Laura Sámano is an assistant editor at the Review & Herald Publishing Association, Hagerstown, Maryland, USA.

This year the Seventh-day Adventist Church celebrates the 160th anniversary of Sabbath School. In 1853, James and Ellen White established the first Sabbath School class in their home in Rochester, New York.

The first Sabbath School publication appeared a year earlier—in 1852—in the very first issue of Youth’s Instructor. Those very first lessons were for children and youth. And since its earliest years, Sabbath School has been a time for Bible study, fellowship, and outreach, with emphasis on world mission. The highest objective of Sabbath School is to open the hearts of its members to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. When their hearts are open, Christ “will open their understanding, that they may comprehend the things of God.”1

For Sabbath School’s purpose to be fulfilled, it must begin with a concentrated focus on children. “The early years of childhood are the most impressionable period to impress on the young minds the idea that Jesus loves us,” says Linda Mei Lin Koh, General Conference Children’s Ministries Director.

Currently, eight Sabbath School publications serve the world church. Four of these comprise GraceLink®, the official curriculum of the Seventh-day Adventist Church for children from birth to age 14. At last count, it was translated into 17 languages.

“Since GraceLink’s original launch in 2000, thousands of Sabbath Schools have embraced it enthusiastically worldwide, representing a broad range of cultures,” says Gary B. Swanson, associate director of the Department of Sabbath School and Personal Ministries at the General Conference. “A curriculum, however, is a living resource, and, as such, it must be subject to regular assessment and evaluation. This is the reason for a recent focus on GraceLink’s revision and augmentation, initiated in published form in 2013.”

PowerPoints®, the Bible study guide for the junior level of Sabbath School, launched these revisions and augmentations in the first quarter of 2013. The Primary level will be released mid-2014; Kindergarten and Beginner levels will be available in 2015.

GraceLink’s purpose is to teach children about God and His grace, thus enabling them to build a saving relationship with Him. Research by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1990, 2000, and 2010 indicated four vital areas to the development of a relationship with Jesus Christ as a personal Savior. V. Bailey Gillespie, lead investigator in this research, points out that “young people mature spiritually by relying on strengthening the areas of service, worship, grace, and community.” He explains further that when children learn Bible stories without applying them to their lives, they know facts but don’t necessarily have a relationship with Jesus. This is why GraceLink’s emphasis is on four dynamics: grace, service, worship, and community.

Gillespie says that the key to GraceLink is its concern for making an application of the Bible stories. Each lesson begins with something relevant to the everyday experiences in childhood:

  • Grace is a demonstration of God’s love for us— Jesus loves me. GraceLink teaches children that we serve a God who sent His Son to die in our place, to redeem us, and to accept us unto Himself that we might live with Him forever.
  • Worship is our response to God’s love. As 1 John 4:19 puts it, “We love Him because He first loved us.”2 GraceLink emphasizes that worship is not something Christians do only once a week; worship is how we live our lives. Children learn that they worship their Creator through praise, lifestyle, and stewardship. In a child’s words, worship shows that “I love Jesus.”
  • Community—loving others—involves our relationship with those around us. When children understand what grace is and respond in worship, they will also understand that their love for God impacts their relationships with their families and friends—and even with people they don’t know.
  • Service is the last—but not least—of the dynamics. GraceLink encourages children to reach out to people who may not know Jesus; through their service, children may share the message of hope for a future and say, “Jesus loves you too.”

“Children learn in different ways,” adds Bonita Joyner Shields, editor of PowerPoints, “so each child may experience the Bible from a unique perspective. This curriculum gives children the opportunity to grow individually in their knowledge of the Lord and to enjoy the assurance of their relationship with Christ.”

Further, GraceLink presents a thorough study of the Seventh-day Adventist fundamental beliefs. It is solidly based on Scripture and the gift of prophecy and has been approved by the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference.

“We are interested in sharing with children stories that are age-appropriate, applicable, and biblically accurate,” says Falvo Fowler, editor of the Bible study guides for the Beginner, Kindergarten, and Primary levels.

The revised curriculum takes into account that children learn in different ways. “GraceLink guides each child through a learning cycle by helping them experience, reflect, think, and do an activity related to the stories in Scripture,” says Shields.

Editors have worked closely with leaders in children’s ministries around the world so that the lessons will be relevant to a worldwide audience with content that is sensitive to varying cultures.

These Sabbath School resources are readily available for people with mobile devices. Two Sabbath School apps are available: Sabbath School App and GraceLink App. A third, GraceLink Games, will be available later this year. “Supplemental material, including content for tablets and smartphones, is available online for different types of churches and cultures,” says Fowler. “We want to provide tools for parents and teachers to make it easy for their kids to understand Scripture.”

Jesus said, “‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven’” (Matt. 19:14). We know that God loves children, and His priority is that they must be a significant part of His kingdom. Children “are to be educated, disciplined, and patiently instructed. They require more than casual notice, more than a word of encouragement. They need painstaking, prayerful, careful labor.”3

The GraceLink curriculum calls for parents and teachers to be actively involved in children’s learning experience. Being part of children’s spiritual journey may seem insignificant, but the value of the influence an adult can have on a child cannot be estimated. The learning in Sabbath School must be more than informational—it must be transformational.

If ever Adventists needed to nurture the lambs of the church and shepherd them through a biblical experience that leads to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, the time is now. The Great Shepherd came to save the world. Let us assist in His work and teach even our youngest lambs about their loving Savior and His grace.

1 Counsels on Sabbath School Work, 61.
2 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references in this article are from The New King James Version of the Bible.
3 Counsels on Sabbath School Work, 77.

Laura Sámano is an assistant editor at the Review & Herald Publishing Association, Hagerstown, Maryland, USA.