Allan Taylor, minister of education at First Baptist Woodstock, wrote an excellent book called Sunday School in HD. In chapter 10, he used the word GREAT as an acronym for leadership. Here is my summary of what he said.
“G” = “Godly”
A great leader of a Sunday School class cares fundamentally about the way he/she embodies the lesson. It isn’t a role that we leverage for popularity or prestige—it’s a humble service to the people in our church. Thus, we present the truth of God’s Word, we explain how it applies in our lives, and we demonstrate how we’re trying to embody it in our own life.
Note that this doesn’t mean the teacher has to get everything right and live perfectly! We will always fall short of the glory of God! Thus, living a godly life is just as much about sharing our failures and times of repentance, thus helping our class members see how they too can take steps toward godliness.
“R” = Relational
We might take this for granted, but people will only really follow a person they think cares about them and has their best interests in heart. (Note: some leaders fool people into thinking that they care; don’t be that kind of leader!) “Follow” means a number of things, including “learn from”, “emulate”, and “obey”. If discipleship, in the words of Paul, is best “follow me as I follow Jesus”, then discipleship happens best in a relationship. And that means that we are the best leaders we can be of a Sunday School class when we have a relationship with our class members. Obviously, there are lots of different ways that should look, but the point is that you should know and care about your learners.
“E” = Expert
Perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but I get what he means. If we are going to teach something, we need to be extremely competent in it ourselves before we attempt to teach it. For starters, that means we need to be students of the Bible. We need to read it, build on our knowledge of it through study of commentaries and helps, and always be looking for ways to apply it to life scenarios. But we also need to be expert in the ability to teach. Do we practice teaching? Do we look for ways to learn how to be a better teacher? Do we ask for feedback? Finally, are we expert in the members of our class? Do we know them well enough to know where they are in life, what their needs are, what we can do to best help them grow?
“A” = Action-Oriented
This has two components to it. First, an active leader is not passive. If you want to be a great leader, you need to actively promote the well-being of your class, your teaching style, and your expectations. You can’t sit back and hope that people come, that people learn something, that people come back. You need to do something. Second, an active leader is committed. You cannot be a “man of action” and fall through on your commitments (that would be the opposite, right?). Action-oriented means that you will do what you can to make your class great, and you will stick to it through the slim and grim times.
“T” = Thinker
This also has two components to it. First, a “thinking” teacher works hard not just to understand the passage but also how it applies to his/her life. Second, a “thinking” teacher thinks about how the passage uniquely applies to the lives of the people in the class. The tag word here is “considerate”—considerate of the text, considerate of the people, considerate of yourself. It’s important to love your class; it’s important to love the word of God. But the separation for a great teacher is being able to tie those together in working hard in thinking about how the Word applies to the people. That’s not always easy to do, but if it’s hard for you, imagine what it’s like for your learners!
I like that list a lot - it is short, memorable, and measurable. Sure, there's more to being a great Sunday School leader than that, but it would be hard to go wrong just focusing there.