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The Gift of Teaching
April 26, 1992


I'm making an assumption this morning in the sermon. I'm assuming that influence is an important motivation for all of us. I'm assuming that when all is said and done, the desire to influence is a high priority for each of us. Oh, it might be nice to make money, but we would rather like to have it said that the world is a better place because of our influence. That's my assumption this morning.

When we think of individual persons and what influences them, we begin with home and heredity. There is a continued debate which we will not participate in today, whether heredity or environment is the greater influence on personality development. Suffice it to say that parents and siblings have the initial and the most dramatic influence. Child psychologist Rudolph Dreikurs says that the sibling relationship has a greater impact on personality development than parents—relieves a lot of guilt, doesn’t it? But once a child leaves home, even for a few hours a day, I submit to you that the most influential profession is that of teacher. Is there anyone here today who cannot not name a teacher or teachers as having significant influence in your life— good or bad, but having significant influence?

I remember all my elementary school teachers with fondness and appreciation even after all these years, and I just had a birthday! I can name all of my elementary teachers. Of course, the task is made easier when you realize I skipped the third grade and I had the same teacher for three grades. But I can name them. I also had one professor in college who stands out in my memory as having taught me to think. Rather than regurgitate what was poured into me, he taught me to think for myself. From seminary, I remember especially two professors, one who turned me on to the Old Testament and the other to the New Testament.

To be a teacher is to enter the most influential profession. To be a teacher is to assume an awesome task and eternal responsibility, for a teacher just does not impart knowledge, a teacher influences lives. Included in the profession of teacher, and equally influential. is the Sunday School teacher, the choir director, the youth leader and camp counselor, all who work in the ministry of Christian education. Was a Sunday School teacher or choir director or a youth leader influential in your life? Can you name one that stands out in your memory? Can you see his or her face? Were you a child, a youth or an adult at the time? Can you think of a Sunday school teacher or choir director or youth leader who influenced you? Turn and share with the person sitting next to you.

I did not begin my Sunday School experience until the sixth grade. I was not reared in the church. I started going to the Methodist Sunday School when I was in the sixth grade because a neighbor invited me. How many of you have invited children to Sunday School? How many of you have ever invited a friend to church? Next Sunday is Bring a Friend Sunday. Let's do it. Issue an invitation because I stand before you today, and I testify to you today, that who knows where I would be today and who knows who I would be today if Hazel Wirz had not invited me to go to Sunday School. You may wish she hadn’t, but she did! She took me to Sunday School and Bible School with her children and herself. The church had four rooms. The sanctuary was on the first floor. A Sunday School class met in each corner. The basement housed the dining room, the kitchen and the furnace room, all of which held Sunday School classes, even the furnace room. Sunday School began and ended in the sanctuary with all of us together singing. We recited the memorized scripture verse for the day, we received the offering and we all said the benediction. Through that Sunday School, the Methodist Youth Fellowship and the ministry of that small church, Jesus found me. And I found Christ. I heard and answered the call to go into the ministry.

We in this church can be very grateful for a building with classrooms, overhead projectors, movie projectors, TVs, VCRs, pianos, cassette players, but those things are not essential. They enhance the work of the Sunday School teacher and the youth leader, but they're not essential. What is essential is to have students and what is essential is to have a teacher. What is essential is to have a commitment to come regularly and participate. What is essential is to have a commitment on the part of the congregation and families that Sunday school is important. What is essential is to have a clear understanding and appreciation of the teaching profession and what we are trying to accomplish through Sunday School, music and youth programs.

The scripture lesson today from Paul's letter to Ephesians gives us the purpose of Christian education. Ephesians 4.11-16. God gives gifts to each of us and God calls some of us as teachers to a unique task. And what is that task? Verse 12, “Equip the saints.” The teacher’s task is to equip the saints so that the saints may do the work of ministry. The saints, all of us, are to do God's work, God’s service, and the teachers equip us to do that by (verse 12), “Building up the body of Christ.” The teacher’s task is to build up the body of Christ so the saints may do the work of ministry, and building up the body of Christ means what? Verse 13, “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Paul expands this point in verse 14 by saying “We must become mature, no longer children tossed to and fro, blown about by every wind of doctrine.” That's a very relevant point for us in California—the home of fads, extremists, New Age gurus, and cults. If it's anywhere in the world, it's here in California.

I have a deep concern for our children, youth and young adults who are often vulnerable to whatever theology, whatever philosophy, whatever fad comes along. Too many are tossed to and fro because too few have a solid foundation on which to stand, and from which to evaluate all that’s poured into them—all that they see and hear on television, or in the school or on the streets or wherever. The pressures the stress are great. O, how our kids need a solid foundation, how they need the Bible!

As a congregation, we have adopted goals in our mission statement to reach out and receive people, help one another into relationship with God, grow as Christian disciples, and go forth in mission and ministry. This year we are emphasizing “Help each other into relationship with God.” Next year, the emphasis will be “Grow as Christian Disciples”. To help each other into relationship with God and to grow as Christian disciples is the purpose of Sunday School, the purpose of the education program of our church. So let's catch a vision of what teaching can do for our children, our youth and our adults. And let's catch a vision of the importance of teaching. Let's commit ourselves to doing our best. Let’s commit ourselves to regular and faithful participation. God has called and is calling some of you to teach—the most influential profession. Not all of you can teach; some of us must be the students.

But how do you know who has the gift to teach? Who has the gift to teach? An effective teacher in the church and I include choir directors, youth leaders, all who work with small groups, an effective teacher in the church does three things. Number one, loves people, loves the person he or she is called teach. Loving means a genuine concern about the student. A good teacher cares. Nick Murray, our guest this morning, our guest leader in his book, Teaching the Bible to Elementary Children, remembers and describes his Sunday school teachers. He wrote, “These teachers knew me, loved me and led me to want to share the Christian faith so obviously cherished”—knew me and loved me. A Sunday School teacher once said to his pastor, “I devote ten hours a week to preparing my lesson, ten hours a week.” The pastor was very impressed, but he challenged, “That’s great! A good teacher prepares adequately, but how about devoting only five hours to preparation and the other five hours getting to know your students—both the present class and the new ones?The teacher took that challenge. He began visiting in the homes, began telephoning. And that class grew. The lessons were still well prepared, but the difference was the lessons now related to the students about whom the teacher demonstrated loving care. An effective teacher in the church loves people.

Secondly, an effective teacher in the church loves God, is on a first name basis with Jesus, talks about him and talks to him. An effective teacher does not know everything about God or the Bible, but has a deep and growing relationship. And the love of God is expressed in a deep prayer life. To love God means to have a deep prayer life and to love God means to live ethically. Living the Christian life is how we love God. Remember, the old adage? “Example is the best teacher; your life speaks so loudly I can't hear what you say.” An effective teacher in the church loves God.

Thirdly, an effective teacher in the church unabashedly without apology, evangelizes, seeks to lead the students to commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The primary purpose of Sunday School is to introduce persons to Jesus and encourage them to respond in faith and love. That's the primary purpose. To grow as Christian disciples assumes that a decision has been made to be a disciple. Sometimes we overlook the commitment and somehow think that by the process of osmosis, we may someday wake up as Christians. Evangelism means helping persons into relationship with Jesus Christ.

Last Sunday, Easter Sunday, we had a visitor from Great Britain. He told me after the service he was a Baptist preacher. He came to our church because he couldn't find the one he was looking for. He said we had a beautiful service and he especially appreciated my sermon. He said he had expected something liberal, which I took to mean was quite bad from his perspective! But he was pleased to  hear the gospel. He said to me. “If any that were here this morning go to hell, it won't be on your head!” Well, I appreciated that. I think it is my responsibility to tell you how much God loves you and challenge you to a personal relationship with Christ. That's my responsibility. And the task is the same for Sunday School teachers, choir directors, youth leaders and parents. May it never be on your head when a child goes bad. We as parents, teachers, congregation and pastors are not ultimately responsible for our children. Do you hear that? We are not ultimately responsible for our children.

But we are responsible to them, to love them, to love God and to evangelize by leading them to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

© 1992 Douglas I. Norris