Educating our people in the faith is foundational to what we do as the church, and for many churches Sunday school is the cornerstone of their Christian ed. operation. But finding folks to teach adult Sunday school seems to be a near-universal concern for churches these days.
The problem is often that people don’t feel they are qualified to teach, or would like to but don’t have any experience teaching and feel they wouldn’t know where to start. Others have taught in the past but have not felt affirmed in the results, while many of those who presently teach wonder why they seem to be worrying more about preparing the lesson than enjoying the time together with their class.
To all of you humble servants out there, I offer these words of comfort, advice and instruction.
- Thou shalt enjoy thyself. At times it’s easy to lose sight of this, but teaching should be fun. Enjoying yourself can often be a choice. Make the right one. Your teaching will be better and you’ll find the whole experience more fulfilling.
- Thou shalt prepareth. I’ve found this usually is not a problem for most teachers, but every now and again we all attempt to “wing it.” Try not to. Incidentally, some teachers suggest their bigger problem is “over preparing.” They labor over the material and come armed with a detailed, 6-page outline of a lesson, only to have the class deviate from this plan within the first 5 minutes. I for one think it’s impossible to over prepare if you follow Commandment 3…
- Thou shalt adapteth. All the preparation in the world won’t mean a thing if you don’t adapt to where the energy is in the room around the lesson. If you are a highly detailed, outline-oriented preparer who can’t imagine not sticking to the script, not to worry: if you trust yourself, all of your preparation will leave you fully capable of reacting on the fly and embracing new input into the lesson.
- Thou shalt embrace thy image as of the Lord thy God, and be creative in planning thy lesson. The imago dei applies even to teaching Sunday school. Think of creative ways to present the lesson to the class. Maybe incorporate multi-media. Perhaps you share a popular song that comes to mind, or a scene from a movie. We’ve all likely heard of research about there being different kinds of learners: visual vs. auditory, etc. But you don’t need to read the latest scientific research to know that people respond to creativity. Plus, it’s biblical. A win-win.
- Thou shalt ask thyself, “What in this material speaketh to me?” Thou shalt start thither. I’m 90% sure I used the word “thither” correctly. In any case, if you find yourself staring at your material and struggling to find an entry point, think about what sentence, word, or concept in it speaks to you. Where do you have the most energy? Chances are others will respond similarly, and even if they don’t, they will respond to your genuine enthusiasm and concern for the lesson. They may even be inspired to share what speaks to them.
- Thou shalt not fill every second with thy own voice, but instead thou shalt welcome occasional silence. (God has been known to show up hither.) Ditto for “hither.” Who among us has not experienced that awkward silence after a question has been asked? It usually lasts for about 2 seconds before the teacher gets nervous and answers her own question. Don’t be afraid to give folks a few seconds to consider the question and offer a response. If it’s a good question they will need time to think about it. If you know you’re going to be asking some deep or difficult questions, tell the class beforehand you will be leaving a few extra seconds for them to think. This will calm everyone down and free them mentally to focus on your question.
- Thou shalt allow others’ voices to be heard, and integrate them into thy lesson. This is true for lecture-oriented classes as much as it is for classes used to more discussion. Nobody wants a dictator. I think (hope) we’re moving away from the “master teacher” concept in our churches, where it’s thought that only a few are capable of teaching or know enough to contribute in a meaningful way. It’s true that some among us have special gifts in teaching, but what’s more Baptist than having everyone’s voice heard? Think of the lesson as a conversation, and try not to dominate it.
- Thou shalt not rush through donut time or prayer requests to begin thy lesson. (God has been known to show up hither, too.) This should go without saying, but Sunday school is not about just the lesson. It’s about what happens when we came together to fellowship, pray and engage with our faith. Ideally these three should inform each other. I’m sure you can think of a time when the real lesson of the day came in the time dedicated to prayer requests or conversation. That’s no knock on the teacher, rather it’s a tribute to the strength of the community.
- Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s lesson, but thou shalt know thy own voice as a gift from the Lord thy God. You only have to read the first 3 chapters of the first book in the Bible to learn that our spiritual lives are not immune to our competitive natures and feelings of insecurity and inadequacy and that this benefits no one. Ask Cane and Able. A healthy chunk of the journey of faith is learning to recognize your own unique talents and perspectives as gifts from God. Helping people do this is a big part of the work of the church.
- Thou shalt trust the Holy Spirit to work through even thy humblest offerings. What my former pastor, Chuck Bugg, once said about preaching holds true for teaching: “While we are called to hone our craft, we do not control the results of proclamation. God works through our best efforts as well as through our poorest offerings. This takes the pressure off me so I don’t presume that everything that happens in the preaching event is dependent on my performance.”
Hear, hear. In all that we do–in the church and in our daily lives–we must have a sense of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power to work through our whole selves–the good and the bad.
Jesus promised a Comforter to help us along our way. May you feel this presence the next time you find yourself frantic on a Saturday night, or sitting in silence after asking the class a question, wondering why you agreed to teach these crazy people, anyhow.