We take our Sunday school classes for granted, but before the Sunday school movement began in the mid to late 1800’s, it was unknown in the Mennonite Church. The movement was influenced by the wider “Great Awakening” experienced in the Protestant churches. The Sunday school injected new life into the general spiritual laxness that was prevalent in a lot of Mennonite churches.
In 1940, Harold S. Bender published a booklet called The Mennonite Sunday School Centennial 1840-1940. In it he lists a number of major contributions of Sunday school to the Mennonite Church: (1) It stopped the exodus of young people from Mennonite homes into other denominations.
(2) It greatly increased Bible study and Bible knowledge in the modern Mennonite Church.
(3) It raised the level of spiritual life.
(4) It improved the moral level of the Mennonites, making a particular contribution to the “clean life,” that of total abstinence from alcohol and tobacco.
(5) It provided religious activity for the entire membership for the first time in centuries.
(6) It created and developed lay leadership.
(7) It made a direct contribution to the rise of mission interest in the church.
While we may disagree with some of these conclusions, it is probably safe to assume that most of these are appreciated among us today.
We all appreciate good Sunday school classes, but like a lot of other good things in life, they don’t just happen. They “happen” with a lot of time and effort. What goes into making a memorable and edifying class is the focus of our discussion.
Since the Sunday school era began in modern times, the new Testament is silent concerning it. But there are Biblical truths that apply to its practice. Ephesians 4:11-13 says, “And he gave some … teachers … Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” I believe that these verses encapsulate the vision and provide the framework for our Sunday school classes. Verse 14 goes on to say, “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” This verse adds another dimension to the benefits of our Sunday school—that of the security and stability that come as participants in a Sunday school class share their convictions and observations of life through the prism of God’s Word. This is a valuable guard against apostasy that we probably do not appreciate as we should.
When we look at contributing to Sunday school classes, it becomes evident that each person in class is a contributor in some way, even if he or she is sleeping. The teacher, however, does set the tone for the class and its productivity. If the teacher is lackadaisical in his approach and ambivalent about his subject material, it will contribute to a boring class, and a boring class will not bring us into the “unity of the faith.” On the flip side, a teacher that is at least interested in the subject he is teaching and maybe even a little bit excited will not struggle with a listless class but will be effectual in transmitting the “knowledge of the Son of God.”
Following are some tips for teachers:
(1) STUDY, STUDY, STUDY— you cannot study too much. The more familiar you are with the lesson, the more comfortable you will be teaching it.
(2) STUDY the entire scope, not just the lesson text. The context is very valuable in helping you gain a better understanding of what you are teaching.
(3) Keep it practical, at least as much as possible. You will lose attention if you get lost in some morass of theology.
(4) If you are not a lecturer and you would like some discussion, ask a few well thought out questions. Do not plead for comments; if you seem desperate for discussion, it might only make your listeners less willing to contribute.
(5) You can encourage better class participation by assigning extra research or questions to be answered the next class period.
(6) Be a referee—guide the discussion. At times you may need to corral the bunny trails back to the main point.
(7) Try to get over the lesson, but that isn’t the most important goal. The most important goal is the edification of the hearers.
(8) Lastly, but probably most importantly, have in the back of your mind the great responsibility that is yours when you expound on the Word of God. Be in tune with God and heed the promptings of the Spirit as you study.
Of course, without the students’contribution there would be no point to having a teacher teach. Though maybe to a lesser degree, the students or hearers also have a responsibility to contribute to the class. Some pointers may be given:
(1) Pray for your teacher and his responsibility.
(2) STUDY YOUR LESSON. Do not expect to be able to contribute to a class discussion if the first you saw YOUR lesson was at the beginning of class!
(3) Do not dominate the teacher or the discussion. Give opportunity for others who are more timid to speak up and take their turn at contributing.
I am convinced that our Sunday school classes have been and will continue to be times of personal and collective spiritual refreshing. May God bless our Sunday schools as they contribute to the well-being of the Church, and nurture the younger children and youth who are the Church of tomorrow.
~Peach Bottom, PA