Jack Hyles built a great church. He did not just build a big church. He built a great – big church. How did he do it? He did it by building people. It was more than a cliché to him when he said, “I do not use my people to build my church, but I use my church to build my people.”
These were not idle words, but they were a philosophy that guided the METHODS he used in his church. How exactly did he build his people? Perhaps the greatest tool he used was that of the graded Sunday school program. In this article, we are going to examine how the Sunday school uses the church to build the people, but as a result, causes the church to grow as well.
1. The Sunday school fulfills the Great Commission.
We are experts at the first two parts of the Great Commission, but we have often fallen well short of succeeding on the third. We have great numbers of people saved, as well we should. We have great numbers of people baptized just as we ought. Yet far too often we lose most of those we reach with the first two. Why? We have no plan. Sunday school is the plan. It is the discipleship program of the church. It is that which gives us the means to obey the third part of the Great Commission, to teach those we win and baptize. In Sunday school people come and are taught (not preached) the Word of God. Sunday school should not resemble the morning preaching service. It should be totally different in that it should not be like a preaching service in any way, but a classroom where every member, young and old alike is being taught the Bible. The moment a person gets saved he should be assigned to and enrolled in a Sunday school class in the church.
This process should not take place after he has attended or even been baptized, but immediately after he has been saved. If every convert knew that he had been enrolled in a small classroom of his peers, he whom we would lose otherwise would perhaps come to church and become faithful. A teacher should immediately be assigned to him to contact him and involve him in their class. You lose things because you have no place for them, and you lose people because you have no place for them. That means we must have enough teachers and a variety of classes to handle the number of souls we are seeing saved. Wouldn’t it be interesting if every soul winner in your church saw it as their responsibility to see to it that every one of their converts was turned into a teacher to be enrolled in a class? Soul-winning would be a Sunday school enrollment campaign.
2. The Sunday school makes every member accountable to someone.
Who pastors your people? In reality, the pastor of a growing church does not. Dr. Hyles once said, “I don’t pastor the members of First Baptist Church. I pastor the Sunday school teachers of First Baptist Church. The Sunday school teachers pastor First Baptist Church.” That is why he built and maintained such a successful church. He knew that people needed to be pastored. The people needed someone to notice whether or not they were present for services. They needed someone to notice their needs. They needed someone to know the names of their family members. They needed someone to give them personal attention. He knew that no one could do that alone for very many people, so he used the small classroom philosophy of Sunday school to make certain that everyone was accountable to someone. We lose people because we are not aware of them. Someone needs to be constantly aware of every member of your church; and as much as you may try, you cannot do it alone. Jack Hyles knew that. Thus he made the Sunday school the area where everyone received a pastor to watch for his needs.
3. The Sunday school gets more people in the church involved in studying the Bible.
Dr. Hyles once asked a question of a preacher. He asked, “Who studies the Bible in your church” The pastor responded, “My Sunday school teachers do.” Dr. Hyles asked him, “Do you think your church is healthier if more people study their Bibles?” The pastor replied, “Yes, of course.” Dr. Hyles then said, “Then if your church is healthier because more people study the Bible, then would it not make sense that the more people you have teaching Sunday school the more people you would have who would be studying their Bibles?” Makes sense, doesn’t it? Pastor if you want more people to study their Bibles, give them a reason to do so.
For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God, and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Hebrews 5:12-14
Notice in this passage, the writer says people are babies because they are not teaching. They are using the milk of the Word. Milk is that which someone teaches you. Meat is when you study the Bible in order to teach another. Jesus said, My meat is to do the will of the Father. The Bible says they had to have milk because they were unskillful in the Word of righteousness. It says that the meat belongs to those who have grown up or become of full age. But, who are those people? It goes on to define than by saying, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. What is the reason for use? It is the subject that is being expounded upon in the passage. That subject is teaching. Teaching gives your people a reason to study their Bibles. In so doing, their senses are exercised to discern between good and evil. In other words, your people will grow beyond just blindly following that which you say is good or evil and they begin to see it for themselves. We want our people to understand all the standards and convictions we have for them, but they cannot understand them until they become of age, which happens when they begin to teach.
When you were a child, did your parents ever tell you to do something; and you obeyed but did not understand the reason behind it? You may have even thought it was silly. But, when you became a parent, did it suddenly make sense to you when you enforced the same rules on your children? Of course. Why? It is simply because now you see it through the eyes of a parent. Then, you saw it through the eyes of a child. Parenthood changes a lot of our discernment, and teaching will change the discernment of your people. The reason we have so many babies in our churches is that we will not let them grow up. We keep them drinking milk in a Sunday school class forever because they are comfortable there, and they stay babies forever. By the way, babies make messes and babies cry a lot. Our churches are filled with cry babies and with people who keep making messes because they are still babies. We have not allowed or encouraged them to teach. Dr. Hyles once said, “The Sunday school is not the place to learn the Bible. It is the place to prepare people to study and teach the Bible. My goal is to get people out of their class as soon as possible, not leave them there because my goal is for them to grow.”
4. The Sunday school involves more people in the work of the ministry.
Paul said in Ephesians 4, And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; Why? For the perfecting of the saints, But, why? …for the work of the ministry… But, why? …for the edifying of the body of Christ: What he was teaching was that the purpose of the work of the pastors and teachers is to first perfect or mature the believers for the purpose of involving them in ministry for the purpose of building the church. Is this work of the ministry soul winning? No, that is impossible because you don’t have to be a mature Christian to be a soul-winner. Even a baby Christian can win souls. The ministry is teaching. He goes on to say, That we henceforth are no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: He says that we are no more children. Well, we already have established that a spiritual child is one who is not yet teaching, so this is speaking of growing up and becoming a teacher.
The purpose of maturing Christians is to get them into the ministry. The more people you have in the work of the ministry the more people you will have involved in helping mature more Christians who can get into the work of the ministry and so on and so forth. What is the result? Paul goes on to say, From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. Sounds like church growth doesn’t it? By the way, the word edify used twice in these passages from Ephesians is the same as the word build used in Matthew 16 when Jesus said to Peter, And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. The words, build and edify are construction terms. It sounds like we are talking about how to build the church. The way Dr. Hyles built First Baptist Church was by getting more people involved in the work of the ministry which was teaching which he did through the Sunday school.
Just how important was Sunday school to Dr. Hyles? Consider this. After pastoring First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana for over 40 years there was only one ministry over which he and he alone presided. Every ministry of the church was under the direct leadership of someone who answered to Bro. Hyles except one. It was Sunday school. He never let it go. He never put another in charge of it. He nurtured it as his own for his entire ministry. Was the college as precious? No. Were Hammond Baptist schools? No. Was the bus ministry? No. Oh, all of those were important; but none as important to him as the Sunday school. Why? It was because first and foremost in his work for God he was a pastor, and he knew that thousands of people looked to him as their pastor. But, he knew that he could not be to all of them all they needed. What did he do? Well, in his own words we will find out. “I don’t pastor the members of First Baptist Church. I pastor the Sunday school teachers of First Baptist Church. The Sunday school teachers pastor First Baptist Church.” That perhaps explains best how he built a great church, but still remained faithful to the principle, “I use my church to build my people.”