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Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

For many of us, seeking people to serve as teachers is an endless job. It sometimes seems just as we have all our Sunday school classes supplied with teachers, someone moves or resigns from teaching. And we start the process again of seeking more teachers! Related to this is the sense that when we ask someone to stop teaching we are in some way not being Christian (or we’re leaving a big hole in the teaching roster), so we feel guilty or helpless in asking someone to no longer teach.

So, when is it appropriate to ask a teacher to relinquish a class and accept a different area of ministry? Here are examples:

  • A teacher is obviously exhausted from teaching, but feels guilty about asking for a break.
  • A teacher does not like the age level with whom he/she is working.
  • A teacher is consistently absent and unable to be present on a dependable basis.
  • A teacher decided to teach for the wrong reasons: guilt; feeling she had to take her turn even though she doesn’t like teaching; wanting to use the class for his own personal forum; unable to say no.
  • A teacher is creating harm to those in the class.
  • Obviously, when a teacher is creating harm, he/she needs to be asked to leave immediately. If a teacher is consistently absent, it’s advisable to replace that teacher as quickly as possible as well. However, for other reasons, it’s may be sufficient to wait until the end of the teaching year and thank the teacher for serving, but then not extend an invitation to teach for the next year.

To minimize the number of times you have to ask a teacher to not teach, here are some suggestions:

  • Determine your approach for securing Sunday school teachers. Do you recruit people for tasks or do you call people to ministry, matching gifts and talents with needs?
  • Establish a standard "length of service" for teaching. If the standard length of service is one year, it is easier to let people leave teaching gracefully to those better suited for this ministry.
  • Agree at the beginning of a teaching season on when the season-end evaluation will be so that the teacher and education leader can assess strengths and weaknesses, and then formulate a plan for growth and continuous improvement. Do this with all teachers, not just ones who have problems.
  • Create adequate support for teachers. This support includes supplies, people to help, teaching suggestions, constant prayer.
  • Say thanks throughout the year – not just on Teacher Appreciation Sunday!

Consider these questions as you think about those teaching with your children, youth, and adults:

  • Have we effectively matched gifts and talents of a teacher with the group we’ve asked that teacher to teach?
  • Are all our groups being taught by those who put safety, care, and kindness as a priority?
  • What support have I given Sunday school teachers this year?
  • What is my plan for the coming year to replace those who need to move out of teaching and encourage those who need to continue?

For Further Reading

Crucial Accountability

Making Small Groups Work

This article was originally published in 2008 as an iTeach newsletter. MaryJane Pierce Norton retired from the staff of Discipleship Ministries in 2016.

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