Leadership can get messy. It can be painful, discouraging, and frustrating. In many Sunday School classes, leadership often stops when it ceases to be easy, rewarding, and fun. I want to propose a corollary to a common saying: Without leadership, the people perish.
This neglect of leadership has contributed to the loss of members. People want to be (need to be) led. Its lack has meant that people were not reached. Some of those not reached would have become leaders and contributed to an ever increasing network of harvesters. The lack of leadership has contributed to a lower level of discipleship and a reduction of the mobilization of workers into the harvest as well. Each of these has eternal consequences. It is important to note that these leaders are liable to judgment.
Sunday School classes which have neglected leadership are filled with “leaders” and members who are (1) oblivious to current reality or need, (2) ignorant about the need for change, (3) doubtful and negative about their ability to make any difference, and (4) unwilling to do the work necessary to bring about change. In class after class, this neglect of leadership has led to a decline in attendance. Leaders moved from leading to maintaining. They shifted from moving Sunday School forward to managing—or even worse to simply surviving. They have neglected leadership, and Sunday School and the Kingdom have borne the consequences.
The neglect is apparent in all aspects of Sunday School. It can be seen with preschool teachers who prepare a lesson on their way to church. It can be seen with youth teachers who fail to involve youth in class leadership. It can be seen in adult classes where members are not invited into class leadership and where no apprentices or new classes are launched.
And these are some of the obvious areas of neglect, but much neglect is subtle and the lack of leadership is not as obvious. It can be as small as not allowing a child to pass out papers. It can be as minor as not asking a teen to serve as a greeter. It can be as subtle as not having coffee with a potential class leader. At the same time, neglect can be huge. It can be seen in the lack of class goals and the absence of vision.
Some teachers defer leadership of the class to others. In good hands, that can be a positive. Unfortunately, deference can be the same as abdication—giving up responsibility. Other teachers are roadblocks to leadership—feeling threatened when anyone else wants to lead the class.
But when leadership begins in prayer and proceeds by involving attenders in evaluation and pursuit of big goals, there can be an incredible shift from maintenance to leadership. It can call for dependence on God and the faith to take leaps. It can lead to anticipation and unity. Don’t bury your talent (Matthew 25)! Use the position, gifts, experiences, and opportunities that God has given you to lead your class to accomplish everything God desires this year!
Darryl Wilson has served as Director of the Sunday School Department for the Kentucky Baptist Convention since 1997. He served as Minister of Education in churches in South Carolina and Kentucky. He is the author of The Sunday School Revolutionary!, a blog about life-changing Sunday School and small groups.