Be a Training Center
What is a church? Some say that a church is the place where we worship God on the Lord's day; or where we listen to a pastor preach for the perfection of our spirituality; or where Christians fellowship with one another and serve God together. These, however, are merely the functions of a church. As for the essence of a church, we have yet to define it! Based on the meaning of the Greek word for "church," some say that a church is a group of people who "have been called out" from the world by God. And some even quote from the epistles and say that a church is "the household of God," and "the pillar and support of the truth" (1Tim. 3:15). These statements only further explain the origin, the fellowship and the principle of a church; but as for her commission and ministries, elucidation is still lacking! In other words, the true meaning of "a church" remains an intricate puzzle to many Christians today.
In our Lord's references to the Church in Matthew Chapters 16 and 18, He only talked about her name, her foundation, her authority, and her victory in Him, but did not reveal in detail her commission or her ministries. This was always a big mystery to me in the past. For a truth as important as the doctrine of the Church, the Head of the Church, our Lord Jesus Christ, has surprisingly left. us with no revelation regarding her commission and her ministries! It was not until one day when I studied the Lord's Great Commission in Matthew Chapter 28, that I suddenly came to the realization that-the great revelation of the Church is in our Lord's Great Commission!
This Great Commission is also the most important condition required for God's presence. May our gracious Father open our eyes to fully comprehend its meaning.
Most Christians think that the verb "Go" is the word of paramount importance in the Great Commission. Since the verb "Go" is translated as the imperative mood in the English Bible, we naturally assume that "to evangelize the world" is the theme of the Great Commission. Such an interpretation has put the shoe on the wrong foot. No Christian can dispute the fact that "to evangelize the world" is one of the main tasks delegated to the Church by our Lord Jesus Christ. The sole importance of this task, however, is not the theme of the Great Commission!
There are four verbs in the Great Commission: "go," "make disciples," "baptize" and "teach." Only the verb "make disciples" is in the imperative mood; all the other three are participles or verbal adjectives. Therefore, the precise translation should be:
Going therefore, you must make disciples of all the nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and
the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you;
and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
In other words, "go" is not a command, but "make disciples" is, and it is also the main theme of the Great Commission.
In light of this, a church is none other than a school that enrolls students of Christ from all the nations, a training center for the personnel of God's kingdom, and a seminary of divine doctrines. Since a church is a school, it needs good students; in order to have good students the following steps are essential:
Recruiting: "Go Therefore...." (Matt. 28:19)
We often hear pastors making intense appeals from the pulpit to brothers and sisters sitting comfortably in the pews to . go and share the gospel. The usual response from the congregation is: "You go and spread the gospel! Since you're a seminary graduate, you should know the Bible very well. As for us, we don't even understand the Bible, let alone know how to share it!" This is a sad reality. No matter how exhausted these anxious pastors are, nor how hoarse their voices may become, those brothers and sisters sitting in the pews are not only indifferent, but they have also hardened their hearts.
Our Lord Jesus never asked us to preach theology to the unbelievers, nor to teach them the Bible. On the other hand, He did tell us to witness to them, as He once said, "You are witnesses of these things" (Luke 24:48). You may wonder what witnessing is. To witness is to simply tell what you have experienced. What do we give witness to, then? We give witness to the "repentance for forgiveness of sins" (Luke 24:47-48).
If you have truly received Jesus as your personal Savior, you should have a born-again experience. Your order of priorities, pattern of thinking and value system should be different after becoming a Christian. Grab hold of every opportunity to share with others these three aspects of your personal experience: your situation before salvation; your experience in receiving Jesus as your personal Savior; and the blessings you received after salvation. The Holy Spirit can work in the listeners' hearts and help them realize that God will save them, just as He has saved you!
There is one important aspect you have to remember though, otherwise all your efforts may be in vain. After your testimony, remember to ask him, "Sir, are you willing to receive Jesus as your personal Savior just as I did?" The response may surprise you, "I am willing!" Then, you should lead him before our Lord Jesus by praying together with him-pray one sentence and ask him to repeat it after you; help him to confess his sins and invite Jesus into his heart. After the prayer, ask him, "Can you tell me where Jesus is now?" Amazingly, eight or nine out of ten people will point to their heart and say, "Jesus is here!" Blessed brothers and sisters, we should take advantage of the opportunity we still have to witness for our Lord, lest we meet our gracious Lord empty-handed.
What should we do, if someone is unwilling to receive the Lord right away? We should never force anyone to receive the Lord, but provide him with a remedy for future use. Ask him if he can do you a favor. Most likely he will say, "Okay, if I can. What's that?" Your answer should be, "Of course you can! Please pray this prayer for yourself everyday: 'God, I am willing to believe in you, but I don't know how. Please show me!"' If he is willing to make this promise and fervently prays that prayer, sooner or later he will meet God and become a Christian. Some need to pray for three or four days; some, ten or more. Some may even meet God on that same day! When a person opens his heart to God, our God who is faithful will certainly enter in. He will never be late. Hallelujah! Even if that person does not keep his promise to pray for himself daily, there is no need for disappointment. How do you know he will not recall your testimony some time in the future and receive the Lord then?
Registering: "...baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit...." (Matt. 28:19)
Following a successful campaign of recruitment, many students will apply for admission. At that time, the Admissions Office of the school will carefully examine each application, transcripts, recommendation letters, and so on, to determine whether admission should be granted. Only those who are qualified will be allowed to register. Suppose there is a certain school that admits students based on their ability to pay tuition rather than their academic achievements, and after admission, gives students no guidance to their academic studies or their preparation for a future career. Society does have a name for such a school: "phony"! It is embarrassing to say that quite a few churches today are phony. How can these churches have a future?
If a church wants to have a bright and successful future, her standards for the acceptance of new members ought to be very strict. Before baptizing or accepting a person as part of the Body of Christ, the church should first investigate thoroughly the following. Has he been truly born again? Have his priorities, thoughts and values been changed? Does he rely on God through prayer in his daily life? Does he trust in God's Word in his Christian walk? Negligence of a thorough investigation will put us in the same category as the Scribes and the Pharisees of Jesus' time, who traveled about on sea and land to make one proselyte. When a proselyte was made, they made him a "son of hell" (Ref. Matt. 23:15).
Perhaps some may argue, "Didn't our Lord Jesus tell us, 'Allow the tares to grow together with the wheat until harvest'?" Such an interpretation is a result of inaccurate study of the Bible. Thanks be to our Lord who has explained this parable to us in detail. "The field" is "the world," not "the Church" (Matt. 13:38). The world may have a mixture of good and bad, but the Church should only be an organization of the citizens of heaven. If any brother in the Church leads an unruly life, not according to the Bible, we should keep aloof from him (2 Thess. 3:6); or not associate with him; or even as the Bible says, remove him from among ourselves (1 Cor. 5:11-13). It is a lie to claim that you desire good health, prosperity and a bright future for your flock while you allow foxes and wolves to run around freely in the fold!
Teaching: "teaching them to observe all that I commanded you...." (Matt. 28:20)
After registration, classes begin. Teaching is not only a moral obligation of the school, but also a matter of course. Unfortunately, many churches pay little attention to the importance of teaching. Some have newcomer classes or Bible study groups for new Christians, so as to help them establish a solid foundation for the understanding of the Bible, as well as the development of spiritual life. This great task of training is considered to have been completed once these new Christians are baptized. After baptism, they are left on their own without further discipleship or guidance towards spiritual growth. Some churches even hold the unhealthy concept that further training of Christians is basically insignificant as long as they are saved. As a result, the shortage of personnel has become the mortal wound of many churches for generations!
A careful study of the Bible will reveal how God considers the teaching ministry of paramount importance. In the Old Testament, God not only repeatedly commanded the Levites to teach the Israelites (Deut. 11:19; 33:10), but also chose
Abraham to be the Father of His holy nation, that Abraham might command his children and his household after him, to keep the way of God (Gen. 18:19). King David asked God to forgive his sins so that he could "teach transgressors Thy [His] ways, and sinners will be converted to Thee [God]" (Ps. 51:13). The revival in the middle of King Jehoshaphat's reign took shape because of the teaching by the Levites (2 Chr. 17:9).
It is the same in the New Testament. The church in Jerusalem was blessed because they "were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching" (Acts 2:42). Not only was Paul a teacher of the Gentiles himself (1 Tim. 2:7), but he also charged Timothy to teach "faithful men, who will be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:2). Our Lord Jesus, the one who had "come from God as a teacher" (John 3:2), repeatedly emphasized the importance of teaching in His ministry. His method of evangelism was first to enlighten the audience through His teaching, and then to draw them towards God through His preaching (Matt. 9:35; 11:1). He applied this method to both the Samaritan woman (John 4) and the man blind from birth (John 9). His promise to us is this: Whoever keeps the commandments of God and teaches them to others, will not only have a part in "the kingdom of heaven" but also "shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven"(Matt. 5:19). No wonder one of the qualifications the Bible requires of God's servants is to be "able to teach others" (2 Tim. 2:2, 24). Thus, great is the office and responsibility of a Sunday school teacher!
Many churches cannot grow because they do not realize the importance of Sunday school. Their indifference to this aspect of church growth is rooted in their ignorance of the true essence of a church. If they knew that a church is a school of God, then they would immediately realize that among all activities in a church, besides Sunday worship, none can be more important and more appropriate than Sunday school. Experience tells us that what the congregation can remember from a Sunday sermon is just a sketchy outline. To really taste God's Word in depth, the congregation has to depend on Sunday school.
In 1976, I spoke at a conference sponsored by the Chinese Coordination Center of World Evangelism in Hong Kong. Some conferees shared with me that their pastor not only neglected their Sunday school, but also arrogantly made numerous excuses, preventing those who had a burden for this minis try from seeking his guidance. In this case, the congregation wanted to grow, but the pastor deterred it. This is truly incomprehensible!
The Church of the last days has gravely underestimated the importance of this ministry, while other world religions, such as Buddhism, have unexpectedly placed teaching as their very first priority. They have made determined efforts, disregarding failures and obstructions, to imitate Christian churches and their imitations are comparable. They have Sunday school similar to ours every Sunday, and Vacation Bible School similar to ours every summer. No wonder Buddhist churches are prosperous and are continuously multiplying. Upon reading such reports, the pitiful picture of many Christian churches comes to my mind, and their wickedness and laziness saddens my heart.
In recent years, when preaching at different churches, the writer has frequently been asked the secret of managing a good Sunday school. His answer has always been the same-"In order to have a good Sunday school, we must have good Sunday school teachers!" The expression, "Having the right man can accomplish many things," is an ancient teaching of the Chinese, and the principle by which God works. When God had Noah, then the ark was made; when there was Moses, then the exodus came; when Paul appeared, then the Gentile Church was established. In the same manner, when the church has good Sunday school teachers, then there will be a good Sunday school; and when there is a good Sunday school, there will be church growth. Many churches consider Sunday school a nursery in disguise or a dispensable decoration. No wonder little attention is directed to the quality of Sunday school teachers. As a result, most Sunday school ministries harbor no ambition for achievement and are merely struggling for existence.
The fact that good Sunday school teachers are a must for a good Sunday school needs no further deliberation. But how can we have good Sunday school teachers? Below are some suggestions from personal experience.
a. Be a "little" pastor - your class is a "little" church
The position of a Sunday school teacher in a church is exalted and glorious-a "little" pastor of the class. Every teacher should therefore exert himself always to be a good shepherd, that he may be counted as worthy of God's calling. As a good shepherd, he should at least do the following:
(1) Try his very best to bring his unsaved students around to the acceptance of Jesus Christ as their personal Savior;
(2) Edify and equip his students in every aspect that they may enjoy an abundant life in Christ;
(3) Visit or telephone the ones who are absent to express sincere concern;
(4) Pray for his students regularly;
(5) Comfort those who are in sorrow;
(6) Encourage those students who are disheartened.
In short, a Sunday school teacher is the pastor of his class of ten or fifteen students (like a small church). All these years, Chinese churches have been like scattered sand, without much sound organization. If Sunday school teachers consider their pastor to be the president of a country and themselves to be governors under the president, and if they respect one another through their show of cooperation, then their church will have not only an organizational system, but will also possess a very good cell structure. The potential for church growth will then become very promising.
b. Be a creative artist-the lesson is a personification of the Sunday school teacher
The difference between general education and Sunday school is comparable to that between Western cookery and the Chinese culinary art. The former is scientific: How much each ingredient should be, how long the whole mixture should be baked or cooked, and how hot the oven or the stove should be. The latter is artistic. A Chinese cook never follows any recipe. Through experience and occasional tasting while cooking, a cook can freely alter the ingredients and their quantities, the length of cooking, as well as the temperature required. The end result-the four dishes and one soup-is always complete with color, aroma and flavor. That sweet aroma remains for a long, long time!
A Sunday school teacher should consider himself an artist if he desires an effective ministry. A work of art is the personification of the artist; and, the presentation of a lesson is also the personification of the Sunday school teacher-the whole lesson is an effusion of the teacher's life. Only in this way, then, can the students enjoy the lesson and be blessed. They will surely attend the class every Lord's day, and they may bring their friends and relatives as well. Church growth will eventually come about. Therefore, Sunday school teachers should first pay close attention to themselves and then to their own teaching (ref. 1 Tim. 4:16). Our Lord Jesus has said, "A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit" (Matt. 7:18).
c. Be a faithful and sensible stelVard - teach according to the needs of your students
A grocery store is complete with various kinds of baby food, but no wise mother will purchase a large quantity just because of the bountiful stock, good quality or good bargains, without first finding out her baby's needs. Nor will she force feed her baby, causing him/her indigestion or other harm, without paying attention to the feeding schedule and the quantity her baby can consume. A wise mother will only purchase what is rich in nutrition and appropriate for her baby, and then feed that baby according to its schedule and capacity.
Sunday school teachers should also feed their students in the same manner, according to their pace and capacity. Never try to "force the whole Bible down their throats," solely because it is God's Word. All Scripture is good, but teaching according to each student's need is also an obvious principle in the Bible. In short, as long as the students are well fed and have healthy digestion, church growth will not be far away.
d. Be a painstaking laborer nothing is ever worthwhile without hard work
Stemming from insufficient spiritual experience and the absence of formal training, many Sunday school teachers often just ramble on and on unintelligibly in class. Their spiritual life and their basic teaching techniques reveal their misconception about the value of Sunday school. They do not even know the following basics concerning the preparation for a lesson:
• How to create a vivid introduction with a good introduction, the lesson is already half there; • How to systematically present the lesson-incongruous explanations and explications will only arouse apathy; • How to help students appropriate or apply the truth-that God's Word will not be in vain; • How to conclude the lesson-that it becomes a must for the students so that they will do according to God's Word.
Teachers often apply the method of teaching literature, or the techniques of teaching chemistry to the teaching of God's Word. As a result, God's living Word of the Truth is taught as the letter of the Law that kills (2 Cor. 3:6).
Students are very smart. When a teacher is impious in his prayer life, or unfaithful in his preparation for the lesson, or insincere in his teaching, students can sense it intuitively. Over a period of time, they distrust and lose respect for that teacher. The lurking dangers can be anticipated. In short, the outward appearance is a reflection of the inner self. If a Sunday school teacher does not enrich himself through painstaking preparation, but continues to teach despite the absence of spiritual nourishment for his students, the disastrous effects will certainly be grave. The following suggestions will be helpful to the preparation for lessons:
(1) Have your students in mind:
(a) Understand their background, spirituality, characteristics, peculiarities, and so on, that you may
teach according to their ability and need.
(b) Pray for each student by name, and pray for their families.
(c) Recall their reactions to your last lesson.
(2) Have the lesson in mind:
(a) Study the passage thoroughly until its main theme is clear to you.
(b) Based on the main theme from your study, construct a complete outline (The material in the teacher's
quarterly often cannot meet the needs of a local church. For effectiveness, Sunday school teachers
should develop their own curriculum).
(c) Examine the content of the outline carefully: Is the explanation of the passage clear? Is the application
of truth practical? Has the motivation for application been suggested?
e. Be a wise teacher - ask God for wisdom
Spiritual knowledge and wisdom have their respective domains. The former is the knowledge of God's truth. The latter is the skillful application and administration of the revealed knowledge, that a particular truth may be clearly demonstrated, and its purpose (God's desire) may be achieved. For instance, in the parable of the ten virgins, they all had the knowledge of how the oil should be used, but only five of them had the wisdom to administer and apply the oil to achieve its purpose. Sunday school teachers should have both the knowledge and the wisdom in teaching and in winning souls, as the Bible says, "he who is wise wins souls" (Prov. 11:30).
A Sunday school is not only the education department of a church, but also a fishing boat that draws up souls; otherwise, it contributes nothing to the growth of a church. The wisdom that wins souls is certainly not "the wisdom of this world" but "all that God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Cor. 2:9). All that God has prepared for us (or God's grace), is objective. In order for the objective promise to become our subjective reality or experience, we have to appropriate that promise. This is an important spiritual principle! James has rightly said, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God...and it will be given to him" (Jas. 1:5).
Sunday school teachers should therefore appropriate this wisdom God has promised them, through supplications day and night. The Holy Spirit will certainly bestow upon them this utterance of wisdom as it is promised. Their teaching may then be clear and dynamic with rich insights from every verse of the Bible, just as the "head of a household, who brings forth out of his treasure things new and old" (Matt. 13:52). With such splendid and rich teachings, unsaved students may receive the Lord Jesus as their personal Savior, and thus become children of God. Those who have already believed may march forward in God's truth to maturity in Christ.
f. Be a worker of faith - not by might nor by power, but by the Spirit of God
Both the initiation and the termination of a spiritual ministry are in God's command. Sunday school teachers should assure themselves that they are working together with God (not that God works for them, but they work for God). God, who is the head of the Sunday school, will never forsake us, but guide and help us in every way. Without His presence, all efforts spent in the preparation of Sunday school lessons, no matter how thorough and how painstaking, are nothing but striving after the wind. Therefore, Sunday school teachers should have this faith: We are teaching in the name of the Lord and He is in our midst (Matt. 18:20). For the sake of His kingdom, our Lord who is faithful, will certainly be working with us.
According to statistics, the percentage of people over 40 years old who receive Christ is extremely small, especially among the Chinese. The reasons for such a low percentage among this generation of Chinese are two-fold: their extreme
superstition towards idols (money, in particular) and the bad impressions from past experiences with the Church. Without a complete removal of their prejudice, and a correction of their misconceptions, it is almost impossible for this group to receive Christ. The removal of prejudice should start with their children who have never harbored such ill feelings towards God's Church, and ther.efore are more apt to receive the Lord. When they realize that all the wonderful changes in the lives of their children are due to the acceptance of Christ, they will definitely have deep appreciation and desire for that grace which their children enjoy (and which they lack). There was a devout youth who loved the Lord deeply. One day, both of his parents suddenly asked him, "Can we go to Sunday service with you?" As soon as they came, they received Christ and joined the church soon afterwards.
g. Be an expert in outline construction-speak with logic and truth
A shortage of Sunday school teachers in a newly established church is a normal phenomenon. The only alternative is the recruitment and training of those available in that church. In fact, if a pastor has the gift and wisdom of training teachers, even a grade school graduate can become an excellent teacher. However, most churches today are in such an urgent need for Sunday scho.ol teachers, that basically it is impossible to wait for the candidates' completion of regular formal training. Therefore, I cautiously propose a fast-track method as the solution training teachers with the method of outline construction for Sunday school lessons. If a teacher comprehends the theme and content of the lesson, he will be very confident of what he should teach and emphasize. Such teaching will never be in a total disarray or without substance! With caution, I propose the "Ten MUSTS" for the construction of a lesson outline.
"Ten 'MUSTS' For The Construction Of A Lesson Outline":
(1) First examine yourself carefully. See if there is anything that may impede the illumination and guidance
of the Holy Spirit.
(2) Have a deep conviction that the Spirit of Truth will lead you into Truth.
(3) Pray earnestly, study the Bible carefully-examine the text to define the main theme of the passage.
(4) Based on the background, the age and the spiritual needs of your students, select an appropriate topic
for the lesson.
(5) Use the "who, what, where, when, why, and how" to reflect on the passage and construct the outline.
(6) Outline the passage according to the order of the verses as closely as possible.
(7) The main theme must be consistent throughout the outline, but do not distort the passage.
(8) Understand the characteristics of the outline: didactic, exhortative, corrective or consolatory, so as to avoid
any inconsistency in the tone of voice and attitude when you teach.
(9) Use parallel words or syntactical forms in the outline if possible, that your students may better recall the lesson.
(10) Examine carefully to see if the explanation, application and motivation are sufficient in the outline.
The first nine MUSTS are self-explanatory. The "explanation, application, and motivation" in the tenth MUST needs further elaboration.