“We’re not in Kansas anymore,” said Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. She looked up and realized her surroundings had changed. I’ve had a similar moment in recent days with what I perceive is the decline of training in our churches…especially training provided for Sunday School teachers. I don’t want to live in the past, but “back in the day” (just a few short years ago, it seems) this was a primary focus of my ministry in the local church…and it worked…and it payed big dividends for the teachers and those they taught. What’s happened?! I can think of several reasons why training isn’t being provided in many churches today:
- Lost vision – church staff must have a conviction that training and equipping people for ministry is one of their primary roles. It’s pretty clear from Scripture that this is a primary focus of their leadership (or it should be). Ephesians 4:11-12 makes it clear that pastors are to “prepare God’s people for works of service.” In the original language it literally could read, “make ready.” We should make people ready for service, and for the battle for people’s souls.
- Lost time – we’ve let too many other things crowd out the time we should be spending reading and learning so that we can impart wisdom to those we lead. We often “major on the minors” in our ministry, feeling important and busy as we scurry around, but failing to focus on the one thing that our people need the most…our leadership expressed through training. It’s funny that in a day with more tools available to us to help track our time and plan our days, we still don’t get it. If Sunday School teachers are going to rise up once again and lead the way in evangelism and the effective teaching of God’s Word, they desperately need church staff, Sunday School Directors, and Pastors to set aside time each week in order to prepare to lead ongoing training. It’s not something you can throw together at the last minute and expect workers to attend with any enthusiasm.
- Lost staff – while attending a Sunday School training event at Ridgecrest Conference Center a short while ago, I met with state Sunday School leaders who were very concerned about a new (probably ongoing) trend they are seeing in churches: the fading of the role of the Minister of Education. What a shame. In a day when that’s exactly what the church doesn’t need, it’s the choice many churches are making. Some may make the decision to cut the position because of financial difficulties; others may do so because they don’t perceive value from that role (maybe some M.E.s haven’t made themselves invaluable to their congregations). But if preschool, children, student, and adult staff leaders are left to their own end, there won’t be any appreciable level of coordination of training. It will create a situation like the one found in the last line of the book of Judges: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did whatever he wanted.” (HCSB)
- Lost work ethic – ouch…that one may hit too close to home for some of you. Training teachers is hard work. It’s thankless work. It’s difficult work. But it’s some of the very best work you’ll do if you lead the education ministry in your church. I’m not trying to step on too many toes out there, but maybe I can step on your shoes and not mess up your shine. If you haven’t been giving the training your teachers need and want, then meditate on Ecclesiastes 9:10 that says, “Whatever your hands find to do, do with all your strength…” (HCSB). Renew your efforts and realize the importance of your work in equipping teachers.
Now, as the blog title stated, there are some stats that should convince you to reboot your teacher training! Dr. Steve Parr in his book Sunday School That Really Works, reports that in a state-wide survey conducted in Georgia, churches that provided quarterly or monthly training for teachers grew almost 14% in the past three years (p.98). What happened in churches that had not provided ANY training in the past year? Glad you asked! The same survey revealed that those churches tended to be in decline, and actually experienced a negative cumulative growth of -2.1%. Training does matter! On a final sad note, in the survey conducted in Georgia, 40% of the churches did not provide any training for their Sunday School leaders…and we wonder why the church is in trouble these days. It’s not rocket science, folks.
3 quick suggestions to get you and your church back on track in the area of teacher training:
1) Attend a local training conference this fall. Many area associations sponsor training events at low cost or no cost to Sunday School leaders. Do a little research and find one, promote it to your leaders, attend it together, and let it be a catalyst for a new era of training in your church.
2) Read a book on Sunday School and teach it to your Sunday School teachers. Use a book like Transformational Class (by David Francis), Sunday School That Works (Dr. Steve Parr), or Great Expectations (David Francis).
3) Set an appointment with a local church staff member who’s doing training and learn from them. Other churches in your area already do some type of ongoing training…go check with them to see what’s working and what’s not working. They’ll be happy to share their insights, and you might just find some inspiration!
No, we’re not in Kansas anymore. We’re not going back to Kansas, either…(oops, spoiler alert!). Times have changed, but the need for training teachers hasn’t.