How to Teach Theology in Sunday School: Part 2
Don’t be afraid to stretch your class members. It would have been easy to “dumb down” the doctrines, but I chose not to do so. Clear? Yes. Systematically developed? Yes. Easy to grasp? Hopefully. Overly simplistic? No. It was encouraging to see class members wrestle with doctrines like the Trinity and the extent of the atonement and grow as they did so.
Be ready for questions. I tend to ask lots of questions to stimulate discussion and facilitate learning. The result is a pretty lively give-and-take during class sessions, with others asking nearly as many questions as I do. Questions are a good thing, though, because they show that class members are engaged and thinking about the topic. Having a good grasp of each week’s topic means being ready to answer questions.
Provide handouts. Each week, I distributed a half-page summary of the previous week’s lesson. Those handouts gave us an opportunity for weekly review and gave class members a resource they could use in the future. One lady made certain she collected all the handouts, even when she was in another class for a quarter or two.
Stay on topic. In order to stay on topic for each lesson, I often ended up answering some questions by saying “We’ll look at that topic next week” (or, sometimes, next fall). As a result we were able to sustain a core group of class members for eight years. At the end of the last session, those folks were asking “When will we start over?” I fully expect to see most of them come back for more when we begin working through the Apostle’s Creed next year.
I’m not a systematic theologian; my area is New Testament. Teaching theology was a stretch for me, and it will most likely be a stretch for you, too. The payoff, though, is worth it. Seeing class members get excited about the truth of God’s Word and grow in their practical understanding of how it applies to their lives is encouraging for the teacher and, more importantly, good for the congregation. Why not give it a try?
Written by Dr. John Harvey, Dean of the Seminary & School of Ministry