Sometimes we get so enamored with the latest, greatest book or the up and coming author that we forget about the “stars” of the past. That may be to our detriment, especially in the area of church work.
Lee Porter was no stranger to Tennessee and Southern Baptists. A former pastor in the state and employee at LifeWay Christian Resources, Lee served as SBC registration secretary for many years. We became friends, not so much by our SBC ties, but by our love for officiating.
Lee died a few years ago and his wife Pat (a former TBC employee) gave me some of Lee’s books from his personal library. One of the books that I treasure is Building a Standard Sunday School, written by Arthur Flake in 1919.
I had heard of Arthur Flake and his principles of building a strong Sunday School for years, but had never seen a copy of his book.
While dealing, of course, with Sunday School, Flake addresses a variety of topics which relate to Sunday School including evangelism. Flake wrote: “The main business of the Sunday School is to win the lost to Christ. That is what churches are for.”
Flake, who in 1919 was the secretary in charge of the department of Sunday School administration for the Sunday School Board (now LifeWay), also observed that Sunday School is an “out-reaching agency. Its business is to bring into its membership both those who are saved and those who are lost.”
Flake also made this observation that is so true: “There is no subject except prayer, perhaps, which commands the attention of Christian people as much as soul-winning, and is practiced as little.”
In other words, people in 1919 were like the people of 2014 when it comes to witnessing. We talk about it, say that it needs to be done, and then leave it to the preacher or someone else to do.
In his book, Flake talked about the need for churches to have at least a monthly “visitation” day.
The reason for regular visitation? He wrote, “Because going after people personally is the one unfailing method of reaching them for the Sunday School.” I think Baptists (if not all Christians) have lost the concept of Sunday School that Flake and others of his generation believed.
Flake, for sure, was emphatic that the ultimate role of the Sunday School was to evangelize.
Somewhere down the line, the purpose of the Sunday School has drifted from evangelism and a strong focus on the Bible (more on that in another column) to being a place to fellowship with friends with some Bible study and prayer thrown in.
Don’t get me wrong. Those are important, but ultimately, we need to get back to Flake’s observation that the main business of churches and Sunday Schools is to win the lost to Christ.
I did a brief and definitely unscientific survey in which I asked several people if there were lost people in their Sunday School classes. Most responded “no” with a few “I don’t knows.” I had a couple of “maybes.”
Granted, we live in a different world than Flake lived in 1919. We have more distractions and better technology.
In 1919 the church was the center of the community. Today, it is a small part of the community.
What Flake’s world and our world have in common is the same Savior and people who are lost and will die and go to hell if they don’t come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
This is where the 1-5-1 Harvest Plants strategy is a natural fit.
1-5-1 was introduced to Tennessee Baptist congregations last year by Bobby Welch, associate executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, and TBC staff.
Harvest Plants are geared toward off-campus efforts (outside the four walls of the church building) aimed at gathering lost people for the purpose of sharing the gospel.
Churches that embrace this strategy make a commitment to start no less than 1 plant in the next year, making an effort, with the Lord’s help to reach, win, and baptize 5 people through each plant, and planning on each plant to start 1 plant by the end of the first year.
Welch has said that “all of these plants will be focused on reaching lost people where they live, work, and play.”
I can’t help but believe that Arthur Flake is smiling in heaven over that statement. That’s basically what he advocated doing through Sunday School.
And, the way to do that is to build relationships, and provide an opportunity to invite lost people to gather and to study and learn God’s Word. If we get them together, God will do the rest through His Holy Spirit.
Though results are only beginning to come in, it will work if more and more churches will grasp the concept and find ways to reach lost people in their communities. You won’t have to search long. They are there.
1-5-1 Harvest Plants is a new strategy fueled by an ageless agenda — to evangelize and lead people to Christ and then to disciple them so they can lead others to Christ themselves.
I encourage churches and Sunday School classes to consider starting a “harvest plant” to reach lost people. You may be surprised at what God will do.
For more information about Harvest Plants, call (615) 371-2088 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.