Adult Sunday School Teacher
Informed, but Not Transformed
By Brian Mclaren
Those who teach have a higher calling than simply to transfer information
I’m an educator at heart. I love to teach. Before becoming a pastor, I loved teaching literature, writing, even grammar. In my spare time, I loved teaching music. I still love to take people into the woods and teach them about plants, birds, reptiles, weather, and ecology. Anything I know, I love to share with others. Most of all I love to teach people about God, the Bible, the gospel, the Christian life.
But the word about in the previous sentence causes me pause. I don’t want just to teach people about God, about the Bible, and so on. I want to drop the preposition in the same way the apostle Paul does in Ephesians 4:20 (NASB), when he speaks of the need for people to “learn Christ,” not just learn about Christ.
When I taught people to play guitar, I wasn’t just teaching them about the guitar, how strings vibrate, what frets do, or why the grain of the soundboard is important. True, I share this information; it does have some value. But I was interested in teaching guitar.
When I taught writing, it wasn’t just information it was interested in transferring. I wanted to help my students become the kind of people who could think clearly, feel honestly, and convey those thoughts and feelings in phrases, sentences, and paragraphs. It was the same with literature. Yes, there is an about dimension, but it was always in service of the direct, transforming, empowering encounter: learning literature, learning interpretation, learning poetry.
This difference between learning and learning about parallels an important shift that is signaled by the change from “Christian education” to “spiritual formation.” True, in many quarters people slap a sexier new label on what they’ve always done. But elsewhere the shift in language reveals a profound shift in values, from teaching about God to teaching people God, from teaching about the Christian life to teaching people to live it, enjoy it, practice it. At its best, the change in language signals a shift in priority from transferring information to training for transformation.
This flows from a reality many pastors and church leaders secretly acknowledge but seldom verbalize: that too many of our most “educated” Christians are some of the meanest. They may know the most information about the Bible but are the least Christ-like.
Too often there seems to be a direct correlation between knowledge about theology on the one hand and arrogance, contentiousness, and an uncharitable spirit on the other.
No one is in favor of ignorance, but mere knowledge that “puffs up,” as Paul points out, isn’t much better.
In my evangelistic conversations and in my visits to a variety of churches, I am becoming more and more sure that, both for our current church attenders and for the unchurched we wish to reach, one question is increasingly paramount: Can your church help me experience God and experience personal transformation? By this question, they’re telling us they don’t just want to learn about. They want transformation. They want to learn Christ.
We have well developed curricula and structures for teaching information, but we are still quite primitive when it comes to training for transformation. But that problem is also an opportunity, for us leaders, to seek transformation ourselves, from being educators who teach about, to being spiritual mentors and trainers who first and foremost practice a transforming faith as a way of life ourselves, and have effective way’s of bringing others onto a transforming path, too.
Of all the many things I am optimistic about in the church these days, this is one of the best.
What Makes a Good Teacher?
By Lee A. Dean
Teachers who succeed have godly characters and the desire to transform students.
Adult education teachers are never self-appointed. There is always a selection and supervision process of some kind, regardless of the size and structure of a congregation. What do supervisors of Christian adult education look for in their teachers, both in and out of the classroom? Read on to find out what traits these leaders are on the lookout for.
Experience In The Church And As A Teacher.
If someone is new to your church and expresses a strong desire to immediately begin teaching a class, the best course is to instead take time and let the person become integrated with the life and mission of the church.
“We want people to connect, find relationships, get involved in ministry, and be here for a little while,” said Fred McCormick, adults’ pastor at Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. “Then let’s have a talk about where you can begin to serve, including teaching.”
Bill Layle, pastor of spiritual formation at Kentwood (Michigan) Community Church, said teaching is not a role best suited for newcomers. He likes to take a prospective teacher to breakfast a few times as a way of getting acquainted. “Teaching in the Scripture is really an elevated position, which will require me to get to know the person,” he said.
Many adult education pastors and staff prefer to use people who have experience in a church environment. However, they also look for people who have taught in other places, such as in K-12 education or as corporate trainers. These kinds of experiences usually transfer well to a church setting.
Teachers with godly character traits–particularly humility, honesty, integrity, and authenticity meet a requirement that is more important than classroom experience and knowledge of the subject. A teacher has to show observable evidence that he or she is living what they are teaching instead of just telling students how they should be living the Christian life.
“You are the message,” says Layle. “Who you are is going to speak louder than anything you say. I want to be sure that you are sending the right signals.”
Willingness to Support the Church’s Mission and Goals
One component of the screening process of prospective teachers is their willingness to teach in a way that corresponds to the direction of the church. If leadership is lax on this point, the result for your church could be similar to what happens when you let a fox into the henhouse. Leadership must have the willingness to say “no.”
“There are times someone wants to teach so badly that it throws up a red flag. Maybe they want to impose on the class and on the church their thoughts on certain topical areas or biblical studies. But that is something that may not necessarily coincide with the purposes and direction of the church,” said McCormick.
An Understanding of How Adults Learn
One common error adult education teachers make is to take the same tactics that work with children and simply transfer them to the “big people.” The audiences are quite different. Adult education leaders look for teachers who understand that adults crave information they can use.
“You can’t ask adults to memorize lists of doctrine,'” said McCormick. “They want to learn truth that is immediately applicable.”
Ability to Engage the Class
The best adult education teachers are those who make a strong connection with their class. If students are engaged, they’ll keep coming back. The best way to lose that connection is to think that telling is the same thing as teaching.
“You can’t become a talking head,” said Layle. “You will try to get too much information across. You won’t allow the group itself to discover things. Don’t tell them what the Bible says. Ask them what they think it says. Let them get involved in the learning process.”
When McCormick observes teachers, he studies the level of engagement displayed by students when they communicate with each other and the teacher. He looks for teachers who ask questions that stimulate meaningful discussion in a particular direction.
“Teachers should recognize that discussion isn’t for the sake of discussion alone. Where does it lead? What is the purpose of the lesson and the teaching experience? We want our discussion to fulfill that purpose and function,” he said.
Have the Desire to See Lives Changed
Adult education pastors are interested in the motivation of teachers. They want teachers who define their success by the degree that the lives of their students are transformed. This is an intangible quality and difficult to measure, yet teachers are asked to pay attention to what they see and hear from their students.
“The measure is often relational,” said Layle. “Is someone more in love with Jesus now than they were six months ago because of your teaching? Are relationships with spouses deeper and richer? With children? With co-workers? Are your friendships deeper?”‘
Teachers stand as examples of the Christian life; they also serve as encouragers, motivators, and mentors. When all is said and done, they should be people who can humbly tell their students, “Follow me, as I follow Christ.”
What Adults Are Looking For
By Roberta Hestenes
Four characteristics of adult education that will change the way you deliver a lesson.
1 Corinthians 13:11
Often our Sunday schools, confirmation classes, and youth programs parallel the public education experience so that we send this subliminal message: Education is for children. The sooner you’re through with it the better.
Without slighting the importance of children and young people, I’ve always felt that the heartbeat of the church is adults. Jesus loved children, but he did not call children as his disciples. He called adults. We have no example in the Gospels of Jesus teaching children. But we have many, many stories of Jesus teaching adults.
Furthermore, it is adults who shape the world, for good or ill, and it is adult Christians who are called to he salt and light in a dying world. It is adults who vote. It is adults who work and who control the governments, schools, corporations, unions, social groups, charities, and other institutions of our society. It is adults who are called to actively disciple their own families. It is adults who decide the church’s priorities and budgets. To teach adults is to be on the firing line of Christian ministry and social change.
Consequently, when we address adults, we can address some significant issues. For example, I find that as they reach mid-life many Christian men are troubled by issues of boredom in marriage, disillusionment with the church, and suffering that seems to have no purpose.
But often they ponder these questions alone, in silence, with no one to empathize or even listen to them. In adult education, we have the important privilege of helping people understand their fears and work through tough issues with a mature biblical perspective. We can touch the throbbing pulse of human pain, anxiety, hope, and joy.
The Bible was written primarily for adults, to answer adult questions, to deal with adult problems. Adult education is vital to the church because it is our opportunity to open the Word of God, the textbook of the church, for people to whom it is ultimately addressed.
Teaching to Adult Tastes
Adults learn differently than do children, and I’ve found it helpful to keep in mind the unique characteristics of adult learners whenever I’ve taught adults. Malcolm Knowles, in his The Practice of Modern Adult Education, has given me a lot of insight here.
Recognize That Adult Learners Are Self-Directed
Adults like to see themselves as self-directed and in charge of their own lives. But sometimes we inadvertently make them feel dependent, almost like children.
For example, when you put people in rows in a classroom, many adults feel (even if only subconsciously) that they are in a childlike setting. Furthermore, few adults will volunteer to be placed in situations where they will feel they are being talked down to or treated with condescension. When the teacher is the “expert” and the learner is “talked at,” the adult hardly feels in charge of the learning environment.
Draw On Adults’ Large Reservoir of Experiences
As adults grow, they learn to trust their own judgment and experience more and more, and they test what they hear from others against their own sampling of reality. If what the teacher says is not validated by and connected with their own experience, they will not take the teacher’s message seriously.
We are wise if we can put this experience to good use in the classroom. For example, once I wanted to develop a course for blended families. At first, I thought of inviting an “expert” (say, a psychologist) to teach the course. But I decided to draw on the experience of the people who might attend such a class.
So I invited some blended families to meet with me, and I asked them questions such as “What are five areas of concern for parents and children in blended families?” “What are your needs?” “Where does it hurt?” “What has been most helpful for your situation?” and “What is one thing about the blended family experience that no one ever talks about and that you need to talk about?” “How has Christian faith helped you?” We brainstormed and were able to craft a course that had the Bible as its foundation and human experience as its structure.
Acknowledge That Adults Are Oriented To Their Tasks, Roles, and Identity
This means that the learner’s identity as parent, spouse, worker, professional, or recreational hobbyist profoundly affects what the learner is willing to learn about. Good adult education is intimately linked to people’s image of themselves and what they see as their role in the world. An effective adult education program will integrate such concerns about roles with biblical curriculum.
Connect the Learning to Life
Probably no more than 10 percent of adults are genuinely interested in learning for learning’s sake, to know the Bible simply in order to know the Bible, to know theology or church history or Christian philosophy simply because they enjoy learning. Unlike many children and youth, adults are unwilling to store up theoretical knowledge that may or may not someday be of use to them.
For most adults, the someday of their childhood has arrived, and they want to see the practical benefits of learning today. They want information they can use now. They want connections to everyday life. So it’s harder to “market” a course on the doctrinal themes in Hebrews than a course on parenting teenagers. This doesn’t mean you avoid Hebrews, but you must connect it to questions adults are asking.
That’s not to say that adult needs should rule the classroom. Although I recognize the need to touch adults at their points of needs, most of my teaching is essentially Bible-centered. But I always try to find those crucial links between the Bible and real-world living,
Adult Sunday School Teacher
Teachers contribute greatly to the Spiritual health of Community Church. They model the Christian faith to those who sit under them, and they facilitate growth by passing on the stories and information that make us–God’s people who we are. These teachers serve across many levels of age and spiritual maturity. Since they function in smaller settings, teachers are often on the exciting (and challenging) -front lines” of discipleship.
Term of Service
Sunday schools teachers are volunteers. They serve for (1) the academic year (September -May); (2) the summer term (June- August); or (3) both. Community Church’s Christian education committee coordinates teachers and teaching assignments.
Sunday school teachers report to the Christian education committee, which is chaired by Community Church’s pastor of discipleship.
Scripture explains that teachers fulfill a critical role in the life of God’s people. They serve as examples in both knowledge and faith. They are to be held in the highest regard. Like other leaders at Community Church, teachers must commit to the highest standards of Christian living.
* Oversee a community of men and women interested in a specific topic, cultivating community and spiritual support within this group.
* Prepare for each class by spending time in study, prayer, and planning.
* Plan and present a 30-min lesson for each week’s class; include a time for discussion within each lesson, (or, with the approval of the pastor of discipleship, schedule an outside speaker to come to your class).
* Coordinate a time of singing and prayer.
* Build relationships with each person in your class.
* Develop relationships among members of your class and coordinate one to two outside-of-church gatherings for your group (e.g., Christmas party; group outing, etc.)
* Participate in the pre-semester planning session one month prior to beginning your term of service.
* Be present and prepared to teach for at least 90 percent of the classes during your term of service.
* Work out any scheduling conflicts with the pastor of discipleship.
* Submit a semester’s-end evaluation to the Christian education committee.
This article “Adult Sunday School Teacher” by multiple authors was excerpted from” www.buildingchurchleaders.com web site. It may be used for study & research purposes only.
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.”