Most of the reviews I do here on Dad in the Middle are from sources that I knew something about prior to agreeing to review the resources. This book was an exception. I was contacted by someone asking if I would do the review, and I decided to go ahead and do it. I am always on the lookout for good new children’s ministry resources.
After receiving the book, I realized that it was geared more towards traditional adult Sunday School environments, but I was still hopeful that some of the information would be transferable to a children’s ministry setting. With that background, the following is my review.
Sunday School Teachers A-Z by Keith Hammond
What Is It?
I like the premise and purpose of this book. The goal is to equip those who minister to others to do that better. The purpose is to educate the reader on being a better Sunday School teacher. Against that backdrop though, the book is clear that we are all still learning even as we seek to teach others. In the preface to the book, the author writes:
“If God waited on people to become perfect
before He anointed them
to preach, teach, lead or minister,
there would never be anyone worthy,
and the work would never get done.
God uses willing vessels, with weaknesses,
so His strength, power, and anointing,
can shine through,
and He can get the glory!”
The introduction to the book provides a concise summary of the goals and purposes of the book:
This book provides dynamic step-by-step training for Sunday school teachers. Outlines goals, duties, attendance, class policies and procedures, lesson plan tips, info for regular and substitute teachers, class structure, required skills, teacher training, basics of student recruitment, and has 40 simple guidelines to follow such as ‘don’t assume your students can read’. Every teacher should have these fundamentals of teaching contained in Sunday School Teachers A to Z.
What I Liked?
The book is laid out nicely as it works through the ABCs of what Sunday School teachers need to know.
The author clearly rebuke the notion that you should do things the way they have always been done. He writes:
The stronghold that tradition has over the lives of both teachers and students at some churches, in my opinion, should be broken.
Whether it is teaching the same wrong information because that’s the way it’s always been taught or continuing to use the same methods over and over and over and over, I agree wholeheartedly with the author on this.
The book always provides many useful exhortations to the teachers which should seem like common sense, but unfortunately are not always. These include:
- It is vitally important that you study lessons “before you teach them.”
- Make it a habit to get the students to laugh at least once per lesson.
- Demonstrate, rather than explaining whenever possible.
- Oversimplified and affected speech will hurt your students in the long run.
- Laugh at yourself sometimes.
- One of the most important things to remember is that, It’s not about you.
The author does draw attention in one part of the book to the changes in kids’ families. He reminds Sunday School teachers that:
If you’re dealing with youth as your students, regardless of age, let me remind you that things have most likely changed since you grew up. Two parent homes are no longer common. Living in a shelter during the week and coming to your Sunday school class is likely. So I want to remind you that every one of your students is going through something before they come to your class. So give them the opportunity to speak, then you take time to listen. It is within this framework that you will help them grow and learn how to cope.
Given my work with Divorce Ministry 4 Kids and I Am A Child of Divorce, I am acutely aware of the issues kids face at home. Unfortunately, many people are not, and I truly appreciate the author’s effort to make Sunday School teachers aware of this important issue.
What I Didn’t Like?
The book, I believe, presents an overly simplistic formulaic approach to coming up with lessons. Take for example this quote from page 10,
Even if you’ve never written a lesson plan, developed curriculum, or even created a Bible study from your own research, the process, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is rather simple. Select a lesson from the Bible, study the lesson, study it again, and ask the Holy Spirit to give you a list of 7-10 questions that can help you teach your students. Then, locate an appropriate graphic, to complete and present.
If what the author is trying to get at is that we should be led by the Holy Spirit in trying to teach God’s Word, I agree, but I believe statements like to one above don’t reflect the weight of the burden of accurately teaching God’s Word.
Whether intentional or not, there are also some theological issues I have with the book. For example, in talking about what is required to be effective teachers, the author writes:
The most important thing is that you must love GOD.
The next is that you must follow JESUS CHRIST.
The last is that you must be gifted by the HOLY SPIRIT.
While I agree that all three of things are important, I think it is a fallacy, based on scripture to try to prioritize them as all three are intertwined and can’t be separated out. For example, following Jesus and loving God go hand-in-hand not one then the other.
The book is also, I believe, unnecessarily narrow in it’s focus based on certain theological interpretation where well-meaning Christians disagree. Consider the following:
From time to time, listen and ask the students during your periodic student performance evaluation, if the teacher ever speaks in tongues. If they don’t in class, they most certainly should in worship.
While I differ in my interpretation of the issue of the gift of tongues, I do not view it as a “closed fist” issue, and the author seems to portray it as such. This quote is included in in a section on whether or not the teacher is Holy Spirit led and given equal importance as confessing Jesus Christ as Lord.
Parts of the book seem out of touch with current culture. For example, in his advice on where to recruit students, the author writes:
SPRING SUMMER WINTER FALL
Boys love sports, girls hang at the mall.
Boys are into video arcades, girls get their hair and nails made.
Boys head to the playground, girls go there to hang around.
If you get the boys the girls will follow.
Go on a Saturday because Sunday is tomorrow.
Don’t give them much time to ponder or think.
Their attention span isn’t much more than a blink.
Offer food and you may get them to stay.
If you get the popular kids, others won’t stay away.
I could go on and on with this poem, but I’ll let you add your own lines based on the culture and population near you.
Unfortunately, I believe the poem itself reveals a certain amount of cultural unawareness, and may even be offensive to some in its generalizations.
There are other indications that the book has not been updated despite the 2012 copyright. In talking about visual aids, the author explains:
Listening to audio cassettes in the classroom can be helpful, but videos are much more motivating. (emphasis added)
The book is also riddled with typographical and grammatical errors that made it hard to read at times. While I tend to notice these while reading, I don’t generally comment on them. In this case though, they were so prevalent that they detracted from the message of the book.
This book is any easy read and does include some useful information. However, it is written in such a way that the audience is very limited and includes some things that I found particularly troubling. While I appreciate the author’s efforts to educate those tasked with the spiritual nurture of others, I wouldn’t generally recommend this book.
An electronic copy of this book was provided to me for purposes of this review. That did not in any way influence the contents of this review.