Addressing the Dominator in Sunday School

Monday 24th January, 2011

Let me say this plainly: If one person talks most of the time during Sunday School, there is a problem. Yes, that includes the teacher--even if the teacher is talking close to half of the time, there is a problem. But sometimes the dominator is not the teacher. Let's look at both.

TEACHER AS DOMINATOR. It is natural for a teacher who has spent hours in personal Bible study and lesson preparation to want to share what was discovered. This is as true for a teacher as it is for a guide who is familiar with a landmark, city, or national park. But at the same time, the teacher talking the entire time becomes a testimony of his/her encounter with God in His Word.

And while a testimony is good, attenders need and want more. When we are on a guided tour, we don't want to hear the guide the whole time. We want to experience the sights on the journey. Sunday School attenders don't need someone to do the Bible study for them; they need someone to lead them to open God's Word, to listen to Him, and to apply it to their lives. They need to learn how and to do Bible study. They need an encounter with God themselves, rather than only with someone who had an encounter. So it is essential that the teacher get out of the way to let God speak directly.

At the same time, it is also essential that teachers get attenders involved in the Bible study encounter in order to capture their attention, increase retention, and bring out the collective experience and intelligence of the group. Questions and subgroups (two to five) can increase involvement and the likelihood of listening to God and applying the truth to their lives. Teachers should work to guide or facilitate the encounter rather than teach the lesson. The goal is making disciples--His disciples not ours. So a teacher should contribute to the Bible study when it adds value to their encounter and experience. Teacher, work to trim your verbal contribution and work to increase that of attenders.

ATTENDER AS DOMINATOR. In some classes, attenders are timid about participating verbally. Sometimes this is training by a teacher who is a dominator. But at times, it may be due to an attender who does the majority of the talking. That attender may be an extravert who loves to talk. He/she may be a person with a lot of Bible knowledge. It is also possible that the teacher and attenders may enjoy listening to the dominator's contributions.

But the issue is that involvement and participation by every attender in each Bible study session is absolutely vital. This is true on so many levels. Relational connections can become unravelled more quickly without interaction. Retention of what was taught/learned decreases when involvement is limited to hearing. Interest and attention is lower when attenders are not involved. And a dominator takes up time when this can be accomplished.

Don't embarrass a dominator. Sometimes that is what he/she wants: attention. Instead, talk to him/her privately after class or between classes. Ask for help. Tell him/her that you are working hard to get more people involved. Share about why that is important. Then affirm his/her contributions, but ask him/her to only respond after at least two or three other people have responded. Ask him/her how you can remind during class about the agreement in case he/she forgets. Then practice it with patience and persistence.

Allow time for God to speak in every Bible study session. Get everyone involved. Don't teach lessons. Make disciples. Be revolutionary!

For more ideas about teaching, check out these blog posts:

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