You don’t have to look far to see that there is a serious moral decline in our families and in our culture. American Christian revival movements have historically happened within a certain context that is no longer present in the United States—a cultural base of familiarity with the Bible and with Christianity. We don’t have that anymore.
That is why I’m absolutely convinced that, if there is to be any kind of moral renewal in the United States, Christian education has a central function to play.
A strong Bible teaching program is absolutely essential and critical for the role and mission of any church. This is not secondary or peripheral. Paul noted this when he laid out his entire apostolic agenda:
We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom so that we may present every man complete in Christ. (Colossians 1:28)
How to Encourage Life-long Learners
The Sunday School, as an arm of Christian Education, tends to carry the bulk of this enormous responsibility—and yet it has, at best, only an hour or two per week to work with students. There is no way for even the best Sunday School teachers to teach people everything they need to know; instead, they need to know how to encourage students to become lifelong, self-motivated learners.
You have to have an environment in which an informed expert or two can guide a fruitful discussion in which people are free to disagree with each other, to think about and discuss things, and to act as “iron sharpening iron” for each other.
You need four things in order to create this kind of environment:
1. Space. Any strong Bible teaching program requires space—some kind of physical facility. It ought to be reasonably comfortable, and people should not feel crowded. The space ought to be healthy, secure, quiet and inviting.
2. Teachers. There’s no substitute for a qualified and well-prepared teacher. Teachers must be well prepared with robust content, and this means good old-fashioned study. This may mean that you will need a comprehensive teacher training program; it’s essential that teachers be well prepared. You can’t have a strong Bible teaching program without qualified teachers.
3. Curriculum. It’s important to use an age-appropriate curriculum that challenges students to grow. Of course, not every curriculum is well-designed; you’ll need some wisdom to discern which program is right for your Sunday School. But teachers need something to teach—you need to have some discipline and planning when it comes to content.
4. Students who are committed to study and to each other. Teachers ought to consider developing a system for a class accountability; students need to understand that we belong to one another and that we need one another. This involves praying for and helping one another, and it involves a willingness to commit to the work of the class.
Why Your Church Should Consider Investing in a Teacher Training Program
People who teach will tell you that they teach because they enjoy learning. Teachers who prepare are the ones who learn the most; if you enjoy learning, you will probably enjoy teaching. That being said, it’s important that you train your teachers to avoid two extremes that will often come up in a class:
1. On the one hand, you have the teacher who’s knowledgeable, but lectures without providing a space for students to give feedback and ask questions. People learn best when they participate, so avoid what I call the single lecture delivery.
2. On the other hand, dialogue is valuable, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that a dialogue format means no one needs to prepare for class.
Some programs appoint a class “facilitator” to start conversations, as if wisdom will suddenly sprout forth because students are dialoging with each other. It doesn’t work that way. Someone needs to be prepared with specific content, and that teacher must be able to stand and deliver.
That teacher must also have enough wisdom to know how to bring people in. Learning theory says that people learn when they participate; people also learn when they are provoked and stimulated. Teachers must lead a discussion in such a way that disagreements are worked out gracefully, and everyone is learning.
All of this involves spiritual formation, character development, and growing in Christ likeness. That’s what a Sunday School program ought to be about. That was Paul’s goal: “that we may present every person complete in Christ.”
The preceding was adapted by Rachel Motte from a sermon Dr. Sloan delivered at Tallowood Baptist Church on April 6, 1994.