AIM FOR A HIGH STANDARD
BY HAROLD J. WESTING
Isn’t it strange that so many things we think are important are the last things we get around to doing? Life, with its many demands, often presses the most important things to the rear of our priority list. I guess it’s true that few people are really self-starters.
This could be one reason why it is hard for most Sunday School workers to admit to the need of a Sunday School Standard. Living up to a standard means discipline. Perhaps we chafe under discipline because
we really need it and our pride won’t allow us to own up to the fact that we are that weak and need a standard to work by. It is not only the youth who cringe at the strokes of discipline. Well-aged adults are
often guilty of this, too.
What Is a Sunday School Standard?
A standard, by general definition, is something set up and established by authority as a rule for the measure of quantity, weight, extent, value, or quality. A Sunday School Standard is an ideal measure by which is defined the quality of work and devotion expected of the Sunday School staff of workers. It serves as a guideline for procedures and priorities as well as an effective discipline tool, all of which most Christian education staff people need.
When we join a local congregation, we are interested in its constitution. We want to make sure what these Christians with whom we are joining believe. What is more we also want to know what will take place when any member of the congregation defects from that standard. Once we join the church, that constitution will become a meaningful tool to help guide our Christian experience and service in the years that follow.
Each Sunday School which has clarified its task must have a comparable tool if it is to accomplish that task. Just as a church constitution gives itself guidelines for the call, the ministry, and dismissal of its pastor, so should a teacher have outlined for him the same guidelines for his service in the Sunday School. Do we believe that we need only to regulate a pastor’s role because he is paid to carry out his ministry? Is not the teacher’s task also important? Does it not need to be guarded with nearly as stringent a rule?
Many folk seem to object to this kind of pressure. To them it seems to be juvenile and legalistic. If you understand the body concept of the New Testament church, you begin to see how body discipline is one of the most essential ingredients of believers being together. Saints need to be together because they need each other, not just for fellowship, but that they might exhort one another to godliness as we are told in Hebrews 3:13. As members of the body of Christ, Sunday School teachers and workers need to understand what their special function is in the body and be willing to submit themselves to the rule of that body.
Who Sets the Standard for the School?
Just like the church constitution, the Sunday School Standard should be self-initiated. In some churches, it is true, the Christian education director or board, or the church board, or the pastor, sometimes determines the standard for the Sunday School staff, but this procedure is often what makes workers chafe under working by rules they had no part in forming. If existing Sunday School officers and workers develop together a clearly defined list of the things they believe God would expect of them, problems concerning conformity are greatly lessened.
I once gave a staff of about 20 teachers a sheet of paper each and asked them to do some creative writing. At the top of the page were these words, ” I believe God would expect of me the following as a worker in my Sunday School.” They were to answer that in these three areas:
To Christ and His church,
To my students, and
To the School and its administration committee.
Before the next meeting of the staff, I made a composite of all their works. I took special care to see that every item and idea they had given was included on the master sheet. Of course, many folks included the same items so it wasn’t too difficult to assemble them. At the next session we spent the whole time going over the Sunday School Standard we had created and making the changes they felt were important. It was a very healthy discussion which led to a unanimous decision to activate the standard. Because they played such a vital role in its development, they owned the goals and were ready to maintain those standards by signing the sheet as a covenant to uphold them.
The Sunday School Standard becomes the Sunday School Covenant when it becomes the desire of one’s life to fulfill it. We consider the Standard and sign the Covenant, pledging ourselves to the best of our ability, recognizing our limitation and the inworking power of God, to fulfill the regulation of the Standard.
The Standard is an instrument of success
A Sunday School Standard, rightly used, puts an effective tool in the hands of the Sunday School superintendent by which he can lead the school in successful work for the Lord. With it he can challenge his co-workers to remember their commitment to faithfulness when there is apparent slackness. With it he can encourage his staff to greater service in all areas of the Sunday School work. Without it, his chances for success in the work are slim.
1. It gives the leader authority to operate.
Suppose you have an exciting new product you want to produce. You invest a million in a large plant to produce hat product. You hire all top-flight personnel to operate your factory. Now, you carefully choose
your manager and offer him a worthy salary. You challenge him to really make your factory produce. Next you start your operation and begin to turn out volumes of your product. But you soon notice that your plant’s efficiency is diminishing.
As the manager steps forward to resign, he blurts out his frustration over his helpless condition. “No one can make this operation productive under these conditions,” he says. “You didn’t tell me I have no rule over these workers. They can jolly well do as they please.”
No person, without proper authority over those under him, could possibly direct their activities in the most productive manner. Yet, that is exactly the kind of predicament we put our Sunday School superintendents in so often. We gather the greatest group of teachers and provide them with the best kind of tools we can give them. We select the most capable leader from our body and challenge him to lead our school in such a way that all those teachers will really make disciples for Christ. Now, in a sense we say to that superintendent, “Get that job done–lead your team on–but you can’t tell anyone on your team what to do. You can only suggest, but really, they can all do just as they please.”
Without a Sunday School Standard and accompanying Covenant, we are telling our superintendent both to succeed and fail at the same time.
2. It serves as a measuring tool.
One denomination had a uniform standard for all it churches. It was therefore easy for those in charge to see from the reports from the churches whether the use of it; standard had any effect upon both the qualitative and quantitative growth of their schools. One year the chair man of the Christian Education Commission discerned that the five churches who scored the highest in the use of the standard had the
greatest percentage of growth during that period of five years. Also, the opposite was true. The five churches who had the most serious decline in their attendance during that same period of time consistently gained the lowest score on the use of their standard.
Of course, it is important to see that the standard has the most important factors included on the list of things to be and do if you are going to see that accomplished. The following may serve as a valuable guide.
The seven major items on the evaluator, each having several minor points, were as follows:
(1) Personnel One of the 11 items was, “Did the school provide at least one leadership education or teacher training course last year?”
(2) Outreach One of the 10 items was, “Did you have a functional program of follow-up for absentees and visitors operating throughout this year?”
(3) Cooperation. One of the three items was, “Did you make use of the Bible school aids, tips, and other materials received from the Church Ministries Department?”
(4) Organization. One of the two items was, “Was the school divided into effective teaching groups?”
(5) Curriculum One of the four items was, “During the past year did some responsible board review and approve the school curriculum as well as the literature and other teaching aids?”
(6) Facilities. One of the four items was, “Did you evaluate the effectiveness and attractiveness of your facility during the past year?”
(7) Equipment. One of the two items was, “Did you maintain and improve your resource library, audiovisuals, and other teaching aids?”
3. It gives the workers stature.
A standard will help regulate the interpersonal relationships of the staff and help teachers to have a proper pride in their school. When the staff is publicly presented to the congregation at the beginning of each Sunday School year, and the members see the workers’ commitment to the Standard, they gain the respect of the congregation.
4. It guards the quality of the school.
A clearly defined Standard of what you believe the Bible expects of one who teaches and trains others can be one of the strongest guardians of your highest expectations for your school. It will help you maintain the highest caliber of godly teachers and stabilize the doctrine and practice you teach.
The Standard Is a Recruiting Instrument
Do you fear that having a Standard in your Sunday School, with the requirement of signing a Covenant, will scare off prospective workers? You will find quite the opposite reaction in most cases.
It would be interesting sometime to have the teachers in your Sunday School relate how they were recruited. If you have 20 teachers, no doubt they have taught from one to 20 years. Possibly over those
years there were many recruiters who called on them to serve. If there was no written Standard as a guide, you would discover that each one had a different set of requirements laid out for him. You see, even though we might not have a written Standard, people still have a mental one.
It makes a difference what the image of a teacher is in the mind of the recruiter. Even this image may be altered by the pressure of a situation–how badly the teacher is needed now, how busy the teacher is at the time, what condition the school seems to be in, and who has been communicating recently, to mention a few such situations.
That’s bad enough, but suppose the current superintendent begins to put on the pressure: “You need to make contacts with all of your students this month. I want you all to enroll in the upcoming staff training
The teacher can honestly reply, “I’m sorry, I’m too busy, and besides, I don’t need to. No one ever told me this job was going to entail that much time.”
“Aha!” the superintendent replies, “you see, that was the only way they could get you to say you would teach!” What a great way to do the work of God!
All right, how should Christian workers be recruited? The superintendent or pastor sets out to recruit a teacher with a Standard in hand, drawn up by the staff and ratified by the Christian Education Board. The recruiter is able to say: “This is what will be expected of you.” The recruiter does not become a threat, nor does he misrepresent. It is no longer one person begging another, wondering just how much he dares reveal to a prospective teacher of what is involved and how difficult the mission really will be. A clearly defined set of regulations showing the quality of work and devotion expected of one serving in the Sunday School presented in the Sunday School Standard will always serve as one of the best recruiting instruments you can have.
Also, when teachers have a place of respect among the congregation, as stated above, it becomes far easier to recruit the caliber of staff you desire. Churches which have maintained a proper standard for a period of time often find that they actually have a waiting list of people who would like to become teachers.
Setting Your Standard
When you set out on the task of developing a Standard to guide your school or entire Christian education program, keep the following points in mind.
1. Don’t rush into its development.
Be sure everyone understands why a Standard is needed and how it will assist the school in its spirituality and efficiency. Keep in mind that a major rule in discipline is that the person disciplined should have some say in the rules, which regulate him.
2. Urge total participation.
Have as many of your present staff as possible present to participate in drafting the Standard and setting their goals. Be sure the Christian Education Board is present or adequately represented. The pastor should be asked to be present if he is not already a member of the teaching staff. Later, the Standard that is agreed upon by this group will need to be ratified by the Board of Christian Education or approved by the pastor, Board of Deacons, or whoever is in authority over the Sunday School.
3. Cooperate in its composition.
A good way to proceed is to have each person present make a list of proposed items and incorporate the total into one list agreed upon by the entire personnel according to the usual parliamentary procedure.
Basically include the things you believe God would have a Christian worker do and be. Be reasonable in demands. Make sure they are not too idealistic and are things that actually can be fulfilled by your busy teachers. This will no doubt include what is taught, stipulations about faithful attendance and efficiency, plus the shepherding practices of the teacher and cooperation with authority, curriculum and program.
Be sure to consider what leaders will do about those who flagrantly choose not to follow the rules. To be of value a Standard must include discipline, but be sure that power of discipline is not vested in only one individual.
4. Determine the term of service.
One of the best ways to put “teeth” into a Standard given to volunteer workers is to include a termination point. Many churches find it wise to call a teacher for only one year of service at a time. About a month before the year of service is completed, the supervisor has a session with the teacher. It is time for the teacher to primarily evaluate himself. They may be approached this way: “How would you evaluate your ministry this year in light of the covenant you signed?”
I have found, when that approach is used, teachers tend to answer in one of two ways. Either, “I missed in a few places, and I intend to do better next year,” or, “I cannot live up to that Standard and, therefore, I had better step down from that responsibility.” If you feel a teacher who indicates the latter attitude should step down, you can simply accept the resignation at the end of that year of teaching. If you feel that counseling about taking the necessary steps of improvement might help, it could be well worth your while to do it at
This is the finest method I know to maintain a highly spiritual level of ministry with a staff and also to keep the law of degeneration from occurring in a Sunday School This method keeps the Standard constantly before the workers.
Furthermore, with a time limit on service, I find that more people may offer to serve, since they know it isn’t for life. Have you ever tried to resign from a teaching position? My, you may be thought of as being very unspiritual! If you know you can bow out after a year, you may be much happier to accept the position in the first place.
At the end of this chapter you will find a sample form including a “Letter of Call to Service,” the “Sunday School Standard,” and the “Covenant.” This may serve as a model as you and your staff prepare your form to assure that you have included important subjects.
It is rather unfair to ask your workers to judge themselves, or for you to judge them, if you have not been keeping their Standard before them. As I worked with one church I used to include in the mailed-out agenda of the monthly staff meeting a reminder of some part of the Covenant with a question about their faithfulness to that task. That way, the Standard became a tool to constantly upgrade the efficiency of the ministry.
And, if a yearly dedication service of the staff of workers is observed, the goals of the Standard are periodically presented to the entire congregation as a challenge to keep the efficiency of the Lord’s work high.
LETTER OF CALL TO SERVICE
The Sunday School hereby extends to you a call to serve your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in__________________________________ church for the period of 19____________to 19________.
We believe that you are qualified both spiritually and intellectually for service in the church.
On behalf of the Christian Education Board.
Please consider carefully and prayerfully this call of service. If you choose to accept this responsibility please sign the Covenant and return to one of the above signers no later than
SUNDAY SCHOOL STANDARD
With the aid of the Holy Spirit and your faithful endeavor you will to the best of your ability seek to maintain faithfulness in the following areas:
TO CHRIST AND HIS CHURCH
1. As a Sunday School worker, I recognize that I am called of God to this position. I will therefore seek to serve Him with all my heart, soul and mind.
2. I will seek to maintain my private and family worship time with my Savior and Lord for the purpose of spiritual strength and nurture so I may properly teach and model His likeness.
3. I will seek to handle the Word of God correctly and thus aim to model Biblical values and an attitude that allows Him to change me into His image.
4. I will faithfully be involved in my church’s activities and with the Spirit’s help will support its statement of faith. I will encourage all of my students to be faithful in church and school services.
5. I recognize that membership in our church is a positive affirmation of commitment to the body, its beliefs, and its goals, and is a desirable requisite to service in the church. The Christian Education Board, however, may approve nonmembers for a limited time who are similarly committed as workers in the Sunday School.
TO MY STUDENTS
1. I will seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to faithfully prepare each lesson so that it will meet the needs of my students. I will direct the lessons to make them interesting and understandable so that students will have a learning experience that leads to spiritual maturity. I will give consideration to racial, economic and ideological differences of my students.
2. I will faithfully pray for my students. I will seek to show them personal worth by manifesting unconditional love, which includes discipline. I will work with each student to lead him to a personal
faith in Christ and on into the steps of maturity in Christ.
3. In an effort to build a discipling relationship with my students, I will see that activities outside the class are conducted on a regular basis.
4. I will seek to listen to each student and strive to meet his needs I will seek to relate to the students and their parents. I will make contacts with absentees and prospective students to encourage their faithful attendance and spiritual growth.
TO THE SCHOOL AND ITS ADMINISTRATION
1. I will submit to the authority in a manner that unifies the program and leads towards the growth of the body.
2. I will endeavor to attend team meetings to build mutual support and to work out issues of cooperation. I will uphold those in prayer with whom I work and to whom I am accountable.
3. I will endeavor to upgrade my teaching ministry each year. (Such as attend a training conference, do extended reading in my field or follow a course of study.)
4. I will teach the curriculum assigned to me by the Christian Education Board that will help to accomplish the above goals. I will not teach anything that will conflict with the doctrinal statement of central thrust of our church.
Having studied and prayerfully considered the above call, the Star card for our Sunday School, and being conscious of my dependence on the Holy Spirit and my own weaknesses, I hereby accept the call to work
at__________________ for the coming year
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY ACCENT-B/P PUBLICATIONS, INC., 1980, PAGES 44-56. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.