At home on Sabbath morning before I left the house, I got a group text from one of my daughters. It was also addressed to her sisters, “I went to Sabbath school today. We’re talking about Revelation 4. Who knew you could have such a heated discussion about symbolism vs reality in a Sabbath school class? I kinda’ want to leave,” she said. One of my daughters, a Bible scholar, who took Hebrew and Greek in college, is a missionary, and likes in-depth bible study, responded, “Those kinds of discussions are so annoying…”
This text conversation deeply saddened me. I remembered my own introduction to “grownup” Sabbath school—which turned me off immediately. It was boring and frequently, someone would bring up something which had nothing to do with the topic at hand. Sometimes that would lead to a discussion that I cared nothing about and it might even become heated. Then there were the times which someone, possibly even the teacher, monopolized the time and no one else could get a word in. Sometimes I felt like I must not be spiritual enough because I did not like Sabbath School. Eventually, I ended up refusing to attend Sabbath School altogether. This has led to a lot of guilt as I raised children, but I just dislike it so much.
As a mother, I am excited my twenty-something, single daughter, living far from her family, is going to Sabbath school. I want her to have a great experience there. How could I respond to her text? Finally, I made a feeble suggestion that maybe she could think of something assertive to say next time, while I silently thought unkind thoughts about whoever the person was that was responsible for this.
The responsibility for facilitating the Sabbath School discussion falls to the teacher. Some teachers have training from some other area of their lives to facilitate group discussions. Many teachers are just doing the best they know how and are also struggling with what to do when these unhelpful discussions break out. Knowing this later that day, I shared my this text with Teresa Thompson, who is passionate about the value of Sabbath School. Since then she and I have brainstormed ways to address this problem, familiar to both of us, here in a helpful way to both teachers and members of the class. In this discussion, I have learned there are so different perspectives on Sabbath School and most of them are valid. Not everyone wants to do Sabbath School the way I want to: little snack and drink, socialize and get to know people, then study the lesson, and find some nugget to take home which will help me in my life in the next week. Some people really are scholars and they feel closer to God digging deep into the material as if it they are studying for a test.
What can we as members of the Sabbath School class do?
It is appropriate to assist the teacher in getting the group back on track. Perhaps you could squeeze in a question about the material. If this does not work, you may try a more direct approach and ask if the class could get back on track with the lesson. Another option might be to bring up this concern at another time, like the next week. Especially, if the discussion is vigorous it would not be a good time. When you bring up the question, you could use an “I” statement and say, “Last week, when the discussion of ______ occurred, I felt _________ (Put in your feeling word such as “uncomfortable.”) I was wondering if we could talk about this?”
Since the root of this issue is not solely on the members or the teachers, Teresa and I decided to write articles together addressing both the member side and the teacher side. You can find her article here and one by Rachel Ashworth here. We do not have all the answers, but we do both feel passionately about this and think it warrants discussion. As a former member of a Sabbath School class (and one who is attempting again), I would like to ask that we all give this some prayerful thought.