Back to the Future in Adult Education

A number of years ago, moviegoers filled theaters to watch the comedy Back to the Future. The film’s basic premise was if a person could go back in time and change a single event, the ripple effect of the change would have lifelong consequences. People who viewed the film were challenged, consciously or unconsciously, to think about the impact each action they make has on their future and the future of the ones they love.

Those of us who are engaged in the ministry of Christian education can take a lesson from the premise of this Hollywood production. We must evaluate what we are doing in our classrooms and with our students in light of the effect those actions will have on their futures. We must avoid the temptation to construct lessons and structures that are designed simply to meet an immediate need or address an impending crisis. Instead, we must continually look to the future and the possibilities that lie ahead and build paths that lead toward our projected destination.

The Pathway of Enjoyment

Some adults avoid Sunday School because they consider it boring. They picture the classroom in terms of some past experience or based on other people’s comments. In many cases, these assumptions about Sunday School are wrong. Unfortunately, adult Sunday School classes sometimes are boring. This condition must be avoided at all costs.

Teachers must intentionally infuse humor and other elements that stimulate enjoyment into their lesson and make students look forward to the next session. No matter how sound the doctrine we teach, we cannot influence students if they do not attend class. Adult Sunday School classes must compete with many entertainments and attractions. There must be activities that adults find enjoyable.

The Pathway of Relevance

There was a time when people attended Sunday School to discover interesting facts from the Bible. This is not enough for the current generation of adults. Most want to learn things that make some immediate difference in their world. They recognize the importance of biblical truth, but they want to know how that information works in their lives.

It is important for teachers to think through the implications of the principles they are teaching to life in the 21st century. Topics such as husband/wife relationships, stewardship of money, and parenting are addressed in Scripture, but the context has changed, requiring us to think through passages that were originally addressed to an agricultural society. It is our job to transition our students from the here and now to the then and there and then bring them back through contemporary application.

The Pathway of Truth

Many denominations have found it easier to go soft on issues such as abortion, premarital sex, homosexuality, and questionable entertainment than to maintain a biblical stance on these subjects. Christian adults today do not want to come to Sunday School to hear a compromised message. They want to hear the biblical standards declared in a way that will challenge them to live holy lives. Teachers should not be afraid to be bold in the proclamation of truth regardless of the possibility of being called intolerant or bigoted.

It is essential that we present biblical truth rather than our opinions. This demands that we make the effort to research the biblical text using every tool available. When truth is declared consistently, students will grow in confidence and faith.

The Pathway of Spirituality

Increasingly adults are seeking spiritual experiences. Secular people engage psychics, participate in New Age encounters, and consume spiritually oriented entertainment. Surely, they expect to meet God when they come to the place where He is said to abide. A Sunday School class that provides sterile information, void of spiritual content, will not satisfy the spiritual quest of those who wish to meet God.

Teachers must plan times that open the possibility for God to reveal himself to the students. This can be done through prayer, praise, testimony, and allowing the Holy Spirit to break into the routine of the class to magnify God and minister to the Body.

The Pathway of Purpose

Young people are more community-oriented than the generation that preceded them. They believe they are responsible to obey biblical mandates to care for the poor and less fortunate. Sitting in a classroom week after week without a practical outlet for what is learned will not satisfy the sensibility of tomorrow’s adult.

Challenging students to apply what they learn and extending opportunities for them to minister will provide the framework for students to develop a sense of purpose for their lives. When this occurs, the result will be happy, fulfilled Christians who value the Christian education process.

The Pathway of Relationships

As important as learning the Bible is to a successful Christian education class, the relationships that can be formed in a well-designed class have nearly equal importance. Each of us wants to be able to count on someone during times of trouble and someone to rejoice with when things are going well.

Successful teaching requires us to schedule times both inside and outside the class when students can get together for fellowship. We can create opportunities for conversation. We can design events that will help class members get to know one another better.

The Pathway of Mentoring

Young adults need role models that will help them learn to live better than they can on their own. Teachers should encourage older adults to take younger adults under their care and assist them as they navigate through stages the older adults have already traversed. Parenting, money usage, integrity, and dealing with occupational issues are just a few areas where adults can assist adults.

The Pathway of Acceptance

Another pathway that will lead adults to spiritual growth is an accepting environment. Adult classes can become closed to outside members without realizing it. Sometimes classes post “no trespassing” signs through the use of inside jokes, references to common experiences without explanation, or the failure to enlist the comments and insights of the new person.

Classes should go out of their way to greet and guide visitors. Greeting makes people feel welcome. Guiding the person through the class and the service that follows takes the mystery out of the experience and provides a level of comfort that will draw the person back.


The decisions we make today regarding the way we approach our Sunday School classes will determine their effectiveness in the future. Unlike the characters in Back to the Future, we cannot go back in time and change things if we are not satisfied with the way they have turned out. We have only one opportunity to influence the future. Let’s take full advantage of that opportunity today.

Clancy Hayes is training coordinator and district liaison for the Sunday School Department, Springfield, Missouri. Sunday School. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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