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Pastor’s sermon parallels Sunday School lesson

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (BP) — When Montia Setzler comes to the pulpit to preach during a “Lecture Lab” series, many worshippers already know where to open their Bibles.

It’s not about being too predictable as a preacher — far from it; it’s that virtually every adult Sunday School class at the church is spending time in the Scripture text from which Setzler is preaching.

Welcome to Lecture Lab at Magnolia Avenue Baptist Church in Riverside, Calif., where Setzler’s sermon series follows the Bible passages that Sunday School classes are studying in the Explore the Bible curriculum from LifeWay Christian Resources.

“We’ve done the Lecture Lab approach on several occasions,” said Setzler, who has served nearly 14 years as senior pastor of the congregation across from California Baptist University. “Based from the Explore the Bible curriculum, we’ve gone through 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon.”

Setzler, who also serves as chairman of LifeWay’s board of trustees, said he doesn’t follow the style year-round because he doesn’t always preach exegetically and likes to find places for topical series such as stewardship or evangelism.

“Our plan is to do a Lecture Lab sermon series for a quarter at least once a year as adult classes study through Explore the Bible,” he said. “It’s challenging to do it in 13 weeks, but we give it our best.”

Ron Harvey, associate pastor at “Mag,” as members refer to the Southern Baptist church, said the Lecture Lab approach was started by Larry Osborne, pastor of North Coast Church in Vista, Calif.

“He started doing Lecture Lab — preaching from the passages that the small groups were studying — and it just blossomed,” Harvey said. “It serves as a great way to build community and a better understanding of the Scriptures.”

Sunday School teachers receive Setzler’s sermon notes on Thursday of each week. Intent on allowing the teachers to flesh out the scope of the text during their class discussions, Setzler said he tends to hone in on a particular passage or principle in his sermon.

On a Sunday in October, Setzler preached from Romans 12 in support of the Sunday School classes’ study of Romans using the Explore the Bible curriculum. Outlines were provided in every bulletin along with the entire chapter printed from the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Setzler, in an engaging and often humorous style, taught about how followers of Christ please God with their worship, service and their treatment of others.

“It’s not about knowledge of the Bible — that perhaps if we know enough we’ll get closer to God,” Setzler told the congregation. “God is much more interested in how we apply Scripture than how much we know.”

Setzler said the response to Lecture Lab has been positive. “The church gets an overview of the book through preaching and then the class teaching and discussion. I can give them a good intro — why Paul was writing to the churches in Rome, for example. It’s not in-depth, but it allows me to talk to the whole church and promote getting into a small group.”

One of Setzler’s oft-quoted expressions which he worked into his sermon on Romans 12 is, “If you aren’t enrolled in a Sunday School class you have no class.” He said it is typical for about 90 percent of the approximately 1,100 worship service attendees to be in a Sunday School class.

“We utilize Sunday School classes as our frontline for pastoral care,” Setzler said. “They are our small group system for member care, service and facilitating social relationships.”

Harvey said the church provides teachers with resources and tools such as LifeWay’s “Extra” to help facilitate learning.

“We are very intentional about doing Bible study in our groups, not Bible listening,” Harvey said. “We want to groups to engage, not just be talked to.”

Sharon Gray, whose husband Darrell is a Sunday School teacher at Magnolia Avenue, said the Lecture Lab approach brings depth to the church.

“It is wonderful how Pastor Montia takes the Scriptures and lets the Holy Spirit flow through this teaching,” she said. “We always get the Word, but this really gives even more richness to the Word and the lesson when we continue to study in our class.”

David Francis, LifeWay’s director of Sunday School, discipleship and network partnerships, said Setzler’s Lecture Lab “aligns small group Bible study with the pastor’s message without sacrificing the need for dedicated teachers who must do the hard work of preparation and application themselves.”

“The strength of a great Sunday School is its Bible teachers,” Francis said. “For the pastor to supplement their curriculum teaching plan — without ‘scooping’ them — must make them feel incredibly valued and empowered. Sounds like it’s a blessing to the members too.”
Russ Rankin is manager of editorial services for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Information about the Explore the Bible curriculum or other ongoing Bible study options for all ages offered by LifeWay can be found at LifeWay.com/SundaySchool. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Russ Rankin