Let’s Try Sunday School 2.1

Sunday School is a real challenge for us at Bethany and Concordia. A big part of the challenge is that families with children need to bring them to church on Sunday morning. A second major part is that being a Sunday School teacher is a thankless task, and can be stressful at times. But the most unusual challenge for us is that there is no pastor who can carry out a plan for Sunday School. What? No pastor? I thought we had one of those! Yes, we do, but during Sunday School, he’s away serving the “other church.” It may be comparable to poor Jacob who found himself married to both Rachel and Leah. Jacob knew that a marriage is a lifelong commitment. In his case, there were two lifelong commitments. Not exactly God-pleasing, not the best example for us, but the demands that naturally ensued between Leah and Rachel for their husband’s scarce time might be comparable to our two congregations during their Sunday School hours. Neither one can be entirely satisfied.

So the Sunday School Manifesto previously posted here will be saved for another day. It’s too ambitious for the resources available at Bethany. We’re going to do something a bit different. Two groups: adults and children, with a short-term class of only 4-6 weeks. The first class will be about Creation, dinosaurs, the Flood, and so forth. There will be refreshments, and especially for the adults, a time for visiting. When this is finished, the next few weeks will be preparation for a Christmas program: singing, instrument playing, etc. Come on October 18th if you want to see it from the very beginning, or come on a later Sunday to join the class in progress.

We care deeply about the members of our churches, including their children. So the effort to overcome our challenges and bring us together for continued spiritual growth should be well worth the investment. In fact, why not bring a friend or two with you? 9:30 on Sunday morning for fellowship, 10 a.m. for the start of classes.

Another Approach to Sunday School at Bethany

The Bethany Sunday School Manifesto

With thanks to God and our long-time Sunday School teachers for great blessings over the years to this point, we are planning to try something new at Bethany starting in fall of 2015.

Our Objective

Our objective is that our congregation’s members and friends grow in their knowledge of Christ, and in the ability to teach it to the next generation.

Sunday School has functioned as a corrective for the major shortcoming of public education, namely, that any knowledge of a Christian nature, or from the Bible is actively excluded from public education. This dramatically handicaps public education in every practical way. It produces students ignorant of biblical truth and often hostile to the gospel.

Our Challenges

  1. The dual-parish schedule that requires the church members to handle Sunday School without the pastor’s presence during the program.

  2. The gradual overall loss of interest in Sunday School relative to other demands in the lives of our members. This has occurred among children as well as adults.

Our Perspective

Without an accurate knowledge of Jesus Christ as God’s Son, revealed only in holy Scripture, it’s impossible to have faith in Jesus. Without faith in Jesus, it’s impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6), and a person faces God’s judgment. Most of the world does not accept what the Bible says about Jesus, including and especially the secular institutions of education in our community. They sometimes even teach against it.

Every member of our congregation is regarded as a member of the body of Christ, each with an important role or responsibility in connection with the Christian education of children. Parents bear that responsibility directly, and the rest of the Church has the duty to help them.

The best and most complete Christian education is found at a Christian school, where the Word of God forms and influences everything that is taught, and where Law and Gospel are properly divided. This may be a corporate school like Columbia Lutheran School, or a school in a home.

While any child may participate in Sunday School, it’s especially oriented around those children who don’t enjoy full-time Christian education. While only some of the adults have a direct responsibility for educating children, every Christian helps to bear the responsibility of the whole Church, that all children should be taught God’s Word and the biblical worldview.

Our Plan

  1. All congregation members available will meet weekly before the Divine Service, when the pastor is still unavailable, at 9:30 a.m.

  2. Promptly at 9:30, one of the men will begin reading the order of Matins without the parts having underlined labels. He may ask all in attendance to read everything together, or he may read only the parts of the liturgist. If possible, one of the youth or adults will accompany the group in the singing of a catechism hymn from the Hymnary, which will replace the Canticle.

    Hymn Number Catechism Part
    490/488 Ten Commandments
    38/37 Creed
    383 Lord’s Prayer
    248/247 Baptism
    417 Keys and Confession
    329/316-317 Sacrament of the Altar
  3. For up to 5 minutes: Small Catechism. The group practices reciting the Small Catechism snippet in the bulletin for the day.

  4. For up to 5 minutes, Large Catechism. Matins leader reads the excerpt of the day from the Large Catechism and asks a question about it. Anyone may discuss the question.

  5. Optional up to 5 minutes, Hymns: Sing more requested hymns.

  6. Split into two groups:

    1. Adults remain in the sanctuary with older youth to discuss things from the day’s lessons, and how they may be presented to children. Adults who served as teachers (see below) the prior week should have an opportunity to share their observations. Consider things like:

      1. What do children need to know first in order to understand this lesson?
      2. What existing knowledge or opinions might the children have, which needs to be corrected by this lesson?
      3. How can this lesson bring children to a fuller understanding of Christ, and a deeper faith?
      4. How does this lesson present or apply the law or the gospel?
      5. How does this lesson overlap or reinforce the teaching of the Small Catechism?
      6. How might this be illustrated or reinforced with examples, demonstrations, or hands-on activities?
    2. Children and younger youth accompany a designated pair of adults/older youth into the fellowship hall. Other adults may come to help, but the designated pair is in charge. They will be scheduled for this rotating responsibility at least a week in advance. Husband-wife teams are encouraged.

    If possible, the adults in charge should try to use what has been learned and discussed in the adult Sunday School discussion. Any appropriate learning activity is fine. When in doubt, you are encouraged to ask the Pastor ahead of time. Any questions that the teacher is unable to answer may be reserved for discussion in the adult Sunday School session, or may be addressed to the Pastor after the Divine Service.

Steps for Organizing

  1. Decide who will be expected to lead Matins. It should be men, ideally a group who can take turns. They will decide among themselves who will be up each Sunday. It would be wise for them to post that schedule on the bulletin board.

  2. Partway through every month, the adults/older youth will fill the next month’s schedule, deciding what pair of adults/youth will be teaching all the children each Sunday. Others may help, but the designated volunteers will be in charge. The schedule should be posted on the bulletin board. The church secretary can help with that.

  3. On the first Sunday of the school year, the schedule should be filled for the first month.

A Visit to an Exploratory Mission

On June 28, the Jacobsen family was on our way back from Arizona to Oregon, having stayed the night at St. George, Utah. We had discovered to our delight that a WELS church existed in that town. It turns out to be an exploratory mission, Redemption Lutheran Church. They are meeting on the second floor of a nicely-decorated commercial retail building. Pastor Quandt, his wife, and three other couples were there for the 10 a.m. service. The Jacobsen family about doubled the attendance that day, but they drew together chairs for us in a second row (the back of the church), and we were given the extra service handouts for the day. It was a less formal service than at most of our churches, as the outreach prospects in St. George are unfamiliar with the rich and meaningful liturgical heritage of the Lutheran church. The main focus was law and gospel following the current ILCW lectionary, with a basic outline of the liturgy to be filled in over time as the members become more strongly catechized.

Please pray for Pastor Quandt and the gathering flock in St. George, as well as the white fields of prospects surrounding that mission, that God would draw them together to receive certainty of His grace, and rich forgiveness through Christ such as they have never experienced before.

Thought about Small Church Activities

We all like to have a full schedule of activities available for us at church. That’s not to say that we’d actually attend all those activities. We’re probably most concerned about the activities that interest us, rather than those geared toward others (children, young families, seniors, etc.).

Some churches have lots of varied activities on their calendars. One of the challenges this creates is faith-damaging burnout, as the same group of people usually manage everything at the church. This tends to happen regardless of the size of the church. Bigger churches experience it with more activities, smaller churches with fewer.

Another challenge created by lots of activities comes with specialization of the activities. With some geared toward children, some toward young families, some toward seniors, etc., they tend to splinter the members of the congregation into artificial groups or classes, based on the presumed interests of each group. I call these groups artificial because they don’t occur naturally. Families are composed of all ages and interest groups in one household. Lots of specialized activities pulls the family members in different directions, often doing more harm than good to family life.

I’d like to offer a solution, but I don’t have one. Instead, we should probably recognize that the primary activity of a church is to gather around the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and the administration of the Sacrament of the Altar and holy Baptism. That doesn’t need to be limited to Sundays, but Sundays are the starting point. Other activities are all extra.

Here’s another thing to keep in mind. A church’s beating heart is in the assembly where she receives the spiritual gifts of her Lord. But the faith created and strengthened with those gifts is active every day of the week, in the individual lives of the church members. Our worship of God does not end when the Divine Service is dismissed. It continues in schools, in work-places, in homes, and on every street and highway. We live as children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, glorifying Him by word and deed in keeping with His will. The main part of this takes place in the God-pleasing duties we fulfill each day, serving God through our neighbors. The work of the church is accomplished in and through the sanctified lives of her members. They don’t have to come together regularly on weekdays for God’s will to be done, though the members of a household might do so for mutual growth, encouragement, and prayer.

I’ll close with one more observation. Whenever there is an activity at church, it’s not something that just happens on its own. Think of any church activity you know about, and I guarantee that it happened because one or more people did one or more things. If it was a big event, it was planned, organized, managed, and maybe even marketed. In addition, other people showed up and participated. If it was a small event, maybe one person did all of those things. In any case, a church event can be boiled down to two things: people and actions. Without people there is no event. If they do something different, then the event is not the same. All of this sounds obvious, but we easily forget it when we begin to think of our church as a faceless institution where things just happen. But events don’t just happen, people do things, and that becomes the event.

So those of us who would like to have more events like W (whatever that is) should consider whether we would like to be a person who comes and does what is needed for a W event. If no person is willing to do the critical parts, then it won’t happen. It’s as simple as that. And maybe that’s okay, because God-willing, we will all gather again on Sunday around God’s Word and Sacraments, and maybe we can do W next week, or next month, or next year instead.

Dumbing Down Questions about Christ.

C.S. Lewis describes the great Aslan tearing the costume off the child in front of him in one of his books from the Chronicles of Narnia. The child writhes in pain from the razor sharp claws that feel as though they pierce his very being. With mounting intensity, Aslan rips away layer after layer, until the child is absolutely certain he will die from the agony. When it is over with every layer removed, the child delights in the freedom, never before realizing the extra weight of the costume that he carried.

The peace that transcends understanding is not a matter of dumbing down our questions about Christ. My questions often return with a question from God who lets Scripture speak and give me the right questions to ask. Scripture directs me to the questions God wants me to ask because he does promise answers to those questions. The layers of despair and doubt do begin to fall away with transcendent propositional truth given for all people in all generations. Scripture does not return empty. The Word works out our faith by keeping me trusting Christ and his words of promise.

Society continually promotes ‘dumbing down’ with the postmodern thought that there is no transcendent truth. ‘Don’t ask because their are no absolute answers.’ The church is where we can ask and receive absolute objective answers.

Discernment for living in a fallen world takes knowing what Christ is promising and knowing takes asking and knowing what to ask takes the Word where God has chosen to speak to men. Be encouraged to invite friends to hear from God. His words promise to divinely give us the right questions to ask.

What’s Wrong with Gay Marriage?

This is not a rhetorical question, though you, dear reader, may have thought it was when you first saw the title. For anyone who needs a reminder, a rhetorical question doesn’t expect an answer. It’s a question stated for the purpose of making a point. This question deserves an answer. And there is an answer. Whether or not the answer is popular has no bearing upon whether or not it is true.

It amazes me that this question must be answered at all, because only a decade ago the answer seemed to be obvious. But one of the long trends in contemporary western civilization has been postmodernism, based on the belief that any question like this doesn’t have a single right answer. Instead, every individual person’s opinion is supposed to be equally valid and right. If that were true, civilization would be doomed to a brief existence.

What is it anyway?

We must begin with a clear understanding of the term “gay marriage.” It’s not an easy thing to define, since many passionate contributors want to help their own side win the political debate by framing it with their own vocabulary. I will try to be fair, but in the interest of full disclosure: my worldview is based upon what the Bible actually says, from beginning to end.

“Gay marriage” is shorthand among some for a legal blessing upon civilly-sanctioned domestic relationships between two people of the same sex, which give them the same legal rights that so-called “traditional marriage” gives to couples of complementary sex.

Continue reading

Happy Hallowe’en!

It was on this day in 1517 that a professor and doctor of the Church posted a list of topics he wished to discuss and debate, concerning abuses and unbiblical additions in the teaching and practice of the Faith. Knowing that the next day (the Feast of All Saints) was a day when all the faithful were obliged to come to church, the doctor posted his list on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, electoral Saxony, in what today is southern Germany.

The response surprised the doctor as his posting sparked a reformation of the Church, ridding the abuses and novelties he had noted, restoring the traditional and ancient practice and teaching of the Church Catholic, but causing division from those who preferred the errors in faith and practice, who segregated themselves under the guidance of their pope.

But the Reformation struck a definite blow for the clarity of the Good News of Jesus, in Whom alone is our forgiveness, life, and salvation— in spite of those who would persist in their errors and preferred Rome, or a number of other movements who sought not to reform the Church, but to radically undo and destroy and refashion the Faith.

Remembering the signal spark of the Reformation, the posting of the 95 Thesis, millions of boys and girls this evening will mock the devil (toothless worm that he is), dressing up, and running from door to door, knocking (as Luther knocked his list onto the church door!), and being rewarded with special treats from the adults who cheer on the miracle of the Lutheran Reformation.

Rejoice in the freedom of the Gospel, and give these little Luthers something tasty tonight.

Happy Halloween, you sons and daughters of the Reformation!

From Pr. James Wilson (ELS), in North Bend, originally posted to Facebook.

Why Christian Schools? (part 3)

This is the third part of a series by a Lutheran pastor and headmaster of a classical Lutheran school in Idaho. Here we see that a Christian school is a most important part of the congregation’s outreach and evangelism.

Why Christian Schools? (part 3)

By Rev. Sean L. Rippy

“So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:14 ESV)

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20 ESV).

“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation’” (Mark 16:15 ESV)

These passages, and others like them, make it pretty clear that we, as the church, need to be about the business of spreading the Gospel to whomever we can reach.

It should not need to be said that the world is full of the lost who need the forgiveness and love of Jesus. An evangelist once said that on average, one soul is lost per second. That’s a profound statistic, and it should awaken in us a desire to get the Gospel out as best we can. Indeed, as we love our neighbor, part of that love should be telling them about Jesus and the love He has for them.

Naturally, the Christian school fits in well with this Great Commission. The school is a wonderful mission opportunity. We currently have 36 students who have no church affiliation. The Lord has literally laid these children at our feet so that we can tell them about Jesus. What a great opportunity!

While this is a great opportunity, we must not lose sight of the Lord’s own Word and become tempted to water down the faith in order to appeal to a larger audience. It has happened in both churches and schools that people have compromised the teachings of Jesus in the name of evangelism. This must never be. Are we smarter than Jesus who lost more than 5,000 followers in one day because He would not compromise the Word of the Lord? (John 6:66). The only message we have is the one Jesus gave us. Heaven forbid that we change that message or leave out part of it, for then it is no longer Jesus’ message, but one of our own making. Let us be proud of the message Jesus has given us and teach it loudly from the roof tops!

Let us also not fall into the subtle trap of thinking that the school is the only mission work that a church should be doing or even that the school is THE mission branch of the church. God has commanded that Christians build Christian schools in order to teach the faith to the young (see our first two articles); as such it performs the absolutely vital and God commanded role of creating disciples of our children and protecting them from the devilish influence of the worldly schools. This places the school under the education branch of the church. However, as people who have never heard the Word of the Lord come to our school, the school also performs the function of evangelism simply by doing what God has commanded us to do for our own children. It is the same with the worship service. The divine service is for the members of the church to confess their sins and receive forgiveness since a nonbeliever cannot worship a God they do not know or do not have faith in. However, that doesn’t mean that a nonbeliever, upon hearing the Word of the Lord in the Divine Service can’t come to faith. In both cases, the primary purpose of God’s command for the sake of the believers also has a secondary and vital purpose of reaching out to a dying world. But let not mission work stop there. There are other things that the church can and should do to reach out to our neighbors with the love of Jesus.

So while the school should never be the only mission work a congregation does, we should never forget that Zion Christian School is an important way in which we can reach the lost with the Gospel of Jesus. When God just dumps them in our laps, we have no excuse.

This concludes our three part look into the necessity of Christian Education. To sum up, we have looked at three reasons why it is vital that congregations provide a Christian school and why it is vital that Christian parents send their children to a Christian school: 1. Because God commands them (Article 1), 2. Because our children need them lest we lose even one (Article 2), & 3. Because the world needs to hear about the love of Jesus (Article 3). I pray that if you kept up with me to this point, you can see the passion I have not only for Christian education but the necessity of Christian education. I truly do believe the only thing that can stand in the way of the massive influence from our world is the Christian school. I truly do believe that the Christian school is on par with the Church as the most important thing anyone can do for their children. So I beg you, if you have found these articles to be convincing, please share them with fellow Christians who need to hear this message. If we won’t teach our children, who will?

The Five God-given Purposes of Marriage

  1. To establish a household of faith
  2. To provide a way for a man and a woman to love each other
  3. To provide a legitimate and God-pleasing outlet for sexual desire
  4. To provide for the procreation and nurturing of children
  5. To provide for the mutual care of husband and wife in the commonwealth of goods

These are fleshed out in many different places. A good reference is the Small Catechism and Explanation. As listed above, these items are found in an excellent booklet we have at church called Second Thoughts about Living Together. This booklet provides a deeper explanation about marriage, and as its title says, a number of considerations for Christians against a practice in our culture that undermines this glorious gift from God.