Administrating the Sunday School
Elmer L. Towns
Many Sunday Schools have a great desire to reach the lost in their community and teach them the Word of God but fail to do so. As Sunday Schools have faced new frontiers, they have stumbled over their machinery and were not able to go forward. The Sunday School must be properly organized for a spiritual thrust just as a business, army or any other institution organizes itself for new thrusts. The success of the organization, however, depends to a large extent upon the way it is administered.
THE PLACE OF THE PASTOR
“Like priest, like people” applies both to the pulpit and to the teaching ministry of the pastor. While in some churches the pastor is the administrator of the Sunday School, in the majority of cases there is a separate officer in the form of a general superintendent. In either case, and whether he intentionally strives to do so or not, the pastor sets the tone for the church’s attitude toward its Sunday School. He is not only its spiritual head because of his pulpit ministry to its members, but he is also its example in life and in his recognition of the importance of Sunday School.
In magnifying the Sunday School, the pastor is silently saying to all of its workers and students, “I appreciate you. You are vital to the life of the church. It is my desire to do everything in my power to aid in your ministry.”
As local churches grow, their supervisory needs tend to mushroom and more leaders must assume responsi¬bility. The pastor cannot and should not spend all his time looking after the small details of running the Sunday School. He needs administrative assistants, such as a superintendent and perhaps an assistant superintendent, to make sure that the total Sunday School is properly functioning. Some churches have been so conditioned that they want the pastor to do it all. However, leadership is getting the job done through other people.
In times past, a Sunday School committee/cabinet was organized to administer the ministry of the Sunday School. This committee was made up of the pastor, the Sunday School superintendent, and other elected personnel. With the growth of the total educational program in modern churches, however, a broader committee was needed to give leadership to the total ministry of education in the local church. Today the Board of Christian Education has grown to assume this ministry, including the supervision of Sunday School. The pastor is a member of the Board of Christian Education, along with other godly people from the educational groups in the church. The pastor always remains vitally involved in the Sunday School because working through the Sunday School is one of the best ways he can shepherd the total church.
THE BOARD OF CHRISTIAN EDUCATION
The manifold purpose of the Board of Christian Education is to carry out the teaching obligation in the Great Commission through the local church; to provide representative influence from the church into the Sunday School; to prevent omissions in the program, overlapping of content, and over-emphasis on any one topic; to effectively correlate and coordinate the total Christian education program; to approve educational curriculum and materials; to suggest the educational budget; to determine qualifications and personnel for teaching positions; and to evaluate the present program with a view of planning for the future educational needs of the church.
In keeping with its purpose, the Board counsels, maps out programs, approves curriculum materials, assesses needs, and makes plans for carrying out the educational program of the church. The organizational chart, “The Sunday School and the Board of Christian Education,” shows the relationship of the Sunday School to the Board of Christian Education and its cooperative position among other educational groups in the church. It is obvious, therefore, that the Sunday School should never be a separate agency from the church; rather it is a working arm of the church.
THE SUNDAY SCHOOL STAFF
To properly administer the work of the Sunday School, the staff will consist of some or all the following members, according to the size of the school and its needs in its present state of growth: A general superintendent (an assistant superintendent if needed), department superintendents (and assistants if needed), teachers, secretary/treasurer (and department secre¬taries and treasurers if needed), other workers such as memory secretaries, etc.
The best word to describe how the Sunday School staff should relate is together. “For we are labourers together with God” (I Corinthians 3:9). The pastor, Christian education director, general superintendent, departmental superintendents, and all other workers and teachers in the Sunday School must work harmoniously to build a New Testament Sunday School. The scriptural concept for leadership could be aptly visualized by a chain with each worker forming one link. A chain is no stronger than its weakest link. The whole administrative success in the Sunday School breaks down at the point of failure of one worker to fulfill his responsibility.
1. Appointment of staff. The quality of the Sunday School’s ministry depends, to a great degree, on the choice of the individual workers. Before that, securing qualified workers depends on the very method of choosing them. The church which takes seriously its obligation to provide the best possible leadership, for its Sunday School is already on the road toward success.
The method of selection of Sunday School officers and teachers is usually defined in the bylaws of the church constitution. In some churches the general superintendent is elected by the congregation (or church board or Christian Education Board) and he is authorized to select other officers and the teachers and workers, subject to approval by the pastor and/or Christian Education Board.
Other churches believe that because Sunday School is not an entity in itself but is an arm of the church, the church as a whole has some responsibility for the choice of its leaders. They therefore elect the officers and teachers, either annually or when there is a vacancy in a position or a teaching post.
Advocates in favor of the annual election maintain that it gives opportunity for more people to serve; it eliminates undesirable teachers and officers with less confusion; and it brings fresher ideas into the classrooms. On the other side, those who would place teachers in lifetime positions point out that teachers who are specialists become increasingly efficient as they continue to study and add to their library and resources on the same age level.
If the election is annual, the church may have an annually-appointed nominating committee. It is their responsibility to interview and enlist prospective teachers. The pastor, Sunday School superintendent, and/or the Christian education director should carefully interview each candidate. They should obtain the agreement of the candidate to the Standard or whatever form of teaching requirements they subscribe to (See Chapter 7, “Establishing Sunday School Standards.”) Laxness and failure at this point may spell teacher drop¬outs or pupil disinterest later.
2. Responsibilities of the general superintendent. Because the important ministry of Sunday School is reaching, teaching, and winning people to Jesus Christ, the choice of the superintendent of the Sunday School is as important as the aims. Actually, the pastor leads the church in its total ministry, but when it comes to giving direction to the Sunday School the superintendent is the supervisory link in the chain of command. Therefore, he must be a spiritual leader that personifies the spirit of the Sunday School.
(a) The Sunday School superintendent is, first of all, an administrator. He must see that the qualified teacher is scheduled in the proper classroom at the appropriate time with the correct equipment and aids to teach the assigned curriculum.
(b) The Sunday School superintendent is responsible for personnel. He must recruit new workers, make recommendations for placement, provide training, and
evaluate the effectiveness of those already in service.
(c) The Sunday School superintendent supervises the ordering of literature and teaching aids, in addition to making all expenditures for the Sunday School.
(d) The Sunday School superintendent is responsible for outreach and growth. This involves visitation, follow-up of absentees, enlargement campaigns, and the application of the laws of Sunday School growth.
(e) The Sunday School superintendent is responsible for public relations. He supervises advertisement, outreach, and solves problems as they arise.
(f) The Sunday School superintendent is charged with evaluations for improvement of the entire program. He must know the standards and understand how they can be implemented.
The list of procedures that would help a super¬intendent carry out his responsibilities could be book length. The following suggestions will introduce some ideas to help him make the Sunday School function more efficiently.
The general superintendent should construct a yearly planning calendar that shows the times when new programs will be introduced. This should hang in the Sunday School office, along with a personnel chart which shows every position and the name of the person who fills that responsibility. Blanks on the chart tell a superintendent his personnel needs.
A superintendent needs a set of pigeonholes (mail¬boxes) for ease in communication with all his staff. He should write out a job description for each position and a manual to reflect the policy by which the Sunday School operates.
The superintendent should plan a one-day con¬ference with his staff at the beginning of each year. Here they coordinate the planning calendar, evaluate needs, inform new staff members of policy, and rally enthusiasm for the Sunday School.
3. The department superintendent. Since the department superintendent is responsible for individual classes and the interests of the total department, he or she has a relationship both to individual teachers and to the general superintendent. The larger the Sunday School, the greater his task.
A church may have both a superintendent and a director of Christian education, but neither of these have the direct supervision of the separate departments. Both administration of the department and training of his teachers are the responsibility of the department superintendent. He must be alert to departmental strengths and weaknesses and take steps to remedy the latter, bearing in mind that his department is one cog in the wheel of the entire Sunday School program.
(a) Qualifications. Occasionally the concept of a department superintendent is that of a person who makes sure that each class has a teacher and who distributes the literature, receives the offering, and takes attendance. Actually, the superintendent of a depart¬ment should know the age-group characteristics and be as familiar with the best curriculum materials for them as the individual teacher of a class within the department. In addition, every specification for the general superintendent applies also to the department superintendent.
(b) Duties. The department superintendent must promote the interest and activities of his department. He has general administrative responsibilities and is accountable for the efficient operation of his department. In meetings of the committee that guides the Sunday School, he speaks for his teachers as plans are formulated for the entire Sunday School.
The department superintendent is to plan effective assembly programs. In the traditional Sunday School, he is responsible for the opening exercises, the first 15 minutes. Here he leads the pupils in a worship program, prepares the pupils for the lesson, or reinforces the theme of the day. He gives special attention to correlation. He does not feel the necessity of being the only participant in such a worship service; he involves pupils or teachers. In the open-session approach to teaching, he assumes the role of master teacher. He guides in activities that will enhance learning. Instead of putting all activities at the beginning of the session, he places them throughout the lesson.
The department superintendent should conduct meetings of the department’s teachers and officers. Regular meetings should allow discussion of problems within the department as a whole and the classes individually.
The department superintendent should know the standards of the total Sunday School and the program within his jurisdiction. He should evaluate accomplish¬ments and be ready to prescribe and initiate training sessions or private conferences to remedy any unde¬sirable situations within the department.
The department superintendent should preserve departmental morale. In his meetings with the teachers of the department, as well as in private conversations, the superintendent should convey appreciation and encouragement to them. His interest in the pupils, and his enthusiasm in approaching his programs as well as his meetings with the teachers, will all contribute toward esprit de corps.
4. The secretary/treasurer. It has been said that statistics have faces. The role of the secretary/treasurer is vital to the success of the Sunday School. Progress is measured by statistics, and the secretary/treasurer is the one with the access and the ability to compile such statistics. In large churches, two people will function in these offices, one secretary and one treasurer, while one person is sufficient for both roles in small Sunday Schools.
Many times, tucked away in a four-by-four room with only one desk covered with department record books, this officer may be unknown to the majority of the membership of the Sunday School. The secretary/ treasurer is often a quiet person who is unwilling to take any public part in the work of the church; nevertheless, he renders some of its most valuable service.
(a) Qualifications. He must like working with numbers and figures and be neat and accurate in computing and recording them. He must be sold on the value of the records thus carefully maintained.
(b) Duties. In the smaller church, there may be only one secretary who will compile records for the whole Sunday School. Larger schools need department secretaries who, in turn, send their reports to the general secretary. The secretary/treasurer also records minutes of any Sunday School business meetings and handles Sunday School correspondence. In letters to other churches or to community organizations the secretary actually becomes the public relations representative of the church. He should be aware of the importance of making each letter of good quality, reflecting the high standards of the church.
Each week the secretary/treasurer will prepare the statistics showing totals of enrollment, attendance, and offerings. These statistics will show leaders at a glance their strengths and weaknesses, where attendance is decreasing or where enrollment is static. Good records will sound alarms as well as herald encouragement.
For an efficiently functioning Sunday School there must be good organization and supervision. The Sunday School receives its supervisory authority from the local church, which uses the Board of Christian Education to give it direction.
Beginning with the pastor and moving down, every worker must be qualified, trained, and excited about his ministry. When the leaders function properly, the whole Sunday School usually goes well.
GUIDE QUESTIONS FOR STUDY AND DISCUSSION
1. Why is the pastor’s attitude the key to Sunday School success?
2. Why is organization important in the Sunday School?
3. Name several functions of the Board of Christian Education.
4. What leaders are needed to administer a growing Sunday School?
5. Who is the most important link in the concept of the Sunday School leadership as a chain?
6. Besides knowing how to be an administrator, what must the department leader know about his depart¬ment?
7. Name three duties of the department superintendent.
8. Why are Sunday School records important?
9. What are two qualifications of the secretary/ treasurer?
ACTIVITIES FOR FURTHER STUDY AND APPLICATION
1. Analyze your present Sunday School organization and list ways it can be improved.
2. Consult the bylaws of your church constitution and determine the method of selection of Sunday School officers and teachers in your church. In the light of this lesson, consider whether you think this method is the best for your school.
3. If you are a department superintendent, prepare a list of qualifications and duties of the teachers and officers in the department. Include a checklist of their responsibilities.
4. Prepare a list of books of in-service research and training by officers and teachers.
Benson, Clarence H., Sunday School Success (Evangelical
Teacher Training Association, Wheaton, IL 1964, revised). Cully, Iris V., New Life For Your Sunday School (Hawthorn
Books, Inc., New York, 1976).
Gangel, Kenneth 0., Leadership For Church Education (Moody Press, Chicago, 1970).
Hyles, Jack, The Hyles Sunday School Manual (The Sword of the Lord Publishers, Murfreesboro, TN, 1969).
Schaal, John, Superintendents and Leaders (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1969).
Towns, Elmer L., The Successful Sunday School and Teachers Guidebook (Creation House, Carol Stream, IL, 1976).
The above article, “Administrating the Sunday School” was written by Elmer L. Towns. The article was excerpted from chapter 3 in Towns’ book, How To Grow An Effective Sunday School.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”