I HAPPENED to be sitting in on a meeting of the Executive Board of a district association. Some months previous to that meeting they had had a Sunday-school enlargement campaign in the association. In this meeting each member of the Board, including some pastors, was asked to report on the results of the campaign in his church. One said they were settling back to somewhat the same old situation that existed before the campaign. Others followed with a report, while some reported improvement.
To those who had made a discouraging report, the leader of that work in the association said: "I can tell you why you have not succeeded. You did not have consecrated teachers for these 'new classes.'" To which no one gave argument, for that was doubtless true.
Now, this brother, whether he knew it or not, put his finger on the crucial problem of the Sunday-school. This is the vital consideration in relation to it, next to the preacher and pastor, that I know of. In his instruction to the young preacher Timothy, Paul said: "And the things that thou has heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also."
The writer of Hebrews also says, speaking of some who were dull of hearing: "For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become as have need of milk, and not strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are full of age, even those who by reason of us have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Hebrews 5:12-14).
I HAVE the impression from the Scriptures that this business of teaching the Word of God was meant to be a serious thing; far more serious than we have regarded it in our churches. Of course, in many churches, the Sunday-school is so divorced from the main idea of the church that it can run somewhat independently. It has become the main show in many churches. We pastors who teach men's Bible classes have to be mighty careful lest we lead our men to think Sunday-school is more important than the worship of the whole church in the preaching services.
In the minds of most of us, the Sunday-school is the one arm that can reach out before the church. I regard the Sunday-school as by far our strongest arm of evangelism, if rightly used. And it is disappointing for that very reason that we put so little emphasis on the standard for our teachers.
I do not agree with those who, when they see a brother who is a bit languid and indifferent in his church life, go to him and offer him a place as a teacher of a Sunday-school class, in order "to get him interested." I believe the first step is to bring him under the preaching of a Holy-Spirit-filled pastor, or to pray for him and persuade him until God shall do something in his heart to make him ready for service. Yes, I agree that giving him the class might not do him so much harm; it might do him good. But what about the class? What will they get from one who has nothing to give?
The business of teaching the Bible is not a matter of translating words and ideas from the Bible to the pulpit. The Bible has something hidden beneath the printed letters which only the spiritual can find. It is not an ordinary book. It is the Book of all Truth. The teacher must have something in his heart that agrees with the hidden meaning of the Word. Out of that fellowship comes spiritual teaching – and not from anywhere else.
Dear old Brother L. F. Caudill in Magoffin County once wrote me, "No man can preach more of Jesus than he has experienced." The same is true of the teacher.
A Bible teacher (a much better name than Sunday-school teacher) should be required to meet a standard that is Scriptural. This may be divided into many points, if we should try it practically. But it can be summed up in one word – CONSECRATED. But if I were to divide this into two more definite applications, I would say that the teacher should be one who is (1) voluntarily faithful, and (2) earnestly seeks a deeper and experimental knowledge of God's Word.
THE "use-them-or-loose-them" theory of inexperienced pastors will not enlist this kind of teacher. Giving someone a Bible class just "to get him interested in the church" will not do it either. You may thus get one interested in the "church" as an institution, through appealing to his "ego" and marking out for him a place of distinction (without which he probably would not be interested).
But you will likely not interest him in giving a life to Christ in surrender or in giving a testimony that will make Christ real to his class. And then, as I say, what about the class who has to suffer under a teacher who professes to be the Lord's but who would not consider the church on any other basis than that of being called into a place of distinction?
The teaching of God's Word in Sunday-school should be a "calling," a work to which one gladly surrenders and in which he finds joy. God did not call Isaiah to his special work until Isaiah had seen the "Lord high and lifted up." The humility of soul and the appreciation of God that came to him in this experience prepared him to be glad to go into the service of God. Then God called him and he answered gladly.
God's Word is an inspired thing, and it must be transmitted to the hearts of those who are inspired by the same power that indicted it, the Holy Spirit. But we often treat the matter as though we think that because a man is able to read and understand a psychology book, he can teach the Bible as well.
Thus we fill our church schools with teachers who bring their bridge playing, their dancing, their worldliness in general in upon the church. You will hear them telling their pupils such things as this: "It is all right for you to go to the show on Sunday afternoon if you go to Sunday-school in the morning." Some of them will not attend the morning worship, feeling that they have "honored" the Lord by their lecture to the class that morning, and that He ought to be satisfied with that much of their attention.
A larger number of them will not be at the evening service, and few of them will ever attend prayer meeting. And yet, this is the group who stand next to the pastor in the sacred duty of transmitting his message to our boys and girls through the Bible school. The pastor himself will not reach many of those who come to the school, and his only hope that the teachers bear the message on to them.
Bear what message? The message that God gives a pastor as he studies the Word and prays and seeks its meaning for His people. But how can they bear that message when many of them were not there to hear it. They have not followed through the services with him. They do not take time to converse with him and pray with him, that they may enter into the fellowship of this serious calling. They are busy, and besides they have a quarterly, which "tells more" than they think they can get out of the serious study of the Bible.
So they grab that on Saturday night or Sunday morning and get a smattering of what it says, and go before their classes with a barren, fruitless lecture. Not an inquiry as to the need of some lost one that day; not prayer for the salvation of anyone; not an interest except to fill up the time, and some of them are sitting idle at the close of the period waiting for the bell.
NO, NOT all of them, thank God! All honor to those of you who are faithful, and whose hearts are with the pastor in his burden. May God increase your tribe! But pastors know that the majority of our teachers are not so. What is the matter? We have called them before they have surrendered. We have trained them, and given them diplomas, and marked them as teachers. We have fixed their heads for teachers, and have "persuaded" them to take a class. But we have not touched their hearts.
WE LOWERED THE SPIRITUAL STANDARD TO MEET THE DEMAND OF OUR ORGANIZATION. WE HAD TO HAVE TEACHERS. WE GREW, WE ENLARGED, WE FLATTERED THEM INTO TAKING A PLACE IN THE ORGANIZATION, BUT NEVER BROUGHT THEM TO THEIR KNEES.
They are engaged in many things outside the church. They have plans which exclude most of the services, and visits to the homes of their pupils, and certainly they don't have time to study the Bible and pray and seek the salvation of their pupils. They have not time to grow in grace. They are doing well if they make it Sunday morning to teach and maybe one other service. The pastor ought to be satisfied with their "sacrifice."
I say it flatly, nobody ought to have a Bible class in Sunday-school who has not time for God.
And what is the result of our choosing on the basis of superficial training, while ignoring the deeper matter of the surrender and consecration of the teacher? It is the barrenness which is ours in our churches. It is the lack of witness, the lack of testimony, the lack of unity. It is the world in the church.
Across the centuries, I am sure, Paul would say to the pastor of this day, "Timothy, the things which you have received from me are precious things. They are the words of the living God. Whatever we do, this Word must go on and on and on. I have seen you in your spiritual character, and know that you are faithful. So, I am committing this Word to you. What you have received from me, commit thou to faithful men."
Do we not need to lift the standard of a surrendered life for our teachers, even though in many churches we will not be able to find enough who can so qualify as teachers for the classes we have? And is not it likely that if we did this, there would come over our churches a seriousness that would reach the hearts of our people, and the "Lord of the harvest would send more laborers into his harvest?" And is not it likely that they would be of the more consecrated and faithful brand?
[From Western Recorder, February 29, 1940, p. 1, 4. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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