Explore the Bible gives church a 9-year Sunday school plan
By Meredith Flynn
The Sunday school hour is coming to a close at First Marion, but Sarah Bond needs more time.
“I want to take you to verse 6,” she tells the small group at her table. The lesson this morning, from Zephaniah 1, is about what happens when God’s people turn away from Him. And this verse, which lists some warning signs of spiritual apathy, has been laid on Bond’s heart as one that has action steps for her group.
Application is important to Bond, a teacher at nearby Southern Illinois University and a leader in her church’s Sunday school class. Bond’s class, which meets in the church gym, is talking about the same lesson as all the other classes in the church. They’re working through LifeWay’s Explore the Bible curriculum, and currently are studying the books written by the minor prophets.
She’s found that many in the class have read the minor prophets while reading through the Bible, but never studied them in context and in great depth, as they are now.
“We’re able to dive in at a deeper level and then make life application to it as well,” Bond says. “And that’s been very helpful.”
Last fall, the church started a nine-year plan based on Explore the Bible to study all 66 books of the Bible. In addition to Sunday school, pastor Bob Dickerson preaches his morning message on a different topic from the same book. In some cases, he’s preaching from places in Scripture he’s never preached from before.
“This is what’s been especially affirming to me—that the book of the Bible we’re studying is just as relevant as if I picked out a topic from what’s going on in the nation,” Dickerson says. “When you preach the Word of God, the Holy Spirit will speak through whatever passage of Scripture you’re in.”
He said one of the church’s senior members told him she might not live the whole nine years. “And I said, ‘Well, no problem. When you get to heaven, just have the Author of the book teach it to you.’”
From milk to meat
Jason and Sarah Bond were regular attenders long before they engaged in the mission of their church.
“For maybe six years, we would only come on Sunday morning, maybe Sunday night, but we weren’t really involved,” says Jason, who, like his wife, teaches at the collegiate level.
What moved the couple from their pew to active roles at church was, first, a saving faith in Jesus. Sarah, raised in the Catholic Church, came to know Christ and was baptized at First Marion shortly after the Bonds married. Jason, who had been baptized at a young age, struggled with doubt over his salvation until he professed faith in Christ after a revival at the church nearly four years ago.
He started a one-on-one discipleship process with Dickerson, while Sarah began the same journey mentored by a woman in the church.
“That gave us the spiritual discipline with our daily quiet time,” Jason says, “and started the slow process of us coming off the milk to the food of Scripture.” After a few months, Dickerson asked the Bonds to serve as Sunday school leaders.
“It was something that intimidated Sarah and me, but God had blessed us with educational backgrounds,” Jason says. “Why would we feel comfortable teaching in the secular world, but not feel like we could give back to the Lord the skill He first gave us? That’s what kicked it off, and started us teaching.”
The Bonds are part of a rotating group of leaders in the outreach class, where their audience can range from people with little church background to others who are seminary educated. The class also includes residents from a nearby shelter, The Lighthouse.
On Thursday evenings, the Bonds and other volunteer teachers from First Marion go to the homeless shelter to lead a Bible study session. Sometimes, they use material from Explore the Bible and Dickerson’s corresponding sermons.
Participants are invited to respond to the gospel and to come to church down the street, where there’s an outreach Sunday school class waiting for them. Through the end of 2014, Sarah says, eight people had accepted Christ through the ministry at the shelter.
Back in the church gym, Pastor Dickerson wraps up the Sunday school hour with a preview of this morning’s sermon. He’ll preach from Zephaniah 1:12 on God’s view of complacency.
Dickerson says other approaches to Sunday school—topical or theology-based studies—are great. But his church is committed to the nine-year cycle of Explore the Bible.
“The best way I can say it is I just think it’s what God has called us to right now,” Dickerson says.
It’s also pushing the pastor and his church, which turns 150 years old this year, to dig deeper into the Word.
“I’m planning for the next 10 years, and who knows what’s going to happen after that? But at the end of this nine-year cycle, I’m going to be able to look back and say—if Jesus tarries—we got through all 66 books of the Bible.
“Let’s do it again.”
MEREDITH FLYNN is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper, in Springfield, Illinois.