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Sunday School in black culture examined

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Sunday School is about Bible study. But cultural differences need to be considered for class members to get the most out of the experience.

At a National Black Sunday School Conference in Nashville, Tenn., more than 250 Christian educators from black churches across the country focused on building strong Sunday Schools and on issues within the context of traditions and culture of predominantly black congregations.

Participants chose from more than 40 breakout sessions relating to education by age groups, learning styles, fellowship ideas and leadership development.

The conference, geared toward pastors, ministers of education, Sunday School directors and age-group Sunday School leaders, was sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

A theme throughout the conference was helping Sunday School leaders and teachers become more effective.

Chandra Bennett, editor of LifeWay’s “YOU” curriculum, a quarterly Bible study resource for urban/multicultural believers, said enthusiasm for teaching is crucial to success.

“If you aren’t having fun teaching, see if you really have the joy of the Lord,” Bennett said. “Don’t be boring.”

Bennett proposed three questions for teachers to determine whether their teaching is effective: Are believers changing into the likeness of Jesus? Are believers growing in their love and trust of God? Are believers becoming more obedient to God?

Art Groomes, LifeWay’s discipleship and evangelism specialist, said a passion for one’s church is one of the first things people notice when invited to worship or Bible study.

“If you don’t exhibit an excitement when you talk about your church, no one will want to come,” Groomes said. “Nobody wants to go to a dull church.”

Gizelle Kirkwood from New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in East St. Louis, Ill., agreed. “Our church is a place of community,” she said. “We love our church and are excited about it. We want to share it with others. Enthusiasm shows and is contagious.”

Developing and motivating leaders has to be an ongoing process for successful Sunday Schools, said Charles Grant, a LifeWay church consultant.

“It’s difficult to develop leaders,” Grant said. “The people you want as leaders are often overcommitted in other areas. They are typically strong-willed and have personal agendas. Sometimes they are drawn away by opportunities that look more exciting or meaningful.”

Grant acknowledged that keeping Sunday School leaders motivated takes work. He said it is important to encourage leaders, letting them know they are appreciated and respected. He added that even seasoned leaders benefit from a mentor who will provide one-on-one motivation and encouragement.

Communication is crucial. “People like to have information,” Grant said. “Build a system that allows everyone to know what others are doing. This helps them learn from each other and develop the team mentality.”

Wayne Poling, LifeWay’s senior lead Sunday School specialist, said he hoped participants at the Oct. 2-3 conference gained a strong, ministry-changing understanding of the work of Sunday School. He summed up this understanding with the acronym GOSS, or Growth Oriented Sunday School.

“A Growth Oriented Sunday School is committed to teaching those who show up on Sunday, but it is also a Sunday School in which the leadership and class members are committed to reaching people and seeing lives transformed,” Poling said, noting that participants at the conference “examined the purpose, ministry and growth of their Sunday Schools; the teaching for life-change; and the developing of plans for their Sunday Schools in the context of the history of traditions within the black church.”

Participants learned ways to implement three primary principles involved in building their Sunday Schools: invite, discover and connect:

— Invite. GOSS groups invite people to be a part of their group because the class is compassionately committed to tending to the lives of people.

— Discover. GOSS classes are focused on seeing people’s lives transformed through discovering the truths of God’s Word and hearing the faith stories of others in their group.

— Connect. GOSS group members work together to provide people the opportunity to connect through fellowship and ministry.
Polly House is a corporate communications specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources. The next NBSSC will be in Nashville Oct. 22-23, 2010. LifeWay also is joining with the Georgia Baptist Convention to offer the Southeast Black Sunday School Conference April 30-May 1, 2010, in Decatur, Ga. More information will be available soon at LifeWay.com/blackchurchlife.

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  • Polly House