Avoiding Sunday School Teacher “Burn Out”
By Rodney L. Pry, P.S.S.S.A. Executive Director
It’s something that we have all probably seen; maybe even experienced ourselves. After working long and hard at a job, all of a sudden a person gets very tired, both physically and mentally, and gets “fed up” with the job to the point of where they just “want out.” We’ve come to call the condition “burn out.”
Burn out has claimed victims from just about every type of work – even church work. Within the church, both full time Christian workers (ministers, etc.) and volunteers have become its prey. Within the Sunday school, far too many teachers and other workers have quit, never to return again, because of burn out.
Undoubtedly, you have sen burn out in your Sunday school. A Sunday school teacher who was such a hard worker and so enthusiastic in the past just seems to throw up their arms and say “enough.” The sad thing is that many of these “burn out victims” not only leave the teaching position, but may also leave the Sunday school and maybe even the church.
Is burn out inevitable? Is every Sunday school teacher going to get fed up sometime and quit? Well, it certainly doesn’t have to happen. In fact, with a little planning by Sunday school leaders and a little attention to their own needs by the teachers themselves, it should never happen at all.
At this point, many will ask why anyone should ever feel this way about teaching Sunday school. After all, shouldn’t a Christian want to share God’s Word and His love with others? And, shouldn’t we all feel the responsibility of serving our Lord? Yes, this is quite true! You must remember that each of us is also very human, with human feelings and needs. And, even a truly committed Christian may choose to serve the Lord in some other way if they become disillusioned with Sunday school work.
In particular, there are three distinctive causes for Sunday school teacher burn out. Let’s take a look at these causes and, at the same time, see what we can do to head off the problems.
Lack of Visible Accomplishment. Have you ever wondered if you are making a difference by serving as a Sunday school teacher? It may take one of several forms – a feeling that no one cares, a feeling that you aren’t getting the recognition you deserve, the feeling that others aren’t pulling their own weight and doing their share or the feeling that all the hard work you do as a teacher could be better invested in some other way for the Lord. Whatever its form, we have all probably wondered, at one time or another, if teaching Sunday school is worth the effort. In a way, it takes a very special person to be a Sunday school teacher. We must always remember that we are working for our Lord, not earthly recognition or reward. Look at the examples of early church leaders and missionaries who have toiled for years before seeing their first convert. As the Lord promised in Isaiah 55:11, “…my word shall not return to me void.” In other words, even though we might not see visible signs of accomplishment, we can be assured that we are making a difference. And, for those of us who are Sunday school leaders and members, a question. When was the last time you let the teachers of your Sunday school know that you appreciate the work that they are doing?
Lack of Support. The next reason is rather close to the first in that they’re both related to the response of the congregation to a Sunday school teacher’s work. Many times a teacher will feel like the sole survivor on a lonely desert island. They feel like they are all alone. They don’t have any support or help from the congregation, the pastor, the Sunday school leaders, their students, even other Sunday school teachers. This lack of support might be a very visible and straight forward thing or it could take one of several very subtle forms – lack of resources, too few or too many students in a class or lack of teacher training opportunities. Whatever the form, the feeling that no one cares can often lead to disillusionment and dissatisfaction. This is one area where Sunday school and church leaders must take the lead. It is up to you to let your teachers know that they have your support and the support of your congregation. This can be done in a variety of ways – from making adequate resources and teacher training available to organizing a system of prayer partners for your teachers and holding regular teachers’ meetings where teachers can share joys and concerns with each other and with Sunday school leaders.
Teachers Get Spiritually Tired. I once heard a woman say, “I work at a day care center all week and teach a Sunday school class of small children on Sunday. Sometimes I find myself just wanting to talk to an adult for a change.” Whether you teach children, youth or adults, you put a lot of time and effort into each week’s lesson. Doing that week after week, year after year, can make anyone tired. We all know the effects of being physically or mentally tired, but what do you do when you are “spiritually tired?” We know the value of resting and recharging our minds and bodies, but have you learned to recharge your spirit? As Christians, we need to continue to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ. We need the uplifting and renewing power of prayer and Bible reading. And, we need to read and study books and articles that will inspire us to greater service for the Lord. As Sunday school leaders, we must also plan our Sunday school program so that teachers do not feel “trapped for life.” Make it possible for teachers to have free Sundays on a regular basis and set terms of service for all Sunday school workers. Knowing the dangers of burn out can help Sunday school and church leaders and Sunday school teachers themselves to recognize the potential warning signs and the need for spiritual renewal that can help Sunday school workers maintain their focus on their true purpose and assure their continued service to the Sunday school and to the Lord.