Bringing Out the Best in Sunday School Leaders

Bringing Out the Best in Sunday School Leaders
Henry Philliary


In many churches, Sunday School utilizes and mobilizes the largest group of people of any program, organization, or strategy. Imagine with me the potential that might be possible if Sunday School was operating at 100% effectiveness. Imagine what might be possible if the right people were in the right positions of responsibility. Imagine what might happen if each leader were giving his/her best effort.

What can we do to move from current reality closer to what we have imagined? I like what was written in a blog post entitled 12 Rules for ‘Bringing out the Best in People’. The author shares these twelve points from a book by Alan Loy McGinnis written in the last century. In Part 1, will share the first four points in all capitals followed by my commentary applying them to Sunday School:

EXPECT THE BEST FROM THE PEOPLE YOU LEAD. If you expect nothing or very little, that is often what you will get. When you expect the best, don’t keep it to yourself Expect them to surprise you. Share your expectations and your availability to ensure the success of teachers or other Sunday School leaders. Build in times for checking on (and affirming) progress as needed.
MAKE A THOROUGH STUDY OF THE OTHER PERSON’S NEEDS. In order to bring out a Sunday School leader’s best, you need to get to know the person. You cannot challenge them to stretch toward their potential unless you have gotten to know their potential. Get to know their affinities and experiences. Check on their SHAPE: spiritual gifts, heart (passions), abilities, personality, and experiences. Help them to see how they can better utilize their SHAPE. Ask about his/her dreams, hopes, and plans. Find out what they need in order to see those come to fruition. Taking time to understand his/her needs, build trust and ownership.

ESTABLISH HIGH STANDARDS FOR EXCELLENCE. Standards are consistently communicated and shared expectations for leaders serving in positions within a program or organization. They may specifically apply to a position, like teacher, or broadly to all Sunday School leaders. Each leader will feel more fulfilled when they are achieving high standards than when they are accepting mediocrity. As an example, this could include a teacher’s covenant. Much of this begins with and is reinforced through leadership.

CREATE AN ENVIRONMENT WHERE FAILURE IS NOT FATAL. Bringing out the best requires that Sunday School leaders try new things. Encourage your Sunday School leaders to stretch and risk. But allow for learning from mistakes and failure. Pray for your leaders. Encourage them. Help them to know they will be supported in success or failure when they are trying new things. Otherwise, they will be frozen in past actions, unwilling to risk.
I will share the middle four points in all capitals followed by my commentary applying them to Sunday School:

IF THEY ARE GOING ANYWHERE NEAR WHERE YOU WANT TO GO, CLIMB ON OTHER PEOPLE’S BANDWAGONS. Not all good ideas are going to come from you. Be ready to support others’ ideas. Cheer them on. Point to them. If the direction digresses significantly, though, stand your ground. Help your Sunday School leaders to do the same!

EMPLOY MODELS TO ENCOURAGE SUCCESS. Be an example yourself. But point to other models and examples. Examine those pictures of leadership. Debrief them. Help your Sunday School teachers and workers to take bold steps toward accomplishing God’s will by holding up successful Sunday School models.

RECOGNIZE AND APPLAUD ACHIEVEMENT. Catch Sunday School leaders doing something good. Pat them on the back. Affirm them face to face. Affirm them to others. Help others to notice what has been achieved. Write a note. Write about it in the newsletter. Put it on a church blog. It is a lot easier to affirm and keep a good worker, than it is to train a new one. Celebrate Sunday School progress. Set up an affirmation event or activity. When you recognize success, it helps others to remember what they should be striving to accomplish.

EMPLOY A MIXTURE OF POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT. As I said previously, affirmation is important. As the blog post referenced above states, “it is a good thing to provide praise and positive reinforcement.” But at times we must also respond when Sunday School leader actions and behaviors did not meet expectations. We may need to confront unacceptable efforts. Pray. Affirm what you can affirm. Then positively confront the issue (not the person). Point out why the behavior is not acceptable and what an alternative action is. Do so in love because you want to “maximize their potential.”

APPEAL ‘SPARINGLY’ TO THE COMPETITIVE URGE. Some people love and thrive in a competitive environment while others hate and wilt in one. When using competitive means (such as during a Sunday School contest), look for ways to point to the team and to the success of the entire class or Sunday School. Collaboration (see next point), cooperation, and synergy often produce stronger results with greater ownership and satisfaction. I like the final statement for this point in the article: “Encourage each to compete for higher standards and skill development.”

PLACE A PREMIUM ON COLLABORATION. Look around your Sunday School. Consider the varied SHAPE of team members: spiritual gifts, heart (passions), abilities, personality, and experiences. When you bring your team’s SHAPE together in God-honoring, collaborative efforts, great things (the best) happen. Work to involve everyone as you plan and work (such as in your annual evaluation and planning retreat). Survey the group. Brainstorm. Release the potential!

BUILDING INTO THE GROUP AN ALLOWANCE FOR STORMS. Bumps and challenges are going to happen. Progress will get stalled. Relationships will get strained. Leadership is key. Encourage your Sunday School leaders to work through these times together. Don’t allow the group to avoid addressing these times. Step in when you are needed. Build some flex time into projects where possible. Prepare the group for these times in advance.

TAKE STEPS TO KEEP YOUR OWN MOTIVATION HIGH. Leadership is “taking a person or group where they need to go.” If they don’t see excitement in you, they may not follow where you are trying to lead. If they aren’t following, then you aren’t leading. Spend time with God. Spend time understanding how your Sunday School efforts contribute to building up the church and the Kingdom. Consider the potential of your efforts. If you begin to have doubts or concerns, as the blog post stated “you may need to find a trusted advisor who can discuss your challenges in private.” Expect a lot. Be positive, confident, and consistent.

From: web site. September 2013.

The above article, “Bringing Out the Best in Sunday School Leaders,” is written by Henry Philliary. The article was excerpted from web site, September 2013.

The material is most likely 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.