Beware; this is a long post, written in anticipation for the King’s Grant Strategy Rally, February 8 at 4:00.
I am a fan of small group Bible study and fellowship groups! Well, that’s probably not a real secret, but when I challenge classes toward growth and outreach, I hope that you are helping to move people toward higher levels of commitment to Christ and His church. If you have not heard by now, that last phrase is the vision statement for our discipleship ministry at King’s Grant. Where many may think I am just promoting a Sunday School program, what I am really doing is promoting proper Christian living.
Let me explain. When we are actively involved in our Christian lives, doing something with our faith and not merely believing the right stuff, Jesus is able to shine through. Our behavior, thoughts and attitudes reflect Christ. I hear you saying, “I know all this already. So, what does Sunday School have to do in all of this?” Sunday School is about community. The Christian life does not really exist outside of community. There are no Lone Ranger style Christians.
To truly become a Christian, it is much more than just believing the right information about Jesus (James 2:19), it’s about following Him (Matthew 4:19), being a disciple of Jesus (Luke 9:23), and allowing Him to live through us (Galatians 2:20). Christians are a part of the body of Christ (Romans 12:4-5) and have become the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). So, since we are to live out our Christian lives in community, what better community does the church have than the Sunday School?
There are small groups for every age group.
- Childcare is not a problem so adults can get together with people similar in age or life stage.
- There is Bible study and discussion on life issues to help each person move toward deeper levels of commitment to Christ and His church (there’s that vision statement again).
- There is life connection, through shared hopes, dreams, struggles and successes.
- Oh, one more thing, there should be hospitality!
I’m going to share a few Bible verses that ought to be lived out through the Sunday School. Out of that premise, I want to discuss two ideas that will foster community in your small group.
A Key Principle: Practicing Hospitality
Take a look at Romans 12:13.
The Living Bible paraphrases it this way: “Get into the habit of inviting guests home for dinner.” I like that. Your small group needs to make eating together a habit! When we talk about hospitality, it is not the same as social entertaining. Entertaining focuses on the host (a spotless home with just the right food) while hospitality focuses on the guest and their needs (their nourishment or even a place to stay).
So, what is the nature of the language of this verse? Is this a proverb, prophecy, parable or command? It is a command, right? As surely as God has commanded us to pray or give, or serve, or do anything else in the Christian life, God has commanded us to get into the habit of inviting guests home for dinner (showing hospitality).
Notice it is a habit. The word habit is actually not in the Greek. Kenneth Taylor (the author of the Living Bible) put it in there to emphasize that this is a present tense verb, which, in the original Greek, emphasized a linear action. It is not something we do one time and we are done. We do it over and again. It is a lifestyle. It is a habit. It is the way the Christian life is lived.
Christian living is not done all alone. It is not done sitting on benches watching the same events happen on the same stage, and looking at the back of someone’s head. We grow as we are joined together (Ephesians 2.21, 4.16). Remember that the church is the people rather than the building. The Christian life is a very connected life. Remember that the world is watching to see if we are living out what we say we believe.
Now notice the word invite. What can you expect to happen when you invite guests home for dinner? Not every person that is invited shows up, but you can’t do anything about whether they come. All you are responsible for is inviting. So, think about your small group. Are you inviting people to social gatherings and bringing them into the community of faith? How often can you reasonably have a social event in order to make practicing hospitality a habit?
Now let’s look at 1 Peter 4:9.
Again, what is the nature of the language of this verse? It is also a command to show hospitality. We are commanded to show, offer and welcome others. You can’t control whether or not people come, but you are to offer.
How are we to offer hospitality? This verse adds “without grumbling, murmuring, grudging or complaining.” I wonder why Peter had to add this phrase. Perhaps there are two reasons:
First, all good ideas can be reduced to work. When we have people over, we like to have the house clean. Somebody has to make the dessert, vacuum the floor, clean the bathroom and so forth.
Secondly, some people are kind of hard to love. Some times we will invite them and they will come and it will be fun and all is well. But, sometimes we will invite them and they will be boring, or obnoxious, or irritating, or late, or even ungrateful. So, offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.
Our next verse is 3 John 1:8.
We ought to show hospitality. It is not exactly an imperative, but it is something we ought to do; not just mentioned once, but this seems to be a theme in the New Testament.
Look at the word partners or fellow helpers; this means working together. Many times we as teachers are not too good at this part. We are into teaching. Our students are into discussing, reading and studying. Teachers generally are not the most fun people in the room; perhaps they are a bit bookish and cerebral. The good teacher knows that s/he needs partners in the ministry, and must let others know how much they are valued.
To me, work together implies we want to get a whole team of people helping with this. We want our team to include:
- Inreach leaders to invite every member
- Outreach leaders to invite every prospective member and guest
- Fellowship leaders to plan the social activities
- A class leader who will serve as an overall organizer and see that everything happens as it should.
The goal is not for the teacher to do the work of ten people; it is to get ten people involved in the work.
My final verse is Luke 14:12.
Have you ever had a lunch or dinner and invited only your friends? I believe all of us generally do it this way, but Jesus told us to live differently; to live open and inviting lives. He wants us to form a habit that each time we have a lunch or dinner we think about inviting and including someone who is not a part of the group. How can you organize your class to live out this Christian life principle? Josh Hunt, the “double-your-Sunday-School-in-two-years guy puts it into a formula: “invite every member and every prospect to every fellowship every month.”
Don’t just invite your friends. Invite people who are far from God, in need of a church, who would benefit from being a part of your community. Remember that we can’t just wait for them to join us, they need an invitation. Invite guests. Invite absentees from your class. Keeping inviting them to the party, or to your dinner!