In Matthew 18:6, Jesus says that if we led a little one astray, it would be better if a millstone were tied around our neck and thrown into the sea. In Luke 20:47, a special punishment awaits teachers of the Law who misguide people, young or old. The entire chapter of Matthew 23 talks of the woes awaiting the Pharisees and the ‘Teachers of the Law’.
With this in mind, why ever take on the job of “Sunday School Teacher?” In about twenty years of teaching Sunday School, I often thought of God’s wrath if I led people astray. I was teaching adults as opposed to ‘little ones’, but God calls all of us ‘children of God’. At times the Holy Spirit takes over and you say things that your feeble mind could never think of. At other times, you drive home and wonder why your ever said ‘that’. Questioning the words from your mouth is a healthy response.
There have been countless Sunday School teachers that have taken on the role of teacher, because no one else would. The preacher, elder or deacon intimidated them, brow beat them, or laid on the guilt trip. They admit to the other teachers that they can hardly remember any Bible stories, much less what they mean. Usually, the teachers that make such confessions also confess that their Bible is dusty, having never been opened since someone wrote something on the front page about it being a gift.
This writing is a warning to stay diligent, be well-prepared, and study. It is not a warning to frighten people into not becoming Sunday School teachers. If you are among the elect, saved by the Grace of God, nothing can take you from that Glory. Teaching Sunday School is a noble task.
Beware of the Christian Education director who says, “You’ll be given a syllabus with the scripture to read and the questions that you should ask.” You may even be given the answers to the questions. If you are teaching adults, the class will definitely have questions that are not in the study guide. The people in the class will have answers that may seem good, but may lead to one heresy or another. As Art Linkletter said, “Kids can say the darnedest things.” Don’t think you are safe with little ones. To be a good teacher of any age group, you have to know the subject and be in prayer and communion with the Holy Spirit in order to be fully prepared for each class.
On the subject of asking questions in class, there was once a Sunday School teaching couple, teaching adults. The husband would ask an occasional personal question. After all, Jesus wants an intimate relationship with each of us. Those deep-probing personal questions are important. That class would look at their shoes or watches during the silence that followed. No one would bare their souls in class, but they were thinking of the answer that they couldn’t say out loud. The wife would then flip the question to something related to the personal topic, but in an area that was less personal. The members of the class would then erupt into a lively discussion. This altered question touched on the spiritual principle, but allowed the class to skirt the personal issue. Why ask the deeply personal question first? Why not start with the safe question? Both questions needed to be asked. It was the teaching duo’s hope that during the awkward silence, the class was answering the tough question in their mind. It was their sincere prayer that the class would get comfortable, in time, so that they could confess those hidden thoughts.
In a much different class the teacher came to a chapter in the book that the class was studying. The chapter’s questions required a lot of prayer, introspection, and soul searching to answer the questions. Two or three of the students struggled to answer the questions in their workbook. The teacher announced to the class that the chapter would be skipped. Most of the class had not answered the questions. They did not feel comfortable admitting to themselves that this was an area of Christian growth that they were lacking. In the end, the two or three students that had done their homework were left unfulfilled, wanting to discuss the topic so that they could grow. Yet, no one did any growing, especially the teacher.
A teacher must be ready when the class goes way off topic. One elderly man blurted out the balance scale theology when the subject had nothing to do with any related topic. He was seeing his final days approaching, and he hoped he’d done enough to tip the scales so that the good outweighed the bad. The teacher suddenly went into 4-Spiritual Laws mode. 1) We’ve all sinned. 2) There is nothing we can do to attain salvation. 3) Jesus paid the price. 4) We repent and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, and Jesus washes our sins away. A week later, the same interruption from the same man was met by various members in the class going through the basics of salvation and that our works are worthless when compared to our sin. We have to accept God’s Grace. A few weeks later, the old man did not return. Was this the onset of dementia or was he always trying to do enough good to tip the balance scale without ever calling upon Jesus for help? It was a few years later before he passed away. The reason for relating this story is that a good teacher needs to be prepared, if possible with memorized scripture for a moment like this.
In a different class situation, a teacher had taught an adult class for about fifteen years. One of the faithful people who had been in the class from the beginning felt that she was the spokesperson for the ‘group’. If she didn’t like the direction that the class discussion was going (usually hitting a topic where she needed personal growth), she would use one of two interruptions. 1) She’d point out that the church bulletin said nothing about the Sunday School class and that is the reason for poor attendance. This was her excuse, even when there was something in the bulletin. It then became a call to the pastor to announce it. Then, there had to be a large TV screen where the people who gathered for coffee before class started could discover the class offerings. Etc. 2) She would say that she doesn’t like this study material. Destroy it and have another study program next week. The teacher, who paid for the material out of his pocket, was then forced to spent money for a new program, reschedule the lessons for the rest of the school year, and spend every night the following week preparing for the new topic, always with the fear that the self-appointed “Queen” wouldn’t like this topic either. Thus, the “Queen” never grew in her faith. She always got her way in avoiding uncomfortable topics. In the end, she said, “The bulletin…” one too many times. The teacher exploded, raising his voice and telling her that we would stay on topic. As a result, her friends left the class, never to return. She, however, remained. After all, she could manipulate the class so that that she gained what she wanted. She wanted control of her environment and a comfort zone for herself and no one else. Would the teacher be in danger of millstone punishment for his outburst? It is not likely. His anger boiled over one time in the midst of fifteen years of dealing with a difficult situation.
Of course, Jesus was speaking to everyone when He talked about the threat of a millstone. We all teach with our words and our actions. If you have no children of your own and then you are suddenly around your nephews and nieces, you can be assured that they will start repeating the naughty word you said under your breath. You thought you’d said it soft enough for them to not hear. You could proclaim in a loud voice your praise for Jesus, and they’d never hear that.
In the end, we cannot pretend that we are without sin. If we create an atmosphere within our household that provides well behaved children in public and sullen children with a lack of hope at home, we are no better than the Pharisees. We have to work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12-16). A little stumble here or there is another sin that we confess, but always be prepared.