The Likeable Teacher


I had dinner with Chris Imbach, an early adopter to the double 

your class strategy a couple of weeks ago. I told you about him  before. He told me once that he now has great great grand daughter  classes. For that article, see

As I reflected on our time together, I thought, "What makes  doubling work for Chris and other teachers that I have known that  have doubled not once, but several times over the years? What is it  that makes some teachers so successful at growing classes?"

There are a number of things involved, but there is one thing  that is true of every doubling Sunday School teacher I know. You  can have this quality and not double, but I have never known a  doubling teacher who did not have this quality. And, I have known  teachers that were dedicated, hard working, knowledgeable,  and articulate and were largely ineffective  because they lacked one quality:

People didn't like them.

It is not just true of teachers. Pastors who effectively lead  churches tend to be pastors that people like. Ministers of Education  that effectively lead Sunday Schools to double have strong people  skills. To be successful at almost any job, it helps to be likeable.

The prize goes to the likeable

Tim Sanders has done extensive research into the likeability  factor and has written it up in a book by the same name. Here are  some of his findings:

    1. Doctors give more time and better care to patients they like.
  • In his book Primal Leadership, Daniel Goleman  discusses the fact that a positively charged work environment  produces superior profits.
  • A Columbia University study showed that success in the  workplace is more about likeability than what you know or who  you know.
  • A Yale University study revealed that people, unlike  animals, get ahead not by being aggressive, but by being nice.
  • When they go to court, likeable people are found not guilty  more often than non-likeable people.
  • Likeable candidates get elected more often than non-likeable  candidates.
  • One of the primary elements of marital success is  likeability.

In short, everything in life will go better if you are likeable,  including your Sunday School class. What then, does it take to be  likeable.

A touch of class

All things being equal, people like people who comb their hair,  press their shirts and can be described by the word sharp. We like  people who have it together. We tend to not like losers. On a  team, we like people who can catch the ball, throw a strike or drop  the three pointer. In a choir, we like people who can sing on pitch.

The Bible says, "Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will  serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men." We could  paraphrase this, "Do you see a man who is skilled in his work? He  tends to be well-liked by everyone except his competition." We like  people who dress well and do well. We like people with a touch of  class. We like people who are successful in whatever endeavors they  take on.

I knew a guy once that was very dedicated, studied hard, worked  hard to grow a class, but it never went all that well. What was the  problem? He stunk. Literally. I don't mean he stunk at teaching. I  mean when you got within ten feet of him, you had the feeling he had  not taken a shower in a few days. It was bad.

Now, I know what you are thinking. "Wow, that is quite a story. I  knew someone like that once. But it isn't true of me." And, likely  it is not. But, here is the real question: how would you know? Do  you have anyone in your life that you could ask that would give you  honest information about you? Do you know anyone in your life that  you could ask, "Is there anything about me that is unlikeable?" and  get an honest answer? Have you asked lately?

"Well, that's just me. I am not into ironing my shirt and looking  all preppy." Careful. "Just me" could be costing you more than you  know. And, it is not just you. It is a choice you make. You can make  a different choice.


We like people who dress well and do well. . . to a point. As  long as they don't dress too well, do too well, or talk too high and  mighty, we like a touch of class. But, we also like someone who is  down to earth, someone we can relate to, something we have something  in common with.

If you would seek to be likeable, and enjoy the benefits in every  arena of life, seek to find common ground. Seek to establish  rapport. Dress like the people you would serve. Talk like the people  you would serve. Maybe a little better, but not a lot better.

It is a basic missionary principle. Missionaries know that to  reach a people, we must learn their language, culture, and customs.  To the degree that we can, we need to walk like them, talk like  them, dress like them.

"But, I have nothing in common with them; we are totally  different." This is almost never actually true. Life is complex  enough that if you dig around long enough, it is possible to find  common ground with almost anyone. Find it. Find movies you both  like, places you have both been or food you both enjoy. Perhaps  there are sports teams you both like, a common approach to  parenting, or maybe you are part of a common group.

Ultimately, if we are talking about Christians, we have that in  common, and our faith should be central to all of our lives. If you  can't find anything else in common, lean into that.

Paul said, "To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have  become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might  save some." 1 Cor. 9:22 [NIV] Follow Paul. find common ground.

Be nice to them

One of the first verses I memorized going to Sunday School  growing up was, "Be ye kind one to another." Ephes. 4:32a [KJV] It  is amazing how many Christians have not yet learned this verse. At  least, they have not yet learned to practice this verse. Many who  believe in the doctrine of grace are not that gracious. If you want  people to like you, be nice to them.

And, this is not the only verse that has to do with being nice.  Consider memorizing these verses:

    •  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is  near. Philip. 4:5 [NIV]
  •  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing  with one another in love. Ephes. 4:2 [NIV]
  •  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances  you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave  you. Col. 3:13 [NIV]
  •  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live  at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18 [NIV]

You can't be godly and mean. [Bad joke: what do you call someone  who tries to be godly and mean? Answer: A deacon!] Godly people have  a winsome graciousness about them. People like that.

We need to be sensitive and caring. We need to think about how  the other person is thinking. Don't say things like, "Other than  that, did you enjoy the play, Mrs. Lincoln?"


We tend to like the familiar. We tend to like people we know. If  you just hang out with people, they will tend to like you better.  There is nothing quite so comfortable as an old pair of slippers.

Don't just teach your class; hang out with them. Consider this  verse: "He appointed twelve--designating them apostles--that they  might be with him and that he might send them out to preach." Mark  3:14 [NIV]

I draw your attention to two words: with him.  Jesus called his disciples to be with him. His discipleship program  was not a book or a course or a series of PowerPoints. It was that  they might be with him. Discipleship is more caught than taught. If  you would make disciples of the people you teach, spend time with  them.

Of course, like anything, it can be overdone. "Don't visit your  neighbors too often, or you will wear out your welcome." Proverbs  25:17 [NLT]

It can be overdone, but usually it is not. Most teachers would do  well to take their students out to lunch, have their students in  their home and spend time with them.

Don't try too hard

Jesus taught us to walk the narrow way. It is narrow because it  is easy to fall off one side or the other. We saw that in last  principle. We ought to spend time with the people in our group, but  not too much.

There is a balancing principle to the whole idea of being  likeable. Here is one way of saying it: we need to try to be  likeable; not necessarily try to be liked. Me trying  to be likeable is about me working on me. Me trying to get you to  like me goes to far.

The Bible says, "On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God  to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but  God, who tests our hearts." 1 Thes. 2:4 [NIV]

One of the ironies of ignoring this last principle is this. If we  try too hard to be liked, we end up not being liked. Of course, the  bigger problem is that we can't please God, as the verse above says.  But, the other problem is that it just doesn't work. No one likes  someone who tries too hard to be liked.