When Sunday morning comes around, most every Christian believes that it is really important to go to the worship service at his church. That is the “main” corporate gathering; it’s the time when the most people are together; and it’s when the music plays!
But I would argue there is a time that can be just as beneficial and can bring benefits that cannot be had in a typical “worship service”: the Sunday school hour.
When I was a youth, my primary reasons for loving Sunday school were the Krispy Kreme donuts waiting for us when we arrived (I think I averaged 6 each Sunday) and the candy we got in Mr. Higdon’s class for answering questions correctly.
But now that I have come to know the Lord and have a desire for his word and his people, I see Sunday school in a whole new light.
Sunday school may not be as popular as it used to be. The name itself is certainly less in fashion than it once was (to be honest, I don’t especially care for it myself). But it serves a number of crucial purposes that any church should be trying to achieve.
Here are a few reasons why I love the Sunday school hour, why I think your church should most definitely have one if it’s possible, and why you should make every effort to be there every week.
- Sunday School is a chance to learn more of God’s word
This is the most obvious reason. If you are willing to sit through a sermon of three quarters of an hour, chances are good that you want to know what God’s word says. But if you are learning the Bible in any degree of depth, you probably realize there is much more to be learned than can be achieved in one sermon per week.
Sunday school doubles the teaching time on Sunday morning alone, all without an extra trip to the church, getting dressed again, or even walking in one more time from the car – all you have to do is walk to the classroom.
- Sunday School teaches God’s word in different ways
My church, and probably most of my readers’ churches, spend most of their Sunday sermons listening to a verse-by-verse exposition of various books of the Bible. Though it may be possible that your church’s Sunday school is just another expositional sermon going verse-by-verse through a book (and that’s not necessarily wrong), Sunday school is a great opportunity to teach the Bible in a number of different ways.
In Sunday school, you can teach the Bible on a survey level, as our church is currently doing with the Old Testament. You can teach systematic theology, something which may be less natural in a sermon. You can teach specific topics of Christian living.
All of these types of teaching serve to do what simply cannot be accomplished in one weekly sermon, or by verse-by-verse exposition alone.
If you are only hearing slow, verse-by-verse exposition, praise God that you are getting it – but take advantage of opportunities to learn the Bible from every angle!
- Sunday School provides opportunity for interaction
In the past couple of decades there has been something of a controversy about the nature and effectiveness of monologue preaching. Preaching is seen as too authoritative; too much of one person’s voice. I remember listening years ago to a conference message from a very well-known preacher about being an “Effective Communicator”, which seemed to go far beyond out of its way to avoid using the word “preaching” in any positive sense. The emergent church took this to another level by arguing that everyone should have something to say and that no person – teacher or not – should be the single voice that is learned from at church in any given meeting.
Biblical expositors have rightly rejected these errors, noting that expository preaching is not an exercise of one’s own authority, but rather that of a herald proclaiming divine truth on Christ’s authority.
But in their efforts to do this, I believe there has sometimes been an unnecessary degradation of the value of allowing other people to speak during teaching in church, and a view of preaching that is much more romantic than biblical.
A worship service is typically not a helpful time for someone to raise his hand with questions – in many places there are simply too many people to make it tenable. There is a place for someone who is prepared being the sole one to speak.
But Sunday school (in most churches) provides an opportunity for people to contribute to the discussion with good questions and insightful answers to questions raised by the teacher.
Here are a few benefits of having an interactive class time when the people listening can speak or ask questions:
- It helps with clarity
One of the great challenges of preaching is to understand the baseline knowledge of his listeners when they walk in the door. Any older preacher worth his salt will tell younger men that they need to know their people in order to effectively preach to them.
Well, why not give them the opportunity right then and there to let you know whether or not they understand what in the world you’re talking about? For the sake of a skewed view of “preaching” that is more concerned with form than with listener comprehension, many people may be hesitant to allow questions in class. The goal, though, is that the people listening would understand, believe, and obey God’s word. To make sure this happens is surely not compromise!
- It helps with depth.
This is an unexpected blessing for both listener and teacher. Many times in class someone will ask a question that I had not previously thought of, and there is no way I would have prepared to teach it. But when they ask it and I begin to think of the answer, the wheels start to turn in a way I had never before considered.
The result is that we are able to go places and think more deeply on the truths being considered than we would have if the range of the lesson had been fixed by me.
- It helps the teacher learn.
Spinning off the issue of depth, there are times when people ask questions or give responses to my own that teach me. If you are a teacher and think you can’t learn from your students, get out of teaching ministry until you learn this!
People will point out passages to me that, frankly, sometimes embarrass me that I didn’t know them or think of them. That’s okay. The goal, again, is for everyone to grow in knowledge, faith, and obedience – even the teacher!
- It keeps the teacher honest
Let’s face it – it’s easier for someone to get away with things when no one is pressing him on whether his assertions are supported and whether his arguments make sense.
But interactive class time puts the teacher on the spot to be correct, unable to get away with anything. There is a tremendous benefit to this public accountability, and a teacher who never gets questioned in any meaningful way (even if he turns out to be correct in what he is teaching) is in a more dangerous spot than I would ever like to find myself.
- It keeps people interested.
Believe it or not, not everyone can easily listen to you for an entire sermon. In a moment of helpful honesty, one very faithful member told me not long ago that it’s hard for him to continue listening to my sermons after about 30 minutes. I suspect the same is true of others. The typical reality is that people’s attention is more easily kept when you allow opportunities for them to ask questions, or when there is a change of pace by other people asking them.
- Sunday School provides more time with God’s people!
Our Sunday school class runs 9:00-10:00 am every week (okay, 9:05-10:05, but I’m working on it). We start the worship service at 10:30. Besides the time in class, coming to both services provides the key benefit of having half an hour to spend in mutual encouragement with one another.
Be honest: how many times have you shown up right at the end of Sunday school just for the purpose of fellowship? Or is your arrival time instead geared around the start of the worship service? If so, when is your time of fellowship with your fellow Christians at church?
The break time between services is a joyful time of getting to be with the people I have missed all week, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
These are just some of the reasons I love Sunday school, and I hope you are part of it at your church as well.
What about you? Are there any ideas for how to do Sunday school better? Is there anything not mentioned here that you enjoy about this time of the week?