Apt to Teach
This is the second in a new series of Sunday school articles. The November issue will feature unity and fellowship amongst the Sunday school staff.
“And the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach…” (2 Tim. 2:24)
Nobody is perfect, and neither is any Sunday school teacher. But without some clear conception as to what constitutes the ideal teacher, the spiritual effectiveness of the Sunday school will be seriously limited.
For one thing, elders and superintendents will have no adequate standard for evaluating their staffs, and thus no means of knowing when a teacher needs special prayer, counselling, or encouragement. Furthermore, Sunday school leaders will have no satisfactory criterion for judging the potential merits of prospective teachers, and thus no guide to making wise decisions in the selection of new staff.
Besides, without a proper appreciation of an ideal that is worth striving for, teachers themselves will be incapable of measuring their own performance or of seeking, with the Lord’s help, to improve it.
On the other hand, if we are clearly aware of the characteristics, aptitudes, and abilities of the ideal teacher, we shall all pray and strive for a continuous improvement in the spiritual qualifications of our present staffs, and for increased spiritual discernment and guidance in the choosing of new teachers.
Paul gave special instructions to Timothy and Titus concerning the type of person who is suitable in God’s sight for teaching in the Church (1 Tim. 1:3; 3:2. 2 Tim. 2:2. Titus 1:5). And although these instructions pertain to elders in particular, we cannot overlook the fact that elders and Sunday school teachers hold in common the same chief function; namely, the teaching of the Word of God.
In writing to both of his colleagues, Paul emphasized particularly the spiritual character of the teachers. In fact, his concern about the teachers’ spirituality appeared to equal —if not exceed — his concern about their teaching ability and their knowledge of the Word of God (e.g., 1 Tim. 3:1-7).
It is plainly axiomatic that spiritual work can be carried on to the glory of God only if spiritual people are doing the work. It is of all things most essential, therefore, that a Sunday school teacher should be spiritual in the fullest sense of the word.
(In this connection, nothing could be more helpful and edifying than the careful reading, study, and application of the truths discussed in Chafer’s volume, “He that is Spiritual”, which is reviewed on the inside back cover of this issue).
The purpose of Sunday school work is to glorify God, and teachers can do this only if the Spirit of God is filling them and producing the likeness of Christ in their hearts and lives. And this is possible only to those who are filled with love and devotion to our Lord and Master, and who are willing to allow His Spirit to make the indwelling Christ a vital reality day by day (Eph. 4:16-17).
Paul’s unparalleled effectiveness in writing and teaching the Scriptures was no doubt more the result of His burning, passionate love to Christ than of any other single factor in his character and experience. Without a similar love for our Lord, no teacher can aspire in any degree to a life of increasingly fruitful service. God is glorified by a fruitful life, but love is the primary and basic fruit of the Spirit (John 16:8. Gal. 5:22).
Love to Christ inevitably produces love to others; the latter is the proof of the former. Both are essential spiritual qualities, without which no service can be pleasing to the Lord (John 13:34-35; 15:12-17. 2 Cor. 5:14. Rom. 9:1-3; 10:1). And here we all stand condemned! How miserably we have failed to love our Lord, our brethren, and our unsaved fellow-creatures!
The reason for our failure is not difficult to discover, of course. The one who looks upon Christ in the Word of God; who yields to Him in humble surrender and submission; who beholds Him in all His beauty, wisdom, grace, and power; who realizes and appropriates by faith the truth that he is identified with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection — that one cannot fail to love Him and to serve Him in loving others!
Prayerful meditation upon the Word of God is probably the greatest single deficiency in the life of believers today. And without such exercise on the part of Sunday school staffs, the work will inevitably prove to be fruitless and depressing. The maintenance of spiritual communion with the Lord — day by day, and hour by hour — through Bible reading, prayer, praise, and confession, constitutes the most vital and indispensable part of every teacher’s qualifications.
Paul made it clear that the Church needs teachers. At the same time, he declared that one of the basic qualifications for this instructional work is an aptitude for teaching (1 Tim. 3:2. 2 Tim. 2:24).
In the dictionary sense, an aptitude, of course, is a capacity, ability, or talent for doing a certain work or for engaging in a certain activity.
With reference to Christian concepts, aptitude can therefore be considered as a part of one’s natural gifts and also as a part of the believer’s spiritual endowment from God.
The ideal teacher is one with a natural teaching gift that has been yielded to the Holy Spirit and thus consecrated for use as a spiritual endowment in doing spiritual work.
Paul also made it clear that not every believer is intended to be a teacher (1 Cor. 12:29). While every believer no doubt has a divinely ordained function in the Body of Christ, the function differs from person to person, depending upon the fitting and provision of the Spirit of God (Rom. 12:3-8. 1 Cor. 12:4-6, 11, 27-30. Eph. 4:7, 11).
A passionate love for souls, springing out of a heart wholly devoted to Christ, can more than make up for a lack of natural teaching aptitude. Also, without a love for Christ and for children, no amount of purely human teaching aptitude will suffice for doing a job that glorifies God.
Notwithstanding, it is surely most obvious that the ideal teacher should be one whose heart yearns after souls as did the heart of the Lord Whom we serve, and whose natural and spiritual gifts from the Lord comprise an aptitude for teaching the Word of God. Where there is aptitude as well as love, there will be superabundant joy and blessing in service, despite all the difficulties and the discouragements.
It would be wrong of course to forget that the “knack” or the skills of teaching can be developed and improved somewhat, provided that there is some basic aptitude or gift for this work. The devoted teacher, who loves his Lord and his class, will certainly be more than anxious to do all that he can to become a better teacher in every sense of the word.
Many Sunday schools apparently fail to appreciate any connection between the training of Sunday school teachers and Scriptures such as Eph. 4:11-12 and 2 Tim. 2:2. But fortunately, despite the tragic and deplorable lack of teacher training in most of our assemblies, there are numerous excellent volumes on the subject of Sunday school teaching (e.g., How to Understand and Influence Children, by C. M. Narramore. Zondervan).
First rate courses have also been published on film strip for group instruction (e.g., Successful Teaching, and Know Your Child. Scripture Press or Moody Press). Also, a number of Christian magazines run regular features on Sunday school work. And on top of all these sources of guidance and assistance, older and more experienced teachers are usually thrilled to have the opportunity of assisting younger, newer teachers’ in accordance with the Scriptures just mentioned above.
Last, but far from least, an increasingly thorough knowledge of the Word of God is surely a qualification without substitute. Apart from sound Bible knowledge, the teacher is limited and handicapped beyond description.
First of all, each lesson must be prayerfully and carefully prepared — well in advance! An essential part of this preparation is the diligent study of the portion of Scripture to be taught.
In addition to this regular lesson preparation, however, every teacher should be ambitious to study and to increase his knowledge of the Word regardless of any connection between this study and the specific lesson he might be teaching.
There is ample evidence to show that our Sunday school children are not really getting to know the Scriptures thoroughly. There is no more likely cause for this deficiency than the lack of Bible knowledge amongst our teachers.
Fortunately again, there are many means available to us all today whereby our study of the Word can be enlarged as much and as quickly as desired. Study-helps, and commentaries abound on every hand. Bible correspondence courses (including some on teacher training) have proven over and over again to be a rich source of blessing to many. No one need suffer too long from the widespread lack of Bible ministry today, no matter what his particular situation might be. (Interested readers are invited to write for further information.)
All of this is not to say, of course, that a mere head knowledge of the contents of Scripture will make a good teacher. But again, if we are seeking the ideal, we will pray for more teachers whose hearts are yielded and devoted to the Lord; whom God has blessed with an aptitude for teaching; and whose character and gift are crowned with a Spirit-imparted knowledge of the Word — for it is by the Word of God alone that the Spirit of God regenerates the souls of girls and boys (John 3:5-6. 1 Pet. 1:22-23).
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Suggestion of the Month
Many teachers and workers among children have found the device of the “quiet seat” to be a valuable aid to discipline in the Sunday school class, children’s meetings, and daily vacation Bible school projects.
Before the session begins, the teacher makes mental choice of a particular seat in the audience and announces to the group that he has done so, keeping the actual choice a secret. Of course, at the same time, he promises a small reward, such as extra marks, candy, etc. — to be awarded at the end of the session to the child who is sitting in that unknown seat, provided his behaviour is good throughout the session. Each child thinks that he might be sitting in the “quiet seat” (which is changed from one session to the next).
Everyone usually does his best to merit the reward, and then the prize is given out at the end of the session if the child occupying the seat deserves it.
The standards should be set at a high level from the beginning, and if the child does not behave, the teacher simply announces that no prize is being awarded that session.