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 Baptist 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:
- Make a Commitment to Grow
- Identify and Enroll People
- Start New Units (Classes)
- Enlist Workers
- Train Workers
- Provide Space and Equipment
- Conduct Weekly Workers Meetings
- Conduct Weekly Visitation
- 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.)