By Scott Slayton
I only remember one thing from my 7th grade boys’ Sunday school class and that statement left a theological scar for years.
One Sunday, our teacher told us, “Boys, one day you will die and you will stand before God. If the good outweighs the bad, you get to go to heaven. If the bad outweighs the good, you go to hell.”
At the time, I did not know that my Baptist Sunday school teacher had just taught me justification by works. I had no idea that I could turn to Ephesians 2:8-9 and learn that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. All I knew was that I was doomed.
I started mentally running through my short life. I could only remember a few good things I’d done, but I could name a lot of bad things. Plus, I knew in my heart I had wanted to do even more bad things.
That one comment in Sunday school class took me on a seven-year cycle of pride, despair, and reckless living. Thankfully, that ended when I heard the good news of salvation by grace alone during my college years and came to know Jesus.
I tell my story because what your small group teachers and leaders say about the Bible makes an eternal difference in the lives of men, women, boys, and girls. When people hear untruths, they can be driven to despair, pride, heresy, legalism, or immorality.
However, faithful teachers who communicate the grace of life found in the Scriptures unveil beautiful news about who God is, what He has done to redeem us, and how we can walk wisely in this world for His glory.
Here are three ways that you can recruit small group teachers and leaders with sound theology.
1. Use Leaders, Not a Committee
The process many churches use for choosing Sunday school teachers and group leaders—using a nominating committee—can perpetuate a culture of theological ignorance and biblical illiteracy.
Committees can often ignore the qualifications of potential teachers, and instead focus on simply filling the slots they need to fill after only a two or three-minute discussion. Sometimes they may even ask a non-attending member to lead a class because it might “get them more involved.”
Your church’s leaders should choose your church’s teachers. This could be a mixture of staff members, lay leaders, and experienced small group teachers. Those choosing teachers should know how to teach effectively themselves and recognize a teaching position as more than a slot to be filled, but rather as a stewardship to be entrusted.
2. Know Your People
The church’s leaders are responsible for the church’s teaching ministry. Therefore, finding, recruiting, and equipping group leaders is an essential part of the pastor’s calling. All pastors must—through having a shepherding ministry in the congregation—get to know people’s gifts and theology so they can identify potential future leaders and teachers.
Pastors should have regular discussions with the people under their care about how they are doing spiritually and prayer requests they may have. These discussions help discover who is growing spiritually and in knowledge of the Scriptures.
With new members, pastors should ask for their testimonies and explore their understanding of the gospel. This will help pastors assess the possible giftedness of new members.
The pastor does not have to go about this task alone. They should seek out other key leaders to ask them whom they see as potential future teachers. Group leaders should also identify people who make astute and biblically informed comments in their classes.
3. Develop a Farm System
Too often, we throw people into a teaching assignment when they have never taught at all and hope a one-day training event will be enough to help them with this monumentally important task.
Instead, we need to create environments where prospective leaders teach sporadically over a period of time to assess their giftedness and to give them appropriate feedback.
Designating a backup teacher or leader-in-training for every class can be an effective way to train and encourage new teachers. Rather than only filling in when the primary teacher is gone, however, the leader-in-training should teach every six to eight weeks.
This would provide them with regular opportunities to teach without overwhelming them. Leaders can get feedback from people in the class about how the potential leader is teaching and use it to shape future training opportunities.
Also, look at any men’s and women’s Bible study group meetings you have. If there’s only one teacher, can you encourage a few people who have never led to lead once? This helps potential leaders stick their toes in the water without getting thrown into the deep end.
These potential leaders may find they enjoyed teaching and seek more opportunities. They may also discover they hated the experience and never want to do it again. Better to find out on a single opportunity teaching assignment than on the first day of a year-long commitment.
Hard Work on the Front End Pays off on the Back End
No method for recruiting and training new teachers will be foolproof. However, by doing the hard work of knowing people, choosing knowledgeable teachers, and creating opportunities for them to grow in their gifts, the church will have better called, qualified, and equipped teachers. And we can avoid sending middle school boys and others into years of misunderstanding the gospel.