Mr. Whitworth Goes to Sunday School
Nearly every weekend, I conduct 1-2 seminars at churches across the U.S. on how to be a better Sunday school teacher. I love conducting these seminars because they are filled with people who recognize the incredible responsibility being a teacher carries, and they want to make sure they discharge that responsibility to the best of their ability. But let's not kid ourselves; while being a Sunday school teacher is a big responsibility, so is being a Sunday school student. I don't get to sit in on a Bible class very often. But whenever I have that opportunity, I'm reminded of a few things we owe our teacher. So here are the seven laws for the Sunday school student.
By the way, I should issue a disclaimer. No, breaking one of these laws will not bring your eternal fate into question. But I can say this; break a few of these (or all), and you'll quickly be labeled that person. People will whisper and snicker about you. You'll be the punchline of jokes and the subject of knowing looks. People shouldn't do that, but they will. So heed these seven laws, and you'll the teacher's pet vs. his thorn in the flesh.
I was recently visiting a class where a student spoke very condescendingly to the teacher. I have no knowledge of their relationship, but as a visitor, it was quite off-putting. If I had been a local from the community, I likely would not have returned because the experience was so awkward—and I wasn't the one being disrespected!
Teachers most often are volunteers and should be honored for their willingness to serve. What teachers do not deserve is our disrespect. So what if the teacher is younger than you, or not quite your equal when it comes to Bible knowledge or spiritual maturity? They still deserve your respect. If you want to debate an issue or "set the teacher straight," make sure you do so in private after class.
When you come to class, bring your A-game listening skills. Pay attention. Engage yourself in the lesson. You will make your teacher more effective as a teacher if you are more attentive as a student. It's difficult for a teacher to be engaged and committed to excellence if it's clear the students' minds are elsewhere. Teachers have a responsibility to be engaging and relevant, but you also have the obligation to give your undivided attention. Prepare for Bible study the night before by getting plenty of rest and minimizing distractions (phone, tablet) in the classroom.
Few things can be as frustrating to a teacher than a class that is not engaged in the lesson, especially one that does not demonstrate an ounce of interest in the subject. You will make the task of teaching more pleasant if you ask sincere, relevant questions on the topic or text at hand. And don't shy away from tough, controversial questions (if asked for the right reasons and in the right spirit); a good teacher will welcome tough questions, even if she doesn't immediately know the answer. A class with many inquisitive students is always a greater blessing to teach than a class full of people already confident they know it all.
Teachers want input, comments, and questions. But not from one person all the time. Your teacher has a prepared lesson; he should also have a clear objective for the class and a roadmap on how to get there. There are legitimate reasons why some classes don't cover all the stuff they needed to cover in the allotted time.
But it's not kosher if you are the reason the class's time is often hijacked. When you offer input or ask a question, be considerate of others and keep your comment/question brief. Don't monopolize others' time.
I almost labeled this rule "BE POSITIVE." No one likes a Debbie Downer. I wish all classes could be positive, happy, energetic pep-rallies for Christian living. But life isn't all "Blue Skies & Rainbows." I get that.
So that's why this rule is "BE HONEST." More important than being positive is being honest. Be appropriately or responsibly honest; but be honest. Be especially honest with your teacher and fellow students about your short-comings, your struggles, your sins, your limitations, your ignorance, and with everything else.
While it is not always possible for our classes to be positive in tone or topic, they must always be places where we can be brutally honest about our spiritual selves. Don't present yourself as something you're not. Expose your spiritual self. Be vulnerable. Your class experience will be better as a result.
As students, we ought to beware popping off a bunch of opinions that aren't rooted in Scripture. I know how it happens. You're sitting in class and see a fantastic opportunity to impress people with your wisdom, insight, or intellect. You assure yourself your motives are pure. And so we offer up a comment, but it is one borne more out of prideful ruminations and less out of humble reflection or sincere curiosity. Almost always, such insights or opinions are patently unbiblical. It's uncanny how that happens, but that's been my experience.
When you make a comment that is clearly opinion and, worse, patently unbiblical, you're going to make your teacher want to cry. Instead, make sure, when you comment and offer up an insight, that you are soundly using Scripture to solidify your position. No one came to Sunday school that day to hear your insights; they came to learn more about God's will for their lives. Remember that. Stay biblical, and you are dramatically less likely to embarrass yourself.
Speaking as both a teacher and a student, when a person walks into class late, it can be disrespectful, especially when the late-comer is a repeat offender. I know that some people make the excuse that they can't seem to "help it." And I realize special circumstances exist.
But for the majority of us, it's baloney that we can't get anywhere on time. We are all quite capable of being punctual, even early, when we think it really matters. Like, say, making our flight at the airport. Being punctual to Bible study is a demonstration of respect to our teacher, our fellow students, and to the Lord, a sign that we take Bible study seriously and consider a very important part of our schedule.
What other rules should Sunday school students adhere to?