One of the fond memories I have from my time working on my doctoral dissertation is traveling to the Southern Seminary library in Louisville, Kentucky. On a snowy weekend in 2012 I looked through archives, researching the history of Sunday school teacher training in the Southern Baptist Convention. What I discovered surprised me and created a sense that we Southern Baptists have let something extremely important wither away because of lack of attention and blatant apathy. My opinion is this failure is one of the most significant factors contributing to the continual decline in attendance and increasing biblical illiteracy in many Southern Baptist churches. I was stunned to learn, that at one time, there was a department within the convention dedicated to training teachers. What happened to that emphasis? Over the years, men such as B.W. Spilman, P.E. Burroughs, Authur Flake, Edward Pell, J.N. Barnett and Harry Piland provided great insights and models of teaching that we can still learn from today.
I get it. Very few people care anything about the history of small group Bible teaching and my burden is not shared by many people. On the other hand, inconsistencies between what we say we believe and what we do should concern us. How can say we have a high view of Scripture and have a passion for making disciples, and yet ignore the equipping of small group Bible teachers? I am not talking about administration or organization of a class. I am talking pedagogy, the practice of teaching. I am also talking about prioritizing the role of the Holy Spirit in lesson preparation and presentation. I am talking about emphasizing the Bible teacher’s walk with the Lord. Jesus directed his harshest criticism at teachers of His Word (Matt. 23). The issue? Their hearts.
Those early pioneers wrote about these topics and attempted to teach them to Sunday school teachers. For those of you that find this subject interesting and instructive, I have attached a section of my dissertation that addressed the historical and contemporary models of teaching that have significantly influenced Southern Baptists. In this section, I summarized ideas and thoughts of those men mentioned above and a few other influential people. Those of you who love Bible teaching may find something instructive. Blessings!