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Lessons Learned: Leadership Teams

What do you do when the longtime Sunday School superintendent announces that they want to retire? After only a few months at my last congregation, that’s exactly the message I received. Little did I understand the challenge that lay ahead.

This faithful superintendent had served more than 29 years as the Sunday School leader in the congregation. In fact, some of the Sunday School teachers had been young children when he first started.

Before trying to find a replacement, I finally took the time to see how much he did each week to prepare for classes. On Saturday, he and his wife came to church and prepared all the Sunday School classrooms by putting down chairs and laying out supplies for teachers. After Sunday School, they went back through all of the rooms, putting chairs back up on tables, stowing supplies, and generally tidying up. On a regular basis, they would disinfect the tables, chairs, and any surfaces that students came in contact with. During the week, they would often stop in to check on or restock supplies. They also held regular meetings with the teachers to plan for the month ahead.

Initial appeals for someone to take over Sunday School leadership were met with silence. Potential candidates who did finally talk to me expressed concerns about the amount of time required each week and the length of service expected. I realized replacing this longtime Sunday School leader was going to require a totally different approach.

What would it take to change from a single Sunday School superintendent to a Sunday School leadership team? More importantly, what would this leadership team look like? Gathering together some stakeholders, we brainstormed six key functions necessary for our Sunday School.

1. Teacher management—recruiting and training teachers
2. Student management—registration, classroom placement, communications
3. Supply management—classroom and craft supplies, student and teacher curriculum materials
4. Outreach—new student recruitment, congregational communications
5. Special programs—planning and conducting Christmas program and other events
6. Sunday School office—staffing the Sunday School office on Sunday mornings

Recruiting leaders for each of these roles on the leadership team proved much easier than trying to find one superintendent to run the whole operation. The pastors and I identified potential team members. Then, I met with each individual personally to lay out the new structure and explain the role we were asking them to fill. I also explained the length of service (one year) we were asking them to fulfill. These one-on-one meetings allowed time for the potential volunteer to ask questions and discuss their ideas for the position. I did not ask people to commit on the spot. Instead, I allowed them time to prayerfully consider this new role.

Once the team was fully staffed, we met on a monthly basis. Because all of the team members were stay-at-home moms, daytime meetings worked best. Children played in the corner of our meeting room or sat on laps while the leadership team met. Team members worked together to provide the best possible Sunday School program for our congregation. Individual team members worked toward their strengths resulting in confident, effective leaders and a well-run Sunday School ministry.

How might a Sunday School leadership team work in your congregation? What special roles would work best for your congregation?

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