Why do I, as a Seventh-day Adventist minister, feel so keenly the importance of the Sabbath school? Why do I feel that it is vital that my church officers and I be most faithful in our Sabbath school attendance and participation? It is because, in all my life, I have never known a really staunch Seventhday Adventist who did not attend the Sabbath school regularly. In addition, I read in Testimonies for the Church, volume 5, page 127, the following: "The Sabbath school work is important, and all who are interested in the truth should endeavor to make it prosperous." If there is anyone on the face of the earth who should be "interested in the truth" to the maximum degree, it certainly is the Seventh-day Adventist pastor. Hence, in the light of my own observations and this inspired statement, I feel that it is a pleasure to encourage maximum Sabbath school attendance. Here are a few suggestions that I feel Seventhday Adventist pastors and other church leaders, with certain adaptions, can incorporate into their program to inspire the greatest possible appreciation of the importance of the Sabbath school.
The pastor or elder must be genuinely enthusiastic about the Sabbath school and must not hesitate to let it be known in a word, smile, attitude, et cetera. To a large degree, every church is a reflection of its pastor and elders. This is a "ministerial law." The enthusiasm of the church members and officers will be in direct ratio to the leader 's "burden."
2. Personal Attendance
The pastor should be present personally in the Sabbath school, greeting people as they arrive. One little background fact is prerequisite to this, however. Get up early enough on Sabbath morning to make this a reality. There is no magic formula to take the place of this. Loving, tactful encouragement of the minister and elder's family along these lines is essential. Again, in this area, personal example is primary. Coming back to the first sentence in this section, it must be recognized that a church leader with more than one church must adapt this to his circumstances.
3. Bulletin Emphasis
If the church has a bulletin, the Sabbath school program should be printed in it. This adds psychological importance to the Sabbath school. I personally feel that the Sabbath school program should be listed first, that is, before the worship hour. After all, in most of our churches the Sabbath school program comes first, does it not? It should be the first part of a Seventh-day Adventist's experience in his worship of God and study on Sabbath morning, hence its listing in "proper order." Also, the pastor or elder should use the bulletin to regularly emphasize other vital Sabbath school items, such as Thirteenth Sabbath, Investment, Visitors' Day, et cetera. There is something about reading material relative to these important things as well as hearing about them that makes for a deeper mental impressions.
4. General Visitation
The minister or elder should know who is habitually absent from the Sabbath school or sporadic in attendance, and in his pastoral visitation with them he should let them know that they are missed, that he misses them, and he should urge them to be present. There is no substitute for the direct, eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart approach. Of course this must be done with warmth, love, and tact, but the direct appeal can accomplish wondrous things.
5. "Oblique" Emphasis
A great deal can be accomplished for the upbuilding of the Sabbath school if the pastor or elder will be constantly "plugging" this part of God's program. He can do this in sermons and especially in sermon illustrations. Weaving it in this way can usually be much more effective than a straight announcement. In the announcements at the church service, or in the "King's business," he can allude to the wonderful blessings received by those who were at Sabbath school, letting the Sabbath school absentees know what they missed because they have come to the church service only. A couple of methods that I like to use from time to time are the following:
(a) In welcoming people to the worship hour, I often like to say, "What a beautiful Sabbath it is to be able to come to God's house and worship Him in the Sabbath School and worship hour." You see the point.
(b) Often when introducing my first text in the sermon, I like to say, "Let us open our Bibles that we brought to Sabbath School and church to..." A constant, varied oblique emphasis can greatly encourage Sabbath school attendance. Radio and television commercials, musical jingles, et cetera, work to a certain degree on this principle of constant repetition and constantly "hitting" the human mind from different angles. It is amazing how the use of this principle really helps the message to sink in.
6. A Direct Word
I touched on this principle, in the home setting, under point number four. Now it comes again, but this time in a different setting. As the members leave, following the close of the church service, the pastor or elder, as they greet them at the door, can tell those who were absent from the Sabbath school that he/she was missed and will look for them to receive the full blessing next Sabbath. If the leader is truly sincere and really loves his people, they will know it, and this little procedure, properly followed, will not cause embarrassment. Much depends here, of course, on the elder/pastor's rapport with his people.
7. Support the Sabbath School Officers
The pastor/elder should never be too busy to attend the Sabbath school council meetings. His presence here is essential to the morale of the officers and the resultant morale of the Sabbath school. In this area sincere compliments and kind words of encouragement passed on to his Sabbath school officers will be helpful. A word that is "fitly spoken" "in season to him [or her] that is weary" will be like the balm of Gilead to their souls. Holding up the hands of his Sabbath school officers should be a elder/pastor's constant aim.
8. Thorough Grounding of New Converts
New converts to the message, prior to baptism should be thoroughly instructed as to the importance of being present in Sabbath school each week for the development and maintenance of a strong Christian experience. More than this, these new converts should actually be attending Sabbath school prior to baptism. While these dear people are in their first love, every solid groundwork for the Advent message should be laid then. Sabbath school is part of this solid SDA groundwork and message.
9. Selectivity in Choosing Sabbath School Leadership
When nominating committee time comes round, the elder or minister should encourage the committee to make the best possible selection of Sabbath school leadership. This should not be done hastily. Carefully, prayerful thought and attention should be given. Always begin the work of the nominating committee early, so that no hasty, poorly thought out choices will be made, especially in the realm of the Sabbath school officers. Remember that the church will only be as strong as its Sabbath school. The pastor and elder are in a position to encourage all of the church officers in the importance of their attendance at Sabbath school and, specifically, their attendance in a Sabbath school class. There is sometimes a tendency to wander around during the lesson study, thus giving a sense of unimportance to this phase of the Sabbath school. In the elder/pastor's meetings with the entire church leadership, all officers should be made aware of the importance of their example along these lines.
10. Elder/Pastor's Contribution
The elder/pastor, if at all possible, should teach a Sabbath school class. I have found it always beneficial to teach what I choose to call "a class in great doctrines of the Bible" designed for those who are not members of the church. The pastor should also be willing to help out from time to time in the Sabbath school program aside from teaching a class, perhaps making the mission appeal occasionally or giving a short talk encouraging daily lesson study. He should manifest a real interest in the various divisions by an occasional visit and perhaps a story to the children. His contribution during the Sabbath school hour will prove much in solidifying this area of church life.
Every elder or pastor desires his church to be a strong, Spirit-filled church. A strong Sabbath school means a strong church. May God help us to be most enthusiastic and most diligent about this all-important phase of His great program for the salvation of precious souls, and in the preparation of men, women, youth, boys, and girls for a place in the great Sabbath school of the hereafter.
John R. Loor, wrote this article as pastor of Arlington. California.