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Since the advent of modern Sunday school, church leaders have been tasked with finding volunteer teachers. Finding adequate volunteers can seem impossible, so we can be tempted to relax standards, especially for children’s teachers. These are just children, after all; we are just coloring pictures of Noah’s ark and the walls of Jericho, right?

I want to suggest that there is a better way. It involves knowing what ought to motivate us to demand qualified teachers for Sunday school for everyone from the little ones of Matthew 18 to adults, and it involves encouragement from church officers and the congregation.

We do well to acknowledge that certain circumstances related to the work of the church are left to “the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word” (Westminster Confession of Faith 1.6). This applies to Sunday school, which is neither mandated nor prohibited in Scripture, and thus we must allow for variance in practice. Yet we must seek to obey where Scripture is clear, and the abundance of biblical texts on teaching can help us identify certain biblical parameters that should be observed when installing Sunday school teachers. Deuteronomy 6 calls us to teach our children diligently in any and every circumstance (vv. 5–9), but note that this command follows Moses’ admonition that the Israelites first hear, understand, and practice the statutes and commandments of God themselves (vv. 1–3). Those who would teach our children must first know the law of God themselves.

The Apostle Paul’s qualifications for overseers in 1 Timothy 3 are also illustrative. Paul says in verse 6 that overseers ought not to be recent converts. This is partly because those who are tasked with teaching need a base of knowledge that takes time to develop. Without question, the need for knowledge and wisdom extends also to those who fulfill the command to teach children (Deut. 6:7; Prov. 22:6; Eph. 6:4). Similarly, our Lord gives a sober warning that great judgment will befall the one who “causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin” (Matt. 18:6). When it comes to teaching the Word of God, the stakes are as high as the subject matter is weighty. If we are not satisfied with an unqualified teacher of reading, writing, and arithmetic, how much less should we accept one who instructs our children in the eternal matters of the Christian faith?

In the Reformed tradition, membership vows often include promises to study the purity and peace of the church. This purity and peace must be grounded in the truth. This was the concern of our Lord Jesus Christ before He went to the cross, that we would be sanctified in the truth of His Word (John 17:17–23). Therefore, even in our vows we find an implied commitment to finding qualified teachers. Fulfilling these vows not only involves our own personal pursuit of the church’s purity and peace but also involves encouraging standards in the ministry of the church that do the same. The Apostle Paul warns against those who might disrupt this peace through aberrant teaching (1 Tim. 6:3–5). Thus, if the teaching in our Sunday school classes is to be biblical and to tend toward the church’s purity and peace, then those who are entrusted to teach must be found competent for the task.

Ultimately, the glory and exaltation of God is the end of all things, including elementary-age Sunday school classes.

Biblical Sunday school instruction should necessarily, in some form, include creedal and catechetical instruction—the historical pedagogy of the church. Children need the consistent rhythm and coherence that such instruction affords. We must endeavor to pass on sound words that will form the habits and patterns of thought that will prepare our children’s souls for spiritual growth even as they mature physically, intellectually, and emotionally.

And what of adults? Truthfully, there are more similarities between kids and grown-ups than there are differences. Like children, we adults are prone to forgetfulness and to being satisfied with ease. Like the new converts whom Scripture compares to infants who need their mother’s milk, we need easily digestible teaching—catechesis and repetition, faithfully distilled and communicated by qualified teachers. A steady diet of such teaching spurs us on to the maturity to which we are called in Christ (Heb. 6:1; see also Col. 1:28). Moreover, as we parents receive sound Sunday school instruction, we can more faithfully fulfill the call to diligently teach our children “the things that are revealed [which] belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).

What might this look like at the practical level? Here we will find variation based on ecclesial and doctrinal commitments. Our aim, as in matters of safety and protection of our young ones, ought to be exclusionary, not of any specific person, but of any hint of doctrine that might disrupt our theological purity and relational unity. We at once want to pursue discipleship that strengthens our commitment to the peace and purity of the church.

At Saint Andrew’s Chapel, in order to ensure that we have qualified teachers for every age level, we assess potential teachers in three areas: covenantal, doctrinal, and relational. First, teachers must be members in good standing for at least six months. Second, regardless of age, our teachers must subscribe to the Westminster Standards, with limited approved exceptions. For adult Sunday school, we also require that teachers must either be ordained officers of the church, pastoral interns, or part of the ministry staff. Third, potential teachers must be active in the life of our church; they must be committed to the mission of the local church and the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ensuring that these standards are met allows us to make sure that the flock of Christ entrusted to our care is being fed the pure Word of Christ and protected from error.

Ultimately, the glory and exaltation of God is the end of all things, including elementary-age Sunday school classes. Therefore, the teachers to whom we entrust our children matter immensely.

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From the May 2018 Issue
May 2018 Issue