A Surprise in Teaching


Leon Kilbreth, “Mr. Sunday School” to many of us serving in educational ministry in the midwest, shared a surprising statement years ago: “90% of teaching is the life and personality of the teacher!” He did not want any of the conference attendees to misunderstand. Kilbreth wasn’t saying that we only teach the Bible 10% of the time in our lessons. Instead, he was emphasizing by hyperbole that the Bible others see and hear comes from the life and personality of the teacher. If we aren’t “practicing what we are teaching,” we aren’t completely teaching the Bible. We may be sharing some useful truths, but we aren’t teaching with maximum influence.
Who doesn't love a surprise?!

Bernice Littleford of the First Baptist Church in Vandalia was my fifth and sixth grade Sunday School department director and teacher. She had a winsome spirit about her. Mrs. Littleford cared about older children. She was an experienced parent. When I was in seventh grade, her son, Jim would be my basketball coach. Her other son, Warren, was an influential preacher. I learned later that Mrs. Littleford wanted every child in her department to hear a gospel witness. I was not attending church with any regularity at that age, but Mrs. Littleford looked for ways to involve me when I did.

This godly woman influenced me in two important ways. One Sunday morning she had my pastor, Dr. Archie Brown come up to the department and present the gospel to me one-on-one. I remember Dr. Brown questioning me about my salvation and I was able to tell him that I had accepted Christ the summer before, but I had never been baptized. The discussion moved on to my need for baptism and I would later be baptized in March just before my twelfth birthday. I owe that conversation to Bernice Littleford who always wanted her boys and girls to hear the gospel!

Mrs. Littleford also impacted my life in preparation for a church-wide “youth service.” While I wasn’t technically of youth age, I was somehow involved in the service. I remember how Mrs. Littleford set up a little tryout involving other boys from the department. She asked us to memorize the 23rd Psalm and then read it before the department. Since I wasn’t attending Sunday School every Sunday, this gave me an extra incentive to be present. Somehow, I was chosen to do the reading for the youth service!

When the day came for the youth to participate, I followed the order of service until my time came to read from the pulpit before the church. I went up to the platform with my Bible in hand and my finger marking the exact spot. As I looked out to the large number in attendance, my finger slipped out from the chapter that I was to read. I knew I didn’t have time to find my place, so I began reciting what I had committed to memory and completed my reading without a glitch.

What did Mrs. Littleford communicate to me during those early and formative days? She cared deeply about my salvation and church relationship. That caring compelled her to follow certain actions. She gave me an opportunity to understand how to be saved and follow the Lord in believer’s baptism. She encouraged me to memorize one of the greatest chapters in the Bible! The 23rd Psalm has blessed me ever since. She also believed enough in a sixth grader to see what God was doing and would do through him in later years. She was a woman of encouragement and vision for me. I have often thought back upon her influence and I’ve been thankful that she got me started down the road of discipleship. This start would lead me to giving my life for service as a minister of the gospel when I was fifteen years old.

What do I most remember about this gracious and gentle woman? Well, I wish I could say it was what she taught in those Bible lessons each Sunday, but I don’t. I don’t remember any particular biblical or doctrinal truths or learning activities to apply those lessons although I am sure she used them to keep the interests of her students. But, I do remember that Bernice Littleford was a kind and caring woman who influenced me for Christ. It may seem surprising, but great teachers and preachers are remembered more for the life they live than the truths they impart!

Mike Keppler, retired pastor,
active churchman and
doting grandparent.
Contact: drmjkeppler@gmail.com

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