“From Head to Hands and Feet”
May the grace and peace from our risen Lord be with you.
It is already September. Summer vacations are over, and a new school year has started. Children are going back to their schools, and we are in a new life rhythm. Choirs start singing again, and new sermon series have begun. Again, charge conference season has come, and churches have started preparing for a new year. It is an exciting month!
The theme for our charge conferences this year is “From Members to Disciples.” We will continue to wrestle with our 2015 Annual Conference theme. Churches will be invited to review and reflect upon our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. This month our Advocate will focus on Sunday school, especially adult Sunday school classes.
Adult Sunday school classes have been playing an important role in our faith education. They are providing places to grow in our faith and to share fellowship. Some Sunday school classes are proud of their long history and strong support networks and intimate human relationship. Sunday school classes have been the backbone in building up churches and strengthening their ministries.
However, facing the challenges of today, we need to ask the question if Sunday school classes are sufficient to fulfill our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ. Is Sunday school effective in enabling us to grow together as disciples of Jesus Christ? Do Sunday school classes provide us with a fruitful system for making disciples? If not, what other alternatives do we have?
Lately, I started reading a book The Class Meeting written by Dr. Kevin M. Watson. Dr. Watson is a promising young scholar of Wesleyan studies, teaching at Candler School of Theology. In this book, Dr. Watson talks about the history of the class meeting and emphasizes the need to reclaim this essential small group experience. As many of us know, the class meeting was a key and one of the pillars in the Methodist movement. The people called Methodists met weekly and examined and shared their spiritual lives and encouraged each other to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.
But the class meeting began to decline in the middle of 19th century. There were many reasons for this decline. Dr. Watson says that one of the reasons was the rise of the Sunday school movement. And another important reason was that Methodists became more affluent and less and less comfortable talking to each other about the details of their lives as followers of Jesus Christ (p. 54). According to Dr. Watson, these changes shifted our attention away from the focus on Christian experience and becoming deeply committed Christians.
Here I would like to share with you a question about Sunday school. Sunday school classes have many strengths and positive aspects for our growth, especially increasing our knowledge about our faith and Christian life. But are these classes effective and fruitful in helping people experience God’s transforming grace and grow as disciples of Jesus Christ? Are these classes helping our faith move from head to hands and feet?
Dr. Watson shared his own experience. Recently he took part in a Sunday school class that read a book on global poverty. Each week the leader prepared and led the session well, and all the participants had a great time watching video clips and participating in lively discussions on the subject. All of them were challenged and learned many things about global poverty. But Dr. Watson wondered if anyone’s life actually changed as a result of this study. The people might have gained some new ideas through this study, but their lives may not have experienced God’s transforming grace, although they may have had some guilty feelings.
So, Dr. Watson strongly emphasizes the need to rediscover the class meeting for renewal of our churches. I was moved by his argument and agree with the need to go deeper in our discipleship. I recommend that you read this book. In closing, I want to share this question again: Do our churches have an effective system for helping us to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ? Does Sunday school produce sufficient signs of transformation of our lives by God’s grace? Do our churches effectively help our faith move from head to hands and feet?
May our Lord continue to challenge us and raise questions on our discipling ministry today.
Young Jin Cho