A Children’s Director’s Guide to Recruiting and Maintaining Sunday School Teachers
By: Deborah Bell Rodahaffer
Eighteen years as a Director of Christian of Education, mentoring Christian educators, and today, as Minister for Parish Life, have taught me that recruiting Sunday School teachers and all who serve should begin in prayer. I pray that God will send me the right person for the position. When a candidate does come my way, I ask that person to pray about his or her commitment to this ministry.
Some Children’s Ministries put a notice in their church bulletin to recruit teachers. However, I have found that “scouting” for teachers has worked in my ministry. What I mean by this, is I observe prospective candidates for several weeks and see how they interact with children and adults. If they have good people skills and a servant’s heart, I invite them to serve. I prefer candidates who have been active in the church for at least a year. Think outside of the box when looking for teachers. Some of the best Sunday School teachers I know are lawyers, artists, gardeners, librarians, college-aged parishioners, and dads.
I find that a one on one meeting in one of the church meeting rooms is the best environment for both you and the candidate to discern if this is the ministry for them. Here is a guideline for what I cover.
- Offer a written job description outlining expectations including time commitment and go over each point with candidate allowing ample time for questions.
- Always use the word ministry rather than volunteer. Leading children to love and know God may be the most important ministry of your candidates’ lives.
- Acknowledge that you value this candidate’s ministry before it even begins because you entrust the candidate by offering a sacred responsibility in leading children.
- Be clear about YOUR role in his/her ministry. (You will provide training, curriculum, materials needed each week, advocacy, and on-going support.)
- Have sample curricula available to look at together and send home with candidate.
- Tour the Sunday School room where the candidate will teach/lead.
Candidates may be reluctant to accept position because they do not feel “qualified”. Remind candidates that with God’s help everything is possible and that you prayerfully considered the candidate for the position before you approached them. Together you will make the experience of teaching young children exceptional for students and teachers. Accept the candidate’s “yes” or “no” response with love knowing that you both entered this process of teaching/leading children through the power of prayer and through that, the decision will be the right one for both of you.
PARENTS AS SUPPORT
Do not ask a parent to teach in his or her child’s class. Unless a mom or dad of young children has a real desire to teach, allow them to be involved in other church ministries until their children are older. Do encourage parents to be part of a Sunday School support ministry that can help you outside of the classroom. This team is vital in helping purchase supplies, pre-prepare arts and crafts activities, providing snacks, and hosting events for teachers.
Maintaining and helping your teachers to grow in their ministry is as important as finding the right people to teach. The following ideas may work in your ministry, they worked in mine:
- Regular training sessions with all teachers (with lunch, dinner, or dessert is best) Have frequent discussions about their teaching including all questions they have about lesson plans, scripture readings, etc. Send them articles or recommend books that will help them in their ministry.
- Immediately respond to any situations involving children or guardians where you need to take the lead.
- Make quick weekly check-ins with teachers by email or text (What was best about your Sunday? Any concerns about students, family members? How is your week going?)
- Create an environment where teachers have a minimal amount of prep work. Make sure that you or your support team have decorated, cleaned, set-up classrooms each week. Crafts and activities along with a prepared snack should be ready to go. Have “restroom runners” so that teachers do not need to stop classes in progress (reminder – bathroom doors should be propped open when children are in the restroom). Teachers should be able to focus on teaching and being present to the children.
- Encourage the faith life of your teachers with opportunities for bible study and retreats. Take a personal interest in them and make it a habit to pray for and with them.
- Help teachers to focus. Remind teachers that teaching younger children needs to be fun. When children have fun, they will want to be present and they will retain more of what they learn. What is most important about Sunday School with younger children is that the children feel safe, feel valued, and know that God loves them.
It is important to commission church school teachers in front of the congregation the Sunday before or the Sunday church school begins. The Rector/Minister and Christian Formation Director should participate in the Commissioning. As teachers we are evangelizers and this critical role should be elevated. Other means of recognizing teachers is by highlighting their ministry with bulletin board displays with photos and short bios (include comments from children and parents) or including them in newsletters that go out to the congregation.
Send notes or cards to your teachers (birthdays, anniversary of teaching start date) or small gifts from time to time. Say “thank you” every chance you have because that is the best way to honor anyone’s ministry.
Debbi Rodahaffer served as Director of Christian Formation for children, youth, and adults at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Louisville, KY, for eighteen years. She currently serves as Minister for Parish Life at The Episcopal Church of the Advent, Louisville. During her twenty years in lay ministry, Debbi served as president of Forma: the network for Christian Formation, and as a three-time deputy to the General Convention of The Episcopal Church. In the Episcopal Diocese of Kentucky, she served as chair of the Christian Formation Ministry, on All Saints’ Conference Center board, on the Standing Committee, and on The Commission of Ministry. Debbi currently serves on Kanuga Conference Center’s Christian Formation Conference Planning Team and hopes to have an opportunity to talk with you about all things formation and hospitality next June 2019 at Kanuga, Hendersonville, NC.