Churches in this crisis are understandably focused on how to hold services. But an additional priority, for me as an adult Sunday school teacher, is to hold meetings online because we can’t get together in person. It actually went pretty well. This is how we solved it.
My class is focused on the parents of teenagers, widely understood. We usually study biblical books, with above-average attention to parenting issues, as opposed to specialized studies of parenting itself. This semester we went through Isaiah 40-66. I would usually hold a 45-minute lesson, with plenty of discussion interrupted by my teaching.
The shelter is in place in the middle of our spring break, so we haven’t met in a week. Then one of my best-informed class members offered to host a lecture on Zoom and we’ve been meeting ever since. If you have someone in the class who can manage the technical side of the meeting, it will free you as a teacher / leader to focus on the lesson, discussion, prayer, etc. As far as I know, we don’t have anyone in the class who can’t participate in an online meeting – obviously, if your class includes people who don’t have an Internet connection at home, that presents additional challenges.
Usually now we start on time (10 hours), instead of the usual 10 to 15 minutes people talk, come after they have left the children, etc. I usually asked one of our doctors to report on how things were going, from their perspective. Then I pray and open our study of Isaiah. I probably still teach for about 45 minutes, but I come to class with a slightly more structured sense of what questions to discuss I want to ask before class. (For preparation, I mostly use the ESV Bible study and Alec Motyer’s commentary.)
I always keep in mind that when as a teacher (in church, in college, or anything else) you ask a question for discussion, you have to feel comfortable allowing people to think in silence for a few seconds that can seem like hours. This question is more acute in the online meeting. The silence on the Internet can be extremely uncomfortable. But I still found that if I just waited, took another sip of coffee and so on, someone would generally call. Or, sometimes I invite people / couples to answer a question (especially one I know will have something to say).
After the lesson, the Zoom leader divided us into two to three small groups / rooms to break up to share prayer prayers and pray (we usually had about 15 to 20 people on call). I also do this when we meet in person because I find that it gives people more opportunities to share prayer requests and generally produces more personal requests. Prayer in small groups went extremely well, but I honestly would not know how to interrupt without my “technician” leading the meeting.
Finally, there has been a wonderful development that would not have happened if we had not met online. We have one pair of missionaries from Russia who were in our class last year in the state. They returned to Russia before the crisis broke out. We were sad to see them leave and we implicitly assumed that they would not be in class for a while (although it would have occurred to me that we could “visit” them online to let us know about their work). Instead, dating online meant they continued to be part of the class, just from the other side of the world! What an unexpected blessing! You ask God to do new, unexpected things as we get used to this “new normalcy.”
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