Since Sunday School work is of such vital importance because of the eternal issues involved, it surely becomes each teacher to take his work seriously as a solemn responsibility from the Lord. He should so prepare and present the lesson that the Holy Spirit—apart from Whom no effective service can be rendered—may use it to the blessing of both the saved and unsaved members of his class. It is to be feared that many teachers have little conception of the great need for adequate preparation to fit them for the task that lies before them.
The Lord Jesus said on one occasion: “The children of this world are, in their generation, wiser than the children of light” (Luke 16:8); and this fact is often painfully evident in Sunday School teaching. The world decrees that before a person can undertake the secular education of the young, he must be fitted for this work by undergoing a course in a normal college where he is instructed in pedagogics, the science and art of teaching. He learns there the fundamental principles underlying correct teaching, and how best to prepare and present the lesson to the pupils so as to make the most lasting impression upon their minds.
Many Sunday School teachers seem to think that little or no preparation is necessary for imparting spiritual truth to the young. Apparently they imagine that teachers are referred to when God says, “Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10), and consequently neglect that preparation so essential to the proper carrying out of their God-given work. Someone once said boastingly to Spurgeon: “I never know what I am going to say ten minutes before I speak.” Spurgeon replied. “That is the reason no one knows what you have said ten minutes after you have finished!”
Worthwhile service for the Lord demands the very best that the believer can give. It would be good if every Sunday School teacher would hang upon the walls of his study the words, “Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord negligently” (marg.—Jeremiah 48:10). God hates half-heartedness in His service. It would be far better not to attempt anything for Him than to do it in a careless, haphazard, lackadaisical and slipshod fashion. The Savior’s words of rebuke, addressed to the church at Laodicea, were caused by the lukewarmness of that assembly. They were neither cold nor hot, but in a tepid condition which produced nausea on the part of the Head of the Church (Revelation 3:15-20).
It cannot be overemphasized that Sunday School work is the Lord’s work. Does each teacher reading this really believe it? It can be truthfully said of each God-called teacher, “he worketh the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 16:10). The great apostle declared, “Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily as to the Lord and not unto men … for ye serve the Lord Christ!” (Colossians 3:23-24).
The risen Head has given gifts to the Church (Ephesians 4:8-12) and each member of His body has some gift, but this gift needs to be stirred up and developed by study and exercise (2 Timothy 1:6; 2 Timothy 2:15; Hebrews 5:14; Acts 24:16). Christ has given “to every man his work” (Mark 13:34) and the day is coming when “every man’s work shall be manifest, for the day shall declare it” (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). The servant’s reward in the future is not determined by his outward success, but by his faithfulness in the work entrusted to him by the Lord (Matthew 25:21).
Solomon, the wisest man of his day declared, “Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings” (Proverbs 22:29). In the concluding chapter of his book, “Ecclesiastes,” he gives us a description of the ideal preacher or teacher, and emphasizes the necessity for proper preparation for such a work as follows: “And moreover, because the preacher (or teacher) was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea he gave good heed and sought out and set in order many proverbs. The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright even words of truth.” (Ecc. 12:9-10). From these and many other Scriptures, we can surely see the great importance of preparation for the work of teaching.
Let us now consider some suggestions as to the best method of preparing the lesson to be taught. Some of these suggestions may also be useful to the young believer as he prepares a gospel address.1
First. There should be prayer for guidance and wisdom. Prayer is the genuine expression of our realized need. The throne of grace has been provided to meet this contingency, and well would it be if each teacher spent much time in secret communion with his heavenly Father in humble confession of his need. Do we lack wisdom? “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God Who giveth liberally and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him” (James 1:5). Do we need strength? “They that wait upon the Lord shall exchange their strength” (Isaiah 40:29-31). Do we need grace? “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Do we need enlightenment? “Open Thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law!” (Psalm 119:18).
Let us never forget that the Holy Spirit is the great Teacher, and that apart from Him we can know nothing and do nothing in the Lord’s work. The Lord Jesus said of Him, “He will guide you into all truth … He shall receive of Mine and shall shew it unto you” (John 16:7-25). The Holy Spirit indwells every believer and, as the teacher approaches the lesson, he should realize how vitally important it is that this “holy heavenly Guest” should be ungrieved within him (Ephesians 4:25-32). Unconfessed and unjudged sin, or any questionable habit, must be mercilessly dealt with by the believer if he is to be led by the Holy Spirit and taught the truths he is to impart to his class. The very Scriptures containing the lessons have been made possible by the Holy Spirit, for “holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). Only He who inspired the words can make their meaning plain. God has declared that “It is not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit saith the Lord.” Someone has well said: “Much prayer equals much power; little prayer equals little power, and no prayer equals no power.” Whatever other preparation we neglect, let us not neglect prayer, for “prayer is that which moves the hand that moves the world and brings deliverance down.” Simple, humble, reverent and believing prayer to the One “to Whom all things are possible” is an indispensable condition for the preparation of the teacher.
Second. There should be a careful reading of the whole lesson portion several times. This should be done early in the week. The teacher who delays until the last minute will find himself longing for the superintendent’s bell to end both the school session and his embarrassment! Many good Sunday School teachers ,begin their preparation on Monday for the next Sunday’s lesson by familiarizing themselves with the actual words of Scripture. There is no substitute for the reading and re-reading of the portion containing the lesson. The lesson must go through the teacher before it can really reach the class.
This is the day of numberless Lesson helps and, while we thank God for the many able expositions of the lesson available; yet there is the danger of relying upon these and failing to give the lesson that independent and individual study that is essential to making the lesson ours in the real sense of the word. Let us not use helps as a crutch upon which to lean, but merely as a supplement to our own study.
Third. There should be a reading of the parallel accounts in other portions of the word, as in the case of the Gospels or the Kings, etc. Often much additional light is thrown upon the lesson by this means. Some incidents are frequently mentioned throughout the Scriptures, and each time some fresh truth concerning it is emphasized. A concordance is a valuable asset to this end. A comparison with the Revised Version is also very helpful, and any important changes in the text should be carefully noted.
Fourth. The lesson should be studied in its historical setting. This means that the context, or that which precedes and succeeds the Scripture portion selected for the lesson, should be taken into consideration. The brilliance of a gem is often enhanced by its setting, and so also is the lesson. The manners and customs of that day will often throw a flood of light upon an incident which otherwise appears to be drab and uninteresting. The geography of the lesson should also be taken into consideration. With a map of the country before him, the teacher can locate the towns mentioned and appreciate, in some measure, the physical surroundings of the lesson.
Fifth. The central theme or main thought of the lesson should be discovered. In every lesson there should be one main thought that is to be impressed upon the mind of the pupil. Many teachers make the mistake of trying to teach too many lessons. It is far better to have one lesson firmly and indelibly impressed upon their hearts, than fifty transient ones, soon to be forgotten.
It would be good for the teacher to write down what he considers is this main thought, and then seek to arrange the lesson so that each division will combine to drive home this central truth.
Sixth. An introduction should be prepared that will arouse the attention of the class. It may be in the form of a question, or perhaps some striking incident, or some terse statement of fact. This introduction requires considerable thought, for it is essential to gaining the ear of the class. Interest is simply sustained attention, and the attention cannot be sustained until it has been obtained. It might be helpful for the teacher to write out this introduction, for what a person takes the trouble to write will impress his mind much more than the mere thought entertained in the mind. The introduction is one of the most important parts of the whole lesson, for the attention of the class is either gained or lost during the opening minutes of the lesson period.
Seventh. An outline should be made of the whole lesson. It should be divided into its main divisions by Roman numerals “I, II, III,” etc. Subdivide these by Arabic numerals “1, 2, 3,” etc. Divide these in turn by numbers in brackets “(1) (2) (3)” Etc. If these, in turn, are to be divided, use small letters in brackets “(a) (b) (c)”etc.
Try to be orderly in the arrangement of the lesson material. God is a God of order and not of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33-40). Several main divisions will soon be apparent. Separate these and study them individually. As this is done, subdivisions will appear which naturally emanate from these main divisions. By this means the facts of the lesson will unfold in their logical sequence. As these, in turn, are studied and yield their quota, the teacher will be overwhelmed with the abundance of material he has discovered and will rejoice “as one that findeth great spoil” (Psalm 119:162). This is the method adopted in the preparation of the outlines that follow.
The teacher, however, should not be a slave to this outline. If, during the teaching of the lesson, some fresh thought is impressed upon his spirit, he should be open to the Spirit’s leading to include that in the lesson as well.
Eighth. He should seek to illuminate the lesson when it is necessary by apt illustration. C. H. Spurgeon likened an illustration to a window that lets the light into a house, but he warned his hearers not to turn their lessons into greenhouses! It is to be feared that some preachers prepare their sermons to suit their illustrations, instead of vice versa! Surely there should be no scarcity of suitable illustrations. The Bible itself is full of them, as a close reading of it will testify. The newspapers are replete with modern up-to-date illustrations of the truth of God’s word. A “suppose” story will prove very useful for elucidating some point of the lesson. Study the Savior’s method of teaching, and you have a perfect example of the use of illustrations to make clear the lesson He wished to convey.2
Ninth. A list of questions should be drawn up, the answers to which should emphasize the main points of the lesson. These questions should be carefully prepared. F. R. Sacher in his excellent booklet, “Planning and Teaching a Lesson,” has pointed out that good questions should have at least seven features. (1) They should be as short as possible and concisely stated. (2) They should be couched in clear, forceful language. (3) They should be within the grasp of the pupil, but not easily answered. (4) They should be of such a nature as to admit of several answers. Note Christ’s question, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” (Matthew 16:13); (5) They should, in turn, provoke questions from the pupils themselves which the teacher must answer. (6) They should be of such a weight that not more than fifty can arise in half an hour. (7) They should be both the result and cause of thought.
In putting a question to the class, it is best to first state the question, then pause a moment, and finally name the person in the class you wish to answer it. This will tend to keep them all on the alert and is much better than the rotation method, which starts at the head and questions each in his turn. There is indeed an art in questioning that improves by constant practice.
Tenth. He should prepare a conclusion that will summarize the main points and impress the chief lesson upon the pupils. In other words, the truth must now be applied to the individual lives of each member of the class. Be sure and leave time for this, for many a lesson has been left hanging in the air. Drive home in clear, unmistakable language what you believe to be the practical teaching of the lesson as it affects the lives of both the saved and unsaved members of the Class.
Eleventh. He should prepare an assignment for the next Sunday’s lesson for their home study. Don’t make it too diffi- cult, but really assign it and expect them to do it. Ask for it when the class convenes and commend their work. If it is possible, incorporate it in your teaching of the lesson.
Twelfth. He should now be ready to consult any lesson helps on the subject. This will give him additional information, not to displace, but to aid his own thoughts. C. H. Spurgeon well said, “The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted, and he who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains proves that he has no brains of his own.” The outlines given in this volume, when used in this way, will make the lessons the teacher’s own in a real sense. It may be difficult to adopt this method of preparing the lesson at first, but all worthwhile things are difficult. It is practice that makes perfect, and surely there is no greater honor possible than to be “a workman that needeth not be ashamed, rightly dividing (and imparting) the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15)
May each Sunday School teacher who reads these pages have the same ambition as did Paul when he declared: “Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Colossians 1:28). God has provided the spiritual equipment that is necessary for the task. May it be ours so to take advantage of it, and so prepare for the work to which He has called us, that in that future day we may be able to say: “Behold I, and the children which God hath given me!” (Hebrews 2:13).
1 See also the author’s book, “The Preacher and His Preaching.”
2 See author’s pamphlet, “Lessons from the Great Teacher.”