GUIDELINES FOR EXCELLENCE IN YOUR SCHOOL
BY HAROLD J. WESTING
This may surprise you if you’ve never stopped to think about it before, but Jesus never instructed us to run a Sunday School. He never admonished us to build an educational building, to have staff meetings, or a Board of Christian Education. He never told us to run Sunday School buses or to have Sunday School rallies. He never told us to publish curriculum or develop boys’ and girls’ clubs. These are simply means to an end. So often we get caught concentrating on the means rather than the ends and therefore it might be said that we are caught up in the “ends-means inversion.”
Although we have never been instructed to operate a Sunday School, we certainly have been given many instructions about teaching the Word of God and bringing those people who are taught to the place
of spiritual maturity. We will concentrate here on those directives we do have from the Lord in the hopes that you as an administrator will lead your school in their use and development.
Guidelines for a Sound Sunday School
1. The first Biblical guideline is that we are to be engaged in the process of making disciples.
The Great Commission given His followers by Jesus Christ says, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to
observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:19,20). Other translations put it, “Go and make disciples of all nations….” This
involves teaching them God’s Word, which of course is basic, but “making disciples” means more than truth dispensers causing students to stockpile religious information. We are admonished to make disciples
and that is quite a different story.
The Great Commission tells us that we are to make disciples. That means we are to be actively and personally involved in working with students in the process of discipling them or making them into
disciples. The passage suggests as well that we will not need to do that ourselves but we will work together with the Holy Spirit who is always with us, until that task is accomplished.
The Lord has given us a means for the accomplishment of that task. First He suggests that we should teach people until they come to the place where they are baptized. He might be alluding to what is known currently as “Pre Evangelism.” That means that we will teach people the truths of God adequately until they are converted, and then they make a public confession of their faith by baptism. It might be suggested that even the nursery department is involved in that pre-evangelism, for nursery workers are building a trust in God and Jesus and the Word of God in the lives of those children to lay the groundwork for ultimately bringing them to salvation in Christ.
A further test of our effectiveness in making disciples is that these people who are taught and baptized come to the place where they will observe all of the commands which Jesus has taught them. This
suggests that we need to concentrate on more than just giving out information, but we need to guide them into the practice of actually keeping those commands. A study of Deuteronomy 6 suggests that we ought
to teach “the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments of God” (verse 1), but that second verse suggests that we teach those statutes and commandments to be observed and obeyed.
When a student is simply taught the Word of God as a system of truth he can very readily debate or reject that system. But when he comes to meet God as a personal God and has personal dealings with Him, he will come to know Him as a God of reality and accept Him as a living God rather than just an abstract system of truth.
If we are genuinely making disciples we will lead each person to a place where he is self-disciplined. That is one of the concepts of the word “disciple.” We will lead students to the place where they themselves will observe the words and commands of God. Therefore our teaching will not make our students dependent on us, but our teaching, when properly practiced, will cause our students to pick themselves up by the lapels and force themselves to do l God’s commands.
I suppose that is what Paul was saying to Timothy in II Timothy 2:15. There he admonished him to “study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.” The word “study” encompasses the idea of laboring; laboring or giving diligence to the accomplishment of God’s commands. Only when that is accomplished can we present ourselves to God as workmen who need not be ashamed.
Colossians 1:28 suggests the same idea. There we are to teach the Word of God in such a fashion that men will be mature. And, of course, that maturity is the observance and obedience of the commands of God.
An adequate superintendent is someone who not only understands what it means to make disciples but is actively involved in the process himself He is also observing and guiding the entire staff to see that they are dealing with the Word of God and with people in the same fashion. It | has been my observation that Sunday Schools which put that kind of emphasis on their teaching are genuine disciple making
institutions and not just truth-dispensing centers.
2. The second Biblical guideline for a sound Sunday School is that we should provide for each student a balanced education experience.
Acts 2:42-45 suggests that the New Testament Christians grew because there was a well-balanced diet and experience. They grew in fellowship, in serving one another, and in the teaching of the Word of God. They were involved in evangelism and in worship. If your school is to grow both qualitatively and quantitatively then you will make certain that each one of your students enjoys the benefits of these five elements of Christian Education.
(1) Fellowship. Fellowship is more than having a party or carrying on a conversation with someone. Fellowship is making a contribution to another person. That contribution may be either physically, spiritually or emotionally. If a student comes to class and only sits by himself, never interacts in a meaningful way with other students, then it will be difficult for him to grow into maturity without meaningful interaction with others. One of our goals in Christian education is to develop values which are consistent with Biblical guidelines. AU the research which is done about the communication of values suggests that they are only done within the context of personal relationships. Modeling Christianity therefore is extremely essential–especially among children and youth.
(2) Service. Some of the greatest truths we ever learn are discovered while we are serving one another. No wonder Peter suggested in I Peter 4:10 that we “minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” Although it is difficult to include a service experience in our teaching, it is of primary importance that we do so. Even a young preschool child can learn the beauty and benefit of giving and sharing with other people in the department. Adults ought to be directed and guided in a sharing
experience. That means that if we are going to be effective we will need to program or facilitate the learning experience for the students by guiding them in an expression of the truth taught on any given Sunday.
(3) Teaching There are many and various images of what good teaching is to include, but it would be most wise I for us to go to Scripture for an adequate definition of teaching. Consequently you will see what kind of teaching ought to be included in your Sunday School.
First, there is to be indoctrinational teaching as suggested in Deuteronomy 6:1-7. Note here though that even the emphasis upon teaching the statutes, judgments and commandments of God suggests that
in verses 20-25 the commandments are to be taught in the context of their application to life. Here the children of Israel were admonished to tell their children what God had done for them. Only then would the
commandments become meaningful. A teacher who does not experience the reality of God’s provision will have a hard time teaching the commands, for there will be no living experiences to validate the truth.
Second, there will be a Christocentric teaching. That is, Jesus Christ will be at the center of the teaching. He will be exalted as Colossians 1:28 suggests He ought to be.
In the third place there will be likeness teaching. Luke 6:40 suggests that when a student is fully taught he will be like his teacher. Consequently, there needs to be a strong emphasis upon modeling the truth of Christianity through the lives of the teachers. No doubt that is what Paul had in mind in II Timothy 3:10-11, “But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra.”
The fourth kind of teaching is to be response teaching. In John 14:22, Judas questions that Christ revealed Himself to the disciples only. Christ’s response to Judas was that He will reveal Himself only to those who will obey His commands. If our students are going to come to know the commands of Christ, it will necessitate their responding to God’s Word. Consequently our teaching will have to emphasize the
students’ response, not just a knowledge of the Word of God.
(4) Evangelism Any education which is genuinely Christian will ultimately lead to evangelism. It will mean the evangelization of the ones taught and, hopefully, those who are evangelized will eventually move toward the evangelization of others. Certainly that is what Paul had in mind in II Timothy 2:2 when he said that we teach others who could eventually pass on the Word of God to responsible men. Thus the Scripture admonishes us to bring men to maturity, not necessarily just to evangelize them. And when they are mature, certainly that will mean they will reach out to other men who need the Savior. All of our
teaching staff must have that in mind. If not, we may end up being simply a maintenance Sunday School, one which takes care of the people who come in the door, and not one which has a vision of outreach.
(5) Worship. If we are going to expect our students to learn the beauty of personal worship, they will have to see it taught and modeled in the context of our classrooms. Psalm 18:1-3 gives us an admonition
to constantly worship the Lord: “I will love thee, O Lord, my strength strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower. I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy
to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies.” Here is a good example of a genuine definition of worship. Giving “worth-ship” to God.
Too many of our students do not have a worship experience where they can come to know the worth-ship of God, feel His presence, and respond accordingly. We will want to make certain that there is the
worship emphasis where there is a reading of such portions of Scripture as the Psalms, where they are taught to pray, where they sing worship hymns and practice the adoration of the almighty God. Tozer suggests that a person moves toward his mental image of God. Therefore, encouraging worship in the students is most important.
A good superintendent is going to be evaluating each department and checking to see that all of the students are involved in all five aspects of a good Christian education experience.
3. The third Biblical guideline for an effective Sunday School is that the school recognizes that maturity in believers comes by the response to Scripture.
A study of the teaching model of Christ will naturally lead us to that conclusion. Jesus used three basic steps in His involvement with the men He chose to disciple.
First, He verbally imparted life’s principles. It is hard to conceive the penetrating force of His speeches. I cannot imagine that Jesus was ever at a loss for the selection and flow of words during those teaching sessions. He chose His words with pinpoint accuracy. The development and guidance of His church would depend upon it. Yet He wasn’t out to impress people with His words–He wanted changed lives. Words were only a small means to that end.
As a second basic step, we find Christ augmenting His language with a consistent life model. Values come in part from what people observe, not only from what they hear. When Jesus told His disciples to live a sacrificial life they saw firsthand exactly what that meant. They would not have to guess about the various interpretations of the word. In Christ they saw the lifestyle that Jesus sought to teach.
The third step Jesus used in His teaching was giving assignments. There was always close proximity of His instruction to His assigned learning activities for His disciples. People are changed when their activity is changed, not just when their thought pattern is changed. Soon after Christ called His disciples to come to be with Him he assigned some life-changing behavioral activity which would become an overflow of those spoken and modeled life principles.
Jesus became involved with a fish and bakery business. He worked with donkeys, washed feet, dispensed money, engaged in other activities as He got people involved in the everyday affairs of this world.
An excellent superintendent will guide his teaching staff in the same model. He will make certain that his teachers are doing more than giving verbal expressions of Christianity. He will make certain that his teachers, like himself, are modeling Christianity and then making assignments to put in practice those life-changing principles.
4. Another Biblical guideline for the operation of a great Sunday School is to aim for excellence.
This is found in I Corinthians 14:12: “Even so ye forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.” Here we are admonished to edify the church, but take real note that we are to do so in an excellent fashion. The word “excel” conveys the idea of going over and above the expected. It is more than just trying to get by, which is so typical of many Sunday Schools.
We cannot serve God with our reserves, we must give Him our first. We must not serve God in a mediocre fashion, we must do so in an excellent way. It is only natural for us to do so, since it is our responsibility to glorify God and to properly project the image of His attributes. Since God is an excellent God, it is only appropriate that we would function in the same fashion. Psalm 8:1 reminds us, “. . . How excellent is thy name in all the earth!” And again in Isaiah 12:5, “. . . He hath done excellent things.”
Guidelines for the Leader
If you are going to expect greatness or excellence from your staff, it is going to be extremely important that you yourself always project that sense of excellence. Perhaps they will pick up that attitude more than being admonished to do so. All of your business affairs must be done with a sense of orderliness, not sloppy or
disorganized. Your staff meetings ought to be run with a sense of efficiency if you are going to expect your teachers to teach with that same spirit of excellence.
It has been so interesting to watch over the years the effects of a Sunday School which approaches its ministry with a sense of excellence. It generally tends to be very productive in numerical and spiritual growth. Why shouldn’t it? If we do things the way they ought to be done, not halfheartedly, then of course we can expect the land of results which we really desire. May God help you to be that kind of a superintendent.
The psalmist has reminded us that unless the Lord build the house they labor in vain who build it. He is telling us that it is possible to build a church of God with your own human efforts, but of course then you will be known for that kind of a school. If you depend greatly upon the Lord to build the house of God, then you will be known for the kind of school that produces spiritually capable people who can make their way in this world as children of Light.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY ACCENT B/P PUBLICATIONS, INC. 1980, PAGES 34-43. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.