The Sunday School teacher by conducting his class on Sunday asks together with all the other Sunday School teachers, “May we help train your child in the fear of the Lord by teaching him to memorize God’s Word, learn the songs of Zion and by recounting to him the truth as it is displayed to us in the many historical events recorded in the Scriptures.
The question before which each teacher then does and surely ought to place himself is, “How shall and how can I best prepare my lesson so that I live up to my promise?” He has a responsibility which he has taken upon himself. He is responsible before God whose covenant children he instructs. He is also responsible before God because it is His Word which he deals with and which he explains to his pupils. He is responsible to the parents who send their children to him and desire his help in training them in God’s fear. He is also responsible to the children he instructs. He is morally obliged also before them to teach them the truth and nothing but the truth. It follows then that he must prepare himself carefully and fully. His work must not be slipshod. He may not come unprepared to his class. He must be diligent and perform his work faithfully, taking the necessary time and work to come before his class ready to train them in the fear of the Lord.
Believing that all our Sunday School teachers very really ask themselves this question over and over again, and believing that many of the less experienced teachers would appreciate a few hints in regard to the preparation of their lesson, we intend to answer the above question in this present essay in the department of education called In His Fear. The Sunday School teacher asks, “May I help train your child”. But he also realizes that he himself needs training not only in the fear of the Lord but also in preparing himself for the training of God’s covenant children.
Study the Scriptural Passage.
That you must study the Scriptural passage which constitutes your lesson for that week is obvious enough. No one would deny that, and all realize that there can be no preparation without it. However, the question remains, “What does it means to study the Scriptural passage?” A related question is, “How do I go about studying my lesson? What must I do first?”
The first step is a very simple yet extremely important one. Read carefully, thoughtfully and repeatedly the passage which constitutes the lesson. The teacher who glances at the passage indicated as the lesson for the week and then says to himself, “O, it is about Joseph being sold into Egypt”, or “My, how easy I have it this week, the lesson is about David killing Goliath, and I know that story so well”, that teacher has started off with the wrong foot, so to speak, in preparing his lesson. When he comes to teacher’s meeting, he likewise is not prepared to enter into the discussion of the lesson. Read the passage carefully even if it is a very familiar story. Especially if it is a less well known incident recorded in the Scriptures read it carefully and thoughtfully. As you read it notice and commit to memory the various details in the incident. Was it five stones David chose from the brook to slay Goliath, or was it only one? Did Jesus take twelve disciples on the Mt. of Transfiguration, or did He take only three? Was it really three or perhaps four disciples that saw His glory there on the Mount?
Take note also of the exact order in which events occur in the incident. As a rule the events suggest what follows, and in a story it is not very often that one loses the line of thought. However, very often details on the story are forgotten, and one finds the need of going back to repeat a portion of the story because one little element was overlooked while reading and preparing the lesson. These stories as a rule are so well known to us that certain details in the incident suggest themselves to us. But that is not always the case with the child. Often it happens that he has never heard the story before. Note the order of events by reading the lesson carefully.
Likewise take notice of the names of the persons mentioned in the story. If Scripture gives the names of these persons, make a note of it on paper or in your mind. And when you tell the story do not say, “Then a man came and said to David. . . .” when Scripture says, “and the prophet Nathan came to David and spake to him”. Or, wait a minute, was it Nathan or Nabal? Could it perhaps have been Naboth? Be definite. Be correct. And therefore first of all read the story carefully and thoughtfully.
Not only does it weaken the story when you eliminate things Scripture includes, or when you give different figures than those in the Scriptures or jumble up the order of events, but you as a teacher may also suffer much embarrassment from your pupils for your wrong presentation. Do not forget that they are also taught by very capable school teachers five days in the week. You must not be surprised then if when you present things incorrectly you see one two or three hands go up. Do not think either that these hands represent intelligent questions which are the result of deep interest in the story. You will find that the child wants to correct you. And you invited that correction from your children by a lack of care in the preparation of your lesson.
In this connection we might also suggest that you strive to use the proper pronunciation of the names which appear in the lesson. If you pronounce these names differently than the child hears them pronounced and is taught to pronounce them in school, you will also invite such disturbances in the presentation of your lesson. Consult a good self-pronouncing (what a poor name for it) Bible or else a Bible dictionary, especially for such names as Mephibosheth. Is the accent on the second or on the third syllable? Failure to do these things besides inviting a correction by your pupils will also disturb the whole class. You often have pupils who like to be rude and who do not take the time to raise their hands to correct you but blurt out that which they have in their mind. This is disturbing for you, but it also disrupts the attention of the whole class.
After you have taken all these details into consideration, you must proceed to understand the main thought in the story and the related thoughts. In order to do this, you should make an honest attempt to see the story in its setting. You may not have enough material at your disposal for a thorough investigation of all the details, but you should not despise the information that can be made available to you. You ought to take into consideration the time when the story takes place. Whether it takes place in the Old Testament times or the New Testament times makes quite a difference. Whether it occurs before the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai or after likewise makes a difference. It makes a difference whether it took place before the cross of Christ or afterward. When a persecution arose in the days of Stephen, many fled out of the land of Canaan even as far as the Island of Cyrus and to Antioch in Syria. Elimelech also fled out of the land of Canaan into Moab because of the famine. But you cannot place these two incidents on the same level spiritually. Elimelech ran away from the Tabernacle. The saints who fled to Cyprus separated themselves from the Temple but not with the same significance and consequences.
Take into consideration and strive to find out the social and political condition of Israel if the incident belongs to the Old Testament dispensation. Was there a God-fearing or godless king on the throne? Was it during the times of the Judges when men did as seemed right in their own sight or when they had a king to rule over them? How much revelation did the saints have at the time the incident recorded in the lesson takes place? The faith of the shepherds, of Simeon and Anna at the time of Christ is understood and best appreciated when we remember that politically it indeed seemed hopeless that God’s promise of a Messiah be realized. In Solomon’s time such a promise might seem far more possible. Likewise it makes a difference whether the saint walks uprightly in the face of famine and persecution or in times of prosperity. Find out as much as you can about these things that you may present an interesting story to the child and give him the necessary background to understand it in its true light.
You must bear in mind that you are teaching a child. The lesson explanation must be interesting or the child cannot follow you. Indeed, we are not advocating the practice that you entertain the child. That is something quite different. But to make the story interesting, that is, make it so that you keep his attention is a must for you. And to do so you should do some research into these things which will make the story fresh to him and interesting. If you can find some interesting thing about the country in which the incident takes place which will make the picture more vivid before the mind’s eye of the child, so much the better. However, we ought to be sure that it does not detract from the truth in the lesson. It must be an item which helps to present the lesson. The point we are making here is that you ought to do more than simply read the lesson passage and look for the details in it. Do as much research as you can for the lesson. A Bible dictionary such as the one by Dr. William Smith, for example, will give you a wealth of material which you can use in your lesson explanations.
In the lesson explanation, we believe that there ought also to be as much as possible a reference to Christ and His cross. We condemn Christless sermons in which His name is not even mentioned. We ought likewise to look in our Sunday School lessons for opportunities to show the children how all things point to Him Who is the word become flesh. We ought to look for the types and shadows in the Old Testament, and when dealing with a story of Christ in the New Testament we ought to look for the picture and shadow of this event (if there be one) which took place in the Old Testament. When dealing with the lives of such men as Moses and David this is often quite easy. And the fact that Israel’s rejection of David was a type of their rejection of Christ ought to be brought out too, and the teacher must look for these things. He must, however, be on his guard not to manufacture types and shadows. Or when no type or shadow appears and the story is of the wickedness of some individual, do not leave the story there. By all means remind the child that our sins are forgiven because Jesus died for us. Or else if it be in the Old Testament times and concerning the faith of some great saint, as Abraham believing that he will have a son, show that Abraham in this believed in the promise of God to send the Christ.
We have indicated a few broad, and general lines along which to prepare the lesson. Details cannot be given, nor can all the things you might be able to do be indicated, but we have tried to make plain what we mean when we say that you must study the Scriptural passage. In the next issue we hope to give a few additional thoughts.
(To be continued)