Ok, among your responsibilities as a church elder, you end up as a Sabbath School teacher. Teaching is a gift of the Spirit. “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If your gift . . . is teaching, let him teach” (Rom 12:6–7, NIV). Let’s hope and pray that you have that gift. If not, you shouldn’t be there. That’s not me saying it, but the Bible: “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (Jas 3:1, NIV).
Be that as it may, if you are a Sabbath School teacher, then you need to do it as well as you can. From the time I started editing the Adult Bible Study Guide, I realized how crucial the teacher was for a successful Sabbath School class. We could produce in our office the greatest Adult Bible Study Guide possible, but a lousy teacher will ruin the class. In contrast, we could produce a horrible product (Lord willing, we won’t), but a good teacher will make for a good class.
Of course, tons of material have been produced over the years on teaching technique, teaching style, and teaching formulas, as well as learning techniques, learning styles, and learning methods. No doubt in most cases some valuable things can be picked up by learning some of these things, and there’s plenty out there.
However, what follows is what I have learned and picked up over the long years that I have been editing the Adult Bible Study Guide (since 1999). Teachers teach according to their own gifts, styles, sentiments, whatever. Thus, take from here what you find useful; disregard the rest.
Of course, before we begin, I’m going to state the obvious: prayer. Pray for yourself, pray for your class. What follows are not, necessarily, in order of most importance.
Be enthusiastic for what you are teaching. The class will pick up right away whether you are into it or not. Even if it’s a topic you are not particularly thrilled about, or that does not particularly excite you, put a twist and spin on it (as long as it’s theologically solid) that does excite you, that does give you some enthusiasm. The truth is deep and rich, and surely you can find a way to make it interesting to yourself. If interesting to you, it will be to the class.
Know your material. I have for decades been listening to “The Great Courses,” from The Teaching Company. This business goes around the United States looking for the most highly rated teachers and has them teach these courses. They are all experts, and it shows. Now, if you are not an expert, then do the next best thing: study enough before class so that you know what you are talking about. You don’t have to have a PhD in theology to be a Sabbath School teacher. But you do need to come to class prepared. And if this takes time, then take the time. If you don’t have the time to prepare—don’t teach.
Don’t feel the need to teach every day’s lesson. Here is where people make a big mistake: they think that they have to touch on every point each day in the course of the week. Don’t! Know what the lesson is about and find the points that you think your class (see number 5) would benefit from. Focus on those few points and study them together in your class. If you can get through the whole week, great—as long as it works well.
There are two extremes to avoid. First is the extreme of some teacher getting up there and merely lecturing to the class. This is a Sabbath School, not the worship hour. No matter how eloquent you might be, no matter how much deep wisdom you have to impart, merely getting up and lecturing is not how a Sabbath School should be run. On the other hand, don’t simply read verbatim from the Adult Bible Study Guide. Sure, you can read sections, but that should be at a minimum. The Guide was produced to be taught from, not read from.
To the degree possible, know your class. Know your class’s needs, and then tailor the lesson accordingly. This might not always be easy, and there’s no hard and fast rule to follow, but if you know what some issues are, seek to address them the best way you can. For example, if the church recently suffered a tragedy, the unexpected death of someone, try and steer the class in a direction that could help with that particular topic.
The “genius” of the Adult Bible Study Guide is that we have one guide for the whole world church. I have sat in apartments in Japan with people studying the Adult Bible Study Guide. I have been in courtyards in Africa with people studying their Guide outside. At the same time, it’s pretty much impossible for one product to meet the specific needs of everyone each week. It doesn’t try to. Instead, the key to using it is found in the very name of itself: it is the Adult Bible Study Guide—Guide, as in something that gives you direction. We seek to teach biblical principles and doctrines. You, as the teacher, need to take the basic direction of the week’s lesson and mold it for your class. There is one Bible for the whole world, and we have one Bible Study Guide. Just as you can use the Bible to meet the needs that you face, you can do the same with the Adult Bible Study Guide.
As a teacher encourage class participation. Interact with your class. Encourage people to speak, to challenge each other. At the same time, you must always retain control of the class. Don’t let someone veer it off on some tangent that has nothing do with where you want to go. It’s a delicate balance, and not always easy to maintain, but important all the same.
Always, as much as possible, seek to keep the lesson cross-centered, Christ-centered. Always try to bring it back to Jesus, to the gospel, to salvation by faith alone. Not every topic lends itself readily to this topic but, again, whenever possible, move it in that direction.
Teaching is an art, not a science (though some would disagree), and no one set of rules makes for a good class. But what I have shared are things that I have picked up over the years, and I hope you can find some helpful. As we say in Yiddish, Geyn mit got.1