Christian Education's Greatest Challenges, Part 1

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Les Lofquist's picture
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Republished, with permission, from Voice magazine, Jan./Feb. 2012.

The Bible places great emphasis upon the need of the local church to educate its adults nd children in the Scriptures. Christ Himself was a teacher (“teaching in their synagogues,” Matt. 4:23; “taught them as one having authority,” Matt. 7:29) and the title “Teacher” was used for Him at least forty three times in the Gospels. The apostles taught (Acts 5:21, 42; 11:26). Paul commanded the Ephesian elders to teach “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). He testified to the Colossians that he admonished and taught every man (Col. 1:28). The Romans who were gifted to teach were urged to concentrate on teaching (Rom. 12:7). Elders of the church must be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2). Timothy was to give particular attention to reading, exhortation and teaching (1 Tim. 4:13). The heart of Timothy’s ministry was to be teaching training, with the goal that the teachers he trained should train others as well (2 Tim. 2:2).

The ministry of Christian education within the local church is a crucial ministry! And I believe the greatest need we have in local church Christian education are teachers who are devoted, knowledgeable, competent, Spirit filled leaders seeking to sincerely serve the Lord through their teaching ministry.

But any pastor can attest that finding teachers like this is not easy, keeping them seems even more difficult, and training them is especially difficult (if it is even attempted in the church). But recruiting, motivating and training workers are the three greatest challenges in local church Christian education.

Challenge 1: recruiting workers

There is all too often a high rate of turnover among personnel in our local Christian education programs. One of the reasons is the way we choose our workers. A bad example would be the Sunday School teacher of a class of junior boys who fails to show up one Sunday morning, and the class is without any teacher at all. So the Sunday School Superintendent/CE Director quickly runs up to the adult Sunday school class, grabs anyone he can, drags him or her down to the basement of the church, puts him in the class and says, “Now teach.” Often after this emergency substitute teacher has finished teaching that Sunday morning, he is told this is his class now…for the rest of the year (and perhaps for the rest of his life)!

It is obvious we will have difficulties in Sunday School or in our other Christian Education programs when we choose our personnel in an unplanned way. But what are some suggestions for discovering and recruiting Christian Education personnel?

First, we must anticipate our church’s long-range needs and have these needs very specifically listed. Some have said that there must be one person working in the Sunday school for every ten students. Personnel needs should be listed so that constantly you have before you both short-term and long-range needs, people you need to be looking for as you conduct your church’s CE programs.

Second, a specifically appointed leader needs to be in charge of recruitment. This person may be the Sunday School Superintendent or CE Director, or a person from the Christian Education committee who is in charge of recruiting. In a smaller church this person may be the pastor. However it’s done, one person should be responsible for CE personnel recruitment. Needs that come suddenly would not take us by surprise if we had people looking for those who can fill various positions.

Third, we should prayerfully study the church membership roll and list the known abilities of every member. Carefully observe workers in short-term assignments, such as Vacation Bible School, camp, mid-week ministries, and look for potential workers for other CE programs. Recruiting must always be on the CE leaders’ minds. They may hear the glowing testimony from one CE teacher about another church member who has demonstrated excitement in serving the Lord. Such a person should be identified as a potential worker in the church’s CE programs.

Fourth, whenever a young person responds in dedication to the call for service at camp or in a challenge during a church meeting, put that young person to work at once. I don’t mean to use them without training or oversight. But in some way get the student involved in knowing where he can serve the Lord. Observe his talents and put him to work quickly. In Sunday School classes, seek to identify the eager junior or teen student who always wants to help. Often interests and abilities are evidenced early in life. Use these students; do not discourage them by non-use.

When recruiting CE workers, don’t plead and beg on the basis of an emergency. Don’t insult the prospect by belittling the task. “It’s only a small job…this won’t take much of your time.” Let him feel the magnitude and supreme importance of the challenge. Don’t approach her in an apologetic manner: “I’m sorry to have to ask you to help out.” Rather let her feel the privilege of service. Let the prospect know that you have carefully prayed about asking her and that you believe she is God’s appointed person for the particular responsibility. Give the prospect an honest job analysis of the class and students he will be asked to lead. Emphasize that this is a responsibility in which the prospect will spiritually grow. Don’t press for a hurried decision. Assure him that you want him to carefully and prayerfully think through the invitation to serve. Pray with him as you close the recruiting discussion. If he agrees to take the position, then issue an official letter of call. Recruiting CE workers is an ongoing, yet vital, ministry. Make it a top priority in your church.

Challenge 2: motivating workers

Once you have recruited a CE worker, it is exceedingly important to keep the CE workers motivated. Many times we discover people with amazing talents to teach and lead, only to allow them to become discouraged and ultimately quit. We need to value our CE workers and keep before them the very worthy motives, even Scriptural motives, for service.

One motivation is the eternal blessing of working in a ministry that outlasts the stars. Daniel 12:3 reads: “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.” The word “shine” is the word zabar, which is elsewhere translated “teach.” Read the verse that way and see the inspiration this can be for teachers. They can be involved in a work that will outlast the stars!

Another source of motivation derives from knowing we who are in local church ministry serve in partnership with God. 1 Corinthians 3:9 says, “We are laborers together with God.” This assurance can keep a CE worker motivated through many difficult days.

The personal joy and satisfaction of serving the Lord should be a strong motivation as well. Jesus said in Matthew 10: 39, “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” That is the Lord’s instruction for joy and for happiness. The one who finds his life, loses it; the one who gives his life away for the sake of the Lord actually begins to live. I believe this is the answer to much of the nagging and complaining we find within a church. Many times the complainers are doing little, if anything, for the Lord.

Motivation also comes form the knowledge that CE workers have been a primary influence in the lives of others who have made important decisions for Christ. They have been part of the process in helping lives to change. Many people, young and old, dedicate themselves to the Lord through the influence of a well-planned local church Christian education program. This should provide great excitement to teach and a tremendous motivation to serve!

The purpose of Christian Education is to serve others, help them grow in their faith, and lead them to a deeper devotion for Jesus Christ. The CE worker who sees this purpose will stay motivated.

(In part 2: training workers and the Seven Laws of Teaching.)

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dmicah's picture
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Thoughts

Good article.
We don't have Sunday School built into our church model, but recruiting teachers/volunteers/small group leaders in any model is always a challenge. One of the tools we find effective for service is a one year commitment. Individuals sign a commitment form for one year. Toward the end of the ministry year they are given the opportunity to re-up. We request they don't back out during the year apart from a major life development, i.e. arrival of a baby or geographical move. But we also don't lock them down for the rest of their life, i.e. "oohhhhh, you like working with seventh grade boys, please sign here....in blood."

Although recruiting is important, I find that ongoing motivation, training and celebration of their service investment is more important. We try to hold a lot of team parties where the staff person and/or pastor over their team celebrates their work and also offers vision and training for what their team is doing. It's a great way to introduce upcoming changes, brainstorm and keep a pulse on what is happening among the volunteers. Service times are usually busy and tyranny of the urgent reigns. But at a party/training event, you can slow down and have conversations that lead to real personal and organizational development.

Aaron Blumer's picture
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Somehow I missed this stuff....

... in seminary and Bible college and in my internships.

Great practical steps here and I wish I'd thought it through back in my S.S. Superintendent days. Looking back, I had no idea what I was doing.

In the small rural church, the dynamic is a good bit different, but there are still several important similarities. We just don't get to be as "choosy" as we might be with a larger pool of volunteers to draw from.

Regardless of what model a church is using for CE, it comes down to finding and helping gifted people use their abilities to do 2 Tim. 2:2

Les Lofquist's picture
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@Thoughts

Micah,

Great ideas! I wish I would've incorporated them into my article, especially the concept of a one year commitment (in writing, not blood!). And you're right about the supreme importance of motivation.

Stay faithful, brother.

Aaron Blumer's picture
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Motivation

I'm finding that I pretty much stink at motivation.
Shouldn't people "just do what they're supposed to do and love it?" Naive of me, I guess. Biggrin

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