Putting the ‘School’ Back in Sunday School


I ask my children weekly during out drive home for church, “What did you learn in Sunday school today?”

I know, it sounds really old fashioned when I do it, but the basis of the question is the assumption that Sunday school is an educational activity. It is called “school,” after all. Or, if that sounds too antiquated for modern ears, you can call it “Bible study.” Either way, learning is the goal.

When was the last time you learned something in Sunday school? If the point is to teach people about the Bible and their faith, then there has to be some intention behind it.

From the perspective of someone who has either been a pupil or teacher in Sunday school for nearly all of my 48 years, here are five qualities that enhance the educational experience of Sunday school:

1. Curriculum. Choosing among the myriad options can be daunting. I’ve taught from a number of the publishers, including one-off special studies. What I find most helpful are materials that are streamlined, straightforward, easy-to-understand, and full of creative options for activities and discussion. This is even true for adult learners. They need creativity as well. And if you’ve never passed out paper and crayons to a group of adults and watched what happened, you’re missing out on a treat. It goes without saying that a publisher’s perspective and faith statement are of utmost importance. Finding the best fit for your group may take some time, but don’t hesitate to check in with your church staff, particularly the minister of education, if you have one, before making a purchase.

2. Preparation. You know when you’ve been the victim of a drive-by lesson. If the teacher has spent 15 minutes on a Saturday night or even Sunday morning, it shows. Always start by reading the day’s text… all of it. Not just a few selected verses. Then read it again. Then read the chapter before and after. It’s a good practice to read and reread the focal passage each day during the week leading up to the lesson. Each pass will provide an opportunity for you to glean more from the Scripture and will bring out truths the curriculum writer may have missed.

3. Creativity. It’s easy to fall into a rut when leading Bible study. You sit in the same chairs arranged in the same layout. You write the same lesson elements on the board. You even brew the same brand and flavor of coffee. Mix it up! I’m not saying you make each session an up-for-grabs free-for-all, but try introducing the lesson with video clips or music. Introducing multi-media components can grab your class’s attention, especially if you are teaching young adults, youth, or children. Begin the discussion with an ice-breaking type question that gets people talking. Have them engage in a brainstorming activity that opens their receptivity to learning. There are myriad ways to teach a lesson, and thinking outside of your typical patterns is a good way to start.

4. Participation. Discussion is key to my teaching style. I like to get group members sharing their experiences and understanding of the text. Sharing and participating in the discussion helps drive the points of the lesson home for the learners, and I believe wholeheartedly that the Spirit can speak to us through another’ journey of understanding. As a teacher, you have to guard against letting one person dominate, but if you can spread the participation around, the learning time will be better for it.

5. Prayer. This is really part of preparation, but I broke out as a separate ingredient because while it’s really simplistic and obvious, it’s the step I most often skip when preparing a lesson. And it’s the easiest one to do. Pray not only that you “rightly divide the word of truth,” but that your members would be open to hearing God’s voice in the text. Pray that the lesson would have a concrete application in your students’ lives. Ask God to help you formulate a creative way to drive home the point so that it sticks with your group members long after the closing prayer.

In short, don’t take Sunday school for granted, whether you are a teacher or a learner. Don’t approach the time as a social gabfest. Prepare your own heart in advance. You’ll be surprised at how much of an impact such a tried-and-true component of church can make on your faith journey.

Lance Wallace_for_webLance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA, does media relations and issues management at his day job, and blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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