church: worship, evangelism, discipleship, ministry, and fellowship. All of these, with the exception of worship, function better through Sunday School than through the corporate worship service. We have a clear mental picture of these five functions; however, they practically take place through the ministry of small groups.

    Sunday School gives a practical expression to the church's DNA. Most of us know what to do; it is finding the how that is challenging. Sunday School is the how behind the what. Our pastors stand in our pulpits and proclaim the Word of God. Their messages tell us what to be and what to do. However, we leave the worship service with no tangible, practical way to express what we just heard. I am afraid that we teach a theology that never gets out of the intellectual and into the practical. Certainly we need to be good thinkers and to be intellectually astute so we can engage lost people who have bought into the lies and deceitfulness of the devil. At the same time, unbelievers must see a practical expression of our sound theology as it is lived out in the context of a real world that is reeling in pain and despair. At some point our theological and practical hands must shake!

    Sunday School becomes a vital tool for the church to express her core values.

    Sunday School becomes a vital tool for the church to express her core values. I have found that without a tool, our values often go unexpressed. When I was a boy, my Granny used to put my three brothers and me to work in the garden. With school out for the summer, she had to find productive things for us to do to keep us out of trouble. About once a week she would take me to the garden to weed. She would hand me the hoe and instruct me to rid the garden of the weeds. Granny gave me a task: weed the garden. She also gave me a tool to accomplish the task: a hoe. In the church we are guilty of giving people the task without the tool to accomplish that task. Sunday School puts a hoe in all believers' hands for their work in the church garden.

    Can a church grow if she does not have a natural, functional, and practical way to express her purpose? It is very doubtful. Sunday School develops missional Christians as each class engages its members in the church's mission. Sunday School drives the mission down and places it on a personal basis. Many churches fail to see their mission accomplished because the mission is imprisoned behind the bars of the theological and philosophical cells. Sunday School releases the mission into the real world of practical living.

    2. Mission is best accomplished in the context of small groups.

    Any mission is best tackled in a setting of small groups of people. This gives everyone an opportunity for input. Dr. Johnny Hunt has taught me that people pay for what they own. I have found that to be true in my life. I pay for my house, my car, and my belongings. Why? They are mine! I do not make your house or car payments because I do not own them, and I have no part of them. When people are given the privilege to speak into the process, they begin to take ownership of it. If everything is dictated to people, then they will not own that mission. As we meet in small groups, people have the opportunity to speak to the mission that is being pursued by that small group. If a large meeting is the only gathering of God's people, then you run the risk of creating a dictator. Sunday School classes provide a forum for people to speak into the mission, to invest in the mission, and to own the mission.

    Small groups not only give people an opportunity for input; they also give everyone an opportunity for involvement. A church cannot survive without the involvement of others. I have often said that the secret to success is the involvement of people! Sunday School allows people to get involved in ministry. Sunday School empowers people and puts them to work. Sunday School gives practical application of the words of Jesus, “Engage...until I come back” (Luke 19:13 HCSB). Let me give you three biblical examples of the principle that “mission is best accomplished in the context of small groups.”

    Sunday School empowers people and puts them to work.

    And so it was, on the next day, that Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood before Moses from morning until evening. So when Moses' father-in-law saw all that he did for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit, and all the people stand before you from morning until evening?” And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a difficulty, they come to me, and I judge between one and another; and I make known the statutes of God and His laws.” So Moses' father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do. Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in peace.” So Moses heeded the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people: rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. So they judged the people at all times; the hard cases they brought to Moses, but they judged every small case themselves. (Exod. 18:13–26)

    In this passage we see the mission is to judge the people. Moses, the great leader of God, sat all day judging the grievances of the people. Moses was getting weary and so were the people. Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, advised him to get some help, divide the people into smaller groups, and appoint capable men over jurisdictions. They were to be “rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.”

    Moses reminds me of some pastors today. They are working hard but not working smart. I have had the blessing of doing conferences in many countries. Over and over again, I see two people in churches doing the entire ministry—the pastor and the worship leader. They are godly men, working hard, loving their people, trying to meet all their needs, erecting buildings, and trying to win their communities to faith in Christ. They are worn out and need some help. Like Moses, they need to be asked, “Why do you sit alone?” (Exod. 18:14). They need a Jethro to step into their life with exhortation, “The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself” (Exod. 18:17–18).

    They need to heed the advice of Jethro and find capable people and release ministry to them. I submit to you that Sunday School is that ministry! I have seen pastors all over the world light up when they have caught the vision of getting others involved in vital ministry. Yet I constantly see American churches that are more exposed to the concept of ministry through Sunday School not get it. In some cases they are having Sunday School but they are not using Sunday School.

    In some cases they are having Sunday School but they are not using Sunday School.

    When the mission was to judge the people, Moses learned that “mission is best accomplished in the context of a small group.”

    Ezra and Nehemiah observed this principle being practiced in their day.

    Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month. Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. So Ezra the scribe stood on a platform of wood which they had made for the purpose; and beside him, at his right hand, stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Urijah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah; and at his left hand Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law: and the people stood in their place. So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading. (Neh. 8:1–8)

    In 586 BC the Babylonians had destroyed the magnificent temple that King Solomon had built. Some poor Jews were allowed to remain in the land of Israel, but most were carried away to Babylonian captivity. A remnant had returned, but they lived under much scrutiny and persecution. Under the prophetic ministry of Haggai and Zechariah and the leadership of Zerubbabel, the people rebuilt the temple. Some seventy-five years later under Nehemiah's godly leadership, the people rebuilt the walls of the city. Then Ezra, the scribe of God, stood at the Water Gate and read the Torah to God's chosen people from morning to noon. For many, it was the first time they had heard God's Word. Many did not understand it and needed further instruction. The Scripture says that “Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law.” The Bible does not give the exact details of how this took place, but it does give us the names of thirteen teachers who helped people understand the meaning of the Scripture read by Ezra. This passage also informs us that the Levites also helped to teach the people the meaning of what they had heard. How many Levites were there? The Scripture does not indicate. It would seem that there would have been many. Therefore, these many teachers must have huddled in smaller groups with people to explain the teaching of the Scripture. I have written in the margin of my Bible beside this Scripture “The first organized Sunday School.”

    You see, when the mission was to help the people understand the Word of God, Ezra and Nehemiah learned that “mission is best accomplished in the context of a small group.”

    In this passage we actually have a biblical account of small group Bible study for the purpose of helping people understand and live the truths of Scripture, and we have not been able to improve on it since!

    The last biblical example I offer for your consideration comes from Jesus feeding the five thousand men with the little boy's lunch of five loaves and two fish.

    And the apostles, when they had returned, told Him all that they had done. Then He took them and went aside privately into a deserted place belonging to the city called Bethsaida. But when the multitudes know it, they followed Him; and He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who had need of healing. When the day began to wear away, the twelve came and said to Him, “Send the multitude away, that they may go into the surrounding towns and country, and lodge and get provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.” But He said to them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men. Then He said to His disciples, “Make them sit down in groups of fifty.” And they did so, and made them all sit down. Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude. So they all ate and were filled, and twelve baskets of the leftover fragments were taken up by them. (Luke 9:10–17)

    The people had been with Jesus all day as He was teaching and healing. Apparently they had missed some meals to be with Jesus (There is a message in that!). As the day began to be late, Jesus knew they needed to eat and sent His disciples into the crowd to see if they could find some food. They came back with five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus took the food and then gave a directive to His disciples to “make them sit down in groups of fifty.” Jesus knew that He could best accomplish the task of feeding the people if they were in smaller groups of fifty.

    When the mission was to feed the people, Jesus knew that “mission is best accomplished in the context of a small group.”

    Sunday School allows a church to break its mission down in bite-size, chewable, digestible pieces. It makes the mission something to get your arms around. It makes the mission doable. Sunday School creates many “ministry teams” throughout the whole church so that everyone can connect to the intended purpose of the church. It is obvious that even the early church met in a large group setting and in small group settings.

    Sunday School allows a church to break its mission down in bite-size, chewable, digestible pieces.

    And daily in the temple (large group setting), and in every house (small group setting), they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” (Acts 5:42, emphasis mine)

    Remember that mission is best accomplished in the context of a small group!

    3. Sunday School equips the saints to do the work of the ministry.

    Ephesians 4:11–12 is God's formula for church growth.

    And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.

    We have not found a better way to “equip the saints” than Sunday School. We have not found a better way to do “the work of the ministry” than Sunday School. We have not found a better way to “edify the body of Christ” than Sunday School! Sunday School disciples people in the Word of God. Sunday School puts people to work doing the ministry and exercising their spiritual gifts. Therefore, Sunday School is in the business of edifying the people of God like nothing else. This ought to cause many to rise up and champion her cause!

    I have had the opportunity to address classes at some of our seminaries. It is such a thrill to speak to our upcoming church leaders. When addressing those preparing to be pastors, I would start out by asking, “When you finish your theological education and a church calls you to be their pastor, are you going to preach the Great Commission?” I then quoted Matthew 28:19–20. Those young seminarians would respond with a hearty “amen.” I then asked, “When you finish your theological education and a church calls you to be their pastor, are you going to preach Ephesians 4:11–12?” Again, I quoted this passage of Scripture and the “amen” was even louder. I then asked one last question, “When you finish your theological training and a church calls you to be their pastor, how are you practically and tangibly going to flesh out the Great Commission and Ephesians 4:11–12?” Silence! You could have heard a pin drop; there was no comment, no response, and no amen. I let the silence linger because it was preaching a loud message: it is one thing to preach it; it is another thing to do it! Now I believe in the power of preaching because I believe in the power of the Word, but at some point spiritual leaders must help people get practical with the Word of God. Nehemiah exhorted the people to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, but there came a time when he started mixing mortar and laying bricks!

    We have not found a better way to “equip the saints” than Sunday School.

    We have not found a better way to help people become doers of the Word than through Sunday School! I challenge anyone to tell me what has done a better job of fleshing out Ephesians 4:11–12 than Sunday School. Let me repeat myself, this ought to cause many to rise up and champion her cause!

    Sunday School has had to find ways to equip people to do ministry because…

    • Sunday School cannot survive unless she does. It takes multitudes of people to supply workers needed in all age divisions.
    • Sunday School is the largest organization in the church (in most cases). Therefore, Sunday School must shoulder the responsibility of equipping the people of the church. If left to a smaller ministry, the church would die for a lack of equipped people.
    • Sunday School gives away hands-on ministry to people who must be trained in order to be effective.
    • Sunday School empowers people with the ministry. Sunday School does not confine the people of God, she turns them loose to serve God with great zeal and passion.

    4. Sunday School develops leadership for the church.

    As we have just seen, Sunday School develops many for the work of Sunday School, but she also equips people for the work of other ministries in the church. If you were to eliminate Sunday School, you would see a gradual decline in workers being produced in other ministries as well. Sunday School is the foundational ministry from which other ministries are able to sprout.

    How effective would other ministries in the church be if there were no Sunday School? Can you imagine ministries with leaders that had never been nurtured and discipled in a Sunday School class? For example, how effective would Awana leaders, discipleship teachers, altar counselors, evangelism trainers, counselors leading devotions at children's/youth camp, DiscipleNow Weekend, and others, be if they were not nurtured by a Sunday School class? At the least we would have to say that they probably would not be as equipped as they could be.

    5. Sunday School gives intentionality to our good intentions.

    Good intentions alone are no better than no intentions unless we get intentional about our good intentions! Most of us do not suffer from a lack of knowledge, but from a lack of will. Churches are full of good intentions. Churches have good intentions to win the lost, assimilate new people, disciple the saved, minister to people's needs, be on mission to reach the world, involve people in vital ministries, build relationships with others, and so on. With all these good intentions, why are we not growing and thriving? Why are most churches in decline or plateaued? There is a lack of intentionality! Friend, if good intentions would have gotten the job done, we would have won the world to Christ years ago.

    Christian people often go to bed with the good intention of rising the next morning and spending time reading their Bible and praying. Yet many do not. Why? There is a lack of intentionality. They do not get to bed in time to get a decent night's rest, or they do not set the alarm early enough to have time for their morning devotions. They have good intentions; they just do not execute those intentions. Churches are like the people in them; they are full of good intentions but often devoid of ways to execute them.

    As previously stated, Sunday School gives everyone the opportunity to get involved in the church's mission. Intentionality requires involvement! No involvement, no intentionality! If a church has no small group ministry, she greatly reduces the possibility for people to be involved. If you have no intentional way to get people involved, then you

    • waste God's giftedness in them

    • have very little ministry taking place

    • raise up lazy Christians

    • confine the church's potential

    • position the church for an implosion

    I heard a story that illustrates this point. A young preacher had graduated from seminary and was called to pastor his first church in a rural community. He had just moved to his new church when the local funeral home director called and asked him to do the graveside service for a ninety-three-year-old man. Obviously the new pastor wanted to get involved with the community and minister to the people there, so he accepted the offer. The elderly man had outlived his friends and had just a few family members so the decision was made to have only a graveside service at a small country cemetery. The funeral home director explained directions to the cemetery and gave the new pastor the time and date. At the appointed time the pastor drove to the cemetery but lost his way. Finally, after several wrong turns he showed up thirty minutes late. The hearse was gone and no people were present. The pastor just assumed the few people that would have attended decided to leave. Since he had promised he would do the graveside service, he was bound to keep his word, so he could at least report this to the funeral home director and maintain his integrity as the new pastor in town. So he took his Bible, got out of his car, and walked to the grave. It was then he noticed the workers sitting under a shade tree eating their lunch. Apparently, they were waiting on him to do the service so they could cover the grave. The pastor went to the grave and found the vault already in place. He opened his Bible and read Psalm 23, made a few comments, and offered a prayer. As he returned to his car, he overheard one of the workers say to the other, “Do you think we ought to tell him that's a septic tank?” The pastor had good intentions, but his good intentions were not enough. We must put some intentionality to our good intentions, or else we will end up with an unhealthy church on our hands.

    Intentionality requires involvement! No involvement, no intentionality!

    If you have no way to exercise your good intentions, then you will end up like the following story.

    Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody

    There were four church members named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done, and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody's job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done. (Author Unknown)

    6. Sunday School keeps the church small.

    Everyone wants to attend a growing church that is reaching many people yet remains small. Sunday School helps keep the church small. As the population increases and more and more people move to metropolitan areas, we have seen the emergence of many mega-churches. Whether your church is a megachurch or not, she should be a growing church. I believe it is God's will that everyone repent and come to faith in Christ.

    The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Pet. 3:9)

    I believe it is God's will for churches to grow because it is God's will for everyone to be saved; however, a growing church faces the serious challenge of becoming bigger, and many people do not like to attend big churches. We do not have the option of not reaching more people, but we do have the challenge of accommodating people into a larger congregation. Since large congregations can be intimidating to many, how do we help people get assimilated into our growing churches? Sunday School!

    Sunday School keeps the church small because Sunday School makes the church personal and relational. This places people in an environment where they are comfortable. It positions people in surroundings that are conducive to their emotional and social well-being. God designed us for relationships, and relationships are best formed in small group settings. We recognize the spiritual experience that church attendance provides, but it also offers social experiences, and we need both.

    Churches work hard at reaching new people. Much time, effort, and money are expended to reach others for Christ and church membership. Yet sometimes little energy is given to assimilate those we reach. Companies have a difficult time staying in business if they cannot keep their customers. They do much in the way of marketing to acquire new customers, but they also do much in maintaining their current clients. Business is much better when you have repeat customers instead of one-time customers. So it is with the church. How do we keep the new people we reach? How do we assimilate new members? We do this through relationships! Where are relationships formed? They are formed in small group settings. Sunday School is the church's Velcro.

    Sunday School puts a face to the church and presents the characteristics of smaller churches such as a hand of fellowship, a prayer of support, a hug in difficult times. Therefore, the larger a church grows, the more vital Sunday School becomes! When we stop to analyze the role that Sunday School fills in the context of a local church, it is mind-boggling. Every church needs a small group ministry. If a church has no small group ministry or has a dysfunctional small group ministry, then it leaves a huge hole in the church. I submit to you that Sunday School is the best small group ministry known to the modern-day church. The contribution of Sunday School to the church ministry cannot be overstated.

    Allan Taylor, Sunday School in Hd (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2009).

  • 07 May 2021 8:36 AM | Josh Hunt (Administrator)

    The parachurch organizations make an interesting study. They certainly have contributed significantly to youth evangelism. However, the venerable Sunday School has reached a lot of young people as well.


    Robert Raikes started the first Sunday School in Gloucester, England in 1780. A dedicated social reformer, Raikes established his school to improve the miserable life that workhouse children endured. Raikes taught the children reading, writing, and religion. Despite opposition from the Church of England, Sunday Schools multiplied. When Raikes died in 1811, four hundred thousand youngsters attended classes all over Great Britain.6

    The first Sunday School in America was started in Virginia in 1785. The number of schools grew steadily, but Sunday School received its greatest boost when the American Sunday School Union was organized in 1824. This was one of several significant institutions spawned by the Second Great Awakening. Many of the early Sunday Schools operated separately from the churches. Some pastors refused to allow a Sunday School in their churches because they doubted that laymen could teach the Bible.

    Gradually the denominations began to see the potential for growth held by Sunday Schools. The Methodists and Baptists began to include Sunday School in their church programs, and other denominations followed their example.

    The American Sunday School Union committed itself to evangelizing the Mississippi Valley by establishing Sunday Schools throughout the region. The Sunday School Union sent eighty missionaries to fulfill this goal. The most famous of these missionaries was Stephen Paxson. Riding his horse, named Robert Raikes, Paxson traveled through Illinois and Indiana starting Sunday Schools. During his ministry Paxson enrolled eighty-three thousand young people and established 1,314 Sunday schools. Scholars estimate that four of every five churches in the Mississippi Valley began as Sunday Schools, and in one year alone seventeen thousand people made professions of faith.7

    Around 1900 Sunday School enrollment in the mainline denominations began to decline. Many of these churches viewed Sunday School as merely a means of providing religious education for the children of their members. However, the more conservative churches and denominations began to develop the Sunday School as an outreach organization. The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention promoted Sunday School as the outreach arm of the local church.


    Arthur Flake provided strategic leadership for Sunday School development within the Southern Baptist Convention. In 1920 he was appointed head of the Sunday School Board’s new department of Sunday School Administration. Flake soon developed and popularized principles of Sunday School growth. Through his book, Building a Standard Sunday School, Flake laid out a five-point formula for Sunday School growth:

    1. Discover the prospects. Flake encouraged churches to locate prospects and develop a prospect file.
    2. Expand the organization. Flake discovered that starting new Sunday School classes enhanced growth because new classes grew faster than existing classes.
    3. Train the workers. Flake taught the churches to plan for growth by enlisting and training new teachers for new classes.
    4. Provide the space. Flake instructed the churches to plan for growth by providing space for new classes and projecting increases in attendance.
    5. Go after the people. Flake emphasized visitation, insisting that planning for growth was wasted effort if Sunday School workers did not visit the prospects.

    Thousands of churches followed Flake’s formula and experienced growth. In fact, Flake’s simple principles became the “Five Commandments” for Sunday School directors in the Southern Baptist Convention.8

    Baptists made the Sunday School their key tool for evangelism. In 1945 J. N. Barnette wrote, “During the past quarter of a century approximately 85 percent of all church members, either by baptism or letter, have come out of the Sunday school enrolment.… The Sunday school is formed and operated for the purpose of reaching the lost.”9

    Southern Baptists have tended to point toward organization in general and to Flake’s principles in particular as the key factor in their Sunday School growth. Elmer Towns discounted the role of organization and pointed instead to the evangelistic fervor of the pastors, commitment of the teachers, and dedication to the Bible as the important factors. Organization alone cannot account for the growth, but Flake’s formula provided a simple and effective approach that enabled Southern Baptists to channel their enthusiasm.10

    The 1970s brought a remarkable increase in Sunday School growth. In 1968 there were only twelve Sunday Schools of all denominations that averaged more than two thousand in Sunday School. By 1981 forty-nine churches averaged more than two thousand. Several factors contributed to this development. First, the 1970s was the decade of fundamentalism. Fundamentalist churches proliferated during this period, and they emphasized Sunday School attendance. For example, in 1981 the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, averaged over fifteen thousand for the year. The use of church buses also boosted attendance. A large Sunday School attendance became a matter of prestige among some pastors.


    Throughout most of church history, no specific efforts were made to evangelize young people. This changed in the 1800s. During this period the Sunday School and YMCA were founded to reach young people. Youth ministries multiplied rapidly during and after World War II. The founders of these ministries sought to win high school and college students and fill gaps left by the churches. No doubt these organizations did much good, but they also left some with the impression that local churches were ineffective in evangelizing youth. It remains to be seen if the churches can recapture the initiative or if they will surrender responsibility to parachurch organizations.

    For their part, the parachurch organizations need to show a closer linkage to local churches. They claim to be servants of the church, but practical benefits of this servant spirit are often hard to find. The organizations report impressive numbers of conversions, but it is not clear how many of these converts become active adult members of local churches.

    John Mark Terry, Evangelism: A Concise History (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 180–183.

  • 06 May 2021 2:05 PM | Josh Hunt (Administrator)

    As a young pastor, I inherited Sunday School programs that were well established but hardly aggressive in outreach. I pastored a rural church of 120 members, a small-town church of 700 members, and a metropolitan church of 6,000 members. In each case, when I came to the church the Sunday School was reasonably well organized in the preschool, children, and youth divisions but was essentially stagnant in the adult areas. Because none of these churches had a clear strategy for organizing the Sunday School for growth, most of the small groups had plateaued or declined over time, accurately displaying the condition of the church as a whole.

    The beginning of the awakening

    In the first two churches I pastored we experienced growth; it was reflected in the Sunday School attendance, but it was not driven by the Sunday School organization. The Sunday School was simply the recipient of growth, not the catalyst of growth. In these churches the growth was fueled by visitation, worship, and an aggressive youth program.

    In one pastorate I stumbled over the potential for growth through the Sunday School. We had a number of young single members who were regular in worship attendance but had not attended Sunday School since they were in the youth department. We began a college and career class. To my amazement the class began to attract other young singles who had not been attending church anywhere. They were brought by friends! At that time I knew little about the growth principles of homogeneity and receptivity, but later I began to see that these accepted growth principles were inherent in the Sunday School structure.

    On another occasion, we started a pastor’s class for a group of median adult couples who attended our worship service but were uncomfortable in our existing Sunday School structure. In this case too, the class grew and attracted a new group of folk not previously involved in the church. Forming the new classes created a permanent growth situation. Both church membership and attendance increased and were sustained at these new higher levels. Other growth projects had produced momentary gains, but those gains had soon dissipated. Little did I know that I was discovering the value of the “New Unit Principle,” which I will describe later in this chapter.

    The growth discovery

    I became the pastor of First Baptist Church of Norfolk in 1981. The church had recently relocated near the rapidly growing Virginia Beach area in Tidewater. A fire that destroyed the downtown plant had forced the move in the early 1970s. At the new location the church grew rapidly, peaking at an average of 550 in Sunday School attendance in 1976. It then declined slowly back to the 380 average Sunday School attendance mark that I inherited in 1981.

    During the early months of my ministry at First, Norfolk, God began to give us immediate and spectacular results. People were joining the church every Sunday. This rapid growth was taxing to me and the one other staff person serving the church. After I had been serving the church for six months, my staff colleague was called to serve alongside the former pastor. Not only did we have insufficient staffing, but also we had even less money and physical resources. Before you think I am painting a bleak picture, I must be honest to tell you that I discovered one incredible asset. The church was blessed with a highly committed group of laypeople who had been praying for God to awaken the church to its potential and who were willing to work. Many of these persons had been faithfully serving in the Sunday School program for many years.

    In those early months, I focused on the basics: preaching, teaching, training, and visiting. The rapid growth of the church was exciting but draining. The church outgrew my ability and energy rather quickly. I soon began to ask myself, “How do I care for the needs of all the church members and continue to reach the lost?” While I knew that God was sufficient, I had grave doubts about my own sufficiency. The needs were overwhelming. The young couples we were reaching had several small children, and the preschool was quickly overcrowded. We needed workers! We had seen many people profess Christ as Savior, but now we faced a huge discipling task. How could we organize to accomplish this massive task? I knew that if I stopped emphasizing our new visitation program, we would stop reaching the lost. My passion for the lost of Tidewater would not permit me to consider such an option even though many other tasks vied for our attention and resources.

    I felt like the circus juggler who spins plates on long, pointed sticks. He gets two or three spinning, then he pauses to spin a new plate, but one of the spinning plates wobbles and falls to the ground. I would launch one new program after the other, trying to meet all the complex needs of a growing church. The core leaders responded to my desperate cries for help as they scurried to shore up the preschool or the outreach program or the discipling ministry. I’m sure the people must have felt that I was indecisive and unsure, for such was certainly the case. We were doing too many things but achieving few results. We had many programs, but they were disconnected. How could we organize the church to fulfill the Great Commission?

    I began to devour church growth books in an attempt to find a means of coping with the growth that God was causing in our church. In each book I would find good ideas and helpful organizational structure, but it was disjointed in my thinking. With our limited staff and resources, I knew that I needed a more integrated tool, one that was simple to organize and manage.

    The converging streams

    Several events flowed together in my own experience that led to the conviction that the Sunday School, with its age-graded, small-group structure, might be the integrated growth tool for which I was searching.

    With my Sunday School director, Dick Baker, I attended a Growth Spiral Conference led by Andy Anderson. As Andy described the Sunday School Growth Spiral, I began to recognize many parallels between the principles he was espousing and those in the pile of church growth books I had been reading. The parallels between Sunday School work and church growth principles were numerous and unmistakable. Then it dawned on me: I already have a single organization that embraces acknowledged church growth principles. Why should I create several more ministries to do the work Sunday School was designed to do?

    I left that conference with a clear vision, and I was committed to make Sunday School the central organization for church growth. On the drive home, Dick and I talked about setting enrollment goals, establishing new teaching units, and administrating the Sunday School as a growth ministry, not just a maintenance organization.

    I began with an abundance of zeal and a modicum of knowledge. Our first enrollment goal was for a net gain of 840 persons in Bible study. I enthusiastically had posters and banners made declaring that goal. Little did I know that a goal for over 60 percent net gain in a single year was impossible in a large church. With supernatural empowering and clear vision, even the impossible is achievable. We actually exceeded our growth goals for the year. We were well on our way to using the Sunday School as a growth tool.

    One question still plagued me: If the Sunday School is such an effective growth tool, why are so few churches growing? Most of the churches that I knew about in our area had some small-group Bible study plan that resembled our Sunday School organization. Why were so few churches experiencing any real growth? Something was missing.

    I found the missing factor in the equation when I attended a conference with Harry Piland, former director of the Sunday School division of the Baptist Sunday School Board. Piland stated that any adult Bible study class that had not attempted to lead anyone to Christ during the past year had missed their purpose for existing. He then affirmed that Sunday School must first be an evangelistic tool. Sunday School and outreach evangelism! I had never really connected the Sunday School with evangelistic outreach. I knew that it was effective for conserving the results of evangelism, but I had never seen a Sunday School designed for outreach.

    The idea shocked me, and it rattled some of my finest teachers. Some were so convicted by their lack of evangelistic concern that they even considered resigning their classes. In the end, we all decided that repentance was more appropriate than resignation. Thus began the vision to give the Sunday School an evangelistic focus at First Baptist, Norfolk.

    The event that allowed me to integrate my thinking about church growth and Sunday School was the opportunity to teach a course entitled “Growing an Evangelistic Church” at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The course was designed to cover every phase of church growth. I required my students to read a wide range of materials from several different authors. As I was lecturing on the ratios for church growth, I was dumbfounded by the similarities between the ratios for growth described by Win Arn, one of the founding fathers of the church, and basic Sunday School principles. This discovery caused me to examine more closely basic Sunday School concepts and principles espoused by church growth authors. It was the final clue that helped me discover the evangelistic Sunday School as an integrated growth tool.

    Parallels between Growth Principles and Sunday School

    All church growth authors agree on principles though their methods differ. The distinction between method and principle is basic. Methods are many; principles are few. Methods are often tied to a particular setting, time, and person or group of persons; principles are timeless and universally applicable. A method that works well in an Atlanta suburban congregation might fail in a rural Kentucky church. In truth, it might not work in another Atlanta suburban congregation. Methods must always be contextualized. Yet the principles by which these congregations experience growth are the same.

    Delos Miles, in his book Church Growth: A Mighty River, isolates six growth principles that run through the writings of virtually every church growth author. Miles states that all methodological strategies are based on these six principles of church growth: the Process Principle, the Pyramid Principle, the Receptivity Principle, the New Unit Principle, the Homogenous Principle, and the Leadership Principle.8 I contend that these six principles of church growth are inherent in a properly designed evangelistic Sunday School.

    Principle 1: The Process Principle

    The Process Principle maintains that church growth is a process and not an event. As such, a process requires planning, goal setting, management of resources, and regular evaluation of results and effectiveness. Because church growth is a process, it is neither a passing fad nor is it a quick-fix program.

    The need for planning, goal setting, management of resources, and the like strongly motivated me to organize our Sunday School to function as a church growth tool. The fundamentals for managing the process of growth were already in place through the Sunday School organization.

    One of the great and continuing growth stories of our generation is First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida. Copastors Homer Lindsay Jr. and Jerry Vines recently occupied their new 9,000-seat sanctuary debt free. Over the past fourteen years they have baptized 13,133 people, averaging 938 a year.

    Recently, I asked a group of growth leaders to name the church that was doing a good job in reaching children, youth, singles, young adults, and various other categories. I was expecting them to name a different church in each category, but without exception they mentioned First, Jacksonville. This church has been a leader in many categories for years. How do they do it? How do they organize for such consistent and long-term growth? They focus on exalting Jesus and on personal soul-winning, and they organize everything through the Sunday School. Dr. Vines recently told me that he is always surprised when church growth experts trot out some new program or strategy for outreach, assimilation, or discipleship. They herald this new program as the latest innovation and the greatest need of the growing church. Yet when compared with a properly designed Sunday School, Vines notes, “They seem so complex and cumbersome when you can do it all so effectively and easily through the Sunday School.”

    Principle 2: The Pyramid Principle

    The Pyramid Principle is discussed under several different names. It is actually a pictorial representation of growth. To enlarge the pyramid, you must first enlarge its base. The base of the pyramid is the organization structure for growth. Thus many would affirm that the base of the pyramid is the small-group structure through which Bible study, assimilation, and discipling relationships occur. Thus if we are to enlarge the attendance structure of our church on a permanent basis, we must continue to increase the number of small groups in the organizational base of our church.

    In chapter 5 we will discuss in detail how the organizational structure for growth must be increased and is most easily expanded by developing new units and new departments in the Bible study structure of the church.

    Principle 3: The Receptivity Principle

    The Receptivity Principle establishes evangelism as a priority for church growth and discusses how best to present the gospel by understanding and developing natural receptivity in those to whom you are witnessing. In simple terms, the Receptivity Principle states that the church should invest most of its resources where they will return the best evangelistic harvest.

    Jesus instructed His disciples to brush the dust from their feet when rejected and to go to a house that would receive them. This does not mean that the church can ignore those who reject our witness; it simply means that we must first harvest the fields that are ripe. While we are harvesting ripe fields, we can work to break down barriers to the gospel in the less receptive fields. Small groups for Bible study can often create a door of opportunity to create and foster growing receptivity for evangelistic results.

    Principle 4: The Homogenous Principle

    This is another principle that focuses on the evangelistic task of Sunday School. The Homogeneous Principle recognizes that the gospel witness often travels with greater receptivity through a kinship or friendship unit. Each homogenous unit in the church can become a bridge for the church to move evangelistically into the world and for the secular person to find access to the church. The growing church will sensitize its people to recognize natural homogenous groupings and utilize these as means for spreading the gospel. This principle has been fully utilized in friendship evangelism strategies. Homogeneity is the basis for a Friend Day in Sunday School. Homogeneity is the power behind the personal invitation.

    The church growth movement has come under attack for its emphasis on the Homogenous Principle. This principle could be less than Christian if it fosters a spirit of racism or elitism in the church. It must never be used to justify ignoring social injustices. We can, however, reach the lost by recognizing that people look for a homogenous unit where they share some characteristics in common and to which they can belong.

    For example, if you wanted to reach families living in a trailer park, you could win one family in that trailer park to Christ, organize a Bible study in their home, and invite their friends and neighbors. From here you could move to fully integrate the new Christians into the life of the church. Once they accept Christ, they will have a new sense of homogeneity with other members of the body of Christ. In the church at Antioch (Acts 11), we have the remarkable scene of Jew and Gentile eating together. The Spirit of God had created homogeneity between two groups that had been alienated previously, but now they were united as brothers and sisters in Christ.

    The small groups of Sunday School provide a natural means of using the principle of homogeneity for outreach and for developing homogenous relationships for assimilation.

    Principle 5: The New-Unit Principle

    Growth emanates from new units, new members, and new churches. Remember, new canes of a rose bush produce beautiful roses. Older units or groups begin to calcify. Newcomers find these old groups hard to penetrate. Churches must regularly create new groups to maintain the flow of new life. Remember the Pyramid Principle: Establishing new units expands the organizational base of the pyramid, thus empowering the Pyramid Principle.

    Principle 6: The Leadership Principle

    The master key of the church growth movement is leadership. To sustain meaningful growth, a church must have plenty of Great Commission-conscious leaders. This is why the growing church puts a high priority on recruiting and training leaders. The Sunday School is well designed to recruit and allocate church growth leaders.

    As we look carefully at the basics of Sunday School work, we will see that all these principles are incorporated in the properly designed evangelistic Sunday School. When I examined my church in light of these principles, I realized I already had the program I needed in place. In addition, I could integrate the six principles into a single organizational strategy. I didn’t have to recruit and train leadership for several programs; I could do it all through one central ministry. I didn’t have to keep five different plates spinning at one time!

    Revitalizing the Great Commission Mind-set

    Let me close by returning to a set of questions:

    • Is the Sunday School irreparably broken? No.
    • Is it unplugged? Often, yes.
    • What will empower the Sunday School to function as an effective church growth tool? A vision to fulfill the Great Commission.

    The Sunday School must be plugged into a passion for evangelism; otherwise, it will settle into the comfort zone of a maintenance organization. By ignoring the evangelistic potential of the Sunday School, we have reduced Sunday School to a stagnant pool of introverted groups that look primarily to their own needs and interests and ignore the plight of the unsaved.

    Your Sunday School does not have to remain stagnant! It can give your church the most effective Great Commission tool ever designed if it focuses on evangelism and if its purpose statement is clearly understood by all those who work and participate in it.

    The Six Principles of Sunday School Growth

    1. The Process Principle: Church growth is a process, not an event.
    2. The Pyramid Principle: If you want to grow, enlarge your base.
    3. The Receptivity Principle: Invest the most resources where they will return the best evangelistic results.
    4. The Homogeneity Principle: The gospel witness often travels with greatest receptivity through a kinship or friendship unit.
    5. The New Unit Principle: New units that enlarge the organization bring growth.
    6. The Leadership Principle: To sustain meaingful growth, a church must have plenty of Great Commission-conscious leaders.

    Ken Hemphill, Revitalizing the Sunday Morning Dinosaur: A Sunday School Growth Strategy for the 21st Century (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 7–15.

  • 06 May 2021 2:02 PM | Josh Hunt (Administrator)

    The Sunday School is the finest integrated church growth tool on the market today!” I have begun numerous conferences in various denominational settings with this assertion. My bold declaration has elicited responses varying from mild amusement, to incredulity, to outright scorn, to enthusiastic endorsement. Often religious educators applauded because they felt a certain sense of satisfaction and job security. Many, however, were guarded in their endorsements because they had not seen their ministry in terms of church growth. Other educators were somewhat hostile because they feared that the emphasis on church growth through the Sunday School would compromise their commitment to educational excellence. In truth, their Sunday School programs were not resulting in church growth. Many pastors stared at me blankly thinking, If the Sunday School is a church growth tool, somebody unplugged mine!

    These pastors were unconvinced because they had never seen Sunday School function as a church growth tool. Most American churches have a form of Sunday School in place, but they have not experienced any perceptible growth through this organization.

    Sunday School as a church growth tool? This sounds hard to believe when some church growth writers are predicting the demise of the Sunday School. They have labeled it a dinosaur, a relic of a past age. Some contend that the Sunday School was an important growth tool of the past, but it is facing extinction as the church enters the twenty-first century. Are they right?

    Is the tool simply unplugged from its power source, or is it worn out and due to be replaced like your daddy’s Oldsmobile? Are we hanging onto Sunday School like a fine antique automobile? Do we polish it and take it out for a drive down memory lane though we intuitively know that we shouldn’t rely on our cherished classic for extended high-speed driving on today’s church growth interstate?

    This is a critical question because thousands of churches already have a form of Sunday School or small-group organization in place. We must seek to answer this question honestly, for we are investing valuable resources of money and time in the Sunday School structure. Our intention should never be to preserve an organization for the sake of sheer nostalgia; we need to find tools and organizations that will enable us to fulfill the Great Commission most efficiently. I believe that with a few adjustments aimed at modernization and contextualization, the Sunday School organization can be raised up from its growth malaise and take its place as the church growth tool of the twenty-first century. We can reanimate the behemoth of church growth.

    A Brief Historical Perspective

    Few would debate the significant role of Sunday School in the history of church growth. Yet we must take a glance backward to learn lessons for the future. It is my conviction that the Sunday School has not lost its effectiveness as a growth tool, but that we no longer use it for its intended purpose. A screwdriver is an effective tool when used properly but is totally ineffective at driving nails.

    Building on the British model

    Sunday Schools first appeared in America during the 1790s. Anne M. Boylan, in her study, Sunday School: The Formation of an American Institution, 1790–1880, writes, “Inspired by British examples, most [Sunday schools] were designed to provide rudimentary instruction to poor working children on their only free day of the week. Robert Raikes and other British evangelicals had pioneered this model during the 1780s by collecting children off city streets, cleaning them up, and keeping them in school for two long Sunday sessions.”1

    The British model of Sunday School was primarily a mission school aimed at providing basic education for those unable to attend public education. The earliest American Sunday schools were virtual copies of the British models, providing education and often essentials such as food and clothing to needy children. In time, the British model faded in America, and in its place arose a new type of Sunday School, taught by volunteers and offering a specifically evangelical Protestant curriculum. In the American school, reading was not an end in itself. The greater end was an evangelical interpretation of the Bible and the conversion of the pupil.2

    Developing on evangelistic purpose

    Using the Sunday School program to evangelize children is of such historic significance that Boylan devotes an entire chapter to the discussion of conversion and Christian nurture. She writes, “The earliest goal of evangelical Sunday school workers was simply to bring religious knowledge, and the behavior associated with it, to lower-class youth.” But they accomplished much more: “They would also provide a foundation upon which their charges could construct moral lives. True morality, in their view, emanated from knowledge of the individual’s ultimate accountability to God for his or her actions; without that knowledge, individuals had no incentive to behave correctly.” There was even an evangelistic motive. “Although teachers did not expect their instruction to guarantee conversion—such an expectation would challenge the orthodox doctrine of inability—they did hope for subsequent conversions among pupils who participated in revivals and believed that Sunday school instruction would at the very least ‘rectify and enlighten their consciences,’ creating prudent and circumspect individuals.”3

    Denominationalism of the Sunday School

    The earliest American Sunday School organizations were interdenominational and paraecclesiastical. Concern for evangelism, doctrinal purity, and a clear stand on moral issues led to the “denominationalization” of Sunday School. As children were converted through the Sunday School, there arose a greater concern to develop material to teach the unique doctrines of the various denominational groups that employed the Sunday School system through the church.4

    Southern Baptists have played a leading role in the recent history of the denominational Sunday School movement. It is thus instructive to look at the purpose statement for Sunday School in the writings of early Baptist leaders. In 1902, E. Y. Mullins said, “The Sunday school must more and more prove a factor of power in the pastor’s work. Already in many churches the Sunday school is the chief and almost only hope for church growth [my emphasis]. But whether in the family church, or the church among the masses of the great city, or the country church, the Sunday school will remain the most hopeful field of evangelistic endeavor.”5

    J. M. Frost, first head of the Baptist Sunday School Board, said, “The school becomes as an agency what the church makes it; is capable of almost indefinite expansion in church efficiency as a channel for the output of its energy and life.… As a force for study and teaching the Word of God; as a force for evangelizing and bringing lost sinners to the Saviour; as a force for instruction and education in the mightiest things claiming the attention of men; as a force for mission operation in the worldwide sense; as a force for making Christian character in men and women; and for opening the door of usefulness in a large scale.”6

    Arthur Flake, a layman who was instrumental in shaping Southern Baptist Sunday School, wrote, “The supreme business of Christianity is to win the lost to Christ. This is what churches are for … surely then the Sunday school must relate itself to the winning of the lost to Christ as an ultimate objective.”7

    The early architects of the Sunday School movement in America believed that the Sunday School must have a Great Commission focus. They did not believe that Sunday School could function properly without a clear and intentional strategy of evangelism. After persons were won to Christ, the Sunday School would nurture and train these new believers even as it helped mature all believers. Yet clearly the enthusiasm and energy for an effective Sunday School came from its clear evangelistic focus.

    The beginning of the demise

    It is my conviction that the beginning of the so-called demise of Sunday School can be traced to a time when denominations and local churches failed to use the Sunday School with evangelistic intentionality and purpose. When the design was forgotten, the Sunday School became a maintenance tool rather than a growth tool.

    While holding growth conferences in diverse settings, I have asked participants, “What is the role of the Sunday School?” I usually get two answers: “Fellowship” and “Bible teaching.” These are important, but fellowship and Bible teaching are not to be the stated purpose of the Sunday School if it is to function as a growth tool. The purpose of the Sunday School is to fulfill the Great Commission.

    A Personal Discovery

    I am a preacher’s kid. In fact, I am the son of a Southern Baptist preacher. You might surmise that my earliest memories are of Sunday School. I was enrolled on the cradle roll before I was born. Sunday School was formative in my thinking and an ingrained part of my religious tradition. Yet in truth, it was not until relatively recent years that I began to think of the Sunday School as a tool for evangelism and church growth. I had simply never seen Sunday School used to grow the church.

    My dad once told me that Sunday Schools in the past were more aggressive in evangelism than those I had experienced as a child. When I was nine years old our family moved from Morganton, North Carolina, to the not-too-distant town of Thomasville. It was hard to leave my church friends in Morganton and that beautiful brick church building in the foot-hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains for a decrepit building overlooking a lumber yard.

    Soon, however, our new church experienced growth, and plans were made to relocate the church to a new site on a major road. Often Dad would pick me up from school and take me with him to inspect the progress of the building. These trips began even before the lot was cleared. Once the building was designed, it was as if it already existed in my dad’s mind. One day when he picked me up he was flush with excitement. He could hardly wait for me to see the church. What I saw was hardly spine tingling—ditches with freshly poured concrete outlined by a few stakes with strings drawn down the entire length of the ditch. Workers had laid the foundation, but Dad could visualize the finished project.

    He proudly led me on a tour of the sanctuary, pointing out the vestibule, the aisles, the pulpit area, and finally the baptistry. As we stood on a small knoll by the soon-to-be baptistry, he motioned to the strings outlining a much larger rectangle and pointed out to me the future sight of the educational building. He paused momentarily, as if reflecting back over his ministry, and said, “I can remember when virtually everyone we baptized into the church came through our Sunday School ministry. That’s no longer the case. Truth is, I lead most of the new converts to Christ myself. For that reason they are more faithful to come to worship than Sunday School. The Sunday School is changing and I don’t think it bodes well for the future.” That conversation must have taken place about 1960.

    Ken Hemphill, Revitalizing the Sunday Morning Dinosaur: A Sunday School Growth Strategy for the 21st Century (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 1–5.

  • 05 May 2021 7:04 AM | Josh Hunt (Administrator)

    I can summarize my life message in one sentence: you can double a group in two years or less by inviting every member and every prospect to every fellowship every month.

    A longer, one-paragraph version goes like this: A group of ten that doubles every eighteen months can reach a thousand people for God in ten years. One of the best ways of growing a group is through relationships. The gospel spreads best on the bridges of existing relationships. Donald McGavran called these The Bridges of God. Hospitality makes relational evangelism intentional evangelism. If we love them they will come and they will come to love our Lord. It is not enough to tell them about a God who loves them, we must love them. It is not enough to tell them the words about grace, we must be gracious to them.

    Do the top 100 have anything to say about hospitality? Once again, let me quote the pastor of the nation’s largest church:

    When I got out of Seminary I started working with High School students I learned two things real quick, number one. I learned it was possible to create environments where unchurched, unbelieving kids could come and even though they didn’t believe what we believe they would come back the next week to hear more. And I also learned a more important thing. I learned that if you can get unchurched, unbelieving people in a community of believers that are loving each other and caring for each other and being real Christians, that being in that community breaks down the barriers to unbelief. It strips away big objections—good God and bad things happening to good people and all those legitimate questions. You get somebody in the community where the church is being the church and somehow the edges get softer and people’s hearts open up and life change happens. And so, we started creating environments where kids started coming and lives started being changed and do you know where we got the resistance? From the church people! And so one night I am sitting in this meeting. It had been going an hour and a half because we had a band and video and stuff and there are all these wonderful church people … I know many of them, knew many of them for many years, some of them come here now. And the meeting was, “Andy, if you keep doing this, creating these environments, here is what is going to happen, and all the potential horrible stuff and sex drugs and rock and roll and whoa! It’s going to be terrible.

    And I just kept thinking, “Where is this coming from?” Toward the end of the meeting a lady stood up toward my right. She is still a friend of mine. She stood up, tears in her eyes, her voice quivering, and she said, “I am amazed at what I have heard. For an hour I have listened to everyone talk about how afraid they are about what might happen. Can I tell you what has happened? My two sons, who have never been involved in a church look forward to every Wednesday night and never miss. And, it you shut down this program, I am afraid they will never step foot inside a church again.” She sat down.

    And I made up my mind. I am going to spend the rest of my life finding people who understand that you can create environments in a local church that allow us to partner with people who are fishing. And I want to create environments for people and as they come and as they get involved in a community of believers their belief system begins to change, not because we have confronted, not because we give them specific answers to specific questions, although there is a time and a place of that. But, because they are in the presence, as much as they’ll ever be in the presence of the living savior.

    The nation’s largest church is only nineteen years old. It was able to grow so rapidly (in part) because the pastor, Andy Stanley regularly stands before the people and says, “I am in a group that is doubling; I want you to be in a group that is doubling.”

    They grow by creating environments where unchurched people can kick tires in an atmosphere of grace and acceptance. They have discovered that if they will love people, people’s hearts will warm up to a message about a God who loves them. They have discovered that if they are gracious to people, people’s hearts warm up to a message about grace. If they will befriend people, people will warm up to a message about, “What a friend we have in Jesus.”

    North Point has grown by loving people in common, ordinary, pedestrian ways. But, they are not the only church that does.

    Willow Creek and Matthew Parties

    North Point is not the only top-100 churches that uses hospitality to reach people. Willow Creek uses hospitality as well. Bill Hybels calls them Matthew Parties. They are based on Jesus’ encounter with Matthew (also known as Levi). Here is the story from Luke 5.

    After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:27–32 (NIV)

    Based on this example Bill Hybels and the people of Willow Creek use Matthew parties to build bridges to people who are far from God.

    Willow Creek wrote a drama that I have used many times to communicate the value of hospitality. (If you would like to teach on the value of hospitality in your church, I strongly recommend you use this video. Available on Willow Creek’s website.) It features a character named Evan Powell who is the quintessential “Unchurched Harry.” He meets a woman he is interested in and she invites him to church. Not interested.

    She invites him to a home group Bible Study. Not interested.

    People from the Bible study invite him to go bowling. Not interested.

    They invite him to dinner. Not interested.

    They invite him to a music festival. Not interested.

    They invite him to a vintage car show. Bingo. Evan can’t resist. He loves vintage cars. He goes to the vintage car show and discovers one of the guys in the group has two vintage cars. This guy invites him over to see the cars and a friendship develops. The friendship opens the door for Evan to become a friend of Jesus. Everything changes when we love people rather than just telling them about Christ’s love.

    Here is a typical Matthew Party in Hybels’ own words:

    Back in the early days of Willow, we talked with such frequency about the “Matthew Party” story in Luke 5 that it became part of the fabric of our church culture. Operating with Matthew’s intuition for discerning next steps in the lives of seekers became sort of a way of life, and lots of us started throwing Matthew Parties, for want of a better name. They weren’t part of a formal, programmatic effort. They were just casual ways to help people who were outside the family of God to get inside the family of God. Willow folks would grab a few people from the office and a few people from church and host a backyard barbeque or a pool party or hang out shooting pool in someone’s basement. During the eighties and nineties, we heard of scores of people coming to faith as a result of these parties.

    Over time, my desire to reflect Matthew’s remarkable courage kept increasing. I got addicted to sticking my neck out there just as he did, pulling believers and nonbelievers into the same room and trusting God with the results. After a while, although the larger-scale buzz at Willow died down, I was one of those eternal optimists who never stopped believing in the power of the party. I never stopped seeking ways to gather some new-life friends together with some old-life friends just to see what might transpire. I never stopped rejoicing over that particular work of the Holy Spirit in my life, who used the simplicity of throwing a party to craft me into the type of person who better reflects the heart of the Father.

    At Christmastime last year, I did what I have done every year following Willow’s Christmas Eve service: I threw a Matthew Party. Despite wall-to-wall meetings, planning sessions, and run-throughs that week, my mind kept drifting to the Matthew Party that was only days away. I couldn’t wait!

    I had invited about twenty people who were living extremely far from God, by their own admission. These men and women had never been to Willow before, had never been to my house before, and spiritually speaking would profess to be “going it alone.”

    To that group, I added about twenty people who were in the Seeker Slow Lane—the remedial class of Christianity, you might say. On the rare occasion when I would badger them mercilessly, they’d agree to come to Willow. But it was sporadic attendance at best, usually involving a fair amount of kicking and screaming on their part. Most of them had been to my house previously to attend other parties, and all of them knew I was “working” on them, nudging them along the (very) slow path to God. Maybe they would step across the line of faith someday, but in my estimation, it was going to take some time. A lot of time.

    In addition to the twenty or so people who were very far from God, and the twenty or so people who were in-progress types, I had sprinkled in a dozen or so very strong Christ-followers from Willow to mix it up a bit. The screening process for this group in particular had been intense! I knew I couldn’t afford any overzealous types showing up. No truth vigilantes. No bounty hunters. Just normal, mature, relationally intelligent, open-hearted, radically inclusive people who understood how high the stakes were that night—after all, I was going to put them in a room with friends of mine who, apart from a bona fide miracle, would spend eternity apart from God.

    As with every other year, fifteen minutes before guests arrived, my heart started beating fast. I’m sure the tension I felt was completely natural—I had no way to control the outcome of the party, no way of knowing how the guests would interact, and no way to prepare for the exact conversations that would unfold and what God would choose to do as a result.

    But I wouldn’t have traded that anxiety for anything in the world! As I greeted the first guests to arrive, I braced for the adventure to come as a final burst of adrenaline exploded. Here we go!

    I wish you could have been there to watch what unfolded that night. In my house in Barrington, Illinois, in the twenty-first century, we enjoyed an approximation of Matthew’s first-century experience. It was incredible to witness so many God-moments in the making, not to mention it was just a heck of a party. The first time I glanced down at my watch, it was well past midnight, and guests ended up staying until two o’clock the next morning—and only left then because I kicked them out.

    So what was it that gave it the buzz? What made it such a magical, edgy experience? I mulled over questions like those in the hours and days that followed. Want to know what I decided? The single greatest reason that the party was such a success was because the Christ-followers I’d invited from Willow did exactly what Christ wants all of his followers to do: they took a walk across the room.

    When the Willow people had first arrived, they gathered in little Creeker circles, safely huddling together to talk about the weather, the Christmas Eve stage set, plans for the weekend, you name it. (They had to start somewhere, I guess.) But then, after about twenty minutes, it happened—and I was so proud of them when it did. One by one, they looked around the room and started excusing themselves from each other’s company. “Well, I’m not going to stay in this circle all night,” they would murmur as their minds raced. I’m going to walk across the living room and stick out my hand and introduce myself to someone.

    “Excuse me,” they would say, with a complete lack of confidence. And then slowly they turned and walked. And how I related to the thoughts they had as they made those walks. I’d made hundreds of similar walks across rooms, and I knew how fast their hearts were beating, how dry their mouths were becoming, how curious they were about what would take place once they said, “Hi. My name is …”

    Every step of the way across my living room that night, each Christ-follower was thinking, I have no idea how this is going to turn out. I don’t know if this guy is going to want to talk to me. I don’t know if that woman will want to engage in conversation with me. But you know what? I’m going to give it a shot. I’m going to pray every step of the way as I walk across this room, I’m going to introduce myself, and then I’m going to step back and just see if God does anything more.

    The discussions instantly began to light up. I was so grateful that the Spirit was opening doors! Everyone at the party had attended the Christmas Eve service together, and that shared experience provided the perfect conversational springboard. Some people talked about how they’d never been on the inside of a church before. (What an honor that Willow was their first experience!) Others admitted to just needing “more facts,” and still others had recently purchased Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life, intending to read it over the holidays.

    As I meandered through the crowd that night, I thought about all of the requests I’d made of God in the days leading up to the party. “Oh, if this person and that person could get together and be in conversation with one another, that would be incredible!” Or “If only so-and-so and my other friend could chat, that would be so kinetic—they have so much in common.” Sure enough, while I wandered around my own home that night, refilling drinks and making sure people had enough to eat, I would catch a glimpse of those exact pairings occurring. “God is good!” I whispered quietly. “God is so good!”

    Thankfully, no Pharisee types showed up at my house that night to throw water on the delicate sparks that were flickering. I remember walking back into the kitchen with a feeling of soul-level satisfaction. It took hours before that buzz wore off! Finally, after I had given everyone the boot, I halfheartedly picked up the remaining dishes, grabbed stray glasses, and headed back into the kitchen, dazed by the significance of all that had happened.

    Sometime just before daybreak, my mind still racing from the mystical aspects of the party, I thought to myself, the whole thing comes down to nights just like this one. The future of the kingdom of God comes down to whether individual rank-and-file Christ-followers will do in their everyday lives what just happened in my home tonight!

    It really is true: the spread of the gospel—at least in today’s reality—boils down to whether you and I will continue to seek creative ways to engage our friends, inviting them to explore the abundance of the Christ-following life and helping them choose eternity with God instead of settling for a terrible fate when this life is all said and done.8

    Rick Warren has done a similar thing. His words:

    For years, Kay and I would host an informal coffee in our home on the fourth Sunday night of each month. Called the “Pastor’s Chat,” it was simply an opportunity for new members and visitors from the previous month to meet us face-to-face and ask any questions they had. We’d place a sign-up sheet out on the patio before Sunday services and the first thirty to sign up would get to come. The chats would last from 7 to 10 p.m. This simple act of hospitality brought in hundreds of new members and established many relationships that Kay and I cherish today. Hospitality grows a healthy church.9

    Rick Warren’s Small Group Pastor, Steve Gladen teaches all of their small groups to use parties as a means of reaching people:

    Follow his example and host a neighborhood picnic or barbecue. Plan to go to a lake or park and have everybody in your group invite a friend. Or have a Super Bowl party. Relax and have fun. The sole purpose of this social event is for your small group to get together with seekers and build relationships. But don’t expect lost people to act like anything but lost people. That’s one of the huge mistakes we make. We start with this sort of judgment and condemnation rather than just saying, “Man, we’re so glad you’re here. Come on in.” Just remember that they need Jesus. This is your chance to show them the love of Christ. Just accept them.10

    Doubling groups and hospitality are two tools of top-100 churches. There is one more thing we must do to see a doubling group movement.

    Josh Hunt, Doubling Groups 2.0 (Josh Hunt, 2015).

  • 04 May 2021 4:19 PM | Josh Hunt (Administrator)

    “Do you really believe that there is a sin that is unforgivable? Do you really hold to that?”

    What the unforgivable sin is not

    Most people have no idea what the unforgivable is. There are many people who think that they are so “bad” that what they have done must be the unforgivable sin. The following is a list of some of the things people have thought the unforgivable sin to be.

    • Murder

    • Adultery

    • Masturbation

    • Blasphemy

    • Having an abortion

    • Not going to church

    • A divorce

    All these ideas are very wide of the mark.

    Did Jesus ever say that there was any sin that would not be forgiven?

    “Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” Matthew 12:31

    What the unforgivable sin is

    Jesus had just healed “a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute.” Matthew 12:22

    The Pharisees said that Jesus had expelled demons by the power of the prince of demons, Beelzebub. So their unforgivable sin is attributing Jesus’ miracle, which was performed in the power of the Holy Spirit, to Satan. The unforgivable sin is to call Jesus and his divine power satanic.

    People who do this would never go to Jesus for forgiveness, as they are saying he is of the devil. So their sins will never be forgiven by God.


    Some have theorized that the one sin that is unforgivable is the sin of “unbelief.” That is to say that “unbelief” is the one sin that the blood of Jesus could not cover. Every other sin in the world can be forgiven, but if one fails to place one’s faith in Jesus Christ and decides to remain in “unbelief”—then that sin of unbelief is not forgivable. It is a direct rebuff of the work of the Holy Spirit on one’s heart.


    Anyone who is genuinely concerned that he may have committed the unforgivable sin, has not done so. For such a person will ask God for his forgiveness. It is only the person who does not think that he or she ever needs God’s forgiveness, who may have committed this sin.


    Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” John 6:37


    “There is only one person God cannot forgive. The person who refuses to come to him for forgiveness.” Anonymous

    Mark Water, Hard Questions about the Bible Made Easy, The Made Easy Series (Alresford, Hampshire: John Hunt Publishers Ltd, 2000), 62–63.

  • 04 May 2021 4:09 PM | Josh Hunt (Administrator)

    The Navigators refer to this as the “with Him” principle. I also like to look at this kind of relationship as “friendship with a purpose.”

    It seems that cool, flashy Christian events and listening to dynamic speakers have become the most important part of American Christianity. Whatever happened to this kind of close personal bond? Is the “with Him” principle outdated? Is it no longer valid?

    My father’s spiritual leadership in our family was filled with much wisdom. Dad knew I needed the “with Him” principle or “friendship with a purpose” in my own life. However, he also knew he was not the one to do it. Early in my ninth-grade year he asked a young man named Mark Sulcer to move into our home for Navigator training. What I did not know at the time is that Dad had asked Mark while he was finishing college to spend time helping me grow into an equipped laborer for Jesus Christ. Through Mark’s love and concern for me, he was teaching me indirectly about Jesus.

    What was so great about those four years that Mark lived in our home was all the time he spent with my friends and me. He went to tons of my soccer games, took my friends and me skiing, and wrestled with us to complete exhaustion. Through it all, Mark’s life touch was there. It was so natural to memorize Scripture with Mark. It was so natural to pray for the salvation of my friends with Mark. Because it was so natural I caught more than I was taught.

    Like Timothy reminiscing about his experiences with Paul, I look back on those times with Mark with great fondness and gratitude. This kind of special relationship increases the depth and effectiveness of the ministry of the laborer.

    During his years of heading up the Navigator ministry in the Midwest, my father learned many lessons from the Scriptures on discipleship. Acts 20:4 says, “And there accompanied him into Asia Sopater of Berea; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timotheus; and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus.” What a picture! Young laborers in training—living, walking, suffering, ministering with the apostle Paul.

    Solomon said, “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed” (Proverbs 13:20). Paul chose this simple plan of training young men by bringing them with him on the road of life. Why didn’t Paul start a school for the training of laborers? Was it because he didn’t have enough contacts? Nonsense! There would have been a line a mile long waiting to get in. Was it because he didn’t have the academic qualifications? Nonsense! Paul was one of the few, if not the only one, who did. Then why did he choose this method? The answer is abundantly clear and simple. Paul knew he could not improve on the method of Jesus Christ. He knew what Jesus had done, and he followed it as closely as he knew how.

    Whereas the “with Him” principle is a general friendship approach to training, the “one-to-one” principle is usually more structured. Its usefulness is primarily in the training of laborers, but each laborer must use it also in his efforts to help the growing Christian become a mature, dedicated, fruitful disciple. Admittedly, the bulk of his contact with the young Christian may be at a small-group level, but he must supplement his group fellowship with periodic one-to-one training and counsel.

    Let’s say you have four or five young Christians in your church, your Sunday school, or your men’s or women’s fellowship who are clearly eager to grow. You realize that if they aren’t helped and challenged to the maximum of their interest and potential, their growth will be stunted and possibly their interest cooled. But what should you do? You can’t possibly get with all of them on a one-to-one basis, and maybe you shouldn’t. Quite possibly the most effective thing you can do is to involve them in a small-group Bible study.

    First of all, if they are motivated by the idea, agree on some ground rules. To create personal ownership, it is best to discuss these guidelines with them rather than throwing your weight around by “laying down the law.” Ask them for their opinions: Shall we agree to have our lessons prepared when we come to our Bible study group? Shall we include Scripture memory as part of our study? How many verses per week? Which verses?

    When you clear the air ahead of time by bringing them into the decision-making process and letting them help set the standards, you are likely to get a greater degree of cooperation and commitment. Now it’s their study: They made the rules; so full speed ahead!

    A great way to start is with basic topical studies in order to help the young disciples get established in Christian doctrine. There are many good studies designed to help new converts make progress toward becoming mature, dedicated disciples. (I highly recommend the DESIGN FOR DISCIPLESHIP series and the STUDIES IN CHRISTIAN LIVING series published by NavPress.)

    Some might ask, Why not begin by studying the books of the Bible? As you help the young Christian grow, that is the ultimate goal. However, first we should lay a solid foundation on the various topics that are vital to the inexperienced, growing Christian. Then begin to study different books of the Bible. It is helpful to start with the shorter books first. It gives the growing Christian a good feeling to know he or she has completed something. Solomon reminds us that “the desire accomplished is sweet to the soul” (Proverbs 13:19). Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and 1 and 2 Timothy are good “starters.” After finishing a couple of these, you can then suggest a study of a longer book, such as Romans or John. Look upon the question-and-answer studies as a solid foundation upon which you begin to build the superstructure with the study of various books of the Bible.

    If you have your study weekly, you might like to try the early morning hour. This time usually works well for men and is a great way to start the day. Meeting before work usually does not conflict with other plans, and it adds a touch of heartiness to meet in the early morning hours. Begin with a prayer to commit the time to the Lord. Then check each other on your new Scripture verses to make sure each of you has them word perfect. This takes only a few minutes if you pair up by twos and quote them to each other.

    Remember, you are the leader, not the teacher. Ask discussion questions; keep the study moving; and at the end, it’s often good to give a brief challenge before closing in prayer.

    “Okay,” you say, “but where does one-to-one time fit into all this?” Simply put, your one-to-one time with these people can be seen in the same way that a medic looks on a soldier who has been wounded. If someone is being attacked by the forces of darkness, if he is having problems with overexertion, divisions, priorities, demotivation, or other serious trials, it’s time to get that person aside and help him through it. Apply spiritual first aid. Pray with him; comfort him; encourage him—whatever it takes to keep him going.

    As the group continues to meet, it will become evident to you which individuals are the most motivated and eager to learn and grow. These are the ones to whom you want to begin giving personal time. But let them evidence the hunger and desire before you approach them individually. If you move too soon, you could scare them off. However, the eager ones will not continue to be satisfied with just what you can give them during the study time. They will want you to share your life with them. That’s where the “with Him” principle begins to mesh with a variation of “one-to-one” in the context of your small group. We have a God of variety; He is not locked into one method to accomplish His purpose. The same is true for developing laborers. You can find many creative ways to achieve what I have mentioned, so I hope you use these suggestions as a springboard in helping young men and women grow.

    My father had the privilege of being a part of the ministry of The Navigators when Dawson Trotman was alive. He recalled a time in 1951 when Dawson told of a very discouraging pattern he had observed in the military ministry. Large groups were failing to produce many effective laborers. “Why?” Daws asked. “Because a mother knows how to care for her baby but not how to run an orphanage. First Corinthians 4:15 is why the large groups often fizzle out.”

    In this Corinthian passage, Paul described the father-son kind of relationship that takes place in one-to-one. There should be a mature concern on the part of the leader for certain young Christians. But the leader of a large group can’t meet the personal needs of all the group members. Sometimes people get lost in the shuffle. That’s why I urge you to use the tool of the small-group fellowship, supplemented by periodic times of one-to-one fellowship. And learn also to use the “with Him” principle.

    Daws taught leaders eight vital guidelines to help the new Christian grow:

    1. Build in him a life that will glorify God.
    2. Build in him a life centered in Christ that is supported by regular prayer, Bible study, witnessing, and fellowship.
    3. Get him into contact with other strong Christians.
    4. Get him into the right environment.
    5. Teach him, “When they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples” (Mark 4:34).
    6. Observe him.
    7. Give him experience.
    8. Pray with him.

    Because each individual is different and uniquely created by God, you will need to be flexible in your one-to-one encounters. But one thing is loud and clear: We need to do all within our power to help these new ones count for God.

    One more vital ingredient in motivating and helping the young Christian grow in his or her intimacy with the Lord is church attendance. It is essential to involve new Christians in the life of the local church. The church is the logical place to get the personal touch that we all need. My father set a great example in this area of church involvement. He saw the benefits of corporate worship and sharing life with the whole body of Christ. He never saw the parachurch organization he worked for as an end in itself or taking the place of what God had established in the local church. In fact he said, “I have never seen a person do well over the long haul whom, early on in his walk with God, did not get involved in the life of a local church.” There may be some, but I have never seen them. It may indeed happen, but it must be a rare event.

    There are, no doubt, many ways to positively influence the life of a new believer. But we must never forget that it is almost impossible for that believer to thrive without the close personal contact of a more experienced Christian who cares about him. As we reflect on the needs of growing Christians, let’s pray that God will use us as “wise masterbuilders” in the cause of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10). For this is the privilege and responsibility of laborers.

    LeRoy Eims and Randy Eims, Laboring in the Harvest (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2011), 66–72.

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