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Volunteer Training: Bringing Your Volunteers Up To Speed

Ever wonder if you have the right person in the right volunteer role or if the volunteer understands your ministry? Here’s what you need to know to get your volunteers up to speed.


“I learned about a dream-catcher in church today. If you have one by your bed, it’ll take all your bad dreams away,” explained the 6-year-old, towheaded boy to his mother after Sunday school. Needless to say, the children’s minister got a call from a very concerned mother that week. After some checking, the children’s minister discovered that an assistant teacher had taught the children this “extra” lesson at one of the learning centers. After further checking, the children’s minister realized that this teacher had never actually expressed faith in Christ.

What was she doing in a class shaping impressionable children’s beliefs?

In recruiting for volunteer roles, we can’t assume that every volunteer is a Christian and ready to teach. There are certain basic doctrines our teachers must know and believe. James’ words solemnly remind us of the serious responsibility teachers have: “…Not many of you should become teachers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). Teachers have a great influence for good or bad. They integrally shape children’s beliefs.

Questions To Ask

I faced a dilemma in my own ministry. I needed teachers. Yet the prospective teacher before me obviously erred on some critical biblical issues. “How do people get into heaven?” I asked.

The woman stammered as she replied, “I’m not sure. I guess because they do good things.”

Was this potential volunteer really qualified to teach children? Did she understand the basics of the Christian faith? How can we know if volunteers are up to speed biblically? Here are four basic belief areas we use in our church to examine each potential volunteer.

1. View of Eternal Life

Ask volunteers: “How certain are you that you’ll go to heaven someday? Why do you think you’ll get into heaven?” These two questions will reveal whether a volunteer trusts him- or herself and personal good works, or whether the person believes in God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8-9) for eternal life. Look for genuine dependence upon Christ. Is this person really a Christian? If not, he or she should not be teaching children. How can teachers help children develop something that they themselves don’t have?

2. View of the Human Condition

“Are people ‘fallen’? Do they need a Savior?” Many people believe that people are basically good and heaven-bound on their own, while the Bible clearly teaches otherwise. “I was brought into this world in sin. In sin my mother gave birth to me” (Psalm 51:5). If we’re not fallen, then we don’t need a Savior. If children have hearts that are already good, then they don’t need a Savior either.

3. View of Jesus

“What is the meaning of Jesus’ death on the cross?” Recently, I interviewed a volunteer who believed that Jesus sinned just as you and I do. Was this an important issue? Yes! Only if Jesus lived a sinless life could he die for our sins and rise again.

4. View of Scripture

“Is God’s Word altogether true?” Many people may believe the Bible is God’s Word, yet, they do not believe it’s wholly true. When your teachers present the Scripture, do they believe it’s true? If they don’t, how will our children be able to trust God’s Word and accept it as their guide?

Ask your teachers, “Are there things in the Bible that are hard for you to accept?” Use their answers as insights into areas where you can give guidance. Perhaps it’s a matter of interpretation for which you can offer additional information. Then determine if their existing view upholds Scripture’s truthfulness so that your children’s faith is nurtured rather than damaged.

Bible-Basic Training

The Christian education director’s phone rang one Saturday night. The frantic volunteer on the other end said, “I’m teaching the lesson tomorrow. Where can I get manna?” We don’t want to squelch people’s desire to minister, but we do need to safeguard the integrity of God’s Word as it’s taught to children. We must equip our teachers to know God’s Word with greater depth and insight.

How can we help our teachers become more familiar with the Bible? Many churches use these methods to educate their teachers:

1. Membership Classes

Churches commonly require their teachers to be members. Membership classes provide an opportunity to teach people about your church’s doctrinal statement. If membership isn’t a requirement in your church, offer orientation classes.

2. Worship Services

Encourage teachers to attend worship services. Don’t allow any of your volunteers to serve the entire morning. Offer tapes of the service for children’s church teachers. People catch the vision and doctrine of the church during the worship service.

3. Adult Education

Encourage teachers to attend adult Sunday school classes when they’re not teaching. When they are teaching, suggest that they become involved in a weekly Bible study. This provides not only biblical instruction but also Christian fellowship. If necessary, give teachers a quarter off to focus on their spiritual growth.

4. Good Curriculum

Each week, teachers prepare their Bible lessons for the upcoming week. Make that time count by selecting a solid curriculum. Does each lesson include a Bible commentary or background notes?

5. Teacher’s Resource Center

Include within your church library or resource room Bible commentaries, doctrinal books, videos, cassettes, and magazines that teach volunteers about the Bible. See the “Passing On the Faith” section below.

New Training Ideas

Here are new ways to teach your volunteers the Scriptures.

1. Bible-Teacher Training

Give your teachers an overview of the Old or New Testaments. Max Anders’ Thirty Days to Understanding the Bible (Word) is an excellent resource. In your teacher-training meetings, consider a series on what every teacher should know about God and eternal life.

2. Radio Speakers

Encourage teachers to tune in to a Christian station. Give specific recommendations so they avoid off-the-wall teachers and doctrines. Inform them periodically of preaching series that are especially relevant.

3. Devotional Guides

We provide our leadership team with monthly devotional guides. Anything you do to stimulate teachers to read God’s Word daily will pay healthy dividends.

4. Short-Term Bible Studies

Periodically offer a six-week study of God’s Word. Precept Ministries has studies that not only teach God’s Word but also train people to do inductive Bible studies of their own.

5. Basic Beliefs Course

Consider bringing in a teacher to instruct the children in your church’s basic beliefs. Briefly focus on a different belief each week such as the Incarnation or the sinlessness of Christ. Encourage your teachers to attend and participate. Not only will you ground the children, but you’ll also equip your teachers.

6. Bible Reading Program

Recommend that your staff read through the Bible in a year. A number of good reading plans are available at Christian bookstores. I use the plan in the back of the Ryrie Study Bible (Moody). By reading the same books of the Bible, your teachers can support one another.

7. Bible Survey

No one is more motivated than a new teacher. Encourage all new teachers to read through a Bible survey book their first year. Henrietta Mears’ book What the Bible Is All About (Regal) is a good survey for new teachers. By gaining a grasp of the whole Bible, your teachers will find teaching easier since they’ll have so much more knowledge to draw from.

8. Lesson Supplements

There are people in your church who love in-depth Bible study. Enlist these people to write a one-page supplement each week on the Bible passage the teachers will be presenting. Have them list important cross-references, interesting Bible background, and doctrinal truths the passage teaches. As your teachers prepare their lessons, they can quickly work through the supplement and broaden their understanding of the passage and the Bible as a whole.

Passing On The Faith

Great resources to use in training your volunteers.

Essential Truths of the Christian Faith by R.C. Sproul has short chapters that effectively present Bible doctrines.

Precept Upon Precept trains people to do inductive Bible studies (Precept Ministries).

The Ryrie Study Bible by Charles Ryrie includes the appendix, “A Synopsis of Bible Doctrine,” which contains a helpful outline of Bible doctrine (Moody Press).

Thirty Days to Understanding What Christians Believe by Max Anders presents a summary of basic doctrine with self-tests and illustrations.

The New Christian’s Handbook by Max Anders is a four-volume series on the basics of the faith.

Devotional Guides: “Daily Walk,” “Closer Walk,” “Family Walk” (Walk Thru the Bible Ministries).

“Our Daily Bread” (RBC Ministries).

“Tabletalk” (Ligonier Ministries).

Take-Out Training for Teachers  52 training sessions to draw the most out of your teachers with principles they can apply immediately by Keith Johnson (Group)

A Place for Everyone

Rather than turning away volunteers who are still truth-seekers, find places for them to serve as they grow in the basic belief areas of the Christian faith. Although you need to avoid placing seekers in positions where they’d be teaching content, there are places these people can serve. A few suggestions:

  • Membership Clerk Someone who keeps track of attendance.
  • Teacher’s Aide A helper who’s always accompanied by a teacher but encouraged to interact with children.
  • Supply Manager Someone who stocks supply closets.
  • Greeter A friendly person who makes children feel welcome.
  • Craft Gatherer This person is responsible for collecting craft supplies for teachers.
  • Bus or Van Driver Anyone with an appropriate license and “nerves of steel.”
  • Publicity Chairman Preferably someone with access to good design software.
  • Recreation Leader A whiz at leading children in sports and games.
  • Snack Chef The kids’ favorite person in your entire program!

David English is pastor of education at a church in Ohio.

For more great ideas like this in every issue, subscribe today to Children’s Ministry Magazine!


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Volunteer Training: Bringing Your Vol...

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