Do you remember Sunday School? Graham crackers and goldfish, flannel boards and puppet shows, Bible songs and Christmas plays — most of us who grew up in the church (or are raising our own children in it) have some nostalgic memories of childhood Sunday mornings. You probably remember some of the lessons, too. You were learning good Biblical principles and life lessons in those classes. What you might not have realized is that you were also learning vital leadership principles. Even the simplest of children’s lessons holds truths worth remembering years later.
Always be quick to forgive
Children aren’t the best at this. It’s a nearly universal experience that kids, after having their feelings hurt once, think their friendships are over. Let me set the scene. You are standing by the wall, waiting to be picked, watching as your peers one by one are selected. Your heart sinks as you realize that you are the last man standing. Even your friend Jonathan, captain of one of the teams, didn’t pick you till the end. In that moment, you decide that Jonathan is dead to you. You give the only protest you have left — “I won’t be your friend anymore!” — and that’s when Ms. MacNair intervenes. In that patient way Sunday School teachers do, she reminds you that Jesus forgave you, so you should forgive Jonathan. It’s hard, but you summon your strength and forgive what seemed like an unforgivable offense … and that is one of your very first lessons in effective leadership.
When we lead people, we give them a lot of opportunities to offend or hurt us. The people you lead will not be perfect, and neither will you. Forgiveness isn’t easy. But our Ms. MacNairs were right when they told us we need to forgive and be forgiven — forgiveness mends rifts in teams and paves the way for something priceless.
Everyone has a unique perspective
Do you remember that one kid who had the weirdest ideas at craft time? Maybe it was the girl who colored Jesus’ hair pink, or the one who added rainbows to every background — or maybe it was you. The other children didn’t quite understand that kid. They’d tell her that her ideas were wrong, and Ms. MacNair would have to step in and explain that Jesus appreciates our differences and finds them beautiful.
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking our established ideas and processes are right and anyone who sees things differently is just wrong. A good leader knows that he has his blind spots and weaknesses, and deliberately surrounds himself with people whose strengths complement his. This applies to a church’s processes and approach to technology, too. Someone else’s ideas may be radically different and new and better than what you’ve always done. You and your staff may have different perspectives on leadership or how to do church — and that’s a good thing.
You can’t do this thing alone
The lesson on friendship and teamwork had probably the most frustrating exercise in the history of Sunday School — not for the kids, but for poor, longsuffering Ms. MacNair, who had to coordinate a couple dozen grade schoolers. My class had a relay race. If anyone on the team didn’t want to participate, or if anyone decided they could do the whole thing alone, the entire team failed.
You may be tempted sometimes to shoulder the whole burden of ministry on your own. This isolation is part of why so many people in the ministry get burnt out. But you’re not really alone; all your staff and lay leaders work as a team to make your ministry a success. Your church management software can help with this. While coordinating people and keeping them accountable can be challenging, a good software tool will help you equip your people for ministry.
You learned a lot more in Sunday School than the Golden Rule and the fact that Zaccheus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he. A lot of what you were taught is just as important now as it was then. There are leadership principles nestled into the Sunday School lessons of our youth. And guess what? You already learned them, all those years ago. All that’s left is remembering to apply them.
Thank you to all the Ms. MacNairs who have made me a better leader and follower of Christ!