A Starter’s Guide to Teaching Sunday School
I will never forget the day a relative commented, “Teaching isn’t difficult. You just get in front of people and tell them what you know.” Sure thing (I replied in my head), if you never want to have an impact on your students.
There seems to be a misconception that teaching is a skill anyone can just pick up, but my calling from God tells me otherwise. Having earned a teaching degree and spending even more time in ministry trying to refine and learn how to teach, I am even more convinced of my insufficiencies. It’s merely by the grace of our Lord and Savior that anything reputable comes from my teaching. It comes from him.
I hardly remember what it was like to be a first-time teacher, but now the Lord is allowing me to revisit the reality as I mentor a dear friend. So, here is a guide if you are just beginning to teach.
1. You are not your mentor. Or your mother. Or your pastor.
Psalm 119:73 beautifully says, “Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands.” The first realization as a teacher is one of uniqueness. YOU are like no other teacher on earth. YOU come with special strengths that will energize your lessons, specific weaknesses that will increase your reliance on the Lord, and particular life experiences that God will use to positively influence your students. Don’t get too caught up in mimicking other teachers, but draw from them what the Lord wants you to use. The goal of cross-generational mentoring is not to create clones of others, but to equip future leaders to carry on the gospel of Jesus Christ.
2. Pray and study God’s word constantly.
At the bare minimum a bible teacher should be meeting with God once a day through scripture and prayer. It’s simply impossible to “pour out” God’s word if we are not allowing him to “pour in” the word. Think about going for a pitcher of water when you need it most, only to find nothing pouring out! We create this experience for our students when we don’t have a pitcher full of God’s word to quench their spiritual thirst. Psalm 119:11-13 states, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. 12Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees. 13With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth.” So stay in the word, continue to learn spiritual truths from others, and seek as many opportunities as possible to increase daily obedience to the Lord.
3. Prepare for preparation.
Many teachers are initially shocked when they realize how much preparation it takes for a single lesson. The important thing to understand is preparation is about more than having a lesson ready: it involves prayer and constant affirmation from the Holy Spirit. Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Preparation helps fine tune the message God wants to be presented. It also readies a teacher’s heart for the Spirit’s movement through a lesson’s execution. Take your time and don’t try to rush God’s guidance (I’ve learned that the hard way). If you have a general idea about where to proceed, but the Lord hasn’t given you all the details, then continue to search his word and seek him through prayer. Sometimes it even helps to take a break for a day or two so he can speak to your heart.
4. Keep your life in order.
Titus 2:11-12 says, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” A few years ago an opportunity presented itself for an acquaintance of mine to teach a bible class for the first time. Humanly speaking I was skeptical, but spiritually speaking I hoped and prayed that she would start aligning her life more closely to God’s standards so she could pour all of her heart into teaching. Unfortunately, her worldly lifestyle didn’t change and she ended up teaching for only a short time. The lesson in all this is a teacher of God’s word must be wholeheartedly sold out for him. I certainly don’t have it all together as a teacher, but the desire to please God is present. Having mixed allegiances between God and the world technically means there aren’t things we are willing to give up. Teaching God’s word is an incredible responsibility, so standing on the fence won’t work. Live your life biblically, and to the best of your ability, in every way: financially, romantically, verbally, and physically. Sending the hypocritical message of “wanting the world and wanting Jesus too” only pushes people away from Christ.
5. Don’t overlook evaluation.
One of the most vital aspects of teaching is evaluation, because it is through evaluation that we gain insight and redirect our efforts to best reach our students. In 2 Timothy 1:13-14, Paul advised Timothy to remember his example and pattern of teaching while relying on the Spirit to help him guard his entrusted responsibility. And we know Paul evaluated his disciples because he constantly traveled to minister to them and the churches. This is what true mentors do! While I certainly understand the emotional toll that evaluation tends to have on a teacher, it is through this friction that God works to enlighten us. Consider how a diamond is formed – after many years of immense, pressurized heat a beautiful jewel immerges. So don’t be afraid to ask mentors or other believers who are more mature in the faith to critique your work and make suggestions for your teaching. You will be the one praying about whether or not to take the advice or leave it, but the first step is to acknowledge that evaluation is a huge part of maturing as a teacher.
6. Let the Lord work.
It’s a normal desire as a teacher to see outward evidences of learning, but the simple truth is those evidences aren’t always present. Success as a bible teacher is defined by being sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, not by how many people join a class. It’s God’s job to teach and our job to be trustworthy interpreters. Obedience to God’s calling is up to us, but the results are up to God. Allow the Lord to work in his own timing to reach those under your instruction, and then you will start seeing glimpses of your tireless and dedicated spiritual investment. It’s worth it! And our God who, “…began a good work in [us] will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:13).” Our pure efforts will not return void in the Kingdom of God, friend! Strive to keep the focus on the end result of eternity and not on earthly verification of success.
The calling to teach God’s word is a vital one. Take heart that you are needed to spread the gospel! The Lord is raising up a mighty generation of believers through our obedience. The endeavors we make today impact eternity, so we can have full assurance that all our efforts will glorify God.