One thing I have emphasized in our discipleship ministry is that we are not just to be teachers of the Bible in our classes; we are to be shepherds of people. Besides, we don’t really teach the Bible anyway, we teach people the Bible. Josh Hunt sent this article out this week (by Elmer Towns) and it captures what I have emphasized over the years:
A Sunday School teacher is not just an instructor, like a saved public school teacher who is teaching the Bible. A Sunday School teacher has a much broader task than just communicating biblical truth.
A Teacher Teaches People
There are two expressions of the spiritual gift of teaching.
- The first is the gift of teaching where the person has a desire to study, to discover new truth, then communicate it in the instructing process. This is not the gift that best describes the Sunday School teacher, though many Sunday School teachers have this gift.
- The second gift is the “pastor-teacher” described in Ephesians 4:11, “And He Himself gave . . . some pastors and teachers.” The pastor-teacher uses instruction to nurture his pupils. Even though the King James Version separates the two words, “pastors, and teachers,” the Greek language joins them as one function. The pastor is a teacher.
That brings us to the next step.
A Teacher Shepherds People
A Sunday School teacher is a shepherd. A woman who has four small children around a table in a church basement should be doing a lot more than telling Bible stories about baby Moses in the bushes, or Noah’s ark. She should be giving spiritual care to her students, which involves telling Bible stories. Just as a pastor shepherds his flock in more ways than preaching, so a Sunday School teacher cares for the Sunday School flock in more ways than teaching.
Everything the pastor is to his flock, the teacher is to his Sunday School class. The same Greek word is used for pastor and shepherd, suggesting their work is similar.
A Teacher is the Pastor’s Extension
The Sunday School teacher is the extension of pastoral ministry into the life of the class. Just as an extension helps you get to hard-to-reach places, so a Sunday School teacher helps the pastor reach hard-to-reach people (at least hard for him to reach). A pastor can’t always reach down to a three-year-old boy, but a Sunday School teacher can. Classes need to be more than content centers, they need to be shepherding centers.
The Apostle Paul’s advice to the pastors of the church at Ephesus is also a challenge to Sunday School teachers today. “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing-the flock. . . . Therefore watch” (Acts 20:28-31). Notice the three words that are emphasized in these verses. These words contain the threefold job description of a pastor or Sunday School teacher.
- First, he is to oversee the flock, which is leading sheep.
- Second, he shepherds or feeds the flock, which is giving instruction.
- Third, he protects the flock by watching over them.
A Teacher is a Leader
How does the Sunday School teacher “shepherd” the flock in his care? He does so by fulfilling the three primary functions of the shepherd. First, a shepherd leads the flock. The greatest influence of many Sunday School teachers has been the result of their leading by example.
A Teacher is a Feeder
Second, a shepherd feeds the flock. While good Bible teaching will not guarantee your class will grow, poor teaching will hinder its growth
A Teacher is a Protector
Finally, a shepherd protects the flock. Jesus told Peter to ‘tend My sheep” (John 21:16). A Sunday School teacher visits the students who are absent to protect them from falling away. One of the best known and loved passages in all Scripture is the Twenty-third Psalm. In this passage, David describes the care he received at the hand of his Shepherd, the Lord. The example of the Lord who is our Shepherd is a constant challenge to the Sunday School teacher who is trying to be to his class what the Lord is to him.