When a program survives and flourishes for over 150 years, its effectiveness for an organization simply can’t be ignored. One of the ministries that has achieved this status in the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the Sabbath School.
The need for a Bible class as a part of the Sabbath church service was recognized by James White and others even before we called ourselves Seventh-day Adventists in 1863.
Some other churches had begun to adopt a Sunday School format prior to this, at first as a means to teach illiterate, impoverished children how to read and write. But Seventh-day Adventists, with its long-standing emphasis on Bible study, have used this tool around the world to theologically educate and evangelize millions of new and established church members for generations now.
Those who have embraced the Sabbath School concept and faithfully studied and shared their individual insights, based on the suggested lessons provided through the church’s published Bible Study Guides, are a testament to its ability to keep Bible truths alive for its members.
But Sabbath School goes beyond promoting deep, lifelong Bible study. Other recognized goals are…
- to provide fellowship (often lacking, due the busyness of modern life that doesn’t offer opportunity for close and frequent personal interactions)
- to encourage outreach (actively connecting with our friends and neighbors, nurturing them through emotional support and supplying material needs for those less fortunate)
- to foster worldwide mission awareness (reminding us of the worldwide nature of our work, and providing the means to further the work in areas of particular need)
I would like to add another goal to this list. With a designated outline of Bible study, published in over 80 languages and backed by years of literary and theological preparation, we are offered a rare opportunity to promote systematic Bible study in a way that helps maintain a cohesive unity with our brothers and sisters around the globe.
Unfortunately, in the United States, and I’m sure other developed countries, we find a lack of enthusiasm, even a distaste, for Sabbath School attendance and the study of the Adult Bible Study Guide provided by the church.
There are many reasons for this loss of interest, but I would encourage every church member to consider the potential benefits, and work toward revitalizing a love for Sabbath School that many in the past and even now around the world share.
Sabbath School has proven able to edify and unite church members. People around the world, studying the same topics from week to week and sharing their many unique perspectives, has done much to deepen a love for God’s Word and each other. Why would we want to forego such a blessing as this?
Here are some tips and ideas your church might consider, if interest in Sabbath School has diminished:
- Make sure the classes are small enough for group discussion (large groups discourage participation).
- Try to find facilitators, not teachers (those who are skilled in providing an inclusive, friendly group environment and who have time to prepare to guide the conversation to pertinent parts of the designated lesson study).
- Change the meeting space and/or seating arrangement for the class (round table or chairs in a circle work best for ease of hearing and creating the friendliest face-to-face communication)
- For variety, dedicate some of the pre-service time (perhaps monthly or quarterly) to testimonies, mission emphasis, and ideas for community involvement
- Some churches, determined to keep Bible study alive, have even decided to study the Adult Sabbath School lesson during the mid-week prayer meeting or in a church member’s home sometime during the week.
The Sabbath School program, with its proven effectiveness in meeting important goals, is a worthy body-building resource of the church that should not be neglected or ignored, but, if necessary, should be re-designed to fit our local and cultural needs.