What It Means To Be A Superintendent



Great Sunday School superintendents do make a difference. I saw that illustrated once again when I visited a Sunday School in one of the Chicago suburbs. I had watched its history for some years. The school had not shown any growth in over 15 years, but I was immensely impressed as I saw that Sunday School double in a period of six months. What had happened?

Well, a new superintendent had been elected just six months before. She had not only known her role, but went about to implement it.

What is the role of a Sunday School superintendent that makes a difference? Proverbs 29:18 suggests that where there is no vision the people perish. We tend to think of that passage as referring to the lost world perishing, when the congregation or the saints do not have a vision. I think, however, it also suggests that where there is no vision the body of believers themselves perish As we consider the job description of the Sunday School superintendent, we must put first on the list that he must have a vision.

A vision is having the big picture, or seeing the whole task with its many facets. The leader must give a great deal of time to thinking about what needs to be done and how he can accomplish it, with his staff.

I suppose there are three kinds of leaders: one who stays so close to the people that he can never have a vision over the mountain about what needs to be done; one who is so far ahead of his people and his vision is so great that he never stays in contact with the people who are involved in the reality of week-by-week affairs of the school; and one who is over the crest of the mountain only far enough to have the vision of what lies ahead, but at the same time is in close enough proximity to those he leads so that he can take them from where they are to where they ought to be.

Vision can sometimes be thought of as motivation to implement a task. If you think of a job description as a list of things to do and do not understand the rationale behind them, perhaps it could be a rather deadening, legalistic set of principles to implement. Consequently, we will consider the vision/motivation, which ought to lead to how the principles, which follow, should be implemented. Following this, there will also be given, in some cases, suggestions of some of the proved, operative laws of Sunday School success.

These laws have three sources. The first, of course, is from Scripture itself. We can go to Scripture not only to find principles for our daily lives, but also for the type of Biblical administration given to us by the Lord. The second source of these laws comes from the years of tested and proved experience in the thousands of existing Sunday Schools. The third source comes from research, which has been done during the approximate 200 years of the Sunday School.

The Superintendent’s Job Description

1. Work under the church authority.

There are several approaches to the organizational structure for the Christian educational endeavors of a church. In some churches the pastor personally directs the educational work, supervising the leaders of the Sunday School and any youth or children’s works. In most churches of any size, however, it is advantageous to have a committee or board to head this work, working of course under the general leadership of the pastor.

There is a difference in the administrative work, however, whether this group is a board or a committee. A board is equal to other ruling boards in the church and is primarily responsible to the congregation. A committee is responsible to a ruling board and is equal to other church committees. Whether the organizational structure of your church designates the pastor, a Board of Christian Education, or a Christian Education Committee as the authority over the work of the Sunday School, the superintendent, of course, will work within the realm of that authority.

For the purposes of this book, we will refer to a Board of Christian Education and you may need to make adjustments as you apply the information to your local situation. The chart titled, “Relationship to the Board of Christian Education,” shows two approaches to the organizational relationships in Christian education as used in some churches. The first one relates primarily to the work of the Sunday School with other activities, if any, coming under the leadership of the coordinators of the ages involved. The second places the Sunday School as one of the various educational programs of the church.

2. Mobilize and supervise the staff

Build your vision. Many Sunday School superintendents fail miserably at their job because they see themselves merely as paper pushers or organizers, failing to see that those are simply means to an end. Their major task is to be involved in the process of being a “disciple builder.” The superintendent’s major motivation should be that all the students will come to be true disciples of Jesus Christ. You want your Sunday School to be a discipling institution. That means you are going to try to find people who have that same kind of heart. If you find none with that kind of heart, it will be a responsibility of yours to infuse that vision in them. (That task will be more thoroughly discussed in Chapter Three.)

Furthermore, if you are going to have that kind of Sunday School, you will need to be involved yourself in that kind of relationship with your team. You cannot simply talk about their relating to students on a personal basis, you will need to exemplify it.

1. Accomplish your mission and know the laws involved.

As you view your whole task with its many facets, you realize the need to delegate tasks to others. This is the only way you can succeed.

The professional world suggests that an administrator spends 90 percent of his time thinking about the future and 10 percent thinking about the present, while the day laborer tends to spend 90 percent of his time thinking about and implementing the present and 10 percent thinking about the future. If the superintendent is kept busy implementing the small, everyday details, he will not have enough time to have a wholistic view of the Sunday School and its many and various matters. Here, then, are suggestions to follow in your task of mobilizing and supervising your staff.

(1) Survey the existing staff and recruit necessary new members. A new worker increases attendance by ten. Most Sunday Schools have ten times as many pupils as teachers. Therefore, the more teaching centers you have, the greater the possibility there is of increasing the attendance. The average Sunday School finds it very difficult to raise its attendance level beyond the ratio of 1 to 10.

The ratio, of course, tends to vary according to the age of the students. For instance, the average for a preschool department is 1 to 5, while the primary department and juniors would be 1 to 7. Young people may be 1 to 13, while adults are somewhere between 1 to 15 or 1 to 25. (The recruitment of teachers is dealt with in Chapter Seven.)

(2) Provide a job description for each staff member and encourage them in the performance of their duties by personal encounter and training. Workers tend to perform in proportion to what is expected of them and complain of being overworked at every level. You can build in your staff a sense of self-respect and accomplishment to the extent that you hold before them your expectation of a job well done. If on a scale of 1 to 10 you expect your staff to perform at level 8, you can expect that the average worker will perform somewhere around level 6. If on the other hand you set their level of performance at level 6, you can expect them to perform at level 4. Be assured of this, however, that those who have been firmly encouraged to perform at level 8 will in the long run have a great deal more respect for you because you have helped them to do a more effective job.

(3) Inspire and train staff members. The spiritually and pedagogically trained staff will most effectively lead students in learning to observe all that God has commanded them in Matthew 28:19,20: “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.” If it was necessary for the disciples to go through an extensive training program to be productive, can we expect teachers today to be productive without adequate training? It is therefore an important part of the superintendent’s job to see that all of the staff is trained both before and during their task of teaching. (Chapter Eight deals with this subject.)

(4) Evaluate workers and positions; consider whether each is functioning to the best of his/her capacity in the places where they can most adequately utilize their spiritual gifts. (Some guidance in this area is given in Chapter Seven.)

(5) Guide and challenge staff members in implementing the goals which both the school and the individual staff members have set. (The procedure for establishing goals is outlined in Chapter Six.) Being accountable one to another aids the fulfillment of responsibility. The leader of a Sunday School team, like a leader of an army, thoroughly understands the strong necessity of mobilizing a team so that each person does his task to the best of his ability, toward the accomplishment of the team’s objectives. A great leader has the ability to guide each one of his members toward the accomplishment of that mission.

(6) Lead the staff in regular team meetings for the whole school and make certain they are conducted also in the individual departments. (Chapter Eight gives specific help in conducting staff meetings.) Individuals gain encouragement and strength from a group of people who are all engaged in similar tasks. A “team spirit” is essential for a happy, growing Sunday School.

(7) Meet regularly with all departmental superintendents or coordinators for coordination and planning purposes. Individuals are encouraged, strengthened and motivated by leaders who meet with them on a regular basis.

2. Guide and guard the curriculum

Build your vision. Many well-meaning spiritual oriented people who teach in the Sunday School seem to feel that the written and published curriculum is confining in their teaching situation. This is so, perhaps, because they do not understand the purpose and function of a Sunday School curriculum. (It will be important to study Chapter Eleven to gain a proper perspective about your school’s curriculum.)

A practical definition of a Sunday School curriculum would be that it is a planned systematic study of the Bible and important related topics. The technical meaning of the word curriculum suggests the idea of staying on the track with an end in view. If a student is to come to maturity through the guidance of the teacher, it will necessitate many people guiding him along the track. You will need to remind your staff frequently that they are not the final end in the process of a student’s spiritual maturity, but that each one of the staff in turn plays a significant part in the development of that student as he grows up through the Sunday School. You can readily see, then, why it is so important for a church to maintain standards for the Sunday School and its teachers and require all teachers to teach one church selected curriculum.

Accomplish your mission and know the laws involved You will need to study the educational needs of your Sunday School and become the expert in this area that becomes a successful superintendent.

(1) Know the value of your curriculum. Work with the Board of Christian Education if your church has one, or you and the pastor may need to work together to survey the curriculum presently used in your Sunday School. Become familiar with its philosophy of education, Bible coverage, type of grading, and the attractiveness and suitability of its teaching materials, as well as its theological agreement with the doctrines upheld by your church.

If you are presently using the best curriculum to meet the needs of your church, it would be counter productive to upset the school by frequent changes of study materials.

(2) Investigate the value of other curricula Curriculum publishers approach the structure of their curricula from different educational philosophies. If you find a lack in your present curriculum in any of the above-mentioned areas, investigate the materials from other publishers to select one to be used in all departments of the school. One curriculum should be used in the entire school so that each student has the entire Scripture taught to him in a sequential, orderly way, following a sound educational philosophy.

(3) Guide in the selection of the curriculum. It is extremely important that the entire staff come to a democratic decision about a uniform curriculum and its selection. Members of the Christian Education Committee should be responsible to make a careful, knowledgeable study of this matter and present its recommendations to the departmental superintendents and the teaching staff.

Personal involvement in the curriculum selection encourages in carrying out the decision.

(4) Train the staff in the proper use of the curriculum. If the teachers are to use the curriculum, they will certainly need to understand the rationale behind its development. Study all information provided in the publisher’s introductory material to determine its purposes and use. This of course includes an understanding of why they are teaching each part of the Scripture at that appropriate time.

Some teachers tend to be reluctant about teaching what seems to be an insignificant part of Scripture because they do not understand how it fits into the total perspective of the curriculum plan. You will often find teachers teaching their own topics and tests because they do not understand that what they were intended to teach fits into a total program in the education of the students.

An understanding of the total curriculum plan and how each part dovetails into the whole, brings positive results.

(5) Provide adequate teaching materials. Observe what materials are offered by the publisher to aid the teacher in doing a good job of teaching. Supply them for the teachers and encourage their use. This means of course that you, or at least the department superintendent, understands their value.

(6) Order curriculum materials early. It is the superintendent’s job to know the curriculum needs of each department and to order the supplies in adequate time to distribute them at least by the Sunday before a new quarter begins. This will involve studying all promotional material sent you by the publisher to know of any changes in supplies and procedures as well as the proper times to order and how to facilitate additional orders for materials needed during the quarter.

3. Inaugurate and supervise your program.

Build your vision. An honest thorough study of Scripture will soon reveal that the Lord is desirous of seeing the church of Jesus Christ grow both quantitatively (in the number of people) and qualitatively (in effectiveness).

The quality of church growth and the quantity of church growth are side by side in this pyramid because they are both necessary for the accomplishment of God’s desire for the church. The administrative section at the bottom illustrates that the qualitative and quantitative factors of growth depend upon good administration–someone is leading them through proper administrative practices. But of course administration will not stand on its own; if there is no spiritual vitality (quality), or no growth (quantity), then administration will tend to reinforce that sterility.

If many people are coming to know Christ and no one is able to mobilize a team and get that team involved with the new converts toward their spiritual development, the spiritual gains in the lives of those people are greatly diminished. I have seen so many churches where the Spirit of God has moved upon the people, but because no one harnesses that spiritual energy it tends to disintegrate and all of those spiritual gains are lost.

One thing you will have to constantly watch for as a leader is that you might readily fall into the ends-means inversion. Realize that your program is a means to an end. Each Sunday’s class and each activity is another event toward the accomplishment of your spiritual goals. But it is a significant and valuable means to that end. Therefore, many of those events must be looked upon as temporal and when their effectiveness has ceased, their operation ought to be terminated.

Accomplish your mission and know the laws involved

(1) The superintendent handles the financial and business affairs of the Sunday School. You will want to keep these matters well in hand. (In Chapter Ten we will talk about the ways to develop your budget and to help you to be a good steward of God’s finances in relation to your Sunday School.)

(2) Set up a Sunday School Standard and Covenant. As the Church Constitution serves as the guideline for the ministry of the church and the operation of its business, so the Sunday School needs similar guidelines in a Sunday School Standard and Covenant. (Chapter Four will give full details and samples for this important task.)

(3) Decide on goals for the Sunday School Workers tend to be effective in accomplishing goals in proportion to the clarity and the ownership of those goals. The goals for the entire school should be set by the entire staff; the goals for the individual departments should be set by the departmental staffs. If you the superintendent suggest what those goals will be, there is a very slim chance that the workers will own those goals and will set about to implement them; they will be yours, not theirs. If they have been the goal-setters, they are more likely to be enthusiastic to be goal-achievers.

As their leader, however, you will be the facilitator, rather than a dictator. In order to lead them in the goal setting process, you will need to know where you want them to go and then ask significant questions to help them establish their own goals. For example, if you are really interested in seeing your staff desire more training, it would not be advisable for you to suggest directly that they attend a training session. It would be more advisable for you to ask a question such as, “If you are going to raise the level of the effectiveness in your class, what would it take to increase your effectiveness?” (Chapter Six will guide you in the process of setting goals.)

(4) Guide your school’s special programs in their development and implementation. Each school has its own special programs such as Christmas, Easter, Children’s Day programs, and other events like the yearly Sunday School picnic. It is not always necessary that you as the superintendent be responsible for these events, but it is necessary for you to at least see that their observance is delegated to other responsible leaders.

(5) Direct your promotion day activities. See that all of the students are moved to their classes on the appropriate day of the year. This involves the organizational preparation needed for a new-year.

New classes and departments grow faster, win more people to the Lord, and provide more workers. Each class and group provides another means of ministry with additional people. It is only reasonable to see therefore that the more groups you have the more potential there is for growth.

(6) See that all of the absent students are followed up very carefully. (Chapter Nine will give further details.)

Attendance increases in proportion to the personal face to face confrontation with students outside the class. If your workers are personally involved in the lives of their students your school will be looked upon as a genuine discipling institution. Discipleship can be started in the classroom but is very seldom completed there. A good program has a meaningful way to encourage the teachers to regularly be involved with all of their students–both absentees and faithful attenders.

(7) Initiate and supervise all of the outreach programs so that your school will be more than just a maintenance school (Chapter Twelve will give you ways to implement this.)

(8) See that all of the records are accurately compiled and kept. A good administrator not only knows how to keep the records, but knows how to study them for proper grouping and grading as well as an indication of the school’s growth–or lack of growth.

4. Develop and maintain your school’s facility.

Build your vision. To develop a proper attitude toward learning, consideration needs to be given to the surroundings in which the truth is taught. A good administrator will be concerned about the attractiveness of the facility, as well as see that there is adequate space so that all who really desire to be part of God’s learning institution might find a roomy environment in which to learn.

Accomplish your mission and know the laws involved.

(1) Provide adequate meeting areas. To the best of your ability within the limits of your building facility, see that each group has sufficient space to provide a good learning environment according to the needs of their age. Include space for growth. Be aware of the importance of attractive surroundings.

The Sunday School takes the shape of the building. Most churches would like to think their classes or groups are always open to new people, but this is not always true. A number of factors can contribute to develop what is known as Group Closure. Some of these significant factors are the room’s furniture, the color and texture of its walls, the ceilings, floors, lighting and ventilation–all of which have effects upon people.

I have seen churches who have significantly stifled their numerical growth by simply not providing adequate space for the individual classes and for additional classes as they need to be established. It is wise to keep in mind that the facility will generally not fill up more than 85 percent of its capacity on a normal basis. Therefore you ought to plan for empty spaces in each department, so there will be the possibility for expansion.

It will be very important that you study not only the enrollment but regular attendance month by month to see if group closure has set in any of your departments and classes. If you wait until the end of the year to do so it may be too late to change that attendance curve

(2) Supply suitable equipment for each place of learning. This includes chairs of proper heights, tables, shelves, supply closets, files, audio visual equipment, and other items as needed.

It is always wise to be open to the needs of individual teachers for their classrooms. Consider their requests with concern, and if such requests are reasonable supply them if possible, or discuss the matter toward finding an alternate solution.

(3) Give attention to the needs of larger classes. The adult class meeting in the church auditorium may be dying because people are getting lost in the group.

Groups are meant for meaningful face-to-face confrontations. For instance, if an adult class is very large it is important to divide that class into smaller study sections. This could be done by having a master teacher and providing for an ongoing care group within that adult class. Some churches have those small care groups sit at individual tables within the larger class for discussion at the conclusion of the master teacher’s presentation.

(4) Guide your school in the development and care of a media center. It is a good idea to maintain a library equipped with training books and tools for the staff, as well as a reading library for the whole church family.

Determination to Accomplish the Task

As you look back over the job description for a Sunday School superintendent, it may appear to be rather staggering. In some cases it would seem impossible, even for a full-time employee to accomplish all of the various tasks. Keep in mind that while some duties are vital to the immediate smooth operation of the school others are ideas, they are standards, they are ultimate goals to accomplish, they are things you ought to be working on. As you strive toward the accomplishment of these goals in this job description, you will become the kind of superintendent that really makes a difference.