NASHVILLE (LCR)—When Pastor Montia Setzler comes to the pulpit to begin preaching from the Word of God on Sunday morning, congregants attending any of Magnolia Avenue Baptist Church’s three morning services
already know where their pastor will ask them to direct their attention.
It’s not about being too predictable as a preacher—far from it—it’s that virtually every adult Sunday school class at the church has already spent time in the text from which Setzler will be preaching.
Welcome to “Lecture Lab” at the “Magnolia Avenue Baptist in Riverside, Calif., where Setzler’s sermon series follows along with the Scripture text from the Explore the Bible curriculum that classes study in their Sunday school hour.
“We’ve done the Lecture Lab approach on several occasions,” said Setlzer, who has served nearly 14 years as senior pastor of the tan and red-tiled roofed church located on a palm tree-lined corner on the outskirts of California Baptist University. “Based on LifeWay’s Explore the Bible curriculum, we’ve gone through 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon.”
Setzler, who also serves as chairman of LifeWay’s board of trustees, said he doesn’t follow the style year-round because he doesn’t always preach exegetically and likes to find places for topical series such as stewardship or evangelism.
“Our plan is to do a Lecture Lab sermon series for a quarter at least once a year as adult classes study through Explore the Bible,” he said. “It’s challenging to do it in 13 weeks, but we give it our best.”
According to Ron Harvey, associate pastor at “Mag,” as members refer to the church, the Lecture Lab approach was started by Larry Osborne, pastor of North Coast Church in Vista, Calif.
“He started doing Lecture Lab and it just blossomed,” Harvey said. “It serves as a great way to build community and a better understanding of the Scriptures.”
Sunday school teachers receive Setzler’s sermon notes on Thursday of each week. Intent on allowing the teachers to carry the scope of the text during their class discussions, Setzler said he tends to hone in on a particular passage or principle on which to preach, while Sunday school teachers flesh out the entire passage.
On a recent Sunday in October, Setzler preached from Romans 12 in support of the Sunday school classes Romans series. Outlines and the entire chapter printed from the HCSB are provided in every bulletin. Setzler, in an engaging and often humorous style, taught about pleasing God with our worship, our service and our treatment of others.
“It’s not about knowledge of the Bible—that perhaps if we know enough we’ll get closer to God,” he stressed to the congregation. “God is much more interested in how we apply Scripture than how much we know.”
Setzler said the response to Lecture Lab has been positive. “The church gets an overview of the book through preaching and then the class teaching and discussion. I can give them a good intro—why Paul was writing to the churches in Rome, for example. It’s not in-depth, but it allows me to talk to the whole church and promote getting into a small group.”
One of Setzler’s oft-quoted expressions which he worked into his sermon on Romans 12, is: “If you aren’t enrolled in a Sunday school class you have no class.” It is typical for about 90 percent of the approximately 1,100 worship service attendees to be in a Sunday school class, he said.
“We utilize Sunday school classes as our frontline for pastoral care,” Setzler said. “They are our small group system for member care, service and facilitating social relationships.”
Harvey said the church provides teachers with resources and tools such as LifeWay’s “Extra” to help facilitate learning.
“We are very intentional about doing Bible study in our groups, not Bible listening,” Harvey said. “We want to groups to engage, not just be talked to.”
Sharon Gray, whose husband, Darrell, serves as a Sunday school teacher at Magnolia Avenue, said the Lecture Lab approach brings depth to the church.
“It is wonderful how Pastor Montia takes the Scriptures and lets the Holy Spirit flow through his teaching,” she said. “We always get the Word, but this really gives even more richness to the Word and the lesson when we continue to study in our class.”
David Francis, LifeWay’s director of Sunday school, discipleship and network partnerships, said, “I love Montia’s ‘Sticky Church in reverse’ approach! It aligns small group Bible study with the pastor’s message without sacrificing the need for dedicated teachers who must do the hard work of preparation and application themselves. The strength of a great Sunday school is its Bible teachers. For the pastor to supplement their curriculum teaching plan—without ‘scooping’ them—must make them feel incredibly valued and empowered. Sounds like it’s a blessing to the members too.”
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