It will be easier to address this topic from the perspective of celebrating best practices gleaned among assembly Sunday schools, rather than solely identifying pitfalls faced by children’s workers, Sunday school teachers, and assemblies entrusted with this mode of outreach. It is done, however, with the prayer that Christians will benefit and be more effective in reaching lives for our Lord.
In all things, as deacons, we are to maintain ourselves blameless (1Tim 3:10). Though God’s Word is the highest standard, to protect the children entrusted to us, and to minimize the likelihood of the assembly being liable, we need to be aware of child protection laws. Training, preferably by those cognizant of regulation and requirements, better informs Christians and avoids situations where safety and confidentiality may be compromised. It also serves to support consistency, to make us accountable, and to be transparent to our communities. Unless a class is in an open area, or is not within a direct line of sight, it is advisable to have two adults present to discourage frivolous complaints. This is especially important in a new work, or with a demanding parent. The same applies to transporting children – it is not advisable to be alone.
What we do conveys a stronger message than what we say; therefore our actions have to be consistent with the infinite value God places on the gospel. Here are some suggestions to avoid testimony mistakes:
When making arrangements to transport children and parents, follow through. Remember that our inability to keep our word reflects on the Lord we represent.
Show a genuine and consistent interest in the children and their parents. Authenticity can be detected and is appreciated. The ability to listen (James 1:19) so that visitors will speak allows one to learn about individuals. If needed, jot down points of interest and use these as a starting point in subsequent conversations. Give them opportunity to talk, and not solely listen to our talking!
Support a prompt and strong start to the Sunday school: hearty participation … underscoring the value of the message, and being a role model to the children and to the visitng parents. Anything less than full interest and participation is not conducive to the gospel we profess, and discourages the brother who is trying to lead the singing or activity.
Consistent interest implies that we remain connected regularly, rather than only once a week. Interest leads to prayer, and God answers prayer (James 5:16).
Provide a timely response to the concerns of parents, questions from young people, and inquiries from the community. Remember, we are building rapport and a reputation for dependability, presently and in the future. This is necessary for the furtherance of the gospel.
Share with others what God has given you. Beyond your joy and confidence in the Lord (Neh 8:10) investing your time, sharing your expertise, and giving of your goods furthers the gospel we profess. We should show our faith by our works (James 2:18).
Preparation prior to the Sunday school class is the key to avoiding discipline challenges. The time spent in preparation, and in predicting potential challenges is usually inversely proportional to the obstacles encountered. We may only have an hour a week to maximize the opportunity of conveying the gospel, and success will not happen by chance.
Our emotional intelligence in dealing with children is to be nurtured so that listening to, and learning from them, is integral to building relationships. This includes personally telling them that they are appreciated and that you are glad to see them. Let them share with you what they experienced since you were last together.
Clear and consistent expectations without surprises will allow them to feel comfortable within established routines. Always keep in mind the best interest of the student, and never embarrass. We want to win an individual, and not be a reason to alienate them from the gospel. Our response in dealing with challenges or incidents conveys to young people a message about Christianity. Focus on the misbehaviour, while leaving the student’s dignity intact. Will my actions promote or hinder the gospel? How do I strike a balance between supporting the child and making him or her accountable for his behavior? How did the Lord deal with challenging individuals?
On a practical level, in a large group setting, sit among the children and not apart from them. This conveys unity with them, and interest in the activity. Use proximity to refocus the attention of a disengaged child. Make full use of the allocated time. Don’t say what you don’t mean (e.g., making empty threats) and mean what you do say.
Finally, and most importantly, pray earnestly and often for the preservation, blessing, and salvation of these children, a heritage to us from the Lord (Psalm 127:3).
Understanding that Christians volunteer their time to reach children, one has to be careful not to dampen enthusiasm, limit creativity, or discourage those involved in youth work. That said, there should be no room for rampant individuality where there is no accountability for choices and actions. This hinders fellowship among workers and also diminishes the overall health of the work. Consider fellow workers and organizers/coordinators prior to making unilateral decisions that are counterproductive to blessing.
Following are some antidotes to challenges involving persons and personalities:
Distribute leadership and empower others. Leading the singing, speaking publicly, or taking a class is to be encouraged. Don’t focus or depend on one brother only to lead a work, as the true gauge of a leader is how effectively the work continues when that leader is no longer at the helm. Continuity of a work should be ensured by empowering others (2Tim 2:2).
Mentor others. Invite others to come into one’s class to observe, build rapport, and otherwise learn, rather than simply asking a believer to cover for an absent teacher with no knowledge of, or previous exposure to, the class. Advise them in areas of needed growth. Those receiving the feedback should be receptive to it.
Involve others in the vision of reaching and teaching the young. This could include organization or routines associated with a series of children’s meetings, Sunday school picnics, award days, and invitation distribution. Without involvement, there is no commitment to the work.
Learn from each other. There are various techniques to convey truths in reaching the young. No one has a monopoly on pedagogy or success. Share highlights and positive experiences with each other.
Support leaders. Destructive criticism or gossip leads to factions, disunity, and discouragement. Speak not evil one of another (James 4:11). Transparent feedback should, however, be considered, and consensus should be sought, but ultimately the leader is entrusted to make a decision.
The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16) and as such, we need to let it do its work in the hearts of children and young people, while presenting it in an age-appropriate manner. When presenting the gospel in Sunday school over a period of time, it is wise to present truth incrementally. Do not assume a Bible knowledge that may not exist. First, present the basic truths of Scripture prior to building on these truths. Ideally, the younger classes learn foundational truths while each subsequent class builds on those truths by systematically learning Bible stories. A brother or sister should be cooperative in aligning their class curriculum for the overall purpose of students getting a full appreciation of the gospel.
Communicating the gospel in clear and consistent language will reinforce the understanding of the gospel, and will avoid unnecessary confusion. The use of various Bible versions within a class has the potential of children not really learning Scripture correctly. Words and principles will have to be explained to be beneficial to the learner. Terms or clichés that are beyond the cognition of the age group are counterproductive to the understanding of the Bible. Choruses that convey no spiritual meaning or worse still, wrong spiritual teaching that does not agree with Scripture, should not be used. There are sufficient Bible-based songs that can be fun and effective at the same time.
The results of the gospel have to be left with God Himself. We must let the Spirit of God create conviction, leading to repentance, rather than pushing for a profession. God will have all to be saved (1Tim 2:4) and children who have repented are in a position to believe (Acts 16:31).
The questions raised and the suggestions made are to be applied to the unique factors of each outreach. The age of the work, the number of individuals directly involved in the outreach, and the size of the assembly, are some factors that come to mind. Furthermore, factors directly related to the target audience have to be considered and include culture, ethnicity, and socioeconomic variances. Some of the guidelines shared are not absolutes. Remember that whatever we do should be done in unity with devotedness of heart and a focused vision to glorify the Savior to children and young people.
Those working with children today are not only influencing tomorrow but are being used to influence eternal destinies for God’s glory.