Sunday School Matters! (#START)

Yesterday, I attended Sunday School at Second Baptist Church in Union City. There were three things that happened in each class in this church and in classes all across Tennessee and the World.   The Bible was taught.  People were prayed for and with.  Members had fellowship with one another. SS

Wow, each week all across the world, people are being taught the word of God, prayed for, and having fellowship in Sunday School classes and small groups.  Groups Matters.  Sunday School matters. 

I am thankful for every teacher that has agreed to serve in Sunday School this year.  You matter!  Your faithfulness each Sunday will make a difference in the lives of the students that you teach. 

A few weeks ago, I was in Charlotte, NC and visited the Billy Graham Library.  [What a treat and an inspiration.  Thank you Billy Graham for allowing God to use you in a mighty way.] But you know that there might not have been a Billy Graham Evangelistic Organization without a Sunday School teacher.  In one of the exhibits, they list the following:

  • Sunday School teacher Edward Kimball helped lead Dwight L. Moody to Christ;
  • J. Wilbur Chapman was  influenced by Dwight L. Moody evangelistic meeting;
  • Billy Sunday worked  at a Chapman meeting;
  • Mordecai Ham was converted at Billy Sunday meeting;
  • and Billy Graham was converted at a Ham meeting.

The powerful influence of a Sunday School teacher.  You matter and Sunday School matters.

And when Sunday School classes choose to engage in actions outside of class for the sake of the Gospel.  It will matter even more. 

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Get OUTSIDE the walls of Your Classroom! (#START)

Jesus ministered to the outcasts and the unclean. Matthew states, “A leper came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed” Matthew 8:2-3.

Where did this account take place?

People need the LordJesus called to those who were vilified and rejected by society. In Matthew, “He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” So Matthew got up and followed Him. While Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came as guests to eat with Him and His disciples.”

Where did this encounter take place?

Luke 7:36-39 tells how Jesus responded to an immoral woman who was condemned and criticized. “This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching Him—she’s a sinner!” Jesus looked at the woman who had anointed his feet with oil and said “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

Did this saving experience occur at the church?

Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus so he climbed a tree. When Jesus got to the tree, he looked up and as the song says, “Zacchaeus, you come down for I am going to your house today.” Zacchaeus was a tax collector.

Where did this take place?

Who can forget the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman from John 4:5-10. Jesus, a Jew, witnessed to a woman. Jesus, a Jew, sharing a cup of water with a despised Samaritan. And where did it all take place? At a well.

None of these life changing encounters took place at the church. Jesus ministered to the outcasts, unclean, vilified, rejected, condemned, criticized, ostracized, and despised. And where did he meet them? In a house, on a road, at a well, in a tree. The harvest is not at the church. It is in the fields.

One song writer said it like this, “My house is full, but my field is empty. Who will come and work for me today? It seems my children all want to play around the table but no one wants to work in my field. No one wants to work in my field.”

It is time to start 1-5-1 Harvest Branch plants in the community. It is time for Sunday School Classes to move outside the walls of their classrooms.

Nothing happens unless and until we START! START is START_Logo_FINAL_BUTTONdesigned to help you move your classes to get outside the walls and into the harvest field. Contact me…I would love to dialogue with you about how START can re-energize your Sunday School.

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Encourage Evangelistic Relationships (#START)

One way jesusJesus built relationships with lost people. The religious leaders of Jesus day constantly complained about Jesus’ willingness to eat with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus explained that, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

We must follow Jesus’ example and build relationships with lost people. The other day I got lost. I knew that I was lost and kept turning on streets that I thought would get me where I needed to go. For a time, I was too prideful to call and admit that I was lost. But, I finally reached out to someone who gave me directions. In no time, I had arrived at my destination.

While I knew that I was lost, many lost people have no clue that they are lost. They don’t know that they need to reach out and call for directions. Increasingly, Americans are becoming ignorant of Christianity. They might feel empty and realize that something is missing but they don’t know Jesus is the answer that they are looking for.

These lost people are not coming to our churches. They are not in our Sunday School classes. But they will respond to a relationship. The Harvest is great but if believers don’t build a relationship with lost people, most will spend eternity in Hell.

Let’s START building relationships with lost people. Sunday School classes catch a vision that Sunday School is more than just a Bible study with friends and take actions to be engaged in a Harvest field for the sake of lost souls.  There truly is only ONE WAY to Heaven! Through a saving relationship with JESUS!

Nothing happens unless and until we START!

What is START? START is a practical and flexible approach to re-engerize your Sunday School.  Call me or email me. I would love to talk to you about START.



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My passion is Sunday School. Almost weekly, I will get a call from a pastor who says something like, my Sunday School is not growing…can you help?

eyeOver the years, I have responded to this question in many ways. Early on, it was to look at the numbers and challenge them to set goals for classes, enrollment, attendance, teachers, teacher being trained, and analyzing space. Lately, I have come to realize that nothing changes unless the pastor…the director…the staff…the teachers…and the members ultimately SEE Sunday School Differently.

START was originally planned to help churches lead their classes to catch a vision for planting 1-5-1 Harvest Branch plants. But in my opinion, it has become much more. It is a tool, a strategy, an emphasis to help you as a Pastor or Minister of Education lead your church to SEE Sunday School Differently.

This is why it is the first session of the training module. Few 1-5-1 Harvest Branch Plants are started unless your church sees Sunday School differently. Seldom do our Sunday School classes move outside the walls of the church to conduct mission projects unless they see their class differently. Most Sunday School classes have very little lost people in them. Why? because of how they see their Sunday School. Significant growth will not happen unless you lead your church to SEE Sunday School Differently.

The old adage says that as the Sunday School goes, so goes the church. How you see Sunday School will decide how the church goes?

Call me…email me….I would love to dialogue with you about Sunday School and how START can re-energize your Sunday School.


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We celebrate fathers this Sunday. And I can’t think of a better father than my DAD!  He truly STANDS TALL!

My wife and I had the privilege of watching a pre-screening of the movie, When the Game STANDS TALL*. In the movie, Coach Ladouceur states, “Winning a lot of football games is doable. Teaching kids there’s more to life? That’s hard!” My dad certainly taught me there was more to life than just earning a paycheck or winning a game.

My father taught me to win at life. Growing up, dad was the hardest worker that I knew. He got up early in the morning, loaded his Colonial Bread truck, and worked each evening until the work was done. When he retired, the local Sonic placed on their sign,  Dad 86th birthdaycongratulations to Mr. Colonial. Everyone in my small town, knew Dad had earned it. Today at 86, he still works hard taking care of the Laundromat he purchased when he retired. The willingness to work hard and to give it all you got are vital to winning at life. Thanks Dad for teaching me to work hard!

He served his church as the Sunday School Director for 35 years, earning multiple Eagle awards for growth. At night after a hard days work, he would read the latest Sunday School training books, Sunday School leadership magazine, and earned His Sunday School Leadership Diploma. He constantly participated in association, state, and national training events. He didn’t just give a Sunday School report on Sunday morning…he embraced serving and leading the church to grow through Sunday School. He stills attends his Sunday School class regularly. Thanks Dad for teaching me to importance of education and for my passion for Sunday School!

Dad loves his family. He demonstrates love to my mom every day even though some days she wonders where her husband is and what happened to him. Thanks Dad for teaching me to Love!

Thanks Dad for your example on how to win at life.

*When the Game STANDS TALL was inspired by a true story of Coach Bob Ladouceur and the DeSalle High School Football team. What an inspiring and encouraging film. Join me in praying that God will use this movie to touch the lives of young men and women all across our nation. It comes out in theatres on August 22.

Posted in Christian Life, Discipleship, Stories, Sunday School | 1 Comment

Wake UP the Sleeping Giant! (#START)

My dad taught me to love war movies… In the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora!, the Japanese Admiral, Isoroku Yamamoto, responded to the Pearl Harbor Bombing with the quote, “I START_Logo_FINAL_BUTTONfear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” It is time to wake up the sleeping giant called Sunday School.

In Tennessee, I estimate that our Sunday Schools are made up of over 40,000 Sunday School classes, of which 23,000 Adult groups and 5000 are Youth groups. What a sleeping giant! My prayer is that God will wake this sleeping giant and fill the Sunday School with a terrible resolve to see Lost people SAVED!

Sunday School is not just another organization of the church. It is the church organized for growth and ministry. But, many Sunday School classes are resting…they are simply teaching those who show up, praying for those who show up, and ministering to those up. Sunday School is not supposed to be just a ministry to those who show up. Sunday School is supposed to be the Outreach and Evangelism arm for our churches. WAKE UP!!!

Take a look in the mirror. Does your class need to wake up? Does your class lack purpose and direction? Does your class have a passion for seeing lost people saved? If not, wake them up…see the fields that are white unto harvest. Challenge your class to become a 1-5-1 Sunday School class. A class that becomes burdened to see people get off the road to Hell and on the road to Heaven. Get your class outside the walls of your classroom, start a 1-5-1 Harvest branch plant, work and pray that God will allow your class to see 5 people come to know Jesus and baptized, and then multiply!

If you are pastor or Sunday School Director, wake up your Sunday School. Join us in re-igniting the Sunday School as a movement not just a program. I can’t wait to see what God is going to do. New people will be reached, more people baptized, more churches started, more leaders equipped and sent out, and more lives changed. To God be the Glory!

START was written for pastors to wake up their Sunday School. TN pastors locate the mailing that you received with the START DVD and planning Guide. Call me or email me. START will work, but nothing happens unless and until we START!!!

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Harry Piland’s Impact

I just tweeted: Ridgecrest reminds me of the legends that have impacted my life and ministry such as Harry PIland.  Harry served First Baptist Church in Houston as the minister of education before coming to the ImageBaptist Sunday School Board (Now Lifeway) as the Sunday School Leader for Southern Baptists.

For those of you who did not have the privilege of knowing and leaning from Harry Pland, let me share how he impacted my life.

The first time I met Harry was after a worship service at Ridgecrest at a restaurant in Black Mountain.  The year was 1985. I had just graduated from seminary and had accepted the call to serve as the minister of education and youth at Markham Street Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.   My wife and I were attending our first Sunday School Weekend with my mom and dad.  At that restaurant, Dad introduced me to Harry Piland.  From that moment forward, Harry never forgot my name.  He called me by name.   I was a nobody  just a young minister of education in a medium size church in Little Rock, Arkansas, but he knew my name.  What a remarkable gift?

During those years, I soaked up every book and every conference  on Sunday School, Church Growth, and Discipleship.  My home church pastor and mentor, Hoyt Wilson, had told me that was the best education that I would get.  So I diligently earned Study course awards for every age group and program. I even have a WMU Study Course Award.  One of those books was  Growing  and Winning through the Sunday School.  What a great book?  In this book, Harry unpacked his nine basics of Sunday School growth:Image

  1. Make a Commitment to Grow
  2. Identify and Enroll People
  3. Start New Units (Classes)
  4. Enlist Workers
  5. Train Workers
  6. Provide Space and Equipment
  7. Conduct Weekly Workers Meetings
  8. Conduct Weekly Visitation
  9. Teach the Bible to Win the Lost and Develop the Saved

I can promise you these basics still work, even weekly workers meetings and weekly visitation.  In fact, Georgia has done research that verifies that the churches who do these things are more evangelistic than the ones that do not.  These principles have never left me.

In 2000, I became the State Discipleship Leader for Tennessee.   Our state team had a meal with Harry where he made a statement that has impacted me.   He said, “Mark, when the equipping centers* came out, our attendance in Church Training at FBC Houston increased greatly, but I watched as the attendance began to dwindle, because people started choosing rather they were coming back on Sunday Nights to Church Training based on what was being taught instead of the group.”  Today, most churches do not have a weekly, ongoing Discipleship Training Ministry and many churches have given up on Sunday night worship as well.   This statement impacted me significantly.  I believe that what is taught in Sunday School is absolutely essential and is a hill worth dying on.  Sunday School must stay an open Bible Study group where the Bible is the textbook.   If Sunday School teachers are allowed to choose their own curriculum and people start choosing rather they attend on Sunday morning based on what is being taught,  in twenty years, we will lose Sunday School as well.  This is why I believe in curriculum and resist using short term studies, even great studies like Experiencing God in Sunday School.

Harry Piland was a man that impacted my life and my ministry.  Thank you Harry for  giving to the Lord.  I am a life that was changed.

*(Equipping Centers were short term studies that were the first major alternative to dated curriculum for church training, now discipleship training.)

Posted in Christian Life, Organization, Stories | 1 Comment