Divinely Inspired Sabbath Schools

My father vividly recalls what it was like growing up on the plains of North Dakota. His was one of the fortunate families to have electricity and therefore a radio, but no television or telephone.

The weekly schedule consisted of hard work and more hard work. But then when Sabbath came, it was indeed "a delight." After getting up early to milk the cows and feed the chickens, it was a 12-mile trip to the little old country church.

Sabbath School started promptly at 11 a.m. An integral part of each week's program was the mission story. The children sat attentively, boys on one side and the girls on the other, occasionally trying to catch the others’ eyes.

After a not-so-vegetarian potluck, the divine worship service started at 1:00, which immediately transitioned into the prayer meeting and testimony time with a lot of hearty singing throughout. A little more fellowship, and they were off to evening chores.

A lot has changed since those days, much for the better. But then again, some things have stayed the same. Or at least they should. One of these is the concept of our divinely inspired Sabbath Schools, all 112,541 one of them around the world.

Four things have made our Sabbath Schools successful during the past 150 years that we now celebrate—four things that any good Sabbath school should still incorporate.

1. Fellowship. In an increasingly fragmented society, people need to be able to belong to a group. The Sabbath School, when properly constituted, effectively meets that basic human need today as it did back in North Dakota many years ago.

2. Bible study. We traditionally have been a people of the Bible and will continue to be as we study God's word together. The Sabbath School lesson, written by our best theologians and scholars, is developed over a careful and prayerful four-year process to cover our fundamental beliefs. No other denomination has an equivalent curriculum development.

3. Mission emphasis. Americans are now in the minority in our church, with 92 percent of the world membership living outside the North American Division. It is imperative that we not become a national church, as some denominations have, but instead stay connected as a world church. Therefore, regular mission emphasis is a requisite for any Sabbath School. And today's resources make it so easy. Quarterly Mission Spotlight videos are available through subscription. Quarterly Northwest Spotlight on Mission video or DVD programs are provided to your church compliments of the North Pacific Union Conference. Additionally, Walla Walla College student and short-term missionaries would be delighted to come and give a mission report.

4. Outreach. And finally no Sabbath School is complete without intentional outreach. First to our own children (somebody had great insight when he or she involved my 12-year-old father as Sabbath School secretary), and then to the community through invitations to the pastor's Bible study class or a small group.

So does all this mean that today’s Sabbath Schools will look like the ones 150 years ago? Certainly not. With new media programs, new hymns and even new formats (some progressive churches now have the mission emphasis immediately preceding the worship service so all divisions can be present), there is no excuse not to be fresh, creative and exciting. But there are also certain God-given concepts that we really can't improve upon. You know, out of that little North Dakota Sabbath School, more than 30 of those children became denominational workers for the Lord.

If your Sabbath School isn't all that it could and should be, I encourage you to be a committee of one to pray and then work to make it so. We have an incredible heritage that we don't want to lose by default. After all, this Sabbath there will be 15,300,000 people around the world coming to Sabbath School. And we want them to be blessed just as my dad was back in that old country church.

May 01, 2004 / Editorial