The Teacher - A Servant and Soul-Winner
Frank McConnell, Pretoria
The form in which this message appears is explained by the fact that it consists of notes of an address given at a Sunday School Teachers’ Conference.
Teaching in the Sunday School is no easy task. The work is of a complex nature, and takes in a variety of duties. It is necessary that there should be Sunday School teachers. It would be wrong, however, for any to enter upon the work in a careless and lighthearted fashion; as if the only thing that mattered was getting the work done as quickly, and with as little trouble, as possible.
The need for Sunday School teachers bespeaks the importance of the work. There are probably more of them required than for any other form of service. Because there are so many teachers needed, we must not assume that the work is lacking in importance or that it can be taken up by anyone who feels so inclined. It is a work which requires special fitness and clearly-defined qualifications. As in every other form of service, there must be a knowledge of what is involved in the work and of what is needed to carry it through successfully.
In speaking thus we do not wish to scare anyone away from the work as being too difficult to undertake, but rather that those who are already teachers and those who contemplate taking up the work should view their task seriously, being conscious of the dignity which ought to characterize what is done.
We must face the fact then that in becoming Sunday School Teachers we are undertaking a work for God which, if we are going to be successful therein, will make great demands upon us. It will require us to regulate our life in its various departments, in order that each section of the work may make its contribution to the success of the whole.
Having these things in view we propose to consider the Teacher and the necessity for the regulation of the life in relation to the various duties involved. We have indicated something of this in our title, but we wish to make our consideration three-fold and insert between the Servant and the Soul-winner another designation, that of the Student. So then we are to consider :—
- The Teacher in relation to the Lord—A Servant
- The Teacher in relation to the Scriptures—A Student
- The Teacher in relation to the Child—A Soul-winner
These are by no means comprehensive, but will at least help us to appreciate what is involved in the work from three different points of view.
1. THE SERVANT
What we have to say will probably apply to service generally but can be taken as being of particular importance to Sunday School Teaching.
First of all, we must realize that sonship comes before service. In 2 Tim. 2, Paul speaks of the servant of the Lord in several ways but he opens the chapter with the thought of sonship. “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.’’ Timothy was Paul’s son in the faith. He had been the means of his conversion. But Paul could only claim him as his son, because Timothy was a son of God. The inference is clear. We cannot serve God in any capacity whatever unless, and until, we have become the children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Conversion to God is an absolute necessity if we are to serve Him. Like the Thessalonians of old we must turn to God from idols, to serve the living and true God (1 Thess. 1.9).
We must realize also that surrender comes before service. One of the reasons why so much service is ineffective is because it has not been preceded by whole-hearted surrender. Even with the Lord Jesus there was first of all surrender to the will of God, then the undertaking of service. “Lo I come to do Thy will, O God” (Heb. 10. 9). “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10. 45). We are to give ourselves to the Lord, before we offer to Him our service. What we are before the Lord is of far more importance than what we do for Him, and doing cannot be made the substitute of being. No amount of service can ever make up for the lack of surrender. Conversion must be followed by Consecration.
What then is involved in becoming a Servant of the Lord in a particular sphere such as the Sunday School? We may notice the following:—?
(a) We must be Called. It goes without saying that the need for Sunday School teachers is great. Superintendents are constantly on the look-out for fresh helpers. At the same time we must remember that the need alone does not constitute the call. This must come from the Lord. It may come through a wise and discerning Superintendent and be coupled with the existence of the need. But there must be the strong conviction within that the Lord Himself is calling us to the work. It is a fallacy to think that Sunday School work can be successfully undertaken without such a call.
(b) We must be Controlled. When the Lord calls us to His work He does not leave us to our own devices, to carry it out as we think fit. He is in control and from Him we must take our orders. This means that we shall be constantly reporting for duty, always at His disposal, ready to do His bidding. It will help us to realize the value of prayer if we remember that not only must we speak to the Lord, we must also give Him the opportunity of speaking to us. Christ-controlled service means fruitful service and is the only service which really counts.
We must bear in mind however that this control may be expressed through those of His servants who are mainly responsible for the work in which we share. This is specially true of Sunday School work. We should always be ready to receive advice and guidance from the Superintendent and from other teachers who are older and more experienced than ourselves.
(c) We must be Consistent. Need we say that if our work goes only in fits and starts it is worse than useless? We all know those who are full of zeal and enthusiasm one day and then who are lagging behind, and dragging their feet, the next. If the work has been commenced as a definite commission from the Lord, we shall not feel like giving up the first time we come up against difficulties and discouragements. The work of God demands patient plodding on and a consistent continuity in all that we do for Him.
(d) We must be Considerate. Whilst the call to the work is individual, the work itself is usually carried out in a collective capacity. We work with others and what we do should fit in with what others are doing. The Sunday School is not the sphere for one who cannot get on with others. There is a wonderful opportunity for the development of the team-spirit. A team can only operate successfully as each member subordinates his personal interests to the interests of the team as a whole. “In lowliness of mind, let each esteem other better than themselves.” (Phil. 2. 3).
2. THE STUDENT
The main object of all Sunday School work is to win the child for Jesus Christ. We must remember, however, that conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit and is not brought about by the mere persuasiveness of the teacher. In order to provide material which the Holy Spirit can use, it is the responsibility of the teacher to instruct and to impart to the mind of the child a knowledge of the Word of God. To be able to teach, we ourselves must be taught. The ability to impart knowledge is of no use unless there is an intimate acquaintance with the subject in hand. Therefore the teacher must of necessity be a student of the Scriptures. A Sunday School teacher without a knowledge of the Scriptures is like a warrior who does not know how to use his sword, or a workman who cannot handle aright his tool. This knowledge is not easily acquired. It demands patient and painstaking application to the study of God's Word, but it is infinitely worth while.
(a) Our attitude to the Scriptures, The Bible is the Divinely-inspired record of the revelation of God. We must be quite clear about this. The Book will never yield its treasure to the one who doubts its truth. It was Divinely originated and has been providentially preserved. More than this, it has been accurately transcribed. The Bible we possess in our mother-tongue is in the main a reliable translation of the original documents.
- Our attitude to the Book must be marked by simplicity. God has hid these things from the wise and prudent and has revealed them unto babes (Matt. 11. 25). We are to be as little children : not childish, but childlike.
- It must also be marked by sympathy. The Bible refuses to disclose its meaning to anyone who regards it from a critical point of view. It becomes a closed book to such. If Jesus Christ is our Saviour, then at once there is a bond of sympathy with all that the Bible reveals.
- In addition there must be the mark of surrender. It is not scholarship which is required to be a successful Bible student. There must first and foremost be a willingness to surrender ourselves to all that we learn. We must be prepared to obey the precepts of the Bible and to live the kind of life which is in keeping with its teachings. We must forsake the sins which it condemns. It has been well said that sin soon separates from the Bible those whom the Bible does not separate from sin.
(b) Our approach to the Scriptures. It is impossible to over-stress the fact that acquaintance with the Scriptures involves actual Bible-study. The value of such an acquaintance will soon become obvious. We shall find intellectual profit in its information and instruction, we shall find moral profit in its guidance and warnings, and we shall find spiritual profit in its doctrinal and experimental truth. It will result in peace in our hearts, purity in our lives, and power in our service.
With such study there must be some kind of method. With many Christians, their knowledge of the Bible is confined to its beauty-spots. Some of the choice narratives of the Old Testament, the story of Joseph, some of the Psalms, samples of Isaiah’s eloquence. In the New Testament, the Parables, and maybe, a few of Paul’s outstanding passages. Sylvester Horne said years ago, “Today the territory of Scripture is like a modern continent, extreme and unhealthy congestion at certain well-known centres and vast tracts of country uncultivated and unknown.” Whilst such knowledge of the Scriptures is not to be despised, it is far from ideal and the only remedy is methodical study.
It is not our purpose to discuss methods of Bible-study, but we would stress the importance of looking at the Bible as a whole, as well as in detail. The quickest way to begin the study of Geography is to take a good look at a globe, or an atlas of the world. We see at a glance the proportion of sea to land, the outline of the continents, and the relative sizes of the various countries. So it is with the Bible. By looking at the whole before studying a part, we shall be able to relate each part to the rest and determine its relative importance.
We shall become acquainted with the diversity of the Bible as well as its unity. We shall see how God has superintended the growth of this Divine Library, until out of 66 books, some large, some small, there has been produced one complete Book. Like a living organism, no part of the Bible can be taken away without maiming the rest. Each part is necessary to the whole.
Above all, we shall come to know that the chief purpose of the Written Word is to reveal the Living Word, and shall cultivate the habit of looking for Christ in all the Scriptures.
3. THE SOUL-WINNER
Such study as we have indicated will provide us with abundant material for the preparation of our lessons, especially as we come to the more detailed study of the Scriptures.
(a) Preparation. Alongside of our general studies there must of course be the preparation of our lessons with the needs of our children especially before us. This cannot be dispensed with if we are going to be successful teachers. We must study the Child as well as the Book, in order to co-relate the one to the other. Regarding evangelism it has been said “The man who merely studies the Book will be unpractical, the man who merely studies the soul will be unfurnished, the man who duly studies both will be a good minister of Jesus Christ” (C. H. M.).
There must be variety in our messages. It is our responsibility to teach the children the difference between right and wrong. We can do this by making full use of the Law of Moses and especially the Ten Commandments. Let us not be afraid of taking our children to Mount Sinai, as well as to Mount Calvary, thereby making them conscious of the need of salvation.
(b) Practice. As in everything else, practice makes perfect. The best way to learn how to do a job is actually to do it. This is essential in the work of soul-winning. God may bestow the gift, but that gift has to be developed. The constant use of our gift will undoubtedly enhance its value. On the other hand if we do not use it, we shall in all probability lose it. We must welcome every opportunity afforded in this direction, whether in the Sunday School or outside it. It will help us in practising the Divine art of soul-winning if we take note of the methods of other soul-winners, especially those who have been successful among children.
There is a peculiar fitness in the way the Lord Jesus likened soul-winning to fishing. Maybe it was one of the reasons why among His first followers He chose fishermen and changed them into fishers of men. A fisherman must be watchful, always on the alert; he must be persistent, always keeping at it; he must be courageous, deep-sea fishing involves great risk of life; he must be tactful, wisdom is needed; and he must be forgetful of self, he must keep himself out of sight. All this the soul-winner must be. Always on the alert, always on the job, courageous and tactful, and always seeking to hide self in order to display Christ.
(c) Perseverance. It sometimes takes a long time for a seed to germinate and burst into life. If we patiently sow the seed and wait for God to own our labours, the results will surely come. It is easy to press a child into decision, but what we want are true conversions and these are worth waiting for. Decisions are human, conversions are divine.
We must not be afraid of discouragements. Children can be so trying at times. Often we shall be tempted to think that we are utter failures. It is then that, above all else, we must cast ourselves upon the Lord and seek grace to persevere, and carry on with the work. At such times we need to remind ourselves of the great possibilities which are inherent in the work we are doing. When a child is won for Christ it is a double salvation. A soul saved and a life saved. The life thus saved may turn out to be of great use for God. Many Sunday School teachers have had the joy of seeing children whom they have taught and won taking their places in the front line of the battle in the cause of Christ, becoming in turn mighty soul-winners. We cannot all be Peters, winning the crowds for Christ; but we can be Andrews, and perhaps lead a Peter to Christ. Would it not be right to say that if there were more Andrews there would be more Peters?
Moreover, the Sunday School, and young people’s work, is usually the most fruitful section of the whole field of evangelism. There are far more conversions before the age of 20 than there are afterwards. It has been stated that the peak age for conversions is 13. What a responsibility and yet a privilege to have children around this age under our care. How we should watch them carefully and rejoice if we are allowed to reap where others have sown.
Taking the long view, we shall be assured of much encouragement. We shall be ready to admit that the work we are doing brings with it much happiness and is the cause of much joy and rejoicing which we would otherwise miss. More than this, we may rest assured that faithful Sunday School Teachers will be well in the forefront when the servants of the Lord appear before their Master’s Bema to hear His “well done” and to receive His reward. This surely will be more than a sufficient recompense.