By Ray Van Neste
Dean, School Of Theology And Missions, Union University
In a recent business meeting at my church (First Baptist Church, Jackson), our pastor, Justin Wainscott, as he often does, read some excerpts from the minutes of business meetings from earlier in the church’s history.
There are numerous humorous anecdotes in those minutes from our 180-year history as well as challenging and encouraging examples. This time Justin read a commendation that was recorded of Sunday School teachers who had had particularly strong impact on the church in the post-World War II era. The minutes stated, “During all these years a tremendous and lasting impact on the membership was made by the Sunday School teachers of the church.” A number of those present that night remembered these now departed saints and had been their students in Sunday School.
I have recently reflected on how blessed I have been by good Sunday School teachers through my childhood. I cannot estimate the impact they had on me. I think first of my class in middle elementary years at Sky View Baptist Church in Memphis. My grandmother, Ola Mae Van Neste, was the department director and led the opening assembly. She was probably the single most significant influence on me for memorizing Scripture, and this was a key theme of the overall class.
My first year in this class, my teacher was Mrs. Kilkenny, a dear friend of my grandmother’s and a particularly sweet lady. I can still see her smile. It was beyond doubt that Mrs. Kilkenny loved Jesus and that she loved me. In the next year we promoted to Mr. Anderton’s class. Mr. Anderton also exuded care for us, and I remember his humor and magic tricks as he sought to teach us Scripture. It’s funny, but though I can’t recall the specifics I remember something about him putting himself out financially for the sake of the boys in his class.
In sixth grade, we moved to FBC, Millington, which was closer to home. A change can be unsettling at such an age, but part of what made the move smooth for me was landing in Mr. Richard Hodges’ class for 6th grade boys. Mr. Hodges gave a prize each year for the boy who memorized the most Scripture, and I made it my goal to win that prize. The prize is long gone, but the Scripture remains, and I am grateful. Mr. Hodges, probably knowing the key stage we boys were in, also regularly stressed the importance of giving a good, firm handshake and “looking a man in the eye,” affirming what I was learning at home. I can remember, in young adulthood, his voice ringing in my ear each time I met an adult man and sought to live out that advice.
Then, as I moved to teenage years, I was blessed to be in the class taught by Don and Laurel Holsinger who used all manner of creativity to teach us the Bible. I remember a trial to consider the guilt of Pilate among many other things that challenged us to think carefully about biblical stories and texts that we might otherwise breeze over. The Holsingers also worked to create real community among the class around the Bible.
I do not necessarily remember many specific lessons that were taught, but I remember the care shown and an overall impression of love for and appreciation of the Scriptures which was instilled in me. Many of you could add to these brief recollections. Faithful men and women, week in and week out, year after year work to teach children and adults the Bible in our Sunday School classes. Their impact is immeasurable and the result will often not be seen in this life. I see the impact in my children even now, as they go to their classes each week. If you have faithful teachers in your church, be sure to let them know your gratitude. If you are one of those teachers, thank you for what you are doing for the lives of children, for the good of the kingdom. You are truly changing the world. I know it may seem like you are only filling a slot sometimes, and it may feel like no one notices. But God sees, and so do many of His people. Thank you.