Pardon me, is that your foot I just stepped on?
This is a situation I have encountered many times. We get a new Sunday School class started, and after a few weeks, it dies. The teacher says, “I came prepared to teach several times, but attendance was so spotty that it wasn’t worth my time to prepare a lesson each week. I don’t mind teaching, but I don’t think it’s my responsibility to see that they get to class.”
Question: whose responsibility is it to get students to class each week? Obviously, the students themselves; though if we are talking about children and youth, their ability to get themselves to church is dependent on the cooperation of their parents. Their enthusiasm helps, but cannot overrule parental apathy. So, how about parents? Yes, there’s something to be said for that: it is part of the parents’ vows to see that their children are raised in the faith. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the teacher’s attitude, above, is a colossal dodge.
Leaders of youth groups suffer from the same schedule conflicts and parental apathies as Sunday School teachers, yet most of them work very hard to gather the group. They send out repeated notices, e-mail youth, talk to kids and parents whenever they cross paths with them, remind friends to invite friends. This is especially true when a trip or big event is in the offing, but even week-to-week it remains a thing to be done. However much of a chore it is, most youth group leaders accept it as part of the job to do what they can to gather the group.
Scout leaders are in the same boat. They can’t chase every kid and every family, but they spend a lot of effort on group communication. And when some event is in the works – and they do a lot of events in a year – they are constantly calling, talking, e-mailing, nagging people to pin down reservations, get money paid in, remind people to show up at the preliminary fundraisers, etc. They can’t chase people past a certain point, but they, too, routinely assume that gathering the group is part of their job.
Pastors are frequently blamed if they don’t run after people whose attendance in worship is lagging. This is often unfair, and I hesitate to raise it here as an expectation; nevertheless, pastors do care about attendance. Every person who comes is important to God and important to the Church. Pastors note who has begun attending and whose attendance patterns are changing. They can’t get to all the people they’d like to, but they, too, try to contact those who seem to be on their way in or on their way out, and encourage regular participation.
So, let me be radical and say that the first duty of a Sunday school teacher is to gather one’s class.
Yeah, it’d great if they all just came rushing in every week, panting to be led in the way the leads to life eternal. But even if a teacher is in a large congregation where there are always enough of a particular age group to make a class, there are still those who ought to be in class and are not, and we are supposed to care about them, too. Gathering them in is part of the job. Others (especially parents) are key players here, but without a push from the teacher, the parents will all too often let their busy-ness overrule their previous commitments to get their kids where they promised to be.
Sunday school is not just about teaching content. It's a form of evangelism, a method of discipleship. It’s about forming Christ in others. It’s like what Jesus himself did with the disciples. Disciples have to be called into a relationship with the leader for the leader to point them to God. Teachers who expect others to gather their class, not to mention teach them how to behave in class, are like people who are happy to eat a meal, providing others cook it first and cut up their meat for them.
Leaders lead. Its what the job’s about; deal with it. And if you can’t, then let's find someone with a passion for bringing children or adults or families to Christ to do the job.