Sunday School Dealing with Organizational Pain

Thursday 27th March, 2008

In my role as state Sunday School director, I have been in many churches whose Sunday Schools are experiencing organizational pain in one form or another. Now, what do I mean by organizational pain? The following list is not intended to be comprehensive:

  • overcommitted teachers;
  • teachers who are "institutions" and not God-called;
  • nominating processes based upon popularity;
  • not dealing with leaders in the midst of moral failure;
  • inadequate numbers of teachers and workers;
  • no training process for new or current teachers;
  • workers are ignored or taken for granted;
  • low or no expectations;
  • classes unwilling to reach out or follow up;
  • growing too fast for space or leadership enlistment;
  • fighting and conflict;
  • unwillingness to assign age groups to adult classes;
  • chronically late or absent teachers and workers;
  • shortage of teachers and workers
  • poor or no communication;
  • no goals or accountability;
  • and so much more.

What happens when organizational pain is allowed to continue? Consider what happens in the human body when pain lingers. I have had friends who had bulging disks and were experiencing back pain. They initially attempt to self-medicate with over-the-counter pain medication. When that fails to adequately work, they take more than the prescribed amount. I had one friend who had to take 12 ibiprofen before he could preach on Sunday.

As the pain continues, it begins to impact thinking. Energy and focus are drained. Frequently the person begins to stand and walk differently. Sometimes, inattention to the pain (and the source of the pain) leads to long-term or permanent damage and even collateral pain and/or damage.

The same can be true in our Sunday Schools. Ignoring organizational pain can lead to chronic problems. Growth stops. Attention from important things is diverted. People are hurt. They leave. Teachers quit. New workers are hard to enlist. Pain grows.

What can be done? Branimir Schubert wrote a helpful article entitled Organizational Pain. In the article, Schubert says that ignoring or misdiagnosing organizational pain "will lead to more instability and further alienation between the leaders and workers." It is important to get at the root cause for the problem. Schubert lists nine practices for addressing organizational pain (in all capitals followed by my commentary):

  • UNDERSTAND AND SUPPORT. Sunday School leaders experiencing pain need encouragement not blame.
  • SHOW GRACE AND DETERMINATION IN EQUAL PROPORTIONS. Schubert suggests graceful determination to "get to the bottom of it."
  • KNOW WHEN ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. Some Sunday School pain must be confronted and dealt with even if it is difficult to do so.
  • ACCEPT PAIN, BOTH PERCEIVED AND REAL, AS WORTHY OF ATTENTION. Neither are unimportant.
  • BE PERSONAL. Care, be vulnerable, and be trustworthy.
  • REPLACE PROGRAMS WITH PROCESSES. Programs to fix Sunday School may be imperso nal and ill-fitted. Design a unique process for each per son and situation.
  • HOPE. Working through Sunday School pain toward resolution can take time and needs hope to keep moving forward.
  • BE A PERSON OF FAIRNESS AND NEW OPPORTUNITIES. Take risks on people and situations. Help Sunday School to move toward being pain-free and successful, personally and corporately.
  • CELEBRATE! Celebrate freedom from pain. Celebrate successes, small and large.

Schubert's article concludes with a helpful chart for identifying underlying causes of organizational pain symptoms (you'll need to translate them to the Sunday School):

Symptoms to Watch for

Underlying Causes

uncooperative attitudes

lack of working outside job descriptions

lack of enthusiasm

unclear goals, changing or unrealistic expectations

lack of commitment

poor communication, unapproachable demeanor

fault-finding

poorly understood organizational structure

increasing complaints

over or under-staffing

growing tardiness or absenteeism

lack of training or interest in job area

deterioration in appearance of work area

lack of resources

breakdown in discipline

management is not people-oriented

long faces

inconsistent or unfair performance appraisal

low morale

lack of professional development

Is your Sunday School experiencing organizational pain? Don't put off dealing with the pain! Pray. Enlist wise counselors. Work through the nine practices toward a new attitude and potential for growth! Be revolutionary!

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