Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. James 1:22 [NAB]
The goal of Christian teaching is not to cover the material, or to dispense information or to make smarter sinners. The goal is to make saints. The goal is to make disciples. “Doers of the word and not hearers only.” The goal is application. The goal is changed lives.
I work full-time persuading and training groups to double every two years or less. The more I do it, the more I am convinced that the problem with Sunday School is not a Sunday School problem. The problem is we have failed to create soldiers. We have failed to create saints. We have failed to create disciples.
“But we are comfortable.”
I am fond of pointing out that a group of ten that doubles every eighteen months will reach a thousand people in ten years. We can do that by growing a group by 40% every nine months, or going from 10 to 14 in nine months. In looking at whether or not this is possible, I often ask groups, “Could you do it if I offered you a million dollars to get it done?” We could do it, oh, we could do it. The question is, do we want to? The most common reaction to this challenge is not that it is not realistic or that it can’t be done. It is this: “But we are comfortable.”
Quite honestly, I can’t believe that believers have the nerve to say that out loud. Tell me it is not possible. Tell me I am a dreamer. Tell me it is not strategic. Tell me you have a better plan. But, don’ tell me you agree that we could reach a thousand people in the next ten years but you would put your comfort above that.
This is not a Sunday School problem. This is a values problem. This is a discipleship problem. This is an application problem. We are not creating doers of the word.
I thought it was all about …
Here is another response I received once to the vision of doubling groups reaching a thousand people in the next ten years by doubling every eighteen months, “But, I thought Sunday School was all about me going deep with a handful of people and developing relationships and getting close and cultivating intimacy and how are we going to do that if we split up our groups every eighteen months?”
I didn’t say it, but here is what I was thinking. That is just it, isn’t it? It is not all about you. It is about God. It is about a cause. It is about the advancement of the kingdom. It is about God being glorified and thanked and acknowledged and enjoyed and treated better than He is treated in your neighborhood and mine. It is about the lost missing spending an eternity in hell separated from God and instead spending eternity with God enjoying his pleasures forevermore. In light of that, going deep with some friends pales in comparison.
And, it is not like you have to say good bye to all your friends. A dirty little secret of the doubling group strategy is we get to take our best friends with us. And, there is no rule that says you can’t see people who are not in your group outside of class.
God wants to give us life and give it to us to the full. He wants to thrill us, to fill us, to forgive us, to give us peace and joy and abundance. But, we have to do it His way. His way is all about losing ourselves in the cause of advancing the kingdom.
Again, this is not a Sunday School problem. It is a discipleship problem. It is an application problem. It is doer of the Word problem.
We are not willing to do that
A man spoke to me before a conference once. “I don’t think we are going to be able to double our class.” “Why not?” “Well I am in a room that holds twenty chairs and we have eighteen of them filled on an average Sunday.” “Have you thought about dividing your class? Have you thought about moving nine of the men down the hall to start a new group?” I will never forget his response: “Oh no, we are not going there. My pastor has talked to me about that. We have talked about that. We are not willing to do that.”
The word rings in my ears. Willing. We are not willing to do that. I have been thinking about this for a long time, and here is the conclusion I have come to: that is a phrase that no Christian ought to ever say to the Lord about anything: “We are not willing to do that.”
Somewhere along the line in our journey we face a door I call the door of Lordship. We go through this door and acknowledge that God is God and I am not. He is boss and I am not. He is Master; I am slave. Christian living is all lived on the other side of that door. It is all lived on the other side of the door of Lordship.
Before we walk through that door, it is walking in the flesh. It is a life of religion. There is no abundance. There is no joy. There is no fulfillment. There is no fruit. Christian living is all lived on the other side of the door of Lordship.
The issue is not that we cannot figure out how to double a class in two years or less. The issue is we are not willing to do so. It is not a Sunday School problem. It is an application problem. It is an obedience problem.
How to ask effective application questions
The key to making application questions work is to distinguish them from commitment questions. In a way, commitment questions are the point, and we will get there soon.
At this point, we are not actually asking people to do anything. We are asking them what they could do. We are asking how someone might apply this to their lives.
In my seminars I teach on a party driving strategy. It is a strategy modeled by Levi:
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. Luke 5:27–29 [NIV]
It is commanded in several places in scripture:
- Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 1 Peter 4:9 [NIV]
- Get into the habit of inviting guests home for dinner or, if they need lodging, for the night. Romans 12:13b [NLT]
- When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends. Luke 14:12b [NIV]
Often, I will conclude this section of the seminar with an application question: what are twenty ways you could do this? What are twenty kinds of banquets, dinners or parties you could have and invite outsiders to attend?
The list might look something like this:
New years eve party
Super bowl party
Valentines Day party
Labor Day party
July 4 party
Fall Family Festival
Memorial Day Party
Guys night out
Ladies night out
Back yard barbeque
Dinner and a movie
Here is the key point: I have not asked them to actually do any of these parties. I have only asked them to make a list. I have only asked them how they could apply the principle of offering hospitality.
Husbands, love your wives
The Bible commands husbands to love their wives (Ephesians 5:25–27). Here is an application question that flows from that: What are ten ways a husband could love his wife? Or, perhaps you could divide the men and women up. Let them both come up with a list. See how many the women come up with that the men cannot even think of. Answers might include:
Take out the trash
Watch the kids
Set up a date night
Remember our anniversary
Non-sexual physical affection
Long, unhurried walks
Again, the point here is that you have not yet asked the men to do anything. You have only asked them to think to things they could do.
By separating the application questions from the commitment questions, you unleash everyone’s creativity. They are not evaluating each item and deciding whether or not they will do it. In the next section we will talk about the benefits of doing this application and the cost of not doing it. When we finish with that, they will be far more motivated to do some of these things. For now, we just want to brainstorm as many applications as possible.
Josh Hunt, How to Use Questions to Stimulate Life-Changing Discussions, Good Questions Have Small Groups Talking (Las Cruces, NM: Josh Hunt, 2010), 81–86.