As a 12-year-old, I remember peering through the chain link fence, watching the high school boys track team practicing. One event that fascinated me was the high hurdles. I was amazed that the fastest guy in the sprint was not always the fastest guy on the hurdles—technique and execution was even more important than speed when hurdling. Managing the hurdles carelessly could easily result in the loss of the race and even personal injury. I’ve discovered there are hurdles to overcome in growing your Sunday School/Small Group as well.
Here are a few:
The spiritual hurdle of prayer and biblical wisdom. The remedy is easy enough on a personal level, but it is also easily neglected. We generally do not have a human quiet-time coach, reminding us that we need a steady diet of the Word of God. It is easy to get out of shape in one’s prayer life due to simple neglect of regular exercise. The Holy Spirit’s wisdom and power are readily available, but due to our inattention toward spiritual disciplines, we become less attentive to His divine counsel. Likewise, when a small group neglects to get seriously engaged in the Word and prayer, the enabling power of the Holy Spirit is untapped and the group struggles.
The leadership hurdle of clear, compelling vision. As a church, we have a vision to grow the church through growing, discipling Sunday School classes. But where does the vision for your class come? Of course, the Lord gives vision, but He gives that vision through the leader of the class—the Sunday School teacher. If the teacher does not have vision to reach and disciple people, the class will stagnate and begin to decay. Imagine what would happen if each of our classes could grow 20% each year. For most classes, that means enrolling four or five new people a year. Imagine again, if those new people begin growing and getting serious about worshiping God, growing in spiritual maturity and sharing Jesus with a lost world. Let’s also imagine groups that are developing apprentices who will become new leaders who can continue to multiply the vision. That is an exciting finish-line for each of us to focus on in the work of the Lord.
The attitude hurdle of an inward focus. When we lose sight of the harvest we’ve lost the race. An inward focus is not something we generally develop on purpose. It is more often an attitude issue that gradually creeps in. Member care is a vital part of every healthy Sunday School class. It is good to focus on one another’s needs. It is good when we carry out the “one-another’s” of the New Testament, just not to the neglect of the Great Commission. An athlete focuses on eating right, but if she neglects exercise and skill development, she will become a well-fed failure. A small group is healthy when it cares well for its members, but without becoming deliberate and intentional about ministry and evangelism toward others outside the group, it becomes unhealthy and weak.
Hurdles are part of the race to the finish line. Hurdles are a part of the course. Don’t be discouraged that the hurdles are there—they are part of the landscape. Understanding that will protect us from giving up and excusing a poor performance. Hurdles are learning opportunities and they help us to know what to plan for as we look to the days ahead. Dr. Ben Carson said, “Success is determined not by whether or not you face obstacles, but by your reaction to them. And if you look at these obstacles as a containing fence, they become your excuse for failure. If you look at them as a hurdle, each one strengthens you for the next.”
David Frasure is CABA's Disciple-making Catalyst and pastors FBC So. Lebanon, Oh.