Look Past Quirks and Qualms

People have the reputation in some quarters of the world as being the strangest of creatures. But because we are all related, as products of the Master Designer, we exhibit patterns that help meet the challenge of dealing with us as individuals, despite our quirks and qualms.

In the now-out-of-print book Teach Stanley S. Will gives some valuable insights about how to reach the goal verbalized by Ellen G. White: “We all need to study character and manner that we may know how to deal judiciously with different minds” (Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 69).

To our advantage, Will answers his own question, “How does one understand humanity? There are two ways: (1) subjectively; (2) objectively” (p. 51).


Subjectively: Get Into Their Shoes
We’ve heard the old saying about walking in another person’s shoes in order to gain a better understanding of their situation and perspectives. Will writes, “Christ Himself through varied experiences knew personally how human nature would react under the same circumstances” ( ibid., p. 52). Ellen White affirms Will’s opinion: “He [Christ] could feel not only for, but with, every burdened and tempted and struggling one” (Education, p. 78).

But how can superintendents and teachers learn to feel for and with people? How can they subjectively understand the humanity that come to Sabbath School week after week, possibly stretching their people skills to the max? Let’s consider a common challenge to leaders: people who hold private conversations while meetings or class discussions are in process. Will’s suggestions put leaders into the shoes of these people.

Recall times when you were one of those conversationalists. Ask yourself some pointed questions to get a clearer view of your motivations and comfort level:

  • What was the situation? Was I in disagreement or just bored? Had I been left behind or left out of the conversation in some way? How could I have been helped—what appeal would have gotten through to me?

Consider the people who are engaged in side conversations:

  • What is their experience with the topic? Bible topic or the meeting topic under discussion?

Did they study the lesson? Are they prepared for this business meeting? Am I appealing to their mode of discussion? Are they really impacted by this subject? For example, are the mechanics of submitting secretarial reports crucial to class facilitation? Or are the details of learning styles important to the secretarial ministry?

Consider your approach at the time of the conflict:

  • Would direct questioning be in their best interest? Is better preparation on my part called for? Would a different method of conducting meetings or class facilitation resolve the problem for them?

As Will illustrates, the subjective method enables leaders to better choose the wiser course to follow in dealing with people in their ministry.

Objectively: I Spy
Indirect and unnoticed observation of the subject is the key to this method. Leaders whose clues lead to concluding that the subject is shy, or fearful, or introverted, or hostile would be cautious about asking that person direct questions and would avoid circumstances that have any obvious cringe or controversial factors. Or the leader’s observations would reveal an extrovert with assertive tendencies. Then the leader will be more free to draw these people into the conversation, because they will help create what Will calls “an atmosphere of participation” ( Teach, p. 55).

One last observation. Class facilitators find through class association, home visits, and other interactions that some members are spiritually weak and tend to compromise Bible principles and church standards. They also learn these members’ stronger points and better characteristics. Bearing these students in mind, class facilitators will emphasize points in the lesson that will strengthen and help them as opportunities present themselves during the lesson study and during teachable moments in informal interactions.

Marion Lawrance underscored the value of the objective method way back in 1924: “We must know whom we teach. We must understand the processes of the mind—what attracts, what repels, the simple and yet delicate processes by which the mind operates to appropriate new truth” (Building Better Sabbath Schools, p. 108).

Although behavioral scientists and others find a measure of predictability in people who have similar experiences and outlooks, each person must be approached with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who never makes a mistake in judgment about how best to approach any of God’s custom designs.

The items for checkup below can be used as a practical review for both class facilitators and superintendents. The questions may spark other issues that these volunteers will want to investigate and pray about.

Checkup for Sabbath School Leaders

  • Do I know each class member/ministry team member by name, and do I speak to each person by name? Do the names I use suggest formality or family?
  • Have I visited in the home of each class member/ministry team member? 
  • Do I know where class members/ministry team members spend the majority of their weekday hours? 
  • Do I know the spiritual condition of each person? 
  • Do I consider each class member to be of equal worth despite what my observations have uncovered? 
  • Do I lift up the name of every member of my class members/ministry team members in prayer daily? 
  • How much have I allowed my class members/ministry team members to know about me? 
  • How would they describe me to their best friends? their mentors?

© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists