Leadership can get messy. It can be painful, discouraging, and frustrating. In many Sunday Schools, leadership often stops when it ceases being easy, rewarding, and fun. I want to propose a corollary to a common saying:
Without leadership, the people perish.
This neglect of leadership has contributed to the loss of members. People want to be (need to be) led. Its lack has meant that people were not reached. Some of those not reached would have become leaders and contributed to an ever increasing network of harvesters. The lack of leadership has contributed to a lower level of discipleship and a reduction of the mobilization of workers into the harvest as well. Each of these has eternal consequences. These leaders are liable to judgment.
Sunday Schools which have neglected leadership are filled with “leaders” and members who are (1) oblivious to current reality or need, (2) ignorant about the need for change, (3) doubtful and negative about their ability to make any difference, and (4) unwilling to do the work necessary to bring about change. In Sunday School after Sunday School, this neglect of leadership has led to the decline of the Sunday School. Leaders moved from leading to maintaining. They shifted from moving Sunday School forward to managing—or even worse to simply surviving. They have neglected leadership, and Sunday School and the Kingdom have borne the consequences.
The neglect is apparent in all aspects of Sunday School. It can be seen in Sunday School directors without job descriptions who are delivering roll books and curriculum rather than leading. It can be seen with preschool teachers who prepare a lesson on their way to church. It can be seen with youth teachers who fail to involve youth in class leadership. It can be seen in adult classes where members are not invited into class leadership and where no apprentices or new classes are launched.
And these are some of the obvious areas of neglect, but much neglect is subtle and the lack of leadership is not as obvious. It can be as small as not allowing a child to pass out papers. It can be as minor as not asking a teen to serve as a greeter. It can be as subtle as having coffee with a potential class leader. At the same time, neglect can be huge. It can be seen in the lack of goals, the absence of vision, and the lack of leadership for the nominating team. Neglect can surface in budgeting, planning space use, and constructing new buildings.
When the lack of leadership is found in the pastor and/or Sunday School director, the problem is magnified. It is difficult to raise up leadership in the absence of leadership. Some pastors and directors defer leadership of the Sunday School to others. Unfortunately, deference is the same as abdication—giving up responsibility. Others are roadblocks to leadership—feeling threatened when anyone else wants to lead Sunday School. While pastors and directors are busy people, the neglect of their leadership of the Sunday School has serious consequences.