NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–When it comes to maintaining a vital relationship with the Lord, Sunday School leaders never graduate from the spiritual disciplines prescribed through the ages for all Christians: praising God and hearing His Word in weekly worship, praying to the Father and reading His Word in daily devotions, allowing the Holy Spirit to work through our spiritual gifts to minister to others, obeying Jesus by witnessing to His love and sharing the Good News of eternal and abundant life in Him, and gathering with other believers for fellowship. You could add other disciplines to this list, including a few that are unique to the effective Sunday School leader. Here are few of those specific disciplines:
— Continuous preparation. The Sunday session always goes better when you start preparing early in the week. That may mean simply reading the Scripture passage on Sunday afternoon or Monday morning and glancing at the teaching materials (especially the teaching aim). There are obvious reasons to do this, but there are less obvious reasons as well.
By putting the passage and aim in your mind, you’ll become more sensitive to illustrations through the rest of the week. Things you read, the people you encounter and the experiences you have could all be useful anecdotes next Sunday morning. For example, I was shopping one week and came across the cutest little toy barbeque grill. It made a crackling noise and came with pretend food to “cook,” including a fish. Knowing that next Sunday’s Bible story in our kindergarten class was “Jesus Cooked Breakfast for His Disciples,” I couldn’t resist buying it. The kids loved it, and it related to the lesson, too.
— Consistent prayer. You many have heard it said, “We don’t teach the Bible, we teach people the Bible.” Really effective teachers go a step further still: They teach people the Bible in such a way that they address the needs in the lives of those people. How do you keep the needs of people in mind? By praying for them. Make a notebook — or buy a spiral one — and make a page for each member of the class. Keep a list of the needs in each person’s life and note advances in their spiritual walk.
— Concerned care. Respond to your members in times of crisis. Occasionally try to see them face to face away from the class. Call or send a note on special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries. Remember anniversaries of events such as the loss of a job or getting a new one, a successful surgery or the beginning of physical therapy, moving into a new home, the birth of a child or death of a spouse, etc. This kind of care doesn’t just happen — it requires spiritual discipline.
— Conjunctive outreach. Any time I try to alliterate, I run into a challenge. I’m using a word I don’t use often to describe the spiritual discipline of outreach — conjunctive. It is defined variously as “serving to connect,” “joined together” or “involving the joint activity of two or more.” It is not just important that you set the example in outreach. It is also important that you take along other leaders to show them how it’s done. Invite a group leader to accompany you on a visit to a prospective member. Show them how it’s done rather than just telling them to do it.
— Concerted multiplication. Perhaps the most neglected spiritual discipline of Sunday School leaders is an intentional effort to multiply themselves. Always be on the lookout for an apprentice teacher you could train to help birth a new class. Watch for the person God may have gifted to be an outstanding outreach leader. Challenge someone to take a baby step toward leadership by enlisting them to serve as a care group leader. Remember the work of the Sunday School leader: enlist, equip, encourage. Prepare! Pray! Care! Reach! Multiply!
It will take discipline, spiritual discipline and strength — the kind of strength the Lord provides abundantly to those in service to Him.
David Francis is director of Sunday School at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.