How to Teach Sunday School

Which of the functions of our highly systematized society is more elusive, more subjective, and in the hands of more types of people than that of teaching? Here are persons skilled and unskilled, trained and untrained, successful and unsuccessful, young and old, all teachers. The day school, the Sunday school, the catechism class, Bible study group, 4-H clubs, musical projects, and many others carryon at once, all requiring teachers. With all the specialization, the careful division of labor, and unionization of our day, teaching holds out the longest in defiance of such trends toward the departmentalizing of human effort.



As far as carrying out the business of the Lord is concerned, I think it is well that this condition should prevail. Inasmuch as the decline of the Roman Empire may be attributed to that fact that its fighting forces became hired specialists, so the church that removes teaching obligations from its members as lay workers is sure to grow cold and inert. Yet, also in this direction may be found, no doubt, the explanation that teaching is so often fraught with discouragement and disillusionment. When mention is made of “F’s” of teaching, you can easily follow through a range of common experiences: from “frustration,” past “fear,” down to “failure.” You might find it an interesting pastime to fit other words beginning with “f” into such a list.

How shall we meet the difficulties of teaching? As in facing other distasteful realities of life, we can not win by retreating from the situation, by distorting its purposes, or by providing superficial solutions. It is a basic to our Christian stewardship that we face the problem squarely, and meet the problems with head-on attack. It is the purpose of this article to renew the courage of our Christian teachers, particularly the lay teachers of the weekly Bible study classes, the the Sunday Schools, etc. for the solemn obligation they face. For the sake of clarity, eight elements of improved teaching, all words beginning with the same letter “f” shall be discussed.

Be Filled The relationship of authority to effective teaching is stated most clearly in that sentence by which Christ’s teaching was described: “He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” One may stop short of placing’ himself in such a position of comparison, out of respect for Jesus’ divine personage, yet the principle remains firmly established: in order to teach the Bible, one must know well its content, its purpose, and its power. Systematic Bible study, according to a consistent point of view, is to be expected of every Christian, and, the first and most essential part of the successfully taught lesson is preparation by the teacher. The teacher must himself become filled with the lesson before he can satisfy others by his teaching. Not only must he know the material objectively, as so many facts and relationships, but subjectively, the lesson must become a part of his inmost being. The teacher must first have been “filled with the knowledge of his (Christ’s) will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding,” as Paul states it. Employing the means of grace which the Lord has placed at his disposal, yes even required of him as a Christian, is the way by which the teacher prepares himself. Many fine helps for Bible study are available. Nor must we overlook the place of teachers’ meetings. The reward is not only a more successful lesson taught, but personal gain for the teacher himself.

The scene shifts from the quiet of one’s home to the meeting place. Children come, boisterous and free. There is no time now to brush upon the lesson points, or hastily to find an appropriate song. Now it is time to devote full attention to the youngsters. Friendliness will spell great difference. To be friendly is not a superficial gesture of a feigned smile and a forced remark. Friendliness is a basic attitude, a genuine interest ‘ in one another, and a vital concern for the other’s true well-being. Jesus spoke of the disciples as his friends, and thereby gave a definition to the word which only a child of God can understand. Such friendship will manifest itself outwardly, to be sure, and will result in a positive contact with the class, in cheerfulness and ease. It will reflect itself also in a long lasting genuineness, that will weather the storm; of misunderstanding and outright lack of appreciative response. Also the true friendliness of the teacher will lead him to an understanding of the child as an individual, who must be interpreted in terms of his background and surroundings. Most important of all, the friendly teacher will be moved by a compassionate yearning for the eternal wellbeing of the soul of the child before him, and will seek to nurture him with the substance of the promises of our heavenly Father.

Be Firm

The time has come to start the class. This is the time for whatever measure of firmness is necessary to establish good order. Establish a system, a routine if you will, for the obvious physical and mechanical needs of your class procedure. Set the “ground rules” according to which you and the class will expect to carry on at the outset. Children appreciate having the class orderly and well managed.

It is a serious mistake to expect a class of children to function effectively without a basic framework of authority provided by the teacher. That there must be interest for learning is true; but that such interest must be generated for the class within the framework of good discipline is demonstrated to me everyday. However, once the class is under way, for the day, or for the season, then we must aim to have the spirit of the class direct itself by a positive emphasis, and allow the negative to recede into the background. Respect for one simple rule, that one person may talk at a time, is better than a lot of good rules not enforced.

Be Fair

The paint at which respect far individuality must give way to. the greater good of the group is often difficult to. determine. Government throughout history has been concerned with this problem, and the classroom teacher is faced daily with dilemmas of this nature. In making our judgments of such cases, we are to. be guided by the precepts and examples of the Great Teacher himself. The Calvinist surely remembers that great emphasis has been given in our creeds and writings to. the value of the individual as a person, created in the image and likeness of the personal God. Incidentally, in practice our people have hardly measured up to. the standards which our confessions have set up. Even the records of the Christian school, especially in the Netherlands, reveal unwarranted abuse of the child. So, in our zeal far firmness, we must not lose sight of fairness.

Recognition of individual differences in your bays and girls is necessary to your fair treatment of them. Same can learn much more easily than others. One can express himself with greater ease than the other. A few are likely to. have warped social and emotional tendencies which invariably cause trouble in a group. Social situations resulting from varying parental backgrounds and interests are sure to be reflected in the class. Before the teacher can interpret the actions and attitudes of the members of his class, he must try to find out what makes them perform as they do. Your class will respond well to your obvious intent to. deal fairly in every instance.


Student reaction is not always a reliable criterion by which to judge competency of the teacher, and in no case should it be the only standard far evaluation. Yet it has its place. I am impressed by the consistency with which two factors of teaching success will prevail in the reactions of pupils and students. The first has already been discussed under the topic of firmness. Pupils like a teacher that can control the class, especially if he can do so with grace and ease. The second is commonly stated, “We learn a lot from him.” The weekly Bible study teacher may well take a clue from such an attitude. We must attempt to increase far the class its degree of familiarity with Scripture and its relation to the Christian life with every lesson we teach. Our lessons must have real content, so that something new and as yet unfamiliar may be added to that with which the pupil is already familiar.

Let the lesson help the child learn to know Gad, that is, to became familiar with him and his will. Then we are providing spiritual nurture far head and heart alike. Such teaching and learning requires effort, study and concentration. Unless the period of Bible study is a mental and spiritual workout far pupil and teacher alike, it has missed its goal. No doubt this “ease era” has already rained telling blows an our generation by making Bible lessons too easy.

Lest this appeal far applying mare effort to our teaching and learning would result in indiscretion, we must be reminded of the next phase of this matter.

Be Fitting

Actually, a whole book of educational theory belongs in this paragraph. The study of education seeks to fit the lesson to the learner and the learner to the lesson. It is at this paint that arguments about child-centered and subject-matter-centered teaching arise. We have no hesitation in choosing here. By divine decree we know that we are to. teach the Bible, the Word of God, as subject-matter. Jahn in his gospel identifies the Ward with Gad, which should make our teaching Gad·centered.

Haw shall we present this endless subject? We must teach it within the framework of the life of the learner. Hence we must consider the nature of the learning process, and its gradations at the various stages of the total development of the child. The Lutherans,·in one of their recent Sunday School publications, have included a summary of the mental, emotional, and social characteristics of children at several levels. Such a summary can be of real help to teachers in making their lessons fitting. I am sure those who prepare our lesson helps also have these factors in mind. But much is left to the teacher. It is up to him to select his vocabulary, the basic objectives to be taught, the specific de· tails to support those principles, and the appeal far decision and action, according to the level of development and life situations of the children before him. That is the way Jesus taught and Paul likewise presented “milk” and not “meat” to “babes in Christ.” Much of this phase of your teaching is realized at home during your preparation by being filled with the subject matter at hand. The rest will result from skillfully raising and answering questions with the members of your class.

Have Fun

Use “plenty of anecdotal matter, with which to lighten the burden of learning.” This instruction of the professor to teachers of English applies here tooAs methods of acquiring and holding the attention of the class, well chosen humor, carefully selected stories of human interest, and congenial pleasantries are indispensable pictures from books, rolls, or flannel graphs, will help in their place. Use of variety in presentation of the stories, including a discrete restoring to the dramatic, does wanders to heighten enthusiasm and to clarify the objectives sought. And we must not overlook the importance of the timely social, party, picnic, outing, or whatever activity you may choose, far a goad time of informality as a teacher with your class. Unfortunately, these ventures are usually made too big, and hence the contacts of pupils with teachers became impersonal. In all, the fundamental optimism that the Christian rightfully lays claim to must reflect itself in the contacts we make as teachers with our classes.

It is as natural that the conclusion of the lesson be planned for effectiveness as that we should listen for the climax of interest at the end of a sermon. All too often, I am afraid, we teachers feel satisfied to have presented some facts and information coldly, expecting the application to result rather incidentally. Perhaps the modern vogue to shy away from moralizing may account for our hesitancy to make specific applications. Abuse of the altar call may have given us a general aversion to appeal to the emotions. Yet there is no valid reason for a loose ending to the Bible lesson. Attention throughout the hour should be focused on certain expected outcomes. Having arrived as nearly as possible at these conclusions, a clearcut summary should be made. Then as the final parting impression, a warm vital appeal must be made to the class for dynamic decision as an act of the mind and heart, and for firm resolutions toward a course of action as activity of the will. Ours is the task to lead, to mold, and to inspire the youngster to a life of faith and service in the Kingdom of Heaven. To be sure, to Covenant Children the Covenantal Promises apply. To all, the feeling of need for the power of the Holy Spirit to attain to these ends must not be left uncertain.

Teachers, if we are to lay hold of any factors for improving our teaching, we should do so only in the spirit that this line suggests:

“Lord, if their guide I still must be O let the little children see their teacher leaning hard on thee.”