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:
- 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
- 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
- One of the primary elements of marital success is
In short, everything in life will go better if you are likeable,
including your Sunday School class. What then, does it take to be
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
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
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
Of course, like anything, it can be overdone. "Don't visit your
neighbors too often, or you will wear out your welcome." Proverbs
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.