Monday, May 5, 2008

Has Sunday School Become Too Familiar?, Part 1

While making church visits in Louisiana just before Easter I had the pleasure of visiting First Baptist Church of Lafayette. I had made arrangements to meet their Minister of Education, Gary Ruffin, for their Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting and then afterwards we were to have dinner together.

I arrived a little early and enjoyed browsing their library and visiting with the people I encountered in the hallways. I had known the church’s reputation for having a strong Sunday School and preaching ministry and the people’s warm welcome added to my anticipation of the evening.

I was glad to see Gary again. My previous visits with him had been most stimulating due to his many excellent questions. He has been the Minister of Education there for a long time and continues to be eager to learn how to improve upon what they are already doing so well.

When we entered the room for Prayer Meeting I was delighted to meet Perry Sanders, former pastor there for forever. I think I have heard stories about Dr. Sanders all my life, so I was excited to finally get to personally meet him. He was extremely warm and engaging, eager to know about me and the churches where I have served. Oh, how I would have loved to spent a couple of hours talking with him further.

Prayer Meeting was fairly predicable, except maybe that they had to bring in some more chairs for the crowd. They weren’t meeting in their normal location that night, so maybe that’s what was going on. And since they weren’t in their normal location with their song books they only sang songs that everyone knew, which meant really old songs. But it was refreshing for me because I don’t get to sing those much at church anymore. And during the service their pastor, Steve Horn, was kind to introduce me and welcome me as a guest from LifeWay.

After the service, naturally people greeted me and wanted to know if I knew their distant cousin or lost uncle somewhere in the ministry. And I also got to visit with Steve who has been their pastor now for a couple of years or so. I had already observed his good communication skills but in our conversation I also discovered he is most personable and apparently a strategic thinker and leader.

When I had finished my visit with Steve, Gary wanted to give me a quick building tour to show me the progress made since my last visit. The church has been in a series of building projects replacing their burned Worship Center and updating and enlarging their education space. They are doing the best job I know of in connecting all their facilities together. It will have an amazing look and flow to it all. Much could be learned from them. Check out their story in Developing Churches, Vol. 5, Issue 1, pp 12-13 @

Well, Gary and I finally got to the restaurant to have dinner. We had a delicious meal and as I expected, our conversation was long and stimulating as we talked about many challenging facets of ministry.

One of the challenges we discussed toward the end of our conversation was how to keep Sunday School ministry fresh; how to keep people excited, committed, and working hard toward doing effective ministry together. My thoughts on this for a long time have been: (1) stay focused on the purpose, (2) work hard on the basic foundational principles and practices while using some creativity, and (3) have some fun. And I shared all that with Gary before saying something like, “Gary, I think one of the reasons perhaps that it’s so hard to keep Sunday School fresh is because I think it has become so familiar to us.” Gary responded that he thought that what I had just said was a great statement, and a light bulb went off in my head that maybe there’s something more here to really explore. So, stay tuned for Part 2.

Until next time…share the journey and enjoy the ride!