Sooo you’re going to teach a Sunday school class, but you feel a little overwhelmed? It’s okay, I’ve got your back. I’ve been teaching kids in church settings and non-church settings about Bible things for over 20 years, and I’m going to give you my 10 best tips. I hope they help! Let’s jump right in.
The first, number one, most important thing to do- is pray. Seriously. I know this sounds elementary, but before I teach any kids, I take time to talk to the Lord myself, and ask him to speak through me, and to give me just the right words. I invite the Holy Spirit to open the ears the child’s heart so that they can know how much the Lord loves them and is calling to them. I sometimes also ask for any lying spirits or strongholds to be shut up so that the child won’t be hindered from hearing the truth! It helps most if you are praying for the lesson while you study or write it, and praying for the child regularly, but I also pray while driving to the meeting, and I pray over the room before the kids get there! Prayer is the MOST IMPORTANT PART. Remember, you are the vessel of the Spirit- but it is the Spirit who does the work! And then… Pray with them! Don’t be shy. Talk to God like you talk to a friend. Show them by example that they can talk to God in imperfect, normal language just like you do.
2. Trust God to use you, just as you are. Don’t beat yourself up about not being smart enough, learned enough, mature enough, or especially- good enough. Most of us were not brought to Christ by perfect, seminary educated theologians. We were won to Christ by the love shown through an ordinary human being! Take a deep breath and give freely, as you have been given. And don’t try to be someone you aren’t! It’s easy to try to emulate someone else’s teaching or speaking style. But you are YOU. Your flavor of speech and manor of dress are okay, and your story and your witness is more powerful than trying to put on a “perfect show.” Be real. You don’t have to reveal every little struggle and doubt you are having, but being honest about your relationship and walk with God helps the kids to see that THEY don’t have to be perfect, either. It helps them to realize, “Hey, if she can follow God, I can too!” And on the contrary- if you seem too perfect, when that child can’t live up to the “perfect” they think you are, they will tend to believe a lie that says that they can never be a Christian like you are. So be yourself.
3. Memory! Okay, here’s the thing. No matter what the occasion you have to minister to kids, use the opportunity to teach them words from Scripture. Even if they forget you, forget the bible story, even if they forget the main point of your lesson and that they ever even came to your class, someday in the future, the Holy Spirit will absolutely pull those memory verses out of their deep memory for them in the future. (Isaiah 55:11) But please, please, please, make it fun, and not a drudgery. Some kids will find it really easy, and some kids will struggle with it a little. Competition and drilling doesn’t work for a lot of kids, but music and teamwork works for almost all of them!
4. Kids can understand more than you think. They think about things like death and heaven and fear and the devil. Don’t try too much to “clean up” bible stories or even your own testimony. We never want to glamorize sin, but honestly? Many children these days have seen murder, adultery, and worse on their TV’s, ipods, and in their own homes. They don’t come to church to hear sweet little stories that sound like nursery rhymes. They want to know if the Bible talks about the important things in life. And it does. So tell them.
5. That being said, kids need words they can understand. A ten cent word that works is better than a ten dollar word they would have to look up in a dictionary. Use simple language as much as possible, even for kids who are “older.” Unchurched kids have no idea what words like “Holy,” “Righteous,” “Sanctified,” “baptized,” and even “sin” mean. You can use them, but ONLY if you explain them clearly in clear language every class period you use them. I assume that if their public school teacher would never say it, they don’t know what it is. Also something to note? Most kids these days are Bible illiterate. You can’t refer Moses, Joshua, the Israelites, or David, and have them know what you’re talking about. You have to start from scratch if you want to tell a narrative from the Bible. ( For instance, to talk about the battle of Jericho, I would say, “Today I’m going to tell you about a group of people who lived a long time ago. God promised them that if they followed him, he would give them a home in a new land. One day, their leader, a man named Joshua…” and then I go on. )
6. Kids understand more than you think when it comes to unspoken communication, too. If you are irritated with them, frustrated with a fellow teacher, or just plain in a bad mood, they know it. The best thing to do is take a deep breath and be honest. Say something like, “Hey guys, I just wanted you to know that I have a headache today. Please bear with me, I am trying my best.” They are usually understanding, and it’s better than having them wonder if it’s them you don’t like.
7. Because… this is probably the biggest part: Kids want to be loved. Honestly? You can be the coolest, funniest, most entertaining, educated, and prepared teacher out there- but if you don’t love them, they will. not. care. They won’t care! Kids can tell the difference between being loved and being endured. Being tolerated or being celebrated. Kids can see it, and maybe for a little while they might continue to come for the pizza or games, but if they aren’t loved, they will never open up to you- or let you speak into their lives. You can only influence them for the Lord if they feel the love.
8. Relax. Have fun. The curriculum is only a tool. The lesson is only a guideline. Every class you teach is an opportunity, a short window that you have, to look at a child, to ask the Holy Spirit to let you be the Lord Jesus’ hands, heart, and maybe voice to that child. Remember that Jesus blessed the children. So you do the same! If that’s all you do, sometimes that’s all you were called to do that day. Sometimes the most productive teaching sessions are just sitting sessions, where you sit on the rug with them and let them talk, and talk, and talk, and talk… Because you’re teaching them, “You are seen, and loved, and cared about.” You are doing to them what the Lord does for us. And maybe, like we should, they will someday learn to listen to the one who listens to them.
9. The only eternal things are people. A million years from now, those children will still exist, and your building will be only a memory. Remember that when the kids break something or run in the hallway. Rules are great for keeping order, and kids do thrive better in order than chaos. But the rules are for the people’s good. When we value the building over the children, we communicate to the kids that the stones and the carpet are worth more than them. We can always get more stones and carpet. But a lost soul is lost forever.
10. When the Lord calls you to do something, the best feeling you can have is to feel unqualified. Use that feeling to press in to the Lord and ask him to do the work through you. If you feel confident and skilled, you’re likely to lean on your own confidence and skills! The Lord says He lives with the humble and answers the cry of the low. And honestly, I think if you ask him for help with ministering to a young person, that’s one of his favorite prayers to answer. So go ahead- volunteer to teach Sunday School or VBS. Prepare your lessons as diligently as you can- and then the Lord use you- just who you are. I bet he surprises you. I bet you learn more than you end up teaching! I sure have.
Well, that’s my top 10. It’s not exhaustive, but I hope it encouraged you. If you’re reading this, and you have kids in your life that you want to reach for the Lord, I believe the Lord will give you the words and the wisdom you need to do it. Just ask him.