January 22, 2016
by Ryan Ahlgrim
Pastor of First Mennonite Church, Richmond, Va.

Serious Sunday School

A proposal to bring seminary level content to adult classes

I have a proposal for strengthening spiritual formation for adults: let’s make adult Sunday school more like seminary, and let’s get seminary into adult Sunday school!

What are the essential classes every Christian should take in order to become a mature and effective disciple of Jesus? For many years I have been developing (and partially implementing) a “core curriculum” for adult Sunday school. This would include:

  • Old Testament survey
  • New Testament survey
  • How to interpret the Bible
  • The teachings of Jesus
  • In-depth study of one book of the Bible
  • Essentials of the Christian faith
  • Anabaptist history and theology
  • Prayer and spiritual disciplines
  • Listening, caring, and conflict resolution skills
  • “I believe:” naming and sharing your faith

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Each class would last twelve or more weeks. Ideally, one would be offered each quarter so a person could complete all ten courses in about three years. Once a person has attended each of these classes, I suggest that the church confer a “Certificate in Christian Formation.”

Such an approach would give our adult Sunday school programming a strong backbone. Of course, other classes on a variety of topics would also be available, but these ten (or something similar) would offer people a clear path to discipleship development.

Some classes could serve a dual purpose, for instance, “Essentials of the Christian faith” could be the church’s membership class.

The challenge to this approach is finding (or creating) good content and recruiting adequate teachers. The pastor should certainly teach many of these classes, but hopefully so could knowledgeable lay leaders.

Here is where seminaries can help. They can help churches develop the content and train lay people to teach such courses. Seminaries could also offer such courses through weekly webinars or by “Skypeing” into a Sunday school class. This is a new approach for seminaries as well as for churches, but I think it could be the wave of the future.

If we make Sunday school a challenging educational and formational experience, I think our members will respond with enthusiasm.

Filed in: All posts, Pathways