For the past two years Pam and I have attended a Super Bowl party with one of the Sunday School classes at our church, a thirty-something class with fifteen or twenty couples. It’s a blast to hang out with them on a night when most of America is doing the same thing. But this get-together has a twist. The main attraction isn’t the football game; instead, the purpose is for the men to have a Spam cook-off. That’s right. The men in the class spend the weekend concocting dishes with Spam as the featured ingredient.
Men will compete over anything, my wife reminds me on a regular basis. On the golf course, it’s a constant competition over who hits the ball farthest. At home, who grills the best burgers. Every family trip is an exercise in beating the clock—whoever gets to their destination faster than the guy who took his family there last year, wins. Even the ugliest sweater.
I’m not sure exactly what Spam is, only that it includes the parts of a pig you don’t really want to know about. Whatever it is, the men make a big deal of it, and my job is to sample each entry then name a winner. The competition is fierce, and as I taste the dishes all you can hear is cat-calls, whistles, laughter and ridicule. These guys live by Ricky Bobby’s motto in “Talladega Nights”: If you’re not first you’re last.
The entries this year featured deviled eggs topped with sprinkles of toasted Spam. Fried Spam bacon strips with jalapeno dip. Macaroni with Spam (not too bad). Small human-like figures with Spam bodies, pretzel arms and legs, hands made of olives and cheese heads. Spam chili (the winner only because if you add enough chili powder you can eat anything). Several variations of Spam cheese dip. A couple of spectacular failures attempting to combine Spam with chocolate. And several other dishes I don’t know how to describe, only that I couldn’t spit them out fast enough.
There were two award categories: Best Tasting and Most Creative, each with a first and second place. And of course there were trophies—professionally made steel emblems on decorative wooden bases—that were awarded to all four winners. I mean, the whole thing was first-class.
But in the middle of the chaos another thought came to mind. As I looked around at the men and women and all the kids swarming through the house, I couldn’t help but to think that this was a Sunday School class that gets it, their Spam obsession aside. This group of people has figured out a way to build an authentic biblical community.
They gather each week around the Bible, not just to study a lesson but to order their lives around it. They find ways to reach out beyond themselves and invest time and energy in ministering to the needs of others. They support one another in the good times and bad. They’re quick to include new people yearning for community.
They do all this because of the gospel—the good news that in Jesus we’re reconciled with God and with one another. The community they have with one another is the reflection of the faith they have in Jesus.
People today are hungry for what Pam and I experienced Sunday night. Not for the Spam!—but for the kind of relationships that let you pray on Sunday morning, laugh on Sunday night and call on any day of the week when you need a friend. That’s why Sunday School, along with other small group ministries, is so central to effective church ministry. It lets you know you’re not alone as you follow Jesus.