Dropping someone from the roll

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--I recently exchanged a number of e-mails with a Sunday School leader in Mississippi.

It has been delightful to try to deal with real questions from real people in real classes trying to figure out how to do real ministry through Sunday School. This particular leader, along with the pastor of his church, were meeting to discuss some policies and procedures for helping teachers follow a standard process. They solicited my help with some questions about how to best manage the class rolls. The following were my suggestions.

1. Change the name from "roll" to "ministry list." This is subtle, but the idea is that it changes the primary responsibility. "Roll" connotes that the people, once enrolled, are committing themselves to attendance. "Ministry list" connotes that we, the leaders, are committing ourselves to the members.

2. Now, what does it take to get on the ministry list? Just saying yes! Here's my stock phrase when I'm enrolling someone: "Enrolling in our class -- agreeing to become a member of our ministry list -- does not make you a member of the church nor obligate you to become one." The obligation is on us, not them.

3. Before removing someone from the ministry list, ask this question: What is the worst thing that could happen to this person? If the answer is, "We don't know if anyone would ever pray for them again, ever contact them again, ever be available to minister to them again, and when they die, we're not at all sure they would go to heaven," then how about leaving them on the ministry list?

4. So, when would you drop someone from the ministry list? (a) When they have moved too far away from the church for us to minister to them. Notice that if they were on a roll, we would remove them if they moved too far away to attend. But, remember, it's a ministry list! (b) If they demand to be removed, and we've been unsuccessful at talking them out of it. Principle: Don't take people off the roll unless they want off -- really bad!

5. What do you say to someone who asks to be taken off the ministry list? Try to communicate that you care for them and would like to be able to remain in touch with them, whether they attend or not. You'd like to be able to pray for them, and be available to respond to them in the event of a crisis in their family. Many people are only "testing the water" when they ask you to take them off the list. They may just want to know if you really care.

What's the bottom line of all this? It is remembering that when we ask someone to enroll in Sunday School, we are making a commitment to them more than asking them to make a commitment to us. In reality, it's a joint commitment. Who on your ministry list needs to be the recipient of your prayer or care this week?


David Francis serves as director of Sunday School for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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