The Organization of the Sunday School
by Pastor Jack Hyles
(Chapter 1 from Dr. Hyle's excellent book, The Hyles Sunday School Manual)
Proper organization is essential to any thriving institution. It is important, however, to emphasize the word “proper.” Too much organization can add weights to the Sunday school. Too little organization can prevent its operating with peak efficiency. The following is a discussion aimed at providing just the right amount of organization for Sunday school growth.
1. The Church. The Sunday school is “the church teaching.” It is a dangerous thing for Sunday school not to be considered the church. I have been in churches where the pastor does not attend Sunday school. Believe it or not, in some rare instances the church even charges the Sunday school rent for the use of the buildings. In many cases church leaders and officials have no part in the Sunday school. I have known deacon chairmen who attended no Sunday school class whatsoever. The Sunday school should be considered a part of the church program. The entire church should consider it a vital hour. In some cases the church approves all of the Sunday school officers. In other cases the church empowers the pastor or a committee to do so. At any rate, the election of a teacher should not be in the hands of a class. A class should never divorce itself from the program of the church. The church should promote the Sunday school, and the Sunday school should promote the church. Truly, they are one! The entire time from the beginning of the Sunday school hour until the end of the morning service should be considered all one church service by God’s people.
2. The Pastor. There are several words in the Bible for “pastor.” One is the word “bishop” which means “overseer.” This means the pastor should oversee the entire church program. He should take a vital interest in the Sunday school. He should definitely be the leader whether behind the scenes or before the people. For nearly a quarter of a century I have directed the work of the Sunday school in each of my five pastorates. For all of these years I have led in the conducting of the Teachers’ and Officers’ Meeting, the teaching of the lesson to my teachers, the planning of the promotional activities, and every other phase of the Sunday school program.
3. The Sunday School Superintendent. This office should not be filled by one who simply has the gift of gab, a winning personality, or is popular in the church. It should be filled by the one who knows the most about Sunday school and is the best leader of the Sunday school. In many cases, this should be the pastor. Some churches find this office should be filled by one of the assistant pastors. In some areas churches have educational directors and this office carries with it the superintendent of the Sunday school. In other churches a layman is
Sunday school superintendent. Which of the above is chosen for the job is dependent upon one thing and one thing only: Who is the best Sunday school leader of the group?
The Sunday school superintendent should oversee the entire work of the Sunday school along WITH the pastor. He should be the dynamic inspiration behind the enlistment of workers, the choosing of the departmental superintendents, the keeping of the records, and every other phase of the Sunday school program.
4. Departmental Superintendent. This is the key person of the Sunday school as far as promoting attendance is concerned. Such a person should be responsible for supervising and directing the entire work of the department. He should be a good executive, able to inspire his workers and work with others. His main duties would be planning and conducting the opening assembly for the department, organizing the department properly, encouraging the teachers to do better jobs, inspiring and leading the department with enthusiasm and growth, seeing that adequate provision is made for all the work of the department, filling vacancies when teachers are unavoidably absent, and in general, overseeing the work of the department. Perhaps the most important of these responsibilities is the promoting of the attendance and the inspiring of the teachers to do the same. When the pastor and/or Sunday school superintendent lead in a spring or fall program or any kind of Sunday school drive, he should have the kind of departmental superintendents who will see to it that their departments grow and who can instill in their workers and pupils the desire to do a better job for God.
It is my conviction that many churches have too many departments and therefore, too many departmental superintendents. Not just any person can be a departmental superintendent. It requires a rare combination of wisdom, knowledge, and zeal.
5. The Teacher. Rather than the teacher being subservient to the superintendent, I like to think of the teacher and the superintendent simply working in different areas. The superintendent oversees the work of the departmental assembly and promotion, while the teacher teaches the Word of God and builds the class.
The pastor is what the general is to an army. The Sunday school superintendent is what the colonel is to the general. The departmental superintendents are company commanders, and the teachers are squad leaders. We will not dwell long here for much of this book is given to the instructions, enlistment, and qualifications of the teachers.
6. The Assistant Superintendent. Sometimes this is a duty of a staff member. When it is, it involves the work of increasing attendance, leading the visitation program, and substituting for the superintendent in case of emergency. Usually this office can be filled on a part-time basis by one of the teachers. The decision that is made should be based upon the local situation.
7. General Teachers. I do not like having substitute teachers. We have found it much more helpful to have what we call “general teachers.” In a department with fifteen classes two people could be chosen as general teachers. They would be considered as much a part of the department as the regular teachers. They would come to the weekly Teachers’ and Officers’ Meeting and would come to the department each Sunday prepared to teach. They would be available to teach when and if needed. There are many miscellaneous duties that they could perform in addition to substituting for teachers as an emergency (or in some cases, delinquency). The general teacher should be treated with all of the respect of a regular teacher and should be chosen and enlisted in the same manner.
8. Class Organization. In our Sunday school at the First Baptist Church of Hammond we have our classes organized, and yet this organization is a very loose one. The average class simply has a president, vice-president, and secretary. The secretary cares for the class records; the president assists the teacher in class planning and presides on Sunday morning; and the vice-president presides in the absence of the president. The theory of this is that the main duty of every Christian should be soul winning and visitation, and nothing should excuse a Christian from such. Often the holding of offices which have nothing to do with soul winning become substitutes for the big thing. That big thing, of course, is reaching people for the Lord Jesus Christ. no amount of organization, no job regardless of its importance, and no duty regardless of its benevolence, will substitute for the carrying out of the Great Commission, which, simply stated, is soul winning!
In a children’s class organized this loosely the class is started by the teacher standing up and warmly welcoming the pupils and visitors. The teacher then very enthusiastically and courteously introduces the president who stands, adds his greetings, calls the class to order, and asks someone to pray. The class president then turns to the teacher and introduces him for the introduction of the visitors. The teacher, who has already gotten the visitors’ names and interesting facts about them before the class started, rises to welcome the visitors. The visitors’ names are called, and interesting statements are made concerning them. After the visitors are properly introduced the teacher turns it back to the president. The president then
makes the necessary announcements concerning the weekday activities of the class and any special events for the class in the future. He may add his greeting to the visitors, and then very courteously he introduces the teacher. The teacher follows with the lesson and closes the class.
In classes for older children and adults the above procedure is also recommended except that the president is in charge of all preliminaries. This would apply only to small, medium-sized classes. In a case of a large auditorium class taught by the pastor, perhaps he would recognize the visitors and make the announcements. In small classes, however, especially for those of older children, it might be wise that more time and duties be given to the president in order to train teachers and leaders for the future.
Many Sunday schools, however, desire more organization than this for their Sunday schools. We suggest the following offices and duties:
(1) President. Since the secret to any organization is its leadership, the president should be careful to keep the following things in mind:
a. Faithfulness. The president should be one who is always present. By this it is not meant that the president should merely be willing to be faithful. Certainly no office should be given to one in order to make him faithful. The president should be one who is already faithful to all of the activities of the church.
b. Neatness in appearance. In many cases the first impression a visitor will get is that given by the president. Hence, a president should set an example. The president should be one who dresses appropriately and is careful about such things as shoes, fingernails, hair, etc. The first impression should be a good one.
c. In adult classes the president should be able to teach in case of emergency. If the teacher suddenly becomes ill or is called away for an emergency, the class will not be seriously handicapped if the president is prepared. Not only is it a good idea for the president to be able to teach, but he should be prepared to do so every Sunday if needed. It may be that he will never be needed, but he himself will benefit from the extensive study of the lesson, even if he is not used as a teacher.
d. The president should preside with efficiency. The Lord’s work should be done properly. Nothing slipshod, haphazard, or halfhearted should be given to God. Certainly no moderator in any secular endeavor should preside with more efficiency than the president of a Sunday school class. He should know what he is doing and it should be obvious to the class. The slipshod way in which God’s work is often done is absolutely tragic. We usually say that God’s work is the most important in the world. Careless behavior, planning, and operating of God’s work would lead a bystander to believe that God’s work is not very important in the minds of those who lead. How tragic!
e. The president should present the teacher each week. A good introduction is very important to a speaker and oftentimes can spell the difference between success and failure. If the president would say something like, “We thank God for our teacher who has prepared something for our hearts today. Let us pray for him as he brings the lesson from God’s Word,” it would be of inestimable value to the teacher and hence to the class.
f. The president should constantly keep in touch with the other class officers, being sure that their duties are performed in a Christian and efficient manner. Some classes find it wise to have a brief, thirty-second report from each officer each week. If this does not increase the total time taken on business to four or five minutes, it may be done with efficiency and impressiveness.
g. The president should plan a monthly get-together for the class. This meeting should be highly planned and should be a combination of business and pleasure. He may work with the teacher in this endeavor as is discussed in the chapter, “Weekday Duties of the Teacher.”
h. The president could join the teacher in greeting the class members as they enter the classroom. Certainly the president should be friendly and hospitable, and should make each person feel needed, wanted, and welcome.
(2) Vice-president. In a class that is highly organized the vice-president should do the following:
a. Be a ready substitute for the president in case of his absence. Because of this, the vice-president should possess a satisfactory amount of presidential qualities such as neatness, friendliness, hospitality, etc.
b. The vice-president should be in charge of the visitation program of the class. He should promote visitation, lead the class in a special visitation method, keep as prospect list. He is the number one person as far as the enlargement of the class is concerned.
c. The vice-president should be able to care for the records in case the secretary is absent. In other words, this office is a combination of vice-president and vice-secretary. In our generation we have found the importance of choosing a good vice-president. When President Kennedy was assassinated, we realized immediately that our country was in the hands of one not previously chosen to be a president, rather a vice-president. Hence, the vice-president in any organization should always be a capable one.
a. The secretary should pass out envelopes at the door. If offering envelopes are used, they can be received as they enter the class. This would allow the secretary to add a warm smile and even a friendly handshake to that of the teacher and president.
b. The secretary should be sure that each visitor and new member has a visitor’s card and a new member’s slip.
c. If the class is divided into groups, the secretary should present each group captain with an absentee list. Since the secretary works with the records, he should alert those who lead in the visitation program with a list of the delinquent members.
d. The secretary should keep the class money and give a monthly report.
e. Perhaps the secretary could give a brief report at the end of class. This report could tell the class members the highlights of the day’s statistics. It should be understood that this report, as all reports, should be an optimistic one. It should not be a time of scolding, but a time of inspiration.
f. The secretary should keep an accurate set of records. It is very important that all cards and records be kept up to date and accurate. Numbers are very important in the Bible. Occasionally someone will minimize the importance of numbers in God’s work, and in most cases, their numbers are very minimal. We are reminded of the feeding of the five thousand, the hundred and twenty in the upper room, and the hundred and twenty in the upper room, and the three thousand people saved on Pentecost. One book in the Bible is called “Numbers.” Hence, God places His significance on numbers, for a number represents a person, and we should try to reach as many people as possible. The job of the secretary should not be taken lightly. In our present board of deacons we have one of the most efficient secretaries that I have known. It is amazing how much the work is aided by such a dedicated secretary.
(4) Group Captain. Some classes are divided into groups with a group captain over each group. Sometimes this is done for visitation purposes, sometimes for social purposes, or other reasons. Whatever the reason, it is often used very successfully. Naturally the success of the group rests upon the shoulders of the group captain.
a. In a medium-sized class one group captain for each ten members is advisable. Now, of course, this would not be true in every case. In some large auditorium classes, a group captain may even have a hundred. In such a case he would have to organize his group so as to enlist others to help him in the contacting of absentees and prospects. It is thought, however, that one group captain could very well captain ten members and do all of the visiting himself.
b. The group captain should be a pastor to his members. He should be willing to offer counsel, visit hospitals, pray for the sick, etc. One of the great reasons for organization is the delegation of responsibility. The larger a church and Sunday school becomes the more people must enter into the pastoring work. Certainly a group captain can be a great help here.
c. The group captain should call the faithful members regularly. This could be just a brief phone call of a social nature to remind the faithful people that they are not neglected, overlooked or unappreciated.
d. The group captain should contact all absentees. In smaller classes the teacher can care for this. For classes large enough to demand division into groups, a group captain should certainly contact all absentees each week.
e. A group captain should keep in touch with the associate members. An associate member is a class member who is working elsewhere, but would otherwise be present in the class. Associate members could be Sunday school, departmental superintendents, and other office holders throughout the Sunday school. Oftentimes these people are overlooked in social activities, yet they do have such a need. A group captain should be in contact with these people informing them of class parties, etc.
f. The group captain should remember birthdays, illnesses, and special events. Birthday greetings should be sent by the group captains. The sick should be visited, and special occasions should be remembered.
g. The group captain should let his group be aware of his appreciation. He is a go-between between the teacher and the member. In a real sense, he represents the teacher. He is to the class what the assistant pastor often- items is to the church. He helps solve problems, calm disputes, and keeps the class wholesome and happy.
(5) Sunshine Chairman. Though often called by other titles the sunshine chairman is a very important person in a well-organized class. The duties evolve around the title -- simply the bringing of sunshine into darkened lives.
a. The sunshine chairman should offer food and other help in times of need. This would include the care for the poor, the carrying of food to a family who has lost a loved one, the sending of flowers to funerals, the remembering of birthdays, etc. Especially is the sunshine chairman an important person when the class is not divided into groups. If the class is divided into groups, there may be no need whatsoever for the sunshine chairman.
b. The sunshine chairman should keep the room neat. Once again his job is to bring sunshine into the lives of the pupils. He could arrive early on Sunday to prepare the classroom in such an attractive way that the entire day of the pupils will be brighter. There are many other things that the sunshine chairman could do. Simply think of anything that could bring sunshine or joy into the life of a member and you have thought of a duty for this officer.
(6) Mission Chairman. Of course, when we think of the word “mission,” we immediately think of foreign missions, and around this ministry evolve the basic responsibilities of the mission chairman.
a. The mission chairman should correspond with the missionaries. When letters are received from the mission field, they should be read to the class. In some cases the letters could be copied and each member could receive the information firsthand.
b. The mission chairman should encourage the class to correspond with the missionaries. He should play “cupid” between the missionary and the class member, doing all that he can to keep them aware of each other.
c. He should keep a list of the missionaries’ birthdays and certainly should never forget them. He then should forward this information to each class member. How wonderful it is for a person on the foreign field to receive many birthday cards from home! How often they are forgotten! It is the duty of the mission chairman to see that this is not done.
d. The mission chairman should keep the class informed with facts concerning all missionaries. The class should know something about the activities and even the personal lives of those who represent them on the foreign mission field. When this is done, missionaries become “live” people and foreign mission work becomes alive.
e. The mission chairman should remember the missionaries on special occasions. Anniversaries, birthdays, Christmas, and other special occasions should be remembered by the Sunday school. It is the duty of the mission chairman to see that this is done.
f. The mission chairman should lead the class in a class mission project. This can be done by writing the missionaries and seeking information concerning their needs. Once these needs are known the class should choose a need for its own project. Such projects can put new life and new direction into a Sunday school class. It would certainly encourage the hearts and aid the work of many missionaries.
(7) Social Chairman. People are sociable creatures and demand social life. Such needs can be provided by the teacher, the president, or in some cases, a special officer called the “social chairman.” When such an office is needed, the following social activities should be planned by the social chairman.
a. A monthly class meeting. This provides a regular meeting to which the class members can look with anticipation. It builds comradeship and offers a tremendous substitute for other organizations which Christians should not join. This class meeting does not have to be lengthy, just long enough and well planned enough to make the class members feel brotherly and sisterly toward each other.
b. A quarterly social. Once each three months the social chairman should prepare a very pleasant time of social life for the class members. This does not have to be a stage production, but it should be well planned and well prepared. Here the class can learn to laugh together.
c. A gigantic family party annually. This is the big event of the class year. The families should be invited and it should be something toward which each member would look with delight. A nice banquet could be planned or a big picnic would also fill this need. Some classes have a huge Christmas party. Whenever it is or whatever it is does not matter. What matters is that the class members should have a time of learning to know each other better as well as a time of meeting.
(8) Songleader. Every class that meets without having had a departmental assembly should have a songleader. If the class is a part of a department, then the department should have a songleader. People like to sing, and many people sing well. This is a part in which every person can share, and through which each person can express his own emotions. A good songleader can certainly be used to stir enthusiasm. Sometimes the superintendent is the best songleader available. At other times the teacher could perhaps lead the singing. It is better, however, to find someone other than the aforementioned so as to spread responsibilities of the department.
(9) A Pianist. In each department there should be a responsible person who plays the piano well. In addition to playing for the department the pianist could be used in preparing and arranging special numbers for the department or the class. In some cases this should be done by the songleader; in other cases, the pianist would be more qualified.
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