People have variety of experiences at church when it comes to sharing. Some churches encourage telling testimonies. Some churches have great discussionz in Sunday school class.
But then there are others…
I suppose there are other varieties of churches, but I’ll mention two others of the ‘walking on eggshells’ variety. One is the church that has gossipers and the other is the church that holds their cards close to their chest. The latter could be due to the former.
My wife and I taught Sunday school as a team for over fifteen years. I loved asking deep probing questions that would delve deep into the areas of the Christian faith that made a big difference in people’s lives. I would occasionally share something from my walk in faith. I would get two responses. 1) No one would answer the question. Some would clear their throat. Some would straighten their tie. One woman loved changing the subject entirely. Eventually, my wife would change the question to something similar, but not that probing, and the discussion would start. 2) My wife would lecture me on sharing too much on the way home.
I always wanted the class to get comfortable with each other so that they could share deeper than the fluff of life, but it rarely got to the meat of the topic. Why? There were a variety of reasons. 1) The ex-Catholics only shared the nitty gritty with the priest, but since they are ex-Catholics there is no priest. 2) The church had a thriving gossip train, and you didn’t know who had season tickets to the talking car. There were some known gossips, but they weren’t in the class. Yet, within a week, everyone knew what I had confessed in confidence to the class. 3) The church did not have an atmosphere of testimony giving. They could talk for hours on church politics or church finances. Talking about the facts of Jesus were okay. Talking about the meaning of Jesus’ words and parables were okay. Talking about how an area of your walk in faith with Jesus was not okay. Don’t let anyone ever think that you have ever sinned. Spoiler alert! Paul spilled the beans in Romans 3:23. You don’t need to hide.
Hopefully, and my reason for asking the deep question, the class thought of those questions and their personal answers to those questions. Maybe if they found themselves lacking in that area, the Holy Spirit worked in their lives to affect improvement, greater sanctification, and in time the ability to talk about it.
Of course, a small group could have a nay-sayer in the group that kills any discussion that would promote spiritual growth. Sometimes, the people that understand where the class should go try to redirect the nay-sayer back onto topic. That happened often in our class. When they reply, “If this group would just quit talking about the Bible and Jesus, it would be a good group,” that’s when it takes a lot of prayer by a lot of people. Everyone else in the nay-sayer’s group is going to feel either self-conscious or even more determined to bring the lost soul around. In the latter case, you have to guard against arguments starting. What I have found is that the nay-sayer loses interest and moves on. After that happens, the prayers need to be more earnest. The nay-sayer is no longer hearing the word of God from his friends, but the rest of the group can stay on topic easier.
Some are screaming right now. Why stay in a church like that? For one, they need to hear people share. They need to know that it is okay to share. They need to have the Holy Spirit touch their hearts and let them know that not sharing is a sign that their faith journey needs to improve.
As for the gossipers, no church needs them, but most churches have them. In churches that have no problem sharing and giving testimonies, however, the gossipers are neutralized – to an extent. Who cares to know what Joe did with Suzy last week end (two names at random), when Joe and Suzy confessed to the congregation. How God touched their lives as a result strengthened both Joe and Suzy and others learned from the experience. It takes all of the salaciousness out of the gossip, if it is common knowledge and true Christian growth was the result. It makes the gossiper look like a fool when they tell someone (who understands what Christian growth was made) and lets the gossiper know the story behind the story. Stories of redemption trump the story of the sin.
Another reason that my wife and I stayed with that group for so long is that the members of the class loved each other, even the few that were the porcupines of the group. The wallflowers began to contribute once they felt comfortable with the others. The conversations may have been in the kiddie pool area and the intermediate swimmer area, but there was conversations, Christian fellowship instead of just gabbing. We would even be late for worship at times when no one wanted to quit talking. People were learning, and they were learning about each other. Some of the hidden secrets weren’t that hidden after so many years. With the attitudes that people had toward different hot topics, you started drawing a picture. You might not be one hundred percent correct, but you were confident that you could serve that other person to improve their walk with the Lord.
The point that I would like to make with any Sunday school teacher that is reading this, a small group does not have meaningful small group discussion the first week. If there are nay-sayers in the group, it may never get as deep as you want it to be.
For all of you attending a Sunday school class, understand that the teacher doesn’t get paid. Many teachers spend hours preparing for a one-hour class each Sunday. Any good Sunday school teacher should only have one objective: to show God’s love to all in the class and keep all of the class members moving further along the path to sanctification.