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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

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Connections: John Johnson & Wes Bartel

Teacher of the Year

Wes Bartel, director of Discipleship Ministries for the Assemblies of God, recently announced the selection of John Johnson as the 2011 National Sunday School Teacher of the Year. Johnson and Bartel spoke with Editor Ken Horn about the relevance of Sunday School.

evangel: Wes, tell us about the Billie Davis Award for Excellence in Christian Education. How do you arrive at your winners?

BARTEL: We ask all of our churches and districts to submit nominations. Based upon the nominations, we then categorize them according to their districts and from the districts we choose a district winner. The choice is based upon a number of things, such as their ability to teach, their philosophy of teaching, and recommendations from the people who submitted their name.

evangel: This is quite an honor, to be singled out as the national winner. Tell us, John, about your church as well as the class you teach.

JOHNSON: We’re in a small community. I teach the third- through fifth-grade boys at Cornerstone Church (AG) in Winnie, Texas. In our Sunday School classes we have a lot of drop-offs — kids who don’t normally make it to the morning service. Their parents drop them off, then drive by after Sunday School to pick them up. As a result, we only have a short time to get the Word of God into them. We do what we can within this window of opportunity, with the help of AG educational materials. We feel that this is an important part of helping our church grow.

BARTEL: One of the things I’m especially excited about is that you teach some of these same young people as a schoolteacher as well.

JOHNSON: I’ve been teaching in the public school system for 17 years, so a lot of the kids I teach on Sundays I also see at school. It gives me a chance to model Christ for them, so when they see me at Sunday School they understand the importance of being a good example at school for the students there who don’t know Christ.

BARTEL: We know what goes on in a Sunday School classroom. Yet, do you believe that a lot of instruction and teaching takes place outside of the classroom? And if so, what are some things you might do outside the classroom?

JOHNSON: Because I see a lot of the students every day, we are able to plan things like home fellowships and get-togethers. I teach them on a daily basis that they can and must take the things they learn at church out into the world and influence those around them. Their friends and neighbors, at school or around town, need to see Jesus in them.

evangel: Many churches don’t even have Sunday School anymore. Is Sunday School still relevant, and if so, how?

BARTEL: It definitely is relevant. In fact, I believe it’s not only relevant; it’s almost non-negotiable. Our problem is how we define Sunday School. If we’re saying that Sunday School, which takes place on Sunday mornings, is the only way to approach discipleship, we’ve missed it. I define Sunday School in a broader context. Some choose to have their Sunday School on Wednesdays; some do it on Sunday night. It’s the study of the Word of God that’s the non-negotiable issue.

In a recent AG National Office chapel service, I mentioned there were four necessary ingredients of effective discipleship. I don’t believe we can any longer say, “This is how you have to do it.” With our changing culture, we need to also change some of the ways we do things. But no matter how you do Sunday School, there are four necessary ingredients.

First, there must be a primary focus on the systematic study of Scripture. It’s the lens through which we view life. Second, it has to be a life-changing focus. The teaching needs to be translated into daily living. Third, it has to be cross-generational. We can’t just do Sunday School aimed at adults. It has to happen from birth to death. And fourth, it has to be relational. We can’t do discipleship apart from relationships. And that can take place in many different settings throughout the week.

evangel: One problem in Sunday School today is that younger people sometimes view it as old-fashioned. What are some examples of creative things that can be done in the classroom to combat this notion?

JOHNSON: I recall several weeks ago a co-worker had to work late, so he couldn’t be there to help with Sunday School. I knew I’d have anywhere from 20 to 25 young boys in my class. So as soon as they all arrived, we immediately went outside and did a relay race game built around the study of God’s Word. That way they were able to expend some energy rather than just sit in the classroom and be taught.

You have to be willing to break away from the norm to reach kids today. They have so much in their homes, surrounded by different media and electronics. When they come to church, sometimes they will say they’re bored. So we have to reach out, be creative and innovative, and find different ways to reach the kids. We need to grab and keep their attention before we’re able to convey the message of the Word — which, of course, is the ultimate goal.

BARTEL: I saw an example of this recently. A Sunday School teacher developed what he called a “dollar menu Bible study.” It meets on Sunday morning, but he does it during the week as well. The group meets at McDonald’s, orders off the dollar menu, and holds a focused Bible study right there in the restaurant. So creativity has begun to spring up, and that’s really exciting.

evangel: Any final thoughts?

BARTEL: I would like to again extend my congratulations to John. Your excellent ministry gives me great hope for the future. I believe that John is representative of many other teachers throughout our churches. He is one that we’ve been able to find and honor, but I would also like to encourage individuals who are wondering how they can be used of God not to be afraid to take a look at how God has used John in His kingdom. Then step out in faith and move on into ministry yourself.


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