Tell a bunch of Sunday School teachers that they have one job, and they’ll likely look at you like you’re crazy. Any Sunday School teacher worth his or her salt knows there are multiple jobs on multiple levels. At any moment you may be called on to do one of them . . . or all of them.
You bring the donuts, figure out what to do with the leftovers at church time, sweep the icing crumbs off the counter, and throw away the boxes. You pick up the records book. Sometimes you remember to actually check off who is in attendance and return the book to the records guy in the office . . . on time. You make coffee. You dash down the hall to the restroom to grab wet paper towels to mop up the spilled coffee or juice.
More importantly, you greet the new person at the door and connect him with an extrovert in your room. You follow up on the kid, the senior, or the pregnant mom with a call on Tuesday night because you might catch them at home. You pray with the family who is suffering. You arrange meals for the new parents. You drop a loving note in the mail to the parent of a teenager who has gone completely off the rails. You show up.
And, of course, you prepare for Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. or whenever your group gathers to study the Bible, to share how the week went, and to pray for one another. There’s never just one job.
But if there were just one job, what would it be? Search #youhadonejob on Twitter, and a host of examples will pop up depicting failed jobs. Signs that are misspelled, experiments that didn’t work, activities that went terribly wrong. Most are funny; some might be tragic. All make the point that sometimes we fail at the one important thing we’ve been asked to do.
“Buying donuts and turning in the records is my most important job,” said no Bible study leader ever. Of the more important jobs, many would be hard-pressed to decide between caring for people and being prepared. While both are extremely important and essential, neither “caring” nor “preparation” are, in the final analysis, the “one job.”
What is the One Job?
The one job of a Sunday School teacher is to make disciples. Our one job is not to care for people. Our one job is not to teach the Bible and transfer knowledge. Our one job is to make disciples. Our primary measure of success is whether or not our people are growing in their walk with Christ, applying the Word, and maturing as disciples.
How can you know if you are helping people mature as disciples? What does a disciple act like? What should you look for? Many churches have developed characteristics of the mature disciple. Your church may already have defined the characteristics of a disciple. If not, the EPIC acronym provides one way of looking at it.
E - Equipped and Serving
P - Proclaiming the Good News
I - Investing in Personal Growth
C - Caring for the Community
Equipped: An EPIC follower of Christ is equipped to serve and takes part productively in the life of the church. He has discovered his spiritual gifts. She practices her gifts in building up the Body of Christ.
Proclaiming Good News: An EPIC disciple cares about the relationship that others have with Christ. He is intentional about sharing the Good News with others. She prays for those who need to know Christ and intentionally develops relationships with others. He is aware of how Christ is at work in his life and seeks ways to share that Good News with others.
Investing in personal growth: An EPIC disciple takes responsibility for personal growth. He is able to “take solid food” and feed himself. She practices personal spiritual disciplines that strengthen her relationship with Christ.
Caring for Community: An EPIC disciple is outwardly focused and serves beyond the arena of the church family. He cares for the community and serves those who are not yet part of the Body of Christ. She finds ways to be connected other networks and ministries focused on the community outside the church.
On your quest to make disciples, lead the members of your group to intentionally consider and evaluate their progress toward mature discipleship through a deepening relationship with Christ.
Some Practical Tips
1. Change some terminology
Approaching the time with a “class” perspective can contribute to an old-school model of the teacher standing or sitting in front of the class at a desk with Bible study materials open before her and transmitting hard-earned knowledge to the “class.” Something as simple as using the word “group” can help shift the perspective. Instead of being the “teacher,” be the “facilitator.”
2. Create a climate for interaction
Using questions, dialogue, and exploration is a more effective means of leading folks to understand, apply, and obey the Scriptures. Learn to tolerate silence after you ask a question. Encourage questions. Be willing to wait for responses. Place the burden of learning and applying on the individuals.
3. Teach for obedience
Years ago, Carol Davis (consultant and global mission strategist) summed it up in a nutshell. “Teach for obedience not for knowledge.” Knowledge without appropriate follow up and change is useless and even detrimental. James 1:23-24 says, “ For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who sees his face in a mirror; he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.” Knowledge without application contributes to our forgetting who we are in Christ. Challenge them to change. Teach them to obey.
4. Teach them to feed themselves
If the group is going to invest time in their own personal growth outside the arena of the church and group time, they must be aware of spiritual disciplines and equipped to practice them as individuals throughout the week. Make your group aware of devotional practices that they can employ at home and in their lives outside the arena of scheduled church gatherings.
5. Teach them to teach others
Encourage them to lead the class dialogue and exploration time. When you are absent, enlist a group member to lead the dialogue, not another teacher. By modeling the “question, explore, apply” approach instead of the “stand and deliver” approach, you offer them a model that they can more easily reproduce. Some will find they are gifted as teachers. Others will find fulfillment in occasionally pitching in while learning that this is not their spiritual gift. You might even invite a youth in your church to facilitate when you are gone. That’s how I discovered my spiritual gift.
6. Lead them to discover and use their spiritual gifts
There are numerous studies and Spiritual Gifts Inventories available. Choose one that your Discipleship Pastor or Department Director approves, and engage your class. Take a couple of Sundays to study the spiritual gifts in the Bible, take the inventory, and talk about what their gifts are and how they can be used in the church and the community.
7. Release them to serve
Be a group that sends your best and most mature people out. Send them to teach the youth. Send them to start a new group. Free them to come late because they were serving as greeters or to leave early to get ready for choir. Never hoard your best. Grow them up and send them out.