Effective Sunday School Teaching
To know our sins are forgiven is not to be the end of our Christian experience. By the use of this wonderful knowledge, we are to fulfil the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). We should bring this vital information to others, remembering that such ministry carries the promise of a reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ. The role of the Sunday School teacher is a most important part of this preaching of the Gospel.
The well-equipped Sunday School teacher should not only have a thorough knowledge of the Word of God, but should also have the ability to give clear and effective expression to the truths in the Word of God. It is not necessary to have the ability to do this before large audiences; it is sufficient to be able to express oneself before a class of small children.
The influence of the Christian teacher, through the ministry of the Word of God and good sound Christian literature, reaches tremendous proportions. Once this is recognized, the teacher’s objective should be to use this influence effectively upon others. This needs intelligent and spiritual training. The Gospel, along with basic scriptural truths, must be taught the children efficiently.
Much has been written and said about the necessity of real spirituality in the life of the teacher; this cannot be underestimated. There are, however, some very fundamental essentials which should be briefly reviewed in order to improve our efforts in the Sunday School.
What is Teaching?
As we carefully think about the art of teaching, the verb “to teach” seems to take on a deeper meaning. We use many words freely and often without always fully realizing what they mean to others. Some words have more than one meaning, and must be understood in the light of their connection. There are many examples of this, one of which is the word “custom.” Sometimes this word means a usual practice, a course of action, a convention. In other connections it means duties, taxes, tolls, the costs imposed when importing goods from another country. Still again, it may mean, in another context, that which is specifically prepared for one person, such as having something custom-built. The idea of teaching, therefore should be examined carefully so that we may know just what it is.
Just telling something to the children is not teaching. No child learns everything that he hears. No child is taught unless he learns something at the same time. If we adults were to have learned all the truths that we have been told, we would of all people be the most learned. Telling is an important part, but it is not in itself teaching.
Correct answers to our questions and the proper recitation of memorized portions of the Scriptures do not mean that the children have been well taught. Children often fasten in their memories words which to them have no particular meaning, or perhaps even a wrong meaning. Children who learn to recite from memory may do so without deriving any spiritual benefit. Correct answers and properly quoted Scriptures are very important, but they alone do not constitute teaching.
Effective teaching is not a matter of eloquent language or of putting together words in nice sounding phrases. Technically speaking, teaching consists of conveying the exact thoughts and knowledge of the teacher’s mind to the minds of the children until they become a part of the children’s understanding. In teaching, the exact meaning as understood by the teacher must be conveyed to the scholar.
In simple words, to teach is to cause to learn. Teaching includes learning. Teaching is a part of a two way process of which one part is learning. There is no effective teaching where there is no real learning. In teaching, knowledge not known to the learner is directed to his mind; in learning that very knowledge is made the learner’s own. Every sincere Christian Sunday School teacher wants to be an actual teacher, and not a teacher in name only. This is our objective in all of our Sunday Schools. There are some very definite and practical things which we can do to accomplish this objective.
Special preparation for a given lesson is necessary, but of greater importance is a general preparation. A good overall knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, and understanding of their doctrines, and an understanding of their language, as well as a knowledge of the words and phrases most adequate to explain these to the children are vitally important.
A sound basis of Scripture is a prime requisite. The way of salvation; the apostles’ doctrine which is described as the whole body of revealed truth, the faith; the memorization of significant passages; the location of important texts; and a general awareness of prophecy with respect to current events is necessary knowledge for the teacher. Timothy was told, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
An extensive reading of the Bible and of sound expository works alone will be of no avail in obtaining a good general knowledge for the purpose of teaching. The reading must be done with accuracy and understanding, with thought and meditation. All such exercise, furthermore, must be done with the Sunday School class in mind. It is better to do one’s reading on a regular study program, taking notes and building up a store of general knowledge. The memorization of the Scriptures which are significant and which support key truths is most important. These things should be stored in the mind, ready for use when needed. As an aid to the memory, index cards may be used.
It is not enough that the teacher have a good general knowledge of the Word of God. He should have command of a suitable language with which children today are familiar in order to express biblical truths.
We must know the meaning in general of scriptural words; and, likewise, the language with which the children are conversant so that we can readily transpose from the one to the other. One of the parables of the Lord Jesus as translated in the King James version starts out, “A sower went forth to sow.” Without a proper explanation and transposing of language a modern child might think that someone was about to sew clothes.
Everyone, even including children, has two languages, two vocabularies. One consists of those words which one reads and understands; the other consists of those words used in conversation. The development of a vocabulary suitable for this special work should be a definite objective.
It will be wise, first of all, to study the words used in the Bible. Psalm 12:6, says, “The words of the Lord are pure words; as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.” Three principles are helpful in determining the meaning of words used in the Bible, their derivation, their use in general writing or conversation, and their specific use in the Holy Scriptures. In addition to these helps, an expository dictionary of New Testament words will provide an excellent service. A persistent effort should be made by the teacher to utilize every aid possible.
As we speak to children, there is not a great deal of time to carefully choose words and construct sentences. We ought to attend to the lesson and to see that it is properly taught. However, we must be able to readily switch over to a style of speech suitable for the class. This is just like a change of clothing to suit the different activities in which we take part. As we have suitable clothing in our wardrobe to suit different activities, so we must have developed a ready and suitable language for our classes. This style must of necessity spring from our own basic everyday language to be easily usable, therefore, it is, of course, important that our daily conversation be beyond reproach.
The choice of words and illustrations to be used with the children should be such as will accurately convey the truth of the Scriptures in the age level of the class, and must be well within the range of their knowledge and experience. This knowledge of children’s words can only be gained from the children themselves. We all have association with children in one way or another, either as younger brothers and sisters, relatives, or our own. From these associations, and from experience gained in our Sunday School class, we can build up a vocabulary which will accomplish the purpose.
The Art of Questioning
“A question should exercise the pupil’s judgment, and not simply test his memory. When only the memory is tested and pupils repeat by rote what they have verbally memorized, teaching becomes mechanical and devitalized …
“A judgment is the mind’s assertion about reality. This it is that knits truth into the intellectual fibre of the pupil’s being, that assimilates the knowledge received. As unassimilated food means physical indigestion, so unassimilated knowledge means mental indigestion; and when the habit of not thinking is persisted in, mental dyspepsia results, and solid mental achievement becomes impossible.”