“8 Keys To Being A Better, More Effective Sunday School Teacher”
By Rodney L. Pry, P.S.S.S.A. Executive Director
FACT #1: The teacher has the greatest influence over whether or not a Sunday school class – and ultimately the entire Sunday school – will grow!
FACT #2 – The number one reason that people give when they leave a Sunday school is that they didn’t like their teacher!
Great Sunday school teachers are not born and they don’t magically become great overnight. Outstanding Sunday school teachers become great only as a result of a lot of hard work, dedication, study and prayer. What are the most important elements involved in turning an average Sunday school teacher into a great Sunday school teacher? Here are eight of the most important “keys” involved:
KEY #1 – Continually strive to deepen your own personal faith and relationship with Jesus Christ. Of all of the things that a teacher might do to improve their teaching and effectiveness, working to deepen their own personal relationship with Jesus Christ and to doing His will is certainly the most important. Why? Because as a person draws closer to Jesus Christ and works to discover His will for their lives, they will hopefully see all that He has done for them and be motivated to do even more for Him. Jesus Christ was willing to come to this earth, live as one of us and give His life as a sacrifice so that each of us might have the opportunity to receive eternal life. Realizing the great love that Jesus has for each of us should move each of us should move every Christian to strive live each day for Him and it should motivate Sunday school teachers to give even more time and energy to the preparation and presentation of each lesson. Why are you a Sunday school teacher? Hopefully your primary reason is because of your great love for Jesus Christ and your desire to follow His call. Truly discovering God’s call on one’s life can come in many ways, but one of the best ways to discover God’s will for your life is by working to deepen your relationship with Him. How can you to this? Read your Bible more. Pray more. Read Christian books and magazines. Develop close, supportive relationships with other Christians. Listen to Christian radio and TV. And, never stop trying to be and do your very best for Jesus.
KEY #2 – Strive to learn more about the Bible and its application to your life and the lives of your students. The Bible is our “Handbook for Life.” Within its pages we read about what’s right and what’s wrong. We find the stories of people who followed God and those who rejected his leading. And, we read about Jesus Christ, His teaching and the Way of Salvation that is available through Him. The Bible is not just a collection of great literature. And, it’s not filled with trivial facts and figures. The Bible is God’s Holy Word! The Bible – and your teaching – can have a life-long influence on your students of all ages. In fact, it can even have an influence on whether or not a student will spend eternity in heaven or hell. That’s a tremendous responsibility! We’re not saying that you have to know every last detail about the Bible to be a great Sunday school teacher. But, on the other hand, it’s very hard to teach what you don’t know. Learning more about the Bible and its application to life begins with a committed effort to read and study the Bible each day. Go to your Christian book store and find a personal Bible study guide that will help you discover the meaning and implications of the passages that you read. Gaining a greater understanding of the Bible is about more than just reading a certain number of chapters each day. It’s also about getting a greater understanding of the original meaning and message of the passage as well as an understanding of what the passage is saying to you and the members of your class today.
KEY #3 – Pray more! There’s power in prayer! Do you believe that? We certainly hope so. Prayer is our communication link directly to God. Through prayer we can talk to God, telling Him our wants and needs, sharing our joys and concerns, and thanking Him and praising Him for all of the many blessings that He has given to each of us. As a teacher, you should see prayer as one of the most important parts of your efforts to be an even better and more effective worker for Christ. As you work to plan, prepare and present each lesson, prayer should be a vital part of your activities. Pray that God will give you a greater understanding of the lesson and the Scriptures involved. Pray for His guidance as you work to prepare a lesson that will be interesting and relevant to the lives of each of your students. Pray for each of your students by name (do this often); pray for their physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Pray that God will help you to live a good, exemplary Christian life; a life that will be a true Christ-like example for your students. Pray for those who are not – but should be – a part of your class. And, very important, pray that the Holy Spirit will lead you and guide you to even greater opportunities to witness and share your faith with your students and others throughout the week.
KEY #4 – Show greater concern and live for your students and their individual and collective spiritual, physical and emotional needs. We often think of the pastor of the church as the shepherd of the group. Well, in a similar way, the Sunday school teacher should be the shepherd of his or her class. Teaching Sunday school should be about more than just standing in front of the class and talking at them for 45 minutes. It should also involve genuine love and concern for each and every student within the class. Yes, we’d all love to have a class filled with sweet little girls who are kind and respectful, but most of us are also blessed with borderline hyperactive little boys who can’t sit still or be quiet. And, sometimes it’s hard to remember that we must love each of these students equally. God made each of us as an individual. He didn’t use a cookie cutter to make us. He created each of us with individual talents, individual abilities and an individual personality. To be a truly effective teacher within the church, you need to get to know each of your students better. You need to show greater concern for their needs and the daily problems that they each face. And, you need to make an effort to get to know them and their family better. When people are asked about an outstanding teacher that they have known in their life, invariably most will mention a teacher who showed genuine love and concern for them as an individual. And, that’s one of the most important things that you can do to be even better and more effective in your teaching ministry.
KEY #5 – Devote more time, thought and energy in preparing each week’s Sunday school lesson. How long do you think the average Sunday school teacher spends in preparing their weekly lesson? Several years ago one of the major Christian education publishing companies conducted a survey and found that the average Sunday school teacher devotes only between 10 and 15 minutes each week in preparation of their lesson. Only 10 to 15 minutes! And, again, that’s the “average.” There are many outstanding teachers across the nation who spend 6, 8 hours or more on their lesson. But, if 10 to 15 minutes is the average and on one side you have people spending many hours in preparation, what’s on the other side? Little or no preparation at all! True, many of today’s curriculum materials are very “uses friendly,” even listing exactly what the teacher is to say. But, does following your curriculum materials exactly make you the best possible teacher? We don’t think so! The best teachers are the ones who know their students and the problems, needs and concerns that they have. And, with this knowledge in mind, they begin their lesson preparation by asking, “What do I really want my students to learn from this lesson?” By keeping this question in mind throughout the entire planning and preparation process, the teacher may find that they need to make major changes in the lesson, adding and changing materials to make it meet the needs that they see, and using their own creative abilities to make the lesson even better, more relevant and more interesting for their students. How much time should you spend in preparing a Sunday school lesson? Twenty minutes a day for at least four or five days should be your minimum. And, remember, the more time and energy that you spend in preparing your lessons, the better and more effective you will be in your work for our Lord.
KEY #6 – Keep the Bible at the center of every lesson that you present. Earlier we talked about the importance of the Bible as our “handbook for life” and the Christian’s guidebook for day-to-day living. It’s important for you as a teacher to read and study the Bible, but it’s also important for you to keep the Bible at the center of every lesson that you present. No matter what the subject or topic of your lesson, help your students to see that the source of the lesson is not the curriculum booklets or other information, it is the Bible! The Bible is our “textbook” for Sunday school. And, since it is our “textbook,” shouldn’t every student in every class have their “textbook” with them? Getting students to bring their Bibles to Sunday school is important, but it is also important to see that all students have the same translation so that they can easily follow along as the Scriptures are read. And, remember, if you are asking your students to bring their Bibles to Sunday school, make sure that they use them in class. Ask students to read from the Bible and challenge students to use their bibles to find other scripture passages that relate to the lesson them or topic through a Bible search activity. And, you, as the teacher, need to set an example for your students. The importance that you students see you placing on the Bible will be evident to your students and have a great influence on the importance that they place on God’s Word.
KEY #7 – Make sure every lesson that you prepare and present is interesting and relevant to the needs of your students. Several years ago a survey was conducted that discovered that the number one reason why people left a Sunday school or a Sunday school class was that they didn’t like their Sunday school teacher. When they were asked what they didn’t like about their teacher, these same people said that the teacher was boring, their lessons were not relevant to the live lives and needs of the students, and there was little or no opportunity for discussion and interaction. One of the most important features about Sunday school is the way that we teach and study the Bible. Sermons are important, but they are sort of “one-size-fits-all.” But, in Sunday school, we teach people according to their age, education, interests and abilities. In addition, in Sunday school we can discuss, ask questions, share personal insights and experiences and much more as we really “dig in” to God’s Word. To be your very best as a teacher, you will need to work to make each lesson as interesting and relevant to the needs of your students as possible. But, as we mentioned earlier, 10 to 15 minutes of preparation just won’t do it! A good plan for a great lesson begins with the opening, a time when you use a game, reading, question, song, video or other activity to get all of the students interested, involved and focused on the lesson to come. They you will want to move into the body of the lesson; the real Bible study part of the lesson. The key here is variety! Don’t get in a rut. Use as many different teaching methods, tools and activities as you can to involve all of the students in the learning process. And, finally, close by reviewing and summarizing the lesson, talk about ways that each of your students can apply the lesson in their lives during the week ahead and then close with prayer. You too can be a good, creative Sunday school teacher! But, to do your very best for our Lord and for your students it will take work, dedication, preparation and planning and prayer!
KEY #8 – Never stop learning or trying to be a better, more effective teacher. One of the biggest problems in the Sunday school today is teachers who think that they are doing “okay.” And, because they think they are doing all right, they have no interest or desire to do anything different or better. Is “okay” good enough for Jesus Christ? Did He come to this earth with the attitude that He was just willing to do that which would be “okay?” No! Jesus gave His all for each of us! He was even willing to lay down His life on the cross. Sunday school teachers should never be satisfied with what they are doing, even if they are very successful and have a growing, effective class. We can always do even better and we should never be satisfied with what we are now doing. Earlier we mentioned the importance of working to learn even more about the Bible and its application to life. That’s a very important thing for every teacher to do, but there are many other areas where you should also be striving to grow and learn more. To be your best and most effective, you need to be looking for the best and most effective teaching methods and tools. Talking with public school teachers and seeking out books from your local library on modern educational theory can help. You should also seek out books that will help you learn about individual learning styles and intelligences. Check out the internet, books, magazines a d other sources for creative Bible teaching ideas. And, very important, talk with other Sunday school teachers to share and learn from one another.
Why is Sunday school important? Because of its primary purpose, Christian education – helping people of all ages learn about God’s Word – the Bible – as a guide for their lives. Why is the Bible important? Because of the central character of the book – Jesus Christ! And, why is Jesus important? Because, as He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) And, why is being a Sunday school teacher important? Because, it is one of the best and most effective ways to carry out Jesus’ directive to “Go…and make disciples!” (Matthew 28:19) Why are you a Sunday school teacher? Hopefully it is because of your great love for Jesus Christ and your love for the students that you have been asked to teach. Teaching Sunday school is one of the most important jobs that anyone could ever have! Remembering that Jesus Christ gave his all for you, shouldn’t you strive to do your very best for Him?