Sunday School stinks. Case in point: I used to be able to evangelize with ease, only later to feel I'd been wrong about how I was sharing my faith through church classes that taught me "the contagious way" to witness. I feel pressure from curricula that have taught me the "right way" to read the Scripture. The same is true for discipleship, pathways to God, spiritual gifts and everything in between. In this sense, Sunday School stinks. (There, I said it. About time someone did.)
But...that doesn't negate the great respect I have for this extension of the church and its intention to disciple and grow believers. How many people began their relationships with Jesus through a class setting? Or what about those who finally decided to tithe because the principles of stewardship were explained clearly? Not to mention the many families and individuals who found direction in life because they spent 40 days in the pursuit of biblical purpose.
So maybe Sunday School doesn't stink. Maybe we can just make it legalistic at times...just like everything else.
Take preaching, for example. Preaching classes helped me, but they also ruined me. Granted, the professor only has so much time to get so many people through a semester; so there's probably only one way he or she is able to pass along theory to the students. Then those students head out after graduation into churches only to find their cookie cutter formulas not only don't fit, but they're 10-years-old and falling apart.
Is there a right way to preach? This would imply, of course, that there's a wrong way of some sort. If so, how do we gauge such things? Is good preaching based on the number of points? Or is it dependent upon how many outlines get filled out? Perhaps the church's audio-tape ministry dictates a successful sermon if the duplicating machines go into overdrive. Or maybe it's all about how many pats the pastor gets on the back.
At the risk of sounding like a hypocrite, I'd submit there are only a few guidelines when it comes to preaching, and those rules are simple enough that any preacher can adapt them to his or her situation.
Skeleton—the principle of connecting through biblical truth.
If I preach my opinion of something, there's no guarantee I'll feel the same way about it tomorrow. So why would I waste my time (and everyone else's) doing so when I can stand on the truths of Scripture that never change? This means I must surrender my egotistical desires to connect through my charisma, humor or personal thoughts. If in the end I'm nothing more than the loudest voice in the room and all I do is convince students to believe because of my shouting, what happens when I'm not in their lives anymore? Do they enter college looking for the next loudest voice, or have I successfully given them the tools they need to engage God in a biblical manner?
It's my hope and calling to let the living, sacred words of the text breathe life out of me in the same way they've given vivacity to my soul. This must be the skeleton that gives backbone to the message as a whole, ensuring that everyone in the room (whether Christian or not) gets to hear the hope and wisdom of God. Someone may not agree with the Bible, but at least they'll know what it says and can take their argument up with the Lord instead of me.