The I-Factor in Sunday School and the Power of One

You may be wondering what in the world the I-Factor is.  It’s what I call the Influence Factor…the power that just one individual can have on another through the ministry of Sunday School.  I was recently reminded of this factor as I visited with one of my new friends and editors, Janice Meier.  Janice is an expert in the Old Testament and the Hebrew language,  and she provides excellent leadership in our work in Leadership and Adult Publishing at LifeWay Christian Resources.  Janice is a key player in our ongoing Explore The Bible curriculum series.

Janice told me the story of how she was greatly influenced by one of her Sunday School teachers as a young girl.  This one teacher, Helen L. Duncan, did not have an advanced education, but she loved the Lord and served Him as a Sunday School teacher, influencing the young women in her classes over the years.  My friend Janice became one of Helen’s special friends, and I’ve asked Janice to share the story of how this one person, Helen L. Duncan, had such a powerful influence on her life.  Here is Janice’ story in her own words, and the power of one:

“Helen L. Duncan of Mountain View, Missouri, was one of the most committed Christians I have ever known. I first became acquainted with Helen during my high school years when she became my Sunday School teacher at First Baptist Church, Mountain View. Although Helen never had the opportunity for an extensive formal education, she took every opportunity available to her to increase her biblical knowledge and understanding. Helen was an avid reader of the Scriptures, commentaries, and other religious books.

Helen believed in thorough preparation to teach her Sunday School class. I know because I studied with her almost every week. Reading the Sunday School lesson out of the teacher’s and pupil’s quarterlies was just the launching point. After reading those materials, we then read a number of commentaries on the passages the lesson covered and made handwritten notes for use in teaching. Often Helen would read the commentary aloud, and I would make notes. I still have in my files handwritten notes that we made together. The first set of commentaries I ever owned were a gift from this dedicated Sunday School teacher. Later I became a co-teacher with Helen and eventually taught a class of my own.

Helen’s influence and assistance, however, went far beyond the interests we shared related to Sunday School and teaching. Helen encouraged me to go to college when I graduated from high school. She opened many doors for me by providing encouragement, giving me opportunities for employment, and meeting differing needs in various ways.

After I graduated from Southwest Baptist College, I taught high school. All the while, however, I contemplated going to seminary in accord with the Lord’s calling and Helen’s encouragement. After serious prayer and study of our various Southern Baptist seminaries, I believed New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary was the place the Lord wanted me. I arrived sight unseen at New Orleans Seminary in January of 1979 to begin my first term as a student. Experience confirmed that New Orleans indeed was where I belonged. I graduated in 1981 with a Master of Divinity degree and later with a Doctor of Theology degree in Old Testament and Hebrew.

Since that time I have experienced the realization of two God-given dreams that had been stirring within me since those days of studying Sunday School lessons with Helen Duncan. One of those goals was to teach the Scriptures. I have been privileged not only to teach Sunday School through the years, but also to teach Old Testament and Hebrew to both college and seminary students. The other goal was to write Sunday School lessons and even edit them. After years of writing lessons for LifeWay, formerly the Sunday School Board, I became an editor there 15 years ago—in February of 1996.

These many blessings I have experienced largely result from the power of one Sunday School teacher to influence a life. Most important, Helen Duncan lived out her faith in Christ in her day-to-day living. She not only taught me about the Christian life, but also she modeled for me how to live it.

Janice Meier recently told me that without Helen’s influence on her life, she wasn’t sure how life would have turned out for her.  As it is, Janice’ expertise in biblical languages has benefited countless thousands of teachers all over the world!  What a privilege for someone like Helen to humbly submit herself to the Lord and watch one of her students discover God’s will for her life.  I am certain that Helen was so proud of Janice’ accomplishments.

As you recruit new teachers to provide leadership in your Sunday School (or as you train your current leaders), encourage them to discover the I-Factor in their classroom.  Help them understand “the power of one” and the possibilities that exist for them to be an influencing factor in the lives of their learners.  Pass along the story of Helen Duncan and Janice Meier as a wonderful example of the powerful influence a teacher can have on a student.  Leadership in Sunday School is a privilege, and all of us who teach have “a stewardship of influence” and should take great care in how we exercise that in our relationships with our learners.

If you have a similar story of how a Sunday School teacher influenced your life, share it here with the rest of our readers and keep their memory alive; help us learn more about the I-Factor and the power of one.  I imagine that Helen Duncan is not the only teacher who understood the power that one teacher can have on her students!

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