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Advice for Sunday School Teachers

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Last Updated
February 17, 2007

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See also Advice for Sunday School Teachers

If you're a new Sunday School director, you may have a problem figuring out what to do. The problem often encountered is the lack of a mentor...or anyone else who really understands the role of the Sunday School director, since there's usually only one person in this office in a church, and since much of the work is behind the scenes.

These are some hints that may be helpful in your situation.   They come from years of experience in my own personal ministry through the Bible Teaching Program in seven different churches in five states.

Table of Contents
Seek God's Vision
Form a Support Group
Obtain Training
Plan, Plan, Plan
Have High Expectations
Be Firm in Principle but Flexible in Application
Major on Appreciation

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Seek God's Vision

Where there is no vision, the people perish… (Proverbs 29:18)

You are the primary vision-caster for your Sunday School. You need to be able to see what no-one else can see--to see the possibilities beyond the present realities, to see what people can become through the grace of God rather than what they currently are. In short, you must see through God's eyes, using the spiritual vision that only His Spirit can impart. You must see what God wants your Sunday School to become in His perfect will. Pray alone and with your fellow leadership; dream about what your church could accomplish given infinite resources (which, after all, God is able to provide); plan about how your school can do its part in carrying out the Great Commission and accomplishing the purpose of your church.

Beyond seeing the vision, you need to be able to communicate it. Articulate it clearly and enthusiastically; keep it in front of your teachers, and help them in turn to grow excited about it and pass it along to each of their pupils. Involve them in moving from the vision to practical implementation plans and assignments.

Your vision should provide the focus of all that you do as a Sunday School director; it should help provide drive, energy, motivation, direction, and purpose in your organization, your planning, and your work.

Form a Support Group

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. (Proverbs 15:22)

For many valid reasons, you need a group of trusted friends who will advise and share in the leadership of an organization as complex as a Sunday School. The composition of this group will vary with your circumstances; ideally it will include your pastor and the top Sunday School leadership, such as division directors. In any case, it should consist of people of kindred spirit to your own, who see the importance of the Sunday School , are willing to give you frank and helpful advice, and are capable of sharing in the responsibility of leading the program. If nothing else, enlist a trusted prayer partner.

Some of the benefits of a solid support group include:

bulletThey bring diverse viewpoints and knowledge to support better decisions
bulletThey share in responsibility for decisions and can help communicate policy to different constituencies
bulletThey provide personal accountability and act as a sounding board for your own ideas
bulletThey commit to mutual support in prayer and encouragement

Obtain Training

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

Let him who dares to teach never cease to learn. (Axim)

The single best thing you can do to prepare for your job is to attend a summer Sunday School conference at one of the national conference centers at Ridgecrest, North Carolina or Glorietta, New Mexico. This week-long experience will motivate and equip you for your job by exposing you to top-notch trainers, first-class Bible teaching and preaching, and fellowship with others who are preparing for the same task.

If you can't get to a conference center, check with your state or associational office for any available training locally. They may even be able to provide one-on-one consulting at no charge.

The best print resources I can recommend are:

bulletJones, R. Wayne, Overcoming Barriers to Sunday School Growth, Broadman Press, Nashville, c1987 

Plan, Plan, Plan

 Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. (Proverbs 16:3)

The difference between my dream and my goal is my plan.  -- Laurie Myers, Age 9

Planning is woefully inadequate in most churches. Even minimal attention to planning would pay immense dividends in more effective and efficient ministry.  Time invested before the beginning of the Sunday School year, supplemented by follow-up planning throughout the year, would result in better communication, better use of financial, calendar, and personal resources, and produce a program of ministry that would meet the needs of prospects, pupils, and teachers in a more comprehensive and focused manner.

Spend time alone thinking about the needs of your church, community, and school.  Jot down notes about ways to meet those needs.  Then prioritize your ideas in light of available resources.  With this effort as a base, involve additional Sunday School leadership in adding to the list and refining the priorities.

A true plan involves writing down what will be done, by whom, and when (including resources required, such as room assignments,  as appropriate).  It should be used as an agenda for regular planning meetings to report on status of upcoming projects and to evaluate completed projects.  Effective planning requires annual planning of the Sunday School organization, calendar, and budget; monthly planning by the Sunday School Council or other small leadership group, and weekly  planning by the teachers for the Sunday morning session and other class activities.

Planning does not come naturally to many people; the role of the Sunday School director is to encourage them to plan and enable them with the appropriate tools and skills.

Be Firm in Principle but Flexible in Application

Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil.
Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred. (Proverbs 15:16-17)

This principle is self-explanatory.  Basic policies and guidelines are essential for a well-organized school, but there are always places for exceptions.  An example is age grading classes: Label the classes with designated ages (or, better, years of birth).  Assign members and prospects according to the designated ages.  Promote attendance in assigned classes and encourage people to attend in their appropriate class.  (I typically ask members to commit to try their new class for just two Sundays, to give it a fair chance.)  But be willing to place recalcitrant members in their class of preference if all else fails.  Individual exceptions, however, do not change the overall policy.

Have High Expectations

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.
(Colossians 3:23)

While it is true that you will never achieve 100% cooperation from all of your Sunday School leadership, you should never stop expecting it.  Psychological studies repeatedly show that staff and pupils tend to live up to the expectations of their leadership.  If you expect teachers to arrive late, they will undoubtedly do so.  If instead you expect them to arrive early, set the example by being there yourself, visible and speaking a word of encouragement to those who you find present, and assuming in all your communication that every teacher will be an early arriver, you will get the most positive results.  This applies in every area, from teachers' attendance at training events to pupils' achievements in the classroom.

Major on Appreciation

Don't neglect your teachers, or take them for granted.  A word of encouragement and appreciation when you observe them doing something well will reinforce their actions and help encourage others to emulate them.  Secular management consultants will tell you that the most important job of a corporate executive today is to express appreciation for his staff.  We could learn from our commercial counterparts.  Be present during the Sunday session to speak a kind word; send notes of encouragement (a birthday card is an ideal opportunity).  Small tokens (candy with a note of appreciation) go a long way toward helping workers feel motivated and appreciated.  Effort in this area will help considerably in retaining current workers and enlisting new ones.


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Thomas J. Cook, Webmaster
Updated: Saturday, February 17, 2007
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