Is Sunday School Necessary?
1. The Great Commission
The primary motivation for Sunday School is the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). The Great Commission forms the central motivation, though not the only one, for Sunday School teaching. The goal of all Christians should be the salvation of souls. Christ is very clear in this that we are not only to “make disciples” and baptize but to teach them “to observe all that I have commanded you.” This quite obviously implies the absolute necessity of Sunday School as a condition of the fulfillment of Christ's command.
2. Encourage Faithfulness
Beyond the command of Jesus, what are some of the practical motivations a Sunday School teacher should have? Paul's writings demonstrate that pastoral teaching contains the motivation of “giving instruction that encourages faithfulness” (1 Timothy 1:18). This instruction is demonstrated to encourage prayer, intercession, and thanksgiving even in the face of persecution. The “encouraging faithfulness component is something evidenced throughout Paul's writings (1 Timothy 4:2).
It seems obvious that when Paul uses the word “encourage,” he implies teaching by both word and example. Paul also comes back often to the theme of strengthening the faithful (Acts 15:32). Interestingly, this strengthening not only of the faithful, but the churches (Acts 15:41; 16:4-5) includes not just preaching, but teaching, since both encourage and strengthen the church and people in the faith since it also includes delivering new light.
Ultimately, it is the fear of the Lord that inspires Paul to teach and preach. Here it must be understood that fear is not referring to any emotional state, but rather to respect for God's will and purpose (2 Corinthians 2:11).
3. Teaching the Gospel
Paul's example gives us much insight into the basic goals of teaching. First, I want to briefly address teaching the youth. Paul makes specific mention of encouraging the youth to be righteous examples. As mentioned previously, this encouraging takes the form of teaching by both word and example. The fact that Paul is concerned directly with the teaching of youth certainly implies a need for Sunday School teachers to be aware of the needs of youth and to address those specific needs in their teaching (Timothy 4:12). So, one of the goals of Sunday School is the instruction of youth in the principles of the gospel.
Beyond this, Sunday School should have the goal of instructing the faithful in living a holy life (1 Thessalonians 4:1; Ephesians 4:20-24; 5:15; Philippians 1:27; Titus 2:2-7). The teacher needs to be prepared to teach people how to live according to the gospel. Our lives are a constant example to others of the gospel. Paul also frequently speaks of strengthening the souls of the disciples and explaining the meaning of the suffering of those who embrace the gospel. Preparing the faithful for difficulty so that there is not a loss of faith appears to be what is implied by strengthening the souls of disciples (Acts 14:21).
4. Sunday School Classes
One notes the consistent willingness of Paul to include others in his ministry. He is not afraid to delegate authority and responsibility to others whom he has previously taught (Ephesians 6:22; 2 Timothy 4:11). Paul was committed to preaching the Word of God with help from John. This demonstrates his willingness to share the work of preaching and teaching with others (Acts 13:5). This is not only for the purpose of teaching but also for handling the affairs of the local church (Titus 1:5). Of course, in order for someone to do so, they should know the current affairs of the church. This also means a Sunday School teacher should pay careful attention to the gifts and talents of those he is teaching and preparing. He should teach the faithful to do works of ministry within their gifts rather than trying to do it all himself, following the example of Paul (2 Timothy 3:17). Paul made himself available and spent a prolonged length of time among the faithful in Antioch.
So, teaching and preparing others for ministry should not be considered a quick and easy thing, but should be approached with care and attention to detail with the understanding. The Book of Acts seems to show a sort of training/teaching session for elders in the local church (Acts 18:11). Part of this training would be to prepare them for Paul's own absence.
5. The Focus
Paul focuses quite a lot on the maintenance of orthodoxy and the exposing of heresy in the church (Galatians 1:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:2). He commands others not to teach false doctrine, to “keep hold” of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience, to guard the gospel, warn the faithful and avoid evil. This very strong concern for doctrinal purity and clarity should not be lost on Sunday School teachers today. In fact, it is perhaps far more important that they guard the gospel.
Paul stresses grace in our call to a holy life, and not personal worthiness or work. Paul is clear that eloquence not necessary. God will use the gifts he gave us to his glory if we simply allow Him to do so. Sunday School is one with a multitude of blessings in store for the faithful servant of God's people.