What is a Sunday School Director to Do?
By Josh Hunt
The most common Email I receive in response to this web page goes something like this:
In this article I will offer some concrete suggestions on what you can do if you have taken on the role of the Sunday School director. These ideas apply to lay volunteers as well as the professional Minister of Education. By the time you finish this brief article, you will have a clear understanding of the critical role that you play as Sunday School director, as well as a clear understanding how to fulfill your purpose.
Where do you want to go?
"Begin with the end in mind," management guru Steven Covey said a few years ago in his classic best seller Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It is good advice. The first order of business for any endeavor is to decide where we want to go before we start the engine.
I would suggest a destination: to help Sunday School teachers grow their groups both spiritually and numerically. We are interested in both quantity and quality. Obedience to the great commission implies both.
The result of the effective work of a Sunday School Director shows up on a graph. It results in countable, graphable, measurable growth. Effective ministry as a Sunday School director means having 100 in attendance this year and 110 in attendance next year.
Countable growth, however, is not enough. We must also have the kind of growth you can never count. We must be producing men and women, boys and girls who are living for God. We are out to produce people who are living the disciple's life-- people who are consistent prayer, obedient to the commands of God, and trusting in the promises of God. It is your job, as Sunday School director to provide the motivation and training necessary to produce that kind of outcome.
There are four things you need to do to accomplish the goal of spiritual and numerical growth: 1) take care of the details, 2) training and skill building, 3) helping groups reproduce, and 4) encouragement, encouragement, encouragement.
Take care of the details
Jesus taught us that we lead by serving. No where is this more true than it is in the work of Sunday School. A part of what you do is the grand and glorious role of standing before the people and casting a vision for a new a better future. A part of what you do is making sure that every Sunday School teacher has chalk. It is making the coffee and sharpening pencils. It is your job, as Sunday School director, to take care of the details.
Training and Skill Building
Training and skill building is one of those things that lots of people talk about but very people do consistently. Let me take the mystery out of teacher training by showing you an effective way of continually improving the skill of your teachers year after year.
First, get the pastor involved. Ask your pastor if he would be willing to take on the role of a "model communicator and teacher of communications." This will not take a lot of time, and it will be some of the most high-leverage time a pastor can spend. As an added bonus, if he will do what I suggest, his own communications skills will improve. And, this is not something that will take a lot of time. Here is what I have in mind: hold an ongoing course for teachers that the pastor attends and participates in, but does not necessarily lead each week. Alternate between studying something on the topic of "How to Be a Better Teacher" and something that will build the teachers basic foundation of theology. Here is the fine print.
Have an ongoing class on Wednesday night or Sunday night, whichever is more convenient. If everyone is using the same curriculum, part of this time can be used to overview the lesson each week. Part of the time should also be used in learning about good communications skills and the process of growing a class and making disciples. If all of your groups are not using the same curriculum, spend all your time on "How to Be a Better Teacher" one semester and all of your time on building the teachers depth of theological and biblical understanding. I provide a number of resources on my web page that you can provide to your teachers. These include Good Question Sunday School lessons and a number of articles relating to teaching and ministry. There are a number of good books on teaching, communication and discipleship that could be studied with great profit. Here are some titles that would work well in the teacher skill-building tract:
By the time you go through these excellent volumes, there will be some new ones available. Communication is very, very difficult. We could spend a life time exploring how to do it better. In addition to learning how to do a better job of teaching, study some books that help with the other functions of a teacher. Teach the teachers to invite every member and every guest to every fellowship every month.
During the alternating semesters, I recommend you study some books that will build into your teachers a foundation of theology that will enable them to teach everything with greater skill. These would include:
If I were a pastor selecting these titles, I would simply select the most influential, life changing books that have shaped my life and theology.
Approach each course as if it were a new, short-term offering. This way, you get the best of both worlds. The class has the consistency of an ongoing class, but you advertise it each semester as a new opportunity for this semester. The class can be open to anyone in the church, but target teachers as your key audience. Try to grow this class in the same way that a teacher tries to grow a Sunday School class. Call every teacher at the beginning of each semester and specifically invite them. Try to recruit them to teach one of the sessions. Speaking of teaching. . .
The sixty-four dollar question is, "Who should do this teaching?" Who should teach the lesson overview, who should teach the books on teaching, and who should teach the books on theological depth building. My answer may surprise you: not you and not the pastor. Rotate the teaching among your participating teachers. This will help in a variety of ways. First, the pastor does not have time to do one more thing. The saving of time will make this plan of participating in this training possible for him, where he may not have time to do it if it meant doing all the preparation.
Second, the variety of teachers will allow everyone to learn more. Teachers will learn from the content of their fellow teachers teaching them, but they will also learn from the style of how their fellow teachers teach. Teachers will naturally be more interested in the class if they are doing part of the teaching. If you are spending part of the time doing a lesson overview, recruit two teachers each week. Let one teacher do the lesson overview, while another does the other part. You can simply pass around a sheet at the beginning of the semester and ask people to sign up at a time that is convenient to them. If you have four teachers in the group, everyone will teach once a month. After an atmosphere of comradery and trust has developed allow the teachers to evaluate each other's teaching ability. The pastor should take his turn in teaching, perhaps even teaching a little more often than the rest.
Read this next sentence very carefully: even though the pastor does not teach every week, it is imperative that he be present every week. His ministry of presence in participating in the discussion will mean the difference between success or failure in this project. If he does not think it is important, the teachers will not either.
You role, as Sunday School director, is to make all this happen. You need to recruit the pastor's involvement. You need to schedule the time and place. You need to call every teacher and ask for their participation. You need to remind the teacher who is supposed to teach each week that this is his or her week.
This is your "hour of power." This is the hour that will cause continuous improvement in the teaching skill of your teachers. If you have to start out slow, with only a handful of teachers participating, so be it. Grow the group over time. Each semester invite all the teachers who have not been participating to do so. Act like it is a brand new class. Don't make them feel like they are bad for not coming in the past. If the pastor is willing to do some of the inviting for you, all the better. The teaching ability of your teachers is the number one predictor of both the qualitative and quantitative growth of your Sunday School.
The Sunday School director is the OB-GYN doctor in the Sunday School. It your job to oversee the birthing of new groups. Be constantly on the lookout for groups that are becoming large enough to reproduce, potential teachers who might take on a new group and new subject material that might be interesting for a new group. One of the best ways to start a new group is to have one of your existing teachers move temporarily to a curriculum that is interesting to half the group, but not to the other half. If you have a young couple's class, have the teacher do a course on parenting. All the parents will want to participate, while the non-parents do not. You may want to start a course that requires some accountability-- learning so many Bible verses and so forth. Half the group will step up to the plate to do so, while the other half will not be willing. Starting new groups is difficult; place the responsibility in the hands of your best and most experienced teachers. It is easier for a new teacher to take on an existing class while the experienced teacher launches a new class. Admonish your teachers to be obedient to the command of God in 2 Timothy 2:2. When you have a new baby group, give the baby every possible advantage. Feed new comers to this new group. Give them all the equipment, support, and encouragement they need to be a success. If you can keep that group alive and functioning for six months, you will never kill it.
Encourage, Encourage, Encourage
Teaching is hard. Sometimes teachers will prepare and no one will show up. Sometimes they will contact members, and no one will seem to care. They will give Friday nights to Jesus (see related article) and no one will show up. Teachers have problems of their own. They have aging parents and colicky babies and troubled teenagers. At times, life gets plain old hard.
Teachers do not simply need you to expose them to one more teaching technique. They do not only need another lesson on how to organize a class to fulfill the great commission. They need you to love them. They need you to listen to them tell about how their class or their kid is driving them crazy. They need you to listen and care. They need you to love them. They need you to remember their birthdays. They need you to notice when no one shows up to their class after they have spent all week preparing. They need you to celebrate with them when they have a room full of people or they baptize on of their own. They need you to stand outside their door as they teach and then tell them in glowing terms what a great job they did. They need for you to stay up nights thinking about how to encourage them in the same way that they stay up nights thinking of how to effectively minister to their classes.
If the gospel is the key to man's illness, we need teachers to administer the medicine.
If teachers are the communicators of the good news, we need Sunday School Directors to give them everything they need to be effective in their ministry.
Perhaps God has brought you to the ministry for such a time as this.