Updated: Nov 13, 2020
There is an oft-(mis-)quoted Proverb, "Where there is no vision, the people perish" (29:18). A better translation would be "Where is there is no divine communication, the people cast off restraint." The word for "vision" was also used of the role of the prophet. Solomon was saying that people need a word from the Lord if they are to have any hope of staying "on track" (and even then, they tend to rebel and ignore).
God has given us the "vision" we need in His Word, and now it is the job of Sunday School teachers and Bible study group leaders to provide that "vision" to provide the safeguarding that people need.
But that doesn't just happen. It requires intentionality -- "vision" if you will -- on the part of the leader.
A Leader Has a Clear Vision / Goal
You need to know the purpose of your group and have a vision / plan for getting there. If you think that your group is just there to study the Bible, then all you will do is study the Bible. If you have the wider purpose of Sunday School in mind, you will make it so your plan for the group heads down each path. To "get somewhere", you have to know where you're going.
But I think it goes beyond that. You also have to have a vision for each of your group members. When Jesus looked at His disciples, He saw the potential in them for the kingdom. He put up with their failures and doubts and kept investing in them, seeing how God could use them in the future. You need to be able to do the same for the people in your group. This is especially true in Sunday School, which is an on-going group (meaning you can be with the same people for an indefinite period).
Having a vision for individuals means knowing and caring about those individuals. That takes effort -- it takes vision -- but it is a part of leadership the way Jesus led.
A Leader Has the Right Character
This comes down to two things: credibility and trustworthiness. You have to be living the way you are teaching your group members to live, and that means you have to be clear on how God wants you to live. That's the "vision" Solomon was talking about in the proverb -- a clear word from God. Well, we have that clear word in the Bible. What we need are men and women willing to learn that word, interpret it in the illumination provided by the Holy Spirit. and apply it with the power of truth just like the prophets of old did.
There are some things we can say unilaterally about the "right" character. First, it is born from salvation (or born-again, I should say). The sort of character we are talking about comes from a life that has been transformed by the Holy Spirit. Second, it is evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control). Those are the qualities we need to see in our leaders. Third, and this is most closely related to my point, it is genuine. It has been learned and earned from walking with Jesus. It is cultivated and cared for and internal. The simplest question is this: do you truly and deeply follow Jesus Christ?
This is not to say that a leader is perfect! None of us is! But a leader with the right character does not excuse or enable your failures and flaws. You repent and grieve and desire to be more like Jesus. That is a journey that other Christians can follow. What better way to lead your group members toward that vision you have for them than to share the struggles and pitfalls you have encountered along that similar journey?
A Leader Has a Servant Heart
If we want to be and lead like Jesus, and we do, we have to internalize His most important self-image: "I did not come to be served but to serve" (Matt 20:28). If anyone deserved the pampered lifestyle, it would be the King of the universe. But He was born in a stable and killed on a piece of wood and buried in a borrowed tomb. Everything about Jesus is putting other's first and looking out for their best. Even Paul defined the essence of Jesus, the person, saying
5 Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. 7 Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, 8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross.
As Paul said, our attitude needs to be the same as His. This starts by submitting ourselves to God the Father, through His Word and Spirit. But it also means we put our group members ahead of ourselves. Sometimes this may leave us feeling like no one cares or notices. Guess what? We're not doing it for them! We're doing it for God! And God always notices.
Our study in Proverbs revealed an awful lot about the character of a wise person. Everything we learned would be immediately useful to a Sunday School teacher or Bible study leader. We all want to be wise, right? Here is a reminder of a list we came up with in that study:
Character Traits in Proverbs
Summarized from the Expositor's Bible Commentary
Traits that are Wise
Avoiding strife (20:3)
Compassion for all life (12:10)
Contentment (13:25, 14:30, 15:27)
Diligence (6:6-13, 12:24, 13:4)
Faithful love (20:6)
Faithfulness (3:5-6, 5:15-17, 25:13, 28:20)
Generosity (21:26, 22:9)
Honesty (16:11, 24:26)
Humility (11:2, 16:19, 25:6-7, 29:23)
Integrity (11:3, 25:26, 26:18)
Kindness to enemies (25:21-22)
Patience (15:18, 16:32)
Promoting peace (16:7)
Righteousness (4:26-27, 11:5-6, 12:28, 13:6, 29:2)
Self-control (17:27, 25:28, 29:11)
Strength in adversity (24:10)
Truthfulness (12:19, 23:23)
Traits that are Foolish
Beauty without discretion (11:22)
Blaming God (19:3
Hot temper (19:19, 29:22)
Lack of mercy (21:13)
Laziness (6:6-11, 18:9, 19:15, 20:4, 24:30-34, 26:13-15)
Meddling (26:17, 30:10)
Pride (15:5, 16:18, 21:4, 29:23, 30:13)
Go back to our three, simple statements that drive this article:
A leader has a clear vision / goal.
A leader has the right character.
A leader has a servant heart.
Those "wise" and "foolish" lists line up pretty well with our topic, don't they?