by Howard Glass
Editor's note: These tips were originally prepared for delivery at a regional seminar for Salvation Army Sunday school teachers and prospective teachers.
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1. Assume that your students know nothing about the Bible. In too many cases that will be true. It can be awkward to re-tell the familiar Bible stories to some, but there are probably people who will be hearing them for the first time. I have been shocked, for example, to discover how few of my students knew who Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were.
2. You do not have to know everything, just because you are the leader. Think of yourself as the primary student. The best part of being a SS teacher is that you always learn more as you prepare to teach. In fact, allowing yourself to be seen as a fellow student makes you a more effective teacher. It also allows those who have learned some particular portion of the Bible well, to shine. For example, a person may have gone to VBS as a child, and learned all about the Tabernacle of the Israelites, but not much more. Let them share. Strive for a "round table atmosphere," even if your classroom is not set up that way.
If you are asked a question you don't know the answer to or are not sure about, admit it. Teachers who try to invent explanations come across as untrustworthy. "I don't know," is an honest and respectable answer. Don't be afraid to give it. Of course, tell the student that you will do what you can to find the answer before the next class, and then follow up.
If you find yourself being corrected about some fact in the Scriptures, don't be shamed or defensive. Thank the person who corrected you. Be humble. Be real.
3. Be careful with unscriptural teaching/ideas. Popular notions, and even some time-honored clichés, show up in Sunday school. If a Bible-based concept seems cloudy, we can find other Scripture to support it. Something thought up by people has no such support. One example that comes to mind is "unconditional love." That term is not found in any Bible translation I have seen. Though it may embody a legitimate idea, there is no scriptural context to define it. I have met those who think it means unconditional (without repentance) salvation.
4. Limit digression from the topic. So often, S/S discussion strays into politics, history, or culture. It is tempting to let it go on, especially when the class takes on a life of its own. Sometimes the students display an interest and liveliness you wish they had for your lesson. Let this go on if it has some benefit for the lesson. My experience tells me that it rarely does. Gently remind them, "This is a Bible class," and move on with the lesson.
5. Be as confident as you are able, without being arrogant. Most people feel better about following a person who is confident. To keep your confidence, don't try to teach on a deeper level than you feel comfortable with. It is easy to fall when you reach too far.
The devil would love to have us either pretending to be more holy and knowledgeable than we actually are, or constantly apologizing for our shortcomings. But, God can only use us the way we are. Pray that God will peel away any pretense you may have.
6. Be bold in your love for the Lord. You are a Sunday school teacher. People expect you to be a true believer. The people in the class wouldn't be there if they didn't want to learn about God.
7. Have the background/context necessary to make the session relevant. Do not assume the prepared lesson has done that sufficiently-those writers work within limitations. If you don't understand what is going on in the lesson, how will your students? Read whatever you need to get up to speed. If you still feel uncomfortable with what the publisher provided, perhaps there is another angle God wants you to use. In America we have abundant resources to draw from. Make the most of them.
8. Remember whose class it is. Your goal is to help those who want to know more about God. The class does not belong to you, nor does it belong to the people who wrote your study book. If you happen upon something that your students are curious about, and you are able to learn and teach about it from the Bible, don't be afraid to do so.
9. Remember who the real teacher is. You may feel inadequate to teach-many who are recruited for the job do. In most cases you are the best person available. God knows what you have to work with. He can make even clumsy teaching effective. Do the best you know how, the best you are able, and leave the results up to God.
10. Love your students. By that I mean respect them, even if they are totally lost. Give them the time it takes to prepare your lesson well, even though this will be your own precious, personal time that they may never know you gave them. Pray for them, and let your motive for teaching be that they will benefit.