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First Thoughts

Caring for One Another Through Sunday School

Sunday school originally began at the end of the 18th century in Britain during the Industrial Revolution. Working-class children spent long hours in the factories six days a week and had no time for education. Sunday School was developed to teach basic literacy on the only day they had available. It was quite literally a school.

Today, we have long dropped the aim of teaching reading and writing to children during Sunday school, but we have maintained the goal of religious instruction. But in our adult Sunday school classes, our aim is even broader than basic Bible facts. We rely on Sunday school to be our main forum of discipleship and care in our church.

In many churches in America, of which the average size is less than one hundred people, you wouldn’t necessarily need something like Sunday school to find community and care in your church because everyone would know each other. But especially in our church, we need a way for a big church to feel smaller. We need a way to live out the “one another” commands in the Bible such as the calls to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2), “exhort one another” (Hebrews 3:13), “care for one another” (1 Corinthians 12:25), “encourage and build up one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:11), “pray for one another” (James 5:16), “speak truth to one another” (Ephesians 4:25), “stir one another up to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24), and many more similar verses.

When new people join our church, we tell them the first priority is to make participating in the Sunday morning worship service a weekly rhythm, but the next priority we communicate is to join a Life Group in a Sunday school class. We want everyone to participate in Sunday school because at our church, it is the main venue we have to care for one another.

Here are three ways we care for one another through Sunday school at First Baptist Church:

We Care for One Another Through Sunday School by Assimilating in the Life of the Church

Someone could attend our church every week and go to our main worship service and, unfortunately, stay completely anonymous. We don’t want that to happen, and we want to create a church culture where that does not happen. But the forum we have to make sure that does not happen is to connect them more directly to the church by being part of Sunday school.

We believe it is good for someone to be thoroughly assimilated into the life of our church, and Sunday school is the best way to do that for most people. We don’t want anyone to slip through the cracks in our ministry. We don’t want anyone to remain anonymous. We don’t want anyone to claim First Baptist Jacksonville as their home church and not be meaningfully involved in the life of the church as a whole.

When you come to Sunday school, you are connected with a Table or Care Leader and put in a Life Group with other members. They know who you are, notice when you’re not there, and will reach out to you, encourage you, and help fold you into the life of the church. It’s also usually during Sunday school where you will be given more opportunities to serve, which will only deepen your commitment to the other members of our church. As Pastor Heath has said many times, this is not First Baptist Worship Service, but First Baptist Church. For many, their testimony is that First Baptist stopped feeling just like a worship service, but a church family when they got involved in Sunday school.

We Care for One Another Through Sunday School by Attending to the Life Needs of Others

We all have burdens we are carrying in life. We are sinners who make our own messes, and we live in a sinful world in which we regularly experience suffering. We have things that are weighing us down in life, whether it’s our fault or not. Maybe it’s a medical issue, a relational tension, a job problem, a spiritual struggle, or all four together! It’s much easier to carry these burdens when others are helping you carry them.

Who in our church knows about the burdens you are carrying? Who do you feel comfortable asking for prayer from and sharing your life with? Most people wouldn’t naturally feel comfortable sharing these personal requests with people they don’t know. But in Sunday school, you sit with people every week, you talk about the Bible, you discuss how to apply the lesson, and you share prayer requests with each other. It’s the natural place where you would share your life needs with other brothers and sisters in Christ.

By God’s grace, when someone is involved in a Sunday School Life Group, it is our goal that there would be no missing prayer or care needs. Through School school, we are aware of and attending to the life needs of each other.

We Care for One Another Through Sunday School by Advancing in the Christian Life

Every Christian needs to be growing in Christlikeness. We want to care for one another through Sunday school by spurring us on to be further conformed to the image of Christ. We don’t want to merely be hearers of the word, but also doers (James 1:22). One of the best ways to advance in the Christian life at First Baptist is to be involved in Sunday school.

We do that by hearing the Word of God taught and then talking about it with other believers around Table Groups. The point of the Table Groups is not to debate the interpretation of the Bible or to give an evaluation of the teacher’s lesson. The purpose is to make sure you understand the Word of God and then share how you will apply it. The focus is on applying the Bible because we want to help each other be a doer and not merely a hearer of God’s Word.

Through Sunday school, we have workbooks to help us dig deeper into the Bible lesson we are studying. In fact, just this year, in 2023, we started a 12-year plan to study the whole Bible. If you stay in Sunday school in our church, then you will not only read through but actually study through the whole Bible over the next 12 years.

We provide some accountability to encourage you to keep learning and applying God’s word. I know of groups of men in our church who get together on Monday nights and do the Sunday school workbook together as a bible study to prepare to hear the teacher’s lesson the upcoming Sunday morning. I know of teachers who do the workbook with ladies in their church over the phone during the week. I know of couples who, every Saturday night, do the workbook together to get ready for Sunday school the next morning.

In all of these ways, we are caring for one another by helping one another advance in the Christian life through being involved in Sunday school. We don’t want to be static in the Christian life; we want to grow. And we must keep growing until Jesus returns or calls us home.

If you are not connected to a Sunday School Life Group, please let us help you do that this week so that you can experience the genuine care for people that First Baptist Church demonstrates every week through Sunday school.

Listen to Pastor Richard’s sermon from the Sunday night series entitled Reclaiming Love: People of Compassion in a World Full of Hate.

Richard Lucas (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the Pastor of Teaching and He is the co-editor of Covenantal and Dispensational Theologies: Four Views on the Continuity of Scripture.

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