In introducing this subject, let me first touch it on the purpose and power of the Sabbath school. The Sabbath school was ordained of God for the purpose of instructing His remnant church in the truths of the Bible. It has been described as the church at study, and rightly so. But it is more. To quote the oft-repeated statement from the Spirit of prophecy, "The Sabbath school should be one of the greatest instrumentalities, and the most effectual, in bringing souls to Christ."—"Counsels on Sabbath School Work," p. 10.
When this statement was made almost sixty years ago, there were less than twenty-five thousand Sabbath school members in all the world. Through the passing years multiplied thousands have found the "Pearl of Great Price" in or through the activities of the Sabbath school. .Beginning, as it did, in obscurity and weakness in the early days of the advent movement, the Sabbath school has grown to be a mighty factor in all lands to which the third angel's message has been carried.
Not only has the Sabbath school been the home base of all foreign missionary enterprise, but it has also been the pioneer of the denomination. In new places it has generally been the first form of our organization to be established; and through its operations many thousands of souls have been won for the Master. At the home base millions of dollars have been brought in through its channels for the prosecution of the work.
But further, while the Sabbath school is preeminently a pioneering agency, it is also one of the leading factors in establishing, building up, molding, and making permanent the various interests of our denominational work.
Thus the Sabbath school figures as one of the most important, if not the most important, of all the departments of the Seventh-day Adventist organization. Upon one occasion, when speaking with reference to the Sabbath school, J. L. McMany, president of the General Conference, remarked, "Of all the regular services held by Seventh-day Adventists, none is of greater importance than the Sabbath school. If circumstances should compel us to have but one service on the Sabbath day, there is no question but that we should eliminate everything else before the Sabbath school."
In view then of its importance, what should be the place of the Sabbath school in the work of the minister? Or to 'put it conversely, what should be the place of the minister in the work of the Sabbath school?
While the minister proclaims the message of truth in his evangelistic effort and is instrumental in leading men and women to accept his message, he should recognize that the work of regeneration in his "converts" has only just begun, and that there is to be a growing up into the fullness of the stature of the perfect man in Christ Jesus. He should recognize that the Sabbath school is the most effective agency, ordained of God, for the carrying on of the unfinished work, the promoting of spiritual growth, and the development of Christian character.
The minister, therefore, should not consider his work finished or complete when he leads his converts to the baptismal font. They need the stabilizing influence, the molding and building up that the Sabbath school affords and, is designed to bring about. He should therefore enter most heartily into the activities of the Sabbath school, and stress its importance and value to every seeker of truth. W. H. Branson has expressed himself on this point as follows: "The pastor who overlooks the importance of the Sabbath school work is thereby failing to recognize one of the strongest auxiliaries of his work, and shows a definite weakness in his church leadership."
Certain it is that no other department of our organization offers greater possibilities for the growth and prosperity of the church—spiritually, numerically, and financially—than does the Sabbath school. It is through the Sabbath school that men and women, as well as youth, are enabled to develop the ability to tell the message to others and become personal workers for the Master. There they also learn how to sacrifice and give financial support to the mission work.
Actually almost half of our foreign mission work depends on the Sabbath school, for of the several million dollars raised for foreign mission work each year, the Sabbath school raises about one half.
Then, as we view the Sabbath school from the spiritual viewpoint, it is not too much to say that it is related to the work of God on earth as the heart of man is to his physical being. It is the heart of the church on earth. Without it the church would languish and die. How important then that not only the minister but every worker in the cause of God should put forth an earnest effort to keep the Sabbath school system in a healthy condition, both by faithful attendance and by hearty co-operation in all its activities.
The counsel that comes to us through the messenger of the Lord is that "those who occupy positions of influence and responsibility in the church should be foremost in the work of God." Thus, if all ministers and gospel workers of every grade were regular attendants at the Sabbath school, punctual in the classes, with daily study and liberal offerings, their influence and good example would have considerable effect on the missing members.
One of our denominational goals is "Every church member a member of the Sabbath school," studying regularly the principles of truth, in order that all may be stabilized in the message and prepared for the coming of Christ. That this end might be attained, and the Sabbath school goal reached, it is incumbent upon every minister and all other gospel workers not only to urge church members who are nonmembers of the Sabbath school to link up with the school, but by their own good example of regular attendance and active participation in all its activities, make it manifest that they regard the work of the Sabbath school of the highest importance.
Some years ago the question was asked through the Sabbath School Worker, "Should a pastor miss the Sabbath school and come to church just in time for the church service ?" The reply was:
"Under normal conditions the pastor should be present and have an active part in the Sabbath school. To absent himself is to do damage to the very thing that he is supposed to be building up. One of the best soul-winning agencies of his church work is the Sabbath school. To neglect it is to fail in his own work of leadership and soul winning. His example will be followed by his parishioners and their families. If he is, by reason of illness or death among his congregation, or for other equally valid reasons, compelled to be away at times, it should be the exception, not the rule. The pastor who is always in Sabbath school, teaching a class, taking an active interest in the youth, and otherwise contributing to the well-being of the school, is certain to have a stronger church, one that will hold firmly to the faith."
As we remember that the Sabbath school lessons we study are the same lessons that are being studied in all Sabbath schools throughout the world, we can readily appreciate the plan as being one calculated to establish unity of belief throughout the denomination, all thus being instructed alike and led to "speak the same thing," that there be no schisms or divisions among us. And this is certainly a most desirable thing.
Then finally, the minister, the Bible instructor, and all Sabbath school officers and teachers should realize that they sustain more than a mere official relationship to their work. They are God's stewards and custodians of interests most vital to the prosperity of the work of God.