Sunday School’s Neglect of the First Encounter, Part 9A

Tuesday 28th July, 2009

Many lessons fail because the teacher's personal encounter with God is missed. God has big plans for this lesson to change lives. But the teacher misses the meeting. As a result, the truth of God’s Word does not impact the teacher as needed, and the lesson has little life or power. Life-change was the plan but “warm fuzzies” are the result.

Hundreds of books have been written on the subject area of this chapter and the next two. Most have focused upon the need for, benefits of, and methods for personal Bible study and lesson preparation. What, then, is the first encounter? The first encounter is the time the teacher has set aside to meet God in Bible study. It is the teacher’s personal experience of encountering God and being changed as a result of the experience. While it can and should happen in the course of lesson preparation, it is more important than the Sunday School lesson. For the teacher, time with God is the lesson. The first encounter is the time God uses to prepare a teacher to be able to guide others through the landscape of His Word and the truth contained therein that learners need to hear and obey.

How, then, does neglect of the first encounter happen? Far too many churches have teachers who are filling a position rather than responding to a call from God. They were drafted (or pressured) in the halls of the church without allowing due time for consideration and prayer. No one explained the requirements or importance of the responsibility. No one shared a job description or talked about expectations. No training was provided. Many of these teachers have little understanding about how to prepare or even why it is important to meet God in Bible study. Some have never even been taught how to study God’s Word for themselves. In these cases, is it any wonder that the first encounter has been neglected? While these teachers are not to blame for how they were enlisted, they are responsible for connecting with God prior to teaching. And when they fail to do so, they share the blame along with those who enlisted them. Furthermore, they can be in the way of individuals God desires to fill the role.

For many other teachers neglect is not intentional. They have responded to God’s call to teach. They love spending time in God’s Word. They enjoy the people they teach. They begin well. They spend hours preparing. People are touched. Lives are changed. Then, something happens (1) suddenly as a result of life circumstances or (2) slowly over a long period of time.

Some circumstances with potential for sudden impact include the following:

  • illness making preparation difficult;
  • illness of a family member requiring lots of care;
  • working long hours resulting in tiredness and little time to prepare;
  • insomnia causing tiredness and difficulty in focusing;
  • shift change or starting a second job causing tiredness and difficulty in scheduling preparation;
  • loss of a job causing a job search, move, and/or loss of self esteem;
  • childbirth and all of the inherent interruptions;
  • loss of a loved one with the impact of loss and grief:
  • starting college and adjusting to the demands;
  • fire or other disaster resulting in the loss of personal and study items and the time required to put life back together;
  • and so many more.

These circumstances do not necessarily have to impact the first encounter, but commitment to teaching effectiveness can waver through their impact. Time can become difficult to prioritize. Drain on energy can make thinking and wise choices more difficult. In these moments, some teachers choose to bail. They feel they cannot continue to teach under these circumstances. Some refuse to teach unless they can give it their best effort. Others want to quit but feel pressured to stay—due to teacher shortage or friendships—despite feeling bad about the results.

In Part 9B, we will look at the issue of slow deterioration and neglect of the first encounter. While both sudden and slow neglect have impact, slow deterioration is probably the most dangerous. Examine your lesson preparation and time with God. How can you respond appropriately in the face of life's dramatic circumstances? Plan to draw near to Him. Plan to encounter Him in Bible study. Be revolutionary!

For more ideas about lesson preparation, check out these blog posts:

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