“How do I fix Sunday School?”
That’s the question I got in a Q & A session after speaking at a church leadership conference a few years ago.
I get questions like that a lot. Although seldom that concisely. And they’re not always about Sunday School. Other similar questions have included
- “How do we get a strong Mens’ Ministry going?”
- “Why don’t people attend midweek prayer meetings anymore?”
- “Should we add a second service?”
I answer all those questions the way I answered the one about Sunday School. By asking another question. In this case I asked her “why do you have Sunday School?”
Her answer was as precise and thoughtful as her original question had been. “We have Sunday School so we can raise the next generation to love Jesus and know the Bible.”
I complimented her on her answer. Sincerely. Most people who ask questions like hers don’t have anything close to that well-formed an understanding of the “why” behind the ministry. Then I gave her my response.
“Your question needs to be based on that answer. Don’t ask ‘How do we fix Sunday School?’ ask ‘How do we raise the next generation to love Jesus and know the Bible?’ If Sunday School is the best answer to that question, then fix Sunday School. But if Sunday School isn’t the best way you’re wasting our time trying to fix it.”
Ask Better Questions First
Almost none of the most common ways we hold church services is found in the Bible. The early church had no buildings, no sitting in rows, no pastor-focused service, no guitars or organs, no Bible apps, and on and on.
I’m not one of the folks who believes those things are wrong. But we need to hold lightly to all our extra-biblical systems, events and traditions.
Instead of asking “how do we fix this ministry (or this church)?” we need to ask the following:
- What is the purpose of this ministry?
- How well is it accomplishing that purpose?
- Is there a better way to accomplish that purpose?
The Mission Comes First
If VBS is the best way to reach kids during the summer months, by all means, do it and improve it. But what if there’s a better way to do kids ministry this summer, but we can’t see it because we’re putting all our energy into making VBS better?
We need to ask smart, serious, scary questions, then do whatever ministry answers those questions in the best possible way. If that means making a current ministry better, great! But in many circumstances, if we’re really asking honest questions and looking for real solutions, it will mean doing ministry in entirely new ways.
This applies to everything we do, from our building to our sermons to our music. Are we trying to update a program, method or style instead of digging deeper and finding a better way to accomplish the underlying mission?
If so, we need to let them go. Even (especially?) the ones that have meant so much to us.
Yes, that’s hard, uncomfortable work. But the mission must come first. Because the mission, not the program, is what matters.
(Photo by Jackson Simmer | Unsplash)