As I recently read a chapter in the updated book The Teaching Ministry of the Church, the author made a compelling statement about teacher training. I’ve always been a fan of ongoing training for group leaders. My practice while on church staff was to lead weekly teacher training meetings, plus offer quarterly and annual events, too. Let the words of Dr. Rick Yount sink in, and let’s reason together about the possible future of teacher training:
“Systematic teacher and leader training has fallen on hard times in many of our churches. Fifty years ago the typical Southern Baptist Church provided weekly meetings of teachers and directors in which preparations were made, educationally and administratively, for upcoming Sunday School sessions…In the late 1940s and 1950s, Southern Baptists could boast of a veritable army of trained workers, tens of thousands of trained teachers and leaders in thousands of churches nationwide…Today’s efforts at helping local church teachers in ‘rightly dividing the Word of Truth’ (2 Tim 2:15 KJV) are a shadow of what they once were. Even when the training events are provided, only a fraction of our teachers take advantage of them” (The Teaching Ministry of the Church, p.382).
Dr. Yount sums up the problem of ongoing teacher training well. Perhaps as you read this quote, you saw your own church in your mind’s eye. Maybe the decline in the emphasis on ongoing teacher training is partially responsible for the decline we have seen in our churches over the past 4 decades. As people encounter ill-prepared teachers in classrooms and living rooms, it gives them one more reason not to attend an ongoing Bible study. Church leaders lament the fact that workers are hard to recruit, and even more difficult to retain, but little thought, budgeting, and planning go into the ongoing training of those who lead Bible study groups. We are indeed in trouble. Will teacher training go the way of the dinosaur and the Dodo bird? Is there anything that can be done at your church to reverse this trend? I say yes. Here are a handful of suggestions to get you to think about saving your church’s teacher training:
- Recruit new teachers with the expectation they will be trained. The past is the past, but the future is yours to take hold of. From this day forward, recruit new group leaders by presenting them with a short list of expectations (some call this a Teacher or Leader Covenant), and list teacher training participation as an expectation. If you gain agreement early, before a teaching ministry actually begins, you’ll be in a stronger position to encourage new teachers to attend training events you offer.
- Provide quality training events. Quality doesn’t happen accidentally, and it isn’t cheap. If you are going to see teachers commit to attend training events you offer, you’re going to have to use experienced trainers/speakers, provide food and snacks, and aim for an “out of the park” experience – you need a few home runs. One poorly executed training event can set you back two years.
- Start where you are. If you offer no ongoing training for group leaders now, begin by establishing a quality annual training event – perhaps a kickoff event in August or September to coincide with back-to-school, and the time when Sunday schools typically go through a “promotion Sunday.” If you already offer a quality annual event, then consider moving to a quarterly schedule. If you have a quarterly schedule that is working, pray about moving to a monthly training philosophy.
- Don’t be afraid to raise the bar. While you can recruit newer teachers with the expectation they will attend training events, don’t give your current teachers a pass. Don’t let them “grandfather” themselves into a philosophy of no training. Almost every job on the planet requires that employees go through ongoing training – and many jobs require it for people to remain certified to do their jobs. Why would we do anything less in the church where we handle the most precious, life-changing text in the world?! Doctors, lawyers, nurses, school teachers, beauticians, hairdressers, auto mechanics, HVAC employees, and many others are required to be trained annually. Why not Sunday school or small group leaders, too?
It is my conviction that any teacher can improve his or her effectiveness through ongoing, regular training opportunities. Our churches are in desperate need of effective, trained workers. Perhaps our “ancestors” in church education had it right – they knew that well-trained workers could become an army of people who “rightly divide the Word of Truth.”
Stephen Covey, in his classic book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, identifies what he calls “the circle of influence.” He reminds the reader that although they cannot influence everything in their world, there are some things over which they have absolute control. May I gently remind you that you may not have control over the changes taking place in our culture, nor do you have control over the people visiting your church who are trying to find a new church home, but you DO have control over the training philosophy your church chooses to adopt (if you are a pastor or staff leader!). So the bottom line is: exercise influence over that which you can control! Start or ramp up the teacher training at your church. Do not accept the status quo. If you are not a staff leader or pastor, may I encourage you to exercise your influence and talk with your staff leaders about improving the training taking place at your church?
I have led weekly, quarterly, and annual training events at the two churches I served. Attendance was approximately 85-90% at each event. I want you to experience the joy, the blessing, and the benefit of quality ongoing training. Training doesn’t have to go the way of the dinosaur or the Dodo. It’s up to us to make sure it doesn’t go extinct.
To experiment with online training you can customize for your church’s leaders, consider using a tool like Ministry Grid. Get a free trial and see how easy it is to offer ongoing electronic training for busy leaders as a part of your overall training plan.