Teaching a Sunday school class, especially one for teens or adults, can be tough. Prefabricated curriculum can feel a bit canned. People aren’t looking for another sermon knowing they’ll get one right after class. They want to participate in something that’s engaging and practical. One way Sunday school classes attempt to provide this is by going through a book as a class. Not a book of the Bible, but a book on some subject of Christian living. A class might tackle a book on what the Bible says on parenting or how to wisely use electronic media. I’ve seen this type of book-guided class done a couple of different ways. In one class for young married adults I was a part of, everyone received their own copy of a book. We were assigned a portion to read each week. And when we met on Sunday mornings, we sat around in a circle and shared our likes, dislikes, and reflections. That’s a method. The downsides to this approach, though, are that not everyone reads their assigned chapters, and the whole thing can end up having the feel of an unstructured group therapy session. Another approach is similar to the first in that everyone again reads the book, but the majority of the responsibility rests on the teacher to recap the big ideas and facilitate some discussion for the rest of the class. The downside here is that participants have little incentive to read the book since they know it will all be rehashed for them Sunday morning. In my experience, the best approach is for just the teacher to read the book and then prepare their lessons from the reading. With this method at least, everyone’s expectations are being managed. The teacher isn’t expecting the students to read their book, and the students are expecting the teacher to have prepared a structured lesson. But how do you turn a book into a Sunday school lesson?
Here are six essential keys to turning a book into a Sunday school lesson.
1. Read the book.
Either read the whole thing through before you start or just read enough to stay ahead in your preparation. The benefit of the latter route is that the material will likely be fresher in your mind. However you decide to skin the cat, mark up your book. Underline, highlight, and write notes in the margin. When you go back through to craft your lesson, you will have a clear view of what to include in your lesson based on your marks and notations.
2. Limit your boundaries.
How much do you plan to cover in one lesson? A chapter a week? Some books have a mixture of really long chapters and really short chapters. Decide how much you plan to tackle for each lesson. Be realistic about what you can reasonably cover in your allotted time.
3. Pick and choose.
Someone else wrote the book; you’re writing a lesson. You don’t have to use every piece of information in the book. You don’t even have to present the material in the same order as its printed. Take what you like, rework or leave out what you don’t.
4. Augment and expand.
Feel free to include your own material if it fits into what you want to teach. Just because the author of the book didn’t touch on an issue doesn’t mean you can’t bring it up. Related to this idea is expanding on what the author wrote. Feel free to go deeper if you want to explore a theme further. Do your own research and tailor the lesson to fit your audience. Think up some open-ended discussion questions to pose to the class to get them involved.
5. Use your words.
Don’t just read the book to your listeners. Say things how you would say them. Restate important points you want to emphasize. Your listeners don’t have the benefit of flipping back through the book to follow its structure. All they have is you. So make it easy on them and clearly outline your material so others can follow you.
6. Give credit.
Don’t give anyone the impression you came up with all this on your own. I always share the title and author of the book when I introduce the series and then give a reminder at the beginning of each lesson. If you’re distributing handouts, it doesn’t hurt to give credit in a footnote, either.
An approach using these keys has worked for me. I’m in the midst of preparing a series right now using Superheroes Can’t Save You: Epic Examples of Historic Heresies by Todd Miles. And here are several others I’ve taught through in the past.
If you’re considering teaching through a book with your class, ask them about their interests or give them a few titles to choose from. Putting these keys into practice can help you turn a book into a useful series of Sunday school lessons.