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

Thursday 30th July, 2009

In Part 9A of this series, I shared that many lessons fail because the teacher's personal encounter with God is missed. The focus of Part 9A was circumstances that had sudden impact upon the teacher's personal encounter and lesson preparation. Besides those circumstances, the first encounter for many other teachers is impacted slowly over a long period of time. They start out with great intentions and energy. They can hardly wait to meet God in the course of prayer and Bible study. The amount of time spent in God’s Word is high. Personal impact by God in His Word is great. Teachers invest heavily in study and preparation. This fuels excitement which is obvious in teaching the lesson.

And then it begins. Perhaps the excitement and newness wears off because of the effort required. The enjoyment is exchanged for dread at the constant approach of another Sunday. Life has a way of filling all of a person’s available time plus some. Then over weeks or months, there is less anticipation of meeting God. Less time is devoted to preparing well. Guilt and regret sets in. Lesson preparation becomes rushed. Reliance upon past knowledge becomes the norm. Excitement is rare.

Many of these teachers finish one lesson with a private commitment to do a better job in the coming week of investing in the first encounter. But Sunday becomes Monday and then Tuesday and then Wednesday. Unexpected interruptions intrude. Before the teacher knows it, Saturday night has come again and scripture must be studied and a lesson prepared. At that point, the teacher has little time to invest in meeting God and has missed illustrations for the lesson that God provided throughout the week. The result is barely enough time for another hastily prepared lecture. Without the first encounter, the teacher will be unprepared to lead the second encounter.

Instead of the teacher being changed through the encounter, study, and preparation, he or she simply completes a quick content cram course. By skimping on the first encounter, the teacher stops learning and being changed, and as a result so does his class. When he or she stops teaching from personal life-change and for the life-change of learners, they stop growing and changing. When the teacher has merely prepared a Bible lesson without letting God and His Word impact his or her life, he/she is less prepared to serve as a guide on the journey to meet God in the passage for the day.

Besides neglecting this personal encounter with God, many teachers fail to spend time getting to know attenders. They spend time with attenders only on Sunday at church. Much of that time is invested with a group rather than with individuals. These teachers rush to class—some arriving late. They rush out of class when the hour is over relieved to have survived another session. This allows little time for interaction outside of teaching time. Added to this, they make no visits in homes. They make no appointments to meet with class members or prospects. These teachers assume they know enough about the class to teach well. But because they don’t know these individuals personally, they end up teaching a generic lesson with less impact because the target is too broad. Rather than the lesson focusing on real issues in the lives of attenders, it brings agreement rather than conviction.

Also, many teachers have failed to discover and understand their attenders’ learning style preferences. These teachers have a tendency toward exclusive use of lecture, a verbal method. Lecture is one of many good methods, but lecture may cause learning disconnect for many people since today up to 60% are visual learners. Besides visual and verbal learners, others are active learners. As a result of the neglect of the specific learning style preferences of attenders during the first encounter, teaching methods chosen and used are not as effective. Learners retain less of what is taught and are engaged less during the teaching. Due to neglect of the first encounter, the intended result of life-change fails to occur.

In summary, teachers neglect the first encounter for a wide variety of reasons. Few do so intentionally. Instead, sudden life events and long-term decline in time and enthusiasm take their toll. Without the proper motivation and prioritization, less time is given for God in His Word to change the life of the teacher. And less time is spent with students getting to know them and their learning style preferences in order to teach for the greatest impact. As a result, lessons and lives limp along. Revolutionary Sunday School demands more. Be revolutionary!

For more ideas from the previous parts of this series, check out these blog posts:

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