Boyd Nicholson, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, has provided a very practical paper on a very important and difficult aspect of Sunday School work. His manuscript impresses one with the fact that the expenditure of time and energy behind the scenes is far more important than some imagine. From Mr. Nicholson’s observations, the success of any teacher in the class is dependent upon his own private preparation.
The writer approached a few young persons sometime ago with a view to encouraging them to teach a Sunday School class. Almost without exception they expressed the fear that they would not be able to get a lesson every week for their classes. This is a very real difficulty, not only to those who would like to assume the responsibility of a class, but for those who have been teaching over a considerable period of time.
Here are a few thoughts that may prove helpful to some, transforming their time of preparation from one of mental drudgery into one of weekly refreshing.
There are two things to be considered, the message and the method. In the first place, we shall look at three things relative to the message, and then, we shall consider the development of these points. The three things that we must bear in mind regarding the lesson are: first, getting it; second, gleaning it; and, finally, giving it.
The first, and by far the most difficult, is, of course, the laying hold of the material to teach the children. There is no quick and easy way to do this, and the selection comes best after the regular reading of the Scriptures and prayer. There are, of course, commendable helps available, and these can be used, provided they are, at all times, considered as helps and not as alternatives to private study. The Spirit of God is always ready to instruct those who are willing to spend the time in His presence seeking a message.
When once the topic or incident, by divine illumination, has been decided, then the message is gleaned by meditation. A careful reading and rereading of the Scriptures involved is of primary importance to the teacher. This he must do in order to secure a clear idea of the meaning of the language in which the topic or incident is couched. The teacher should use a dictionary to do this if necessary. When the significance of the words and the phrases used by the Spirit of God has been grasped, the next step is to find out the meaning of the entire passage. This is best done by four simple but time consuming steps. First, notice every word; second, notice every reference. If you do not have a marginal reference Bible try and get one as soon as possible. In third place, write down, in a handy note book, every word, phrase, or thought that may arrest your attention. Lastly, take each of these notes and think them through, or, to use the word that we are not so afraid of, meditate upon them. It is possible that after some experience and time in preparatory work, the teacher will gather in advance plenty of material for two or three lessons.
Now comes the important exercise of communicating this material to the children. There are two vital points in giving out the lesson; first, attention, and then, application. Hours of study may be wasted, as far as the class is concerned, if, right at the beginning, one fails to catch the undivided attention of the scholars. Of course, this is a perpetual problem in some Sunday Schools, and may rise largely from lack of proper discipline; however, assuming the class to be composed of a group of normal lively boys, there are ways and means of securing and holding their attention.
A most effective way is to begin with an interesting story, preferably a personal experience, and the more thrilling, the more effective. Begin possibly this way, “Say boys, the other day I was down at the old canal watching a boy, about your age, fishing, when….” and so on. Be sure to speak in a voice just loud enough for them to hear and no louder, this will draw the little heads close to yours, and the gazers, seeing the other heads close, will not want to miss anything.
No doubt, as the lesson progresses, there will be at least one who will lose interest. A pointed question, in a different tone of voice will often be sufficient to pull in the wandering mind. For instance, if Johnny is gazing at the teacher in the next class, flash him a question such as, “Johnny, how many sins do you think it takes to make a sinner?” “Yes, that is correct, Johnny, now as I was telling the other boys,” …and right back into your lesson. It is imperative that you have attention.
There must also be an application to the class as a whole, rather than to any individual in the class. Make it as personal as you can, and do not be afraid to point to one or two as you press home the claims of the gospel.
Some will be asking, what about the method? Which method is best? Well, I suggest that there is no “best” method. Much depends on the class, and much depends on the personality and the ability of the teacher. Whatever method is used, there are three things to keep in mind. The method must be suitable for the class, depending on their age and number. It must be simple, not only for the child, but for the teacher as well. It must also be successful in getting the message across to the scholars. Let it ever be remembered that a delivery man only profits by what he leaves with the people, and not by what he carries around.
Here are three suggestions that the writer and many other teachers of experience have found to be a great assistance in the presentation of a Sunday School lesson: first, use simple language, and explain the terms you use. The words “eternal life” mean nothing to some adults, how much less do they mean anything to some children; this is likewise true of expressions such as “washed in the blood.” Many other phrases that are doctrinally accurate are most confusing to the young minds unless qualified or explained.
In second place, learn to use illustrations, either verbal or visual; preferably the latter. The “Flannel-graph” is good, but the hand drawn sketch is better if you have the knack. Newspapers provide a fund of first class illustrations and photographs. Get the cut-out habit, and you will be surprised at how quickly you will build up a stock of material that can be used to illustrate your points.
Lastly, use alliteration of words in the presentation of your message; mostly, as a help to yourself. This is an aid to your memory, and besides, it will help you to keep your thoughts and points in order.
Let all keep in mind that there is no real mechanical way of carrying out this service for the Lord. It is spiritual power and help upon which we must depend. The foregoing suggestions are merely helps which have assisted and encouraged others. It is hoped that they will exercise some to take on a Sunday School class for the Master, and to carry on with this good work until fruit crowns the effort.
There is no substitute for time employed in the presence of the Lord, over the word of God, with the mind submissive to the leading of the Spirit of God. Above everything else, do not be discouraged; keep at this excellent work, and eventually, God will bless your efforts, and no doubt, if you sow in patience, you will be an instrument in His hand to bring boys or girls to the Lord Jesus.