Why the Church Needs Sabbath School

See more posts by Curtis Hall

There are many reasons why the church needs Sabbath School. Our foundation as a denomination is an outgrowth of serious Bible study. It led to an appreciation of the Heavenly Sanctuary, an understanding of the still-binding Moral law, including the seventh-day Sabbath. It led to a proper understanding of the state of the dead and an appreciation for the promised immortality. It gave us an understanding of the end times and insight into Christ’s second return. And so much more.

Black man holding Bible in front of church.

Image © Erik Stenbakken from GoodSalt.com

From Bible study, we learned how to live victorious, meaningful lives of service. We learned how a body of believers should function. Compassion, forgiveness, charity –are all brought into clear view through the study of the Bible. And Sabbath School is the mechanism in our church to continue on that path of growth and discovery.

“If Christians would earnestly search the scriptures more hearts would burn with the vivid truths therein revealed. Their hopes would brighten with the precious promises strewn like pearls all along through the sacred writings. In contemplating the history of patriarchs and prophets, the men who loved and feared God and walked with Him, hearts will glow with the spirit that animated these worthies. As the mind dwells on the virtue and piety of holy men of old, the spirit which inspired them will kindle a flame of love and holy fervor in the hearts of those who would be like them in character, and as they gather the golden truth from the word, the heavenly Instructor is close by their side.” Ellen White, WM Herald October 26, 1904

As I travel the US and abroad doing Sabbath School ministry, I sense that the Bible is playing less and less of a role in our churches. For many of our churches, especially in the US, Sabbath School is barely attended. There are various reasons given for this lack of attendance, from “boring” (which it often is), “not relevant” to “stuck in the past.”

I can’t argue that those opinions are not true, because in many churches they are. The greater question is why are our Sabbath Schools in such a condition? Why is the only mechanism in our church designed for group Bible study in such poor and dying shape? I believe it is because we no longer see corporate Bible study as vital to our existence and growth.

The evidence cannot be disputed. For many churches, the Sabbath School period is just something that happens before the real service starts. Our resources are mostly funneled into the 11:00-hour church service. In many of our churches, pastors never attend or promote Sabbath School. Members take this lack of interest from the leaders as evidence that Sabbath School is not important. That should not be.

Corporate Bible study is key to the discipleship process. Growing boys and girls, men and women into the full stature of Christ can only be done by making the Word of God the guide for life. Why would we ignore the mechanism in our church that creates that very atmosphere?

We are always on the lookout for the latest ways to evangelize and grow our congregations. We look for any strategies and techniques other denominations are employing, and we race to adopt them, hoping that we too will grow. We seek to be contemporary and relevant as a church, yet ignore a unique aspect of the Christian faith – the Word of God with which Christ identified Himself.

I believe that Sabbath School, done right, would be the solution to many of the challenges we face as a church. I believe that, done right, it will lead to stronger, more dedicated members. Done right, it would lead to church growth and mission. Done right, it would give us guidance on how to make an impact in our lives, homes, and communities. But it’s the done right part that seems so vexing.

Here’s what I know. Most Sabbath School ministry members receive zero to little training over the course of years. Our teachers and leaders are doing the best they can. Many get little support from their pastors. While the budget for training is nil, often our churches find funds to bring in a guest speaker or singer for the main service. Where is the funding for training our people?

This is not a blanket indictment against our pastors. I have worked with many wonderful, committed pastors who are vitally invested in their church’s Sabbath School ministry. I applaud them and wish that more would adopt their level of commitment to this vital ministry.

We need the leaders of our church, from the General Conference down, to really appreciate this ministry. We need the best minds to invest in reviving this ministry throughout our denomination. We need pastors with an appreciation of the role Sabbath School can play in the discipleship and growth of their congregations.

Beyond pastoral support, we need our conference Sabbath School departments to implement regular, systematic, high-quality training. I have been fortunate to work with many conference leaders who want to do all they can to provide resources to the local churches. What would help would be a concerted effort that is well thought out.

On many occasions, I have been privileged to have a front-row seat to seeing Sabbath School done right. I have experienced the ‘aha’ moments that make learning enjoyable. I have witnessed Bible truths being revealed and new concepts of righteous living being expounded – all through the mechanism of Sabbath School.

I have seen children, youth, and adults engaged in meaningful Bible study discussions through the efforts of dedicated teachers who volunteer their time every week, teaching the ways of God and love of Jesus. But they need help.

Will this be another year where everything but corporate Bible study is tried? Or will this be the year that our churches realize the value of the Bible study foundation we are built on and continue that building process through the mechanism of Sabbath School?

The answer will be shown on what we emphasize. If the goal of the church is just to be good neighbors in our communities, nothing will change. If the goal of the church is to have the highest level of oratorical skills behind our pulpits, or the best music each Sabbath, nothing will change. If our goal is to be a place for fun and good clean diversions from the evils of society, nothing will change.

Our goals must be higher. Numbers are important but not everything. Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

My prayer is that when we look back on 2017, we will have seen a shift in emphasis back towards the Bible. And Sabbath School is the church’s mechanism for that.

Amen!(25)

17 comment(s) for this post:

  1. Paul Blanke:

    06 Jan 2017
    My comments are not nearly as long as yours. I would just say that I agree with much of what you said. I have promoted Sabbath School many years. I schedule the teachers in each class. As you have noticed I’m sure, changes have made a drastic impact on our membership. I am a terrible saver. I have quarterlies from 2004 at least. The changes that some pastors engage in is more as I would classify as entertainment. We have changed over the years the lesson time occupies a full hour rather than the preliminaries from past decades. As you have noted sadly enough, some members opt to omit Sabbath school but do attend the church service. The class that I attend is for the older generation,and we have mentioned some of the same observations as you. Our hind sight from the distant past is somewhat startling .
  2. James Mwai:

    06 Jan 2017
    You may also suppliment or compliment the lessons by 1995 Quarterly Lesson – Enlightened By the Spirit , downloadable @ http://documents.adventistarchives.org/SSQ/SS19950701-03.pdf
  3. Mandla Sibanda.:

    06 Jan 2017
    Thank you,am also an untrained teacher,was just asked to teach the Sabbath School,but am glad it has made me love to read the lesson and the Scriptures. If you have lessons for Sabbath School Teachers(on how to teach and make the lesson understandable)..
  4. Mandla Sibanda.:

    06 Jan 2017
    ..Please email me those lessons
  5. Inge Anderson:

    06 Jan 2017
    You can subscribe to have lessons emailed to you daily at
    http://ssnet.org/email-lists/feed-options-email/
  6. Inge Anderson:

    06 Jan 2017
    Also be sure to read, “Give them Something to Talk About” to help in preparation to teach.

    I suggest studying the lesson three times, each time with a prayer for the Holy Spirit’s leading:
    1) Study to hear what God has to say to you in the lesson
    2) Study again to understand the author’s main point in the lesson. (That may be different from the message directed at you.)
    3) Study again to see the main lesson(s) important to your class. This will usually be the main point in the lesson, but it may be a particular aspect of the main point. And you may know things about class members that will make some things less or more important than others.

    Then write down the questions that will lead your class to conclude what you would like them to conclude, based on your Spirit-led study. After a while you’ll become good at this, and you won’t be thrown off when classes veer in a different direction. Something is not “off-topic” if it addresses the needs of one or more class members. However, don’t let yourself be drawn into someone’s truly off-topic hobby horse or negative thinking. When you meet that, you can just say, “That’s an interesting thought, and I’ll be happy to discuss this with you after our services.” The point is NOT to be drawn into an argument, but to defuse it by suggesting dialogue AFTER the class.

  7. Curtis Hall:

    06 Jan 2017
    Thanks Paul, I find that the majority of attendees are seniors. In many churches only seniors will be in place when Sabbath school begins. We’ve got work to do. Thanks!
  8. Curtis Hall:

    06 Jan 2017
    Mandia, Inge has given you some excellent guidance. In addition to what she shared, you can also view some teacher tutorial videos at: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLkA5TmeiWbW_2lBZ715PhoO6JbWglr9KK

    Thanks

  9. Robert Whiteman:

    06 Jan 2017
    I would address one of the issues mentioned above, and ask Why would there be a lack of genuine interest in Sabbath School and it’s main purpose: Bible study?

    “Because of iniquity, the love of many will wax cold”. Can there be any other reason? Can there be a complete absence of iniquity in the life that shuns the Rest that Jesus promises to those who take His yoke upon themselves? Alone, we can only be sinners at best. Yes, the excuses always lay the blame on others, but the Bible tells us the true reason doesn’t it? A revival of genuine faith in the life is the only remedy for many issues such as this. Such faith comes from an earnest searching of the Word of God in order to understand and follow it. Take the yoke, find the Rest. This will lead to the experience of exclaiming with the prophet; “Thy Words were found and I did eat them. And Thy Word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart, for I am called by Thy name O LORD God of hosts!”

    I would also suggest that the Gift of teaching is given by the Spirit when it fills the life that is presented to God as a living sacrifice. The Spirit never comes without it’s promised Fruit and Gifts. Employ all the “training” you might wish to provide, but without the Gift of the Spirit, what could be the only possible result? Learn/teach how to receive the Spirit. Believe the promises of God and act in faith.

  10. Inge Anderson:

    06 Jan 2017
    Some great videos there!
  11. Maurice Ashton:

    06 Jan 2017
    I know a lot of people who do not attend Sabbath School and I hesitate to even suggest that their reason for not attending is iniquity. I agree that there is a general downward trend in Sabbath School attendance and that some of that may be attributed to lack of spirituality. On the other hand, in our area, I have seen a number of small groups spring up that meet together for the dual purpose of Bible study and socialization on week-day evenings. They choose to do so because they like the informality of such meetings and the abiility to choose topics that are relevant to them.

    I myself am a great believer in Sabbath School and enjoy the camaraderie of a good discussion with fellow believers but I am also aware that the traditional Sabbath School format and selection of topics does not suit everyone.

    Part of the problem is that we have this “one-size-fit-all” mentality and do not allow for individual, and even collective differences. I remember the time when the South Pacific Division produced their own Sabbath School Lessons and actually had them printed before a certain higher power stepped in and said that they could not do that. I managed to get hold of one of the offending Lesson Study Guides and was amazed that anyone could find fault in it.

    Jeremiah 16:16 has a very interesting idea that needs to be considered in relationship to Sabbath School:

    “Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the Lord, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks.”

    There is nothing wrong with varying the methods that we use to encourage Bible study.

  12. Bev Wern:

    06 Jan 2017
    What if a different class member was assigned the lesson each week. Let that member direct the class with his or her guidance of fellow students
  13. Hurford Thomas:

    07 Jan 2017
    Curtis, I decided to track the wider discussion to discover whether the burden I shared under your topic “Give them something to talk about” is being explored elsewhere.

    I really appreciate your heart felt emphasis on the meaning of Sabbath School in study the Word of God. You are correct that the agenda and culture of the SDA Church on Baptisms for growth/increased in membership is so absorbing that it dwarfs the developing an agenda or culture for growth in Jesus Christ.

    In Evangelism, as with Sabbath school, the preacher or teacher (or priest) is the studious authority on the Word of God. The result? An intelligent 48 yr old who is very studious and innovative in his profession of air conditioning recently shared his reason for not attending Church for a few months: he found an SDA teacher who is incredibly beyond anyone he has ever heard, and have been attending the Bible studies taught by this Bible Teacher. What was he learning? Among other “truth”: The Holy Spirit is a part of God and Jesus Christ. There is only God the Father and God the Word. There is no person called the Holy Spirit.

    You stated your burden well in the paragraph on “done right”: “Done right, it would lead to church growth and mission. Done right, it would give us guidance on how to make an impact in our lives, homes, and communities. But it’s the done right part that seems so vexing.”

    So what is “done right” that would lead to “church growth and mission”? The definition of the goal “church growth” consequently defines “done right”. So we are back to a quantitative/numerical factor: number of baptisms. Checkmate (never mind chess symbolism)!

    I agree that the cultural vision is blurred, that Pastors do not give equal emphasis to SS, that teachers are not adequately prepared, that SS membership in most places is often less than 50% of Divine service membership. Is “done right” discussed in those issues?

    Curtis, your presentation included a ‘bull’s eye’/’checkmate’quote from the Spirit of Prophecy that answers what is “done right”:
    “If Christians would earnestly search the scriptures more hearts would burn with the vivid truths therein revealed. Their hopes would brighten with the precious promises strewn like pearls all along through the sacred writings.”

    Amjahd’s comment under “Give them something to think about”, and Maurice in this discussion directly responded to this imperative: God’s people need to be studying the Word of God. Teachers must be prepared, but the genius of Sabbath School is not continued acculturation into dependence on the genius Teacher or genius Pastor, according to the Word of God: “Study to show thyself approved unto God”. The means every single member of the Church.

    So how does the Church, from GC to Pastor to SS Teacher to Member, respond to God’s imperative?
    Can we share not only thoughts, but God’s Word and quotes from the Spirit of Prophecy?

  14. Curtis Hall:

    08 Jan 2017
    Hurford, you shared a lot to digest but let me just respond to the teacher portion right now. We, as teachers, must be Bible students/readers. I honestly believe that being a Bible teacher is just as much a blessing to the teacher as the students because if we are sincere about our role, we must study our Bibles to prepare. Preparation is more than using a highlighter to underline passages in a quarterly. It’s studying the theme of the lesson, deciding on a takeaway for the class and building appropriate question to guide the class from beginning to end.

    One of our goals is that as we share Bible truths we will help those who perhaps rarely open their Bibles, to do so during class and learn something. As a teacher, I only lead my classes with my Bible. I study the quarterly thoroughly but when I stand up to teach, it is with my Bible only. I strongly encourage all teachers to teach in this manner. To do so takes a lot of preparation but the rewards both for the teacher and class, are well worth the effort.
    Thanks.

  15. Curtis Hall:

    08 Jan 2017
    Maurice, you shared some really good points. Certainly, one size does not fit all. What I hope teachers realize is that regardless of the published lesson topic, there is a way to craft the discussion in a way that makes it relevant and useful to the class members. As teachers, our job is not just to recite back the contents of the quarterly. Let’s find the theme of the lesson, hear what God is placing on our hearts, and build our discussions around that. There is no law that says a teacher must teach by following the lesson guide daily outline. On the contrary, I encourage all teachers to move away from rereading the quarterly lesson to their class. Let’s be more intentional about Bible study, not lesson review. Thanks
  16. Curtis Hall:

    08 Jan 2017
    Robert, the enemy of man will do all he can to make Bible study seem unnecessary and not very enjoyable. I realize that members in the classes I lead may not have opened their Bibles all week. That is between them and God. However, I want to use every opportunity I have to present the beauty of the scriptures to those who are in class. If I can be a force of one to make the Bible relevant with just my class, that will go a long way to helping others to find the beauty in its study. We, as teachers, certainly need more of the Spirit. As a result of being more Christlike we can’t help but draw others to Him. Our classes should be as a light on a hill, not pointing people to us, but to Him. Thanks.
  17. Robert Whiteman:

    08 Jan 2017
    Yes! And when using Ellen as part of the preparation study, don’t bring long quotes, but rather, bring the thought from Scripture, as Ellen has urged all to do when presenting Truth. Knowing your class members well helps in preparation and more prayer than study is vital.

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