To Help Sunday School Teachers, “Clarify The Win”

As I travel and lead workshops about Sunday School, effective teaching, life transformation, and leadership, I am always amazed at how many churches don’t have a plan to unite their teachers on a mission to teach the Bible, lead their class members to serve in the church, move beyond the walls of the church to engage the culture, and ultimately to experience the spiritual transformation of people.  I like to call this the “Judges Syndrome.”  The last line of the book of Judges tells us that the people “did what was right in their own sight.”  Leadership had become whatever the individual felt like doing.  It wasn’t like they were trying to do wrong, but there was no one declaring what the “right” course of action was…it was left up to the individual to decide.

In his book Seven Practices of Effective Ministry, Andy Stanley wrote about the importance of helping leaders to “clarify the win.”   At one point in the book he wrote, “It doesn’t take very long for leaders to take over a class, start a new program, begin an innovative ministry, and rally a crowd to follow them.  They may be only ten degrees off track, but given enough time, they will miss the target by miles.  It’s not that they are intentionally being defiant or difficult, they’re just being leaders.”

Maybe you’ve had that experience, too.  Well-intentioned Sunday School teachers, classes, or general officers have made plans for teaching, leading, and ministering and you’ve asked yourself, “How’d that happen?  Why didn’t they connect to my vision and agenda for our Sunday School?  Why don’t we seem to be able to get on the same page about what’s important to our Sunday School?”  The answer could lie in the fact that we as church staff have not “clarified the win” and explained what the essentials are…what we’re aiming for…and what the indicators of success in our Sunday School looks like.  Like Stanley said, if we don’t clarify the win for the teachers and leaders, they’ll do it themselves and decide what “winning” in Sunday School looks like.  They may decide that having a mega-class is the mark of success, or that deep fellowship is the primary goal.

Here are three practical ways to “clarify the win” with your teachers and leaders so that you bring focus to your Sunday School ministry.

  1. Decide on what “winning” looks like in your Sunday School. Talk about this as a staff, and once you decide, stick to your guns.  I value the LifeSpan model we are developing at LifeWay, because the adult Sunday School portion is designed to lead members to be spiritually transformed people who Connect with God and others, Grow in their knowledge and application of Scripture, Serve in the church, and Go into the community to share Christ in word and ministry action.  Those four elements are the “win” that most Sunday Schools can get excited about.  To learn more about Connect-Grow-Serve-Go, go to www.lifeway.com/adultstrategy.
  2. Communicate what “winning” looks like every chance you get.  As you meet with your leaders for ongoing training and encouragement, never meet without reinforcing the things that constitute winning for your Sunday School.  As you send out emails or tweets, talk about it there.  Call attention to leaders who are “getting it” and succeeding in accomplishing the core actions that you deem important.
  3. “Clarify the win” through a teacher covenant. A teacher covenant doesn’t have to be long in order to be effective.  A simple list of 4-7 items can bring clarity and unity to your Sunday School.  As new teachers are recruited and existing ones are re-enlisted, ask them to agree to a teacher covenant that clarifies the win.  Ask them to sign it, commit to it, and help them by reviewing the elements several times a year to make sure they are on track.

In conclusion, Andy Stanley said, “But countless leaders have innocently sabotaged their church by leading people in the wrong direction.  And the fault lies with an organization that has not been systematic about defining and clarifying what a win really is.”  I hope you’ll take the time to ask yourself if you’ve “clarified the win” for your Sunday School teachers.  Do they know the essential, non-negotiable things they must accomplish each year?  Are you regularly reminding them of what a “win” looks like?  If not, now’s the time to get started!

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