By Janet Trout
When President Jimmy Carter sat in the Oval Office on April 25, 1980, wrestling with the fate of fifty American citizens held hostage in the American Embassy in Iran, he accepted responsibility for the event and the outcome. He disclosed to the American people that a United States military team had failed in its attempt to rescue the hostages in Teheran, Iran. After 173 days of uncertainty, he appeared on television and with a solemn tone in his voice said, “It was my decision to attempt the rescue operation. It was my decision to cancel it when problems developed. The responsibility is fully my own.”
President Carter realized that where the interest of the citizens of the United States of America is concerned, Barry Truman was right: “The buck stops here!”
Regardless of the mission, the motivation and maintenance of individuals to minister to others rests squarely on the shoulders of the pastor. He must accept the responsibility for the recruitment, training, and keeping of Sunday school teachers.
In the case of the Skylab, the leaders of NASA claimed they could not predict that the thing would fall out of the sky. They were happy to accept praise for having launched it into the sky, but they were not so quick to accept responsibility for where it would land. The very idea of 77.5 tons of metal, the size of a nine-story building, falling out of the heavens brought comic responses like “Chicken Little was right; the Skylab is falling,” and “I am an official Skylab target” was on t-shirts complete with a bull’s-eye. To most people, it was not so funny. Some expressed anger that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration had launched such a massive missile into orbit with no thought of this dreaded possibility. Others wrote editorials and went on television to declare resentment that officials of NASA would let the situation get out of hand. They claimed that the officials should have prepared for this moment and should have had an interest in the public safety.
In the corridors of the Sunday school department on many Sunday mornings, a similar scenario is replayed. The motivation and morale of an organization is the ultimate responsibility of the leader. When people feel that the leader is not doing his job, the overworked and burned out become resentful, cynical and, at times, fearful. As they grow disillusioned, their vision, morale, and energy will plummet.
In a corporate situation, frustration and anger toward leaders that do not lead results in massive personnel problems. Workers quit and seek employment where clear and concise leadership is offered. When a company realizes that the morale of its employees depends on the participation of the leadership, those who are in the trenches will go the second mile to get the job done. A leader in any situation, corporate or church, who will accept responsibility for his own actions and the people over whom God has placed him, will command loyalty and respect. When President Carter accepted responsibility for the United States’ aborted attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran, the military, from grass roots to the Pentagon, rallied behind him and demonstrated loyalty and respect.
Volunteer ministry in the church was initiated nearly 2,000 years ago as the New Testament church was established in Jerusalem and throughout Asia Minor. Even a casual reading of Paul’s letters and the record of the church’s activities in the Book of Acts reveal a closely knit body of people who worked together for a common cause, serving the Lord as they served each other.
Cultural fragmentation, the exaltation of the individual, and the fracturing of the family, coupled with the attendant economic pressures, have dealt a disabling blow to volunteer service in any capacity. Ironically, those who could be blessed by continued involvement in servant ministries, like Sunday school, suffer the most by their own abdication. Close fellowship and sharing of talents and resources have a way of bringing health and wholeness to the giver as well as the recipient.
A vibrant Sunday school staff is neither automatic nor spontaneous. As in an automobile, there must be “spark plug” people who start and sustain the engine. People must be asked to serve, assisted in identifying their gifts and talents, and placed in the appropriate department.
This process is known as recruitment. Properly understood and employed, the process will perpetuate a constant flow of energized volunteers to the ministry of Sunday school. Every pastor’s dream is to have a surplus of workers on a waiting list to be assigned to a responsibility. The dream includes a staff that never complains or resigns, is always on time, and is ever ready to rush to the forefront of each Sunday’s challenge. The absentees are visited without urging, attendance is always on the rise, and offerings overflow the pans.
Unfortunately, this dream will never come true. The fact is that recruitment is the most desperate problem in educational ministry-yet the most essential. The annual turnover, the constant leaks, and the panic that sets in from time to time contribute to the headache. It is the most unglamorous aspect of Sunday school administration.
Recruitment means the enlistment of suitable Christians from the congregation who will meet children, youth, and adults at their point of need and, through the use of organized studies on Sunday morning, guide them to the Lord Jesus Christ. Then, after their new birth, they will assist them in growth and maturity through the educational process.
Enlistment does not mean coercion, manipulation, or tirades of guilt trips from the pulpit. It simply means plugging people into sockets of spiritual need. It is a natural process. It means drawing current from one and passing it along to another. It involves asking an appropriate person to accept a specific responsibility for a designated amount of time. Not everyone is suited for wiggly three-year-olds or obnoxious junior high students. In fact, many people axe not suited for ministry positions at all. Some axe not discipled themselves, others cannot lead, and still others have temperament problems that cause more problems than they solve. Each person is unique and must be uniquely placed.
Facing reality, we find that recruitment will always be a problem. It sounds easy when job descriptions are drawn up and definitions are laid out. As theological jargon is reduced to everyday language, the truth is that recruitment is the most difficult aspect of Sunday school staff development.
Always a problem. Lest we become cynical and discouraged with the apathy found in the congregation, let us remind ourselves that recruitment of volunteers for most ministries that impact the lives of others has always been a problem. Ezekiel recorded the sentiments of the Lord God: “I searched for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the gap before me” (Ezekiel 22:30). Jesus acknowledged that while the harvest is plentiful, the laborers are few. The history of most successful churches, when examined, reveals that recruitment of staff for Sunday ministries is always an obstacle to overcome. It is not a new phenomenon. Yet it has been further complicated by the social and cultural changes that are occurring rapidly.
Our society has changed its view of volunteer involvement in every respect. Unfortunately, the church is not insulated against the “pay-me-what-I’m-worth” mentality. In past years, it was even possible to operate a five-day-a-week Christian school ministry on seventy-five percent volunteer staff with the paid people in administration. Those days are forever gone. Some have employed paid staff for Sunday administration. The prospect of running a Christian Education Department with all volunteer workers is diminishing each day.
Working Women. The majority of women in America today work outside the home. While many are married and share responsibility with their husbands, the bulk of family obligations still fall on them. Unfortunately, most of the staff for the Sunday school comes from these tired, overworked, and underpaid women. If they had more discretionary time, they could spend more energy in service to the church. With the high-pressured demands of job, household, and economy, a woman is forced to guard herself more jealously, thus eradicating any possibility of contributing long hours to the church. Hardly able to give her children enough time, keep home, husband and job adequately serviced, the woman of today is called to sacrifice when she is recruited as a Sunday school teacher.
Isolation. In view of the problems outlined above; the Sunday school teacher can become isolated from fellowship, teaching, and spiritual renewal that comes to everyone else on Sunday morning. Sometimes a teacher loses contact with the church and its people, especially if the teacher is not able to attend other church services. As a result of this possibility, a shorter term of commitment should be provided with rotation of staff. Long-term commitments may be a thing of the past anyway.
Creating the Climate
In most churches, it is the pastor’s responsibility to promote a climate in which volunteering for Christian service is an essential element of a daffy relationship with the Lord. If there is a pastoral staff, the senior minister may be deeply involved in the recruitment process or just occasionally active in the task. His most important role is teaching and preaching that elicits a servant attitude from church members. The teachers of the adult classes within the church can also serve as a resource for recruitment.
There are several ways a Sunday School director can create a climate for service.
1. Teach service. From the beginning pages of the Bible, we read numerous accounts where God issued a mandate to serve God and mankind. Thus it is the pastor’s responsibility to proclaim spiritual service as a matter of necessity. He must emphasize that doing the Word is as critical as hearing it.
2. Be an example. Periodic participation in the Sunday school at all levels gives the church an example to follow. It prevents the “don’t do as I do, just do as I say” syndrome that might occur if words axe all they get. The more people see examples of service, the more they will seek to emulate it. Caution must be exercised, however, to leave the bulk of the responsibility on the shoulders of staff people who will maintain continuity and balance.
3. Feature successes. A powerful tool of recruitment is to feature the success stories of the Sunday school. When opportunities are provided for testimonials, the church will be amazed and inspired by the accomplishments of a few dedicated people. The whole church needs to be exposed to the life-changing events that have occurred by the ministry of Sunday school. In many cases, whole families, including in-laws, cousins and grandparents are in the church because of one successful contact in the Sunday school. Even mundane annual business meetings can become “harvest celebrations” when a year of labor in the Sunday school is reviewed and dedicated to the Lord.
4. Pastor’s personal touch. While everyone shares the burden of recruitment, the pastor is the person most sensitive to the potential of the individual. He, more than anyone, knows by spiritual sensitivity who and when individuals are ready for a teaching ministry. As he watches his flock grow and mature, he will know when and where to place people. All other administrators in the Sunday school must acquiesce to the wisdom of the pastor when it comes to the use and placement of individuals within the Sunday school.
It is similar to the football coach who sees potential in the frail frame of a freshman. The coach sees beyond the limitations of age and inexperience and he embraces the potential. The sharp eye, the sure hand, the accurate throw, the agile movement against the opposition all speak of raw talent yearning for development, devotion, and discipline. The coach will train, refine, and bring to maturity the eternal potential of an otherwise dormant life.
The Sunday School Superintendent
The Sunday school superintendent has one of the most rewarding positions on the entire staff. He or she has an opportunity to see results from the top down and the privilege of providing people with places of service in the kingdom of God. For this to happen seven functions must occur. Whether formally or informally, the functions are vital to the success of staff recruitment and development.
1. Understand the nature of the job. A manager in church affairs cannot always handle situations in the same way as he would in a corporate structure. Before he can begin recruiting and placing workers, he must understand the needs of the people, the gifts of the person being placed, and the challenges of the particular age group. Insight and understanding come with study, experience, and the counsel of a wise pastor.
2. Discover the potential of church members. It is the responsibility of the superintendent to survey the congregation continuously and watch for individuals who exhibit potential. Recognizing this potential will occur in personal conversations with people. A superintendent who is aloof, is noncommunicative, and does not interact on other levels with the church will not be successful in recognizing potential teachers. If he hangs around the fringes of church affairs that are not in his personal interest and does not integrate with the congregation, he will deprive himself of the most useful tool of recruitment. If the superintendent is only seen when searching for a substitute, he will discover people walking the other way when they see him coming.
3. Connect personal gifts with staff needs. To fill a vacancy in a department is not the main objective. It is better to have no staff than to have the wrong staff. The ability to match a class need with the right person comes with experience and prayer. Spiritual sensitivity and common sense unite to guide in the proper placement of staff members. It is not a process that can be rushed. It is as delicate as parents matching a child with the person they hope he or she will marry. Opportunities must be created for relationships to develop without pressuring for decisions to serve.
4. Get to know the prospective staff person. Ministry demands wise decisions. Placement of individuals into staff positions without a thorough knowledge of that person can be hazardous. Many pastors today require certain assurances about past records of behavior and morals before permitting service to young children. With the upsurge of child molestation, every church should employ some means of assuring everyone that it has given care to this matter. Public records axe accessible to determine if a prospective teacher has ever been involved in deviant behavior or called into question by law enforcement agencies. Certain questions that target this problem should be part of the written application used in the introduction of new members to the staff. While the answers may not always reflect the truth, at least the application may absolve the church from responsibility should some unfortunate violation occur. Information on this topic is available from Christian Freedom Foundation-Apostolic Law Association, 1304 Harmony Lane, Annapolis, MD 21401, in care of Owen Taylor, or by telephone at 410-757-8080.
5. Choose wisely. The key to a strong staff is selection of the right persons. It is a tragedy of mammoth proportions to place a person in a responsible position on the Sunday school staff only to discover that he is the wrong person. One pastor said, “It is easy to put them in, but you will wreck the church when you have to take them out!” It could take months or years to heal the wounds that results from that land of mistake. In Luke 6:12-13, Jesus spent time in prayer before choosing the twelve men into whom he poured his life and mission. As we search for staff, we must keep in mind that some people do not respond to training, reproof, and correction. Proverbs 9:8-9 teaches, “Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a just man, and he will increase in learning” (NKJV). Those who teach must be willing to learn.
6. Take time. Effective teachers do not develop instantly. Iron sharpens iron; so one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17). This is a vivid picture. Whether it is a butcher knife being swept across the edge of an iron skillet or a strong, tempered steel file sharpening a hoe, the results is the same. Intense personal contact is needed to select, train, and motivate individuals to minister in a Sunday school. Once the selection is made, time and energy must be spent with that person to develop an effective teacher. God gives every leader the responsibility to motivate and develop the people He has placed in their charge.
7. Overcoming objections. Two responses are heard more than others when recruiting Sunday school teachers. (a) “On Sunday, I want to come to church to be taught, refreshed and blessed, not to spend my only day off coping with children.” (b) “I would be happy to help in Sunday school but I don’t know the first thing about teaching lads!” The two different responses represent two different styles of recruitment and leadership. The first reflects a leader who is just trying to fill vacancies and searching for ways to plug the holes, while the second represents a pastor who has high-powered commitment, energy, and vision that flows over to the congregation. The first objection is tough to change at grass-roots level since the motivational aspect is sadly missing. The second objection can be overcome by implementing the training process suggested in the next chapter. It is easier to train an inexperienced person who is willing to participate in ministry than to motivate someone who has no desire to minister.
The key to building a list of potential teachers is to maintain a high level of vision, excitement, and commitment-oriented ministry for the whole church. People will choose Sunday school as a point of entry when other ministries seem unavailable or impossible for them. Motivation to minister should be at the top of a pastor’s list of priorities. Otherwise, he may find himself doing everything.
Keys to Recruiting Sunday School Teachers
Identify the needs. Write them down. Make a list. Keep it before you as you pray for the needs of the Sunday school. Talk to the Lord before you talk to people. If you talk to the Lord about it, He will talk to the people.
Develop a job description for various areas of service in the Sunday school. People deserve to know what is expected of them when they are recruited for a job. A job description sets the parameters for the inexperienced person and gives a level of comfort in the realm of expectations. Uncertainty about expectations breeds fear of responsibility. A job description can alleviate these uncertainties. It will outline expectations and set the goals. With that in hand, the prospective teacher has a tool of measurement. If a person does not know what is expected, he will not know if the goal is accomplished.
Recruit based on ministry potential, not on vacancies. If people feel that filling the vacancy is more important than the person being asked to serve, they will not feel the impact of ministry opportunity. They will assume that they are there to fill a vacancy, not to bring some special talent or creativity to the classroom. Personal fulfillment is a major component in teacher retention. Without it, the task of motivation is more difficult. A sincere desire to serve the Lord by teaching others, coupled with efficiency through training, will give each staff member a level of self-confidence and fulfillment that will energize the whole process. Without a desire to minister that is merged with training, a pastor and his superintendent will fight a losing battle to enlist and retain a dedicated staff.
Use a “gifts inventory” to determine placement.
Several methods are on the market for measuring the gifts of individuals. When the gifts of the individual are matched with the needs of the Sunday school, he is productive. If a mismatch occurs, havoc can result. We should not relegate people with gifts in administration to menial tasks. By the same rule, we should not place someone who has no gift of administration in a position of supervising other people. If we recruit the staff by careful observation of their abilities, they will be more inclined to join the staff. When a person is performing a job in which he feels comfortable, he will be more productive. Church Growth Institute in Lynchburg, Virginia, provides an excellent package for gifts identification.
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.”