New Sabbath school lessons coming in 1985

Initiating changes in the adult Sabbath school lessons is like trying to change Christmas to December 15. Nevertheless, there are some significant changes under way that every Seventh-day Adventist ought to be aware of.

Leo R. Van Dolson, Ph.D., is an associate director of the General Conference Sabbath School Department and editor of the adult lessons.

A major change in the adult Sabbath school lesson format was recommended at the World Sabbath School Lesson Curriculum meetings held in Loma Linda, California, in June, 1982. This recommendation is currently being implemented, but of course, such changes cannot be accomplished overnight for several reasons. The major consideration is that lessons are generally assigned to writers three to four years in advance, and the curriculum is planned even prior to writing assignments. Thus any drastic change forces writers who are already well into their material to spend time redoing what they have written.

Also, the world field has indicated a strong desire to keep the world church united in studying the same lessons. This fact mandates a long lead time. Until I joined the Sabbath School Department a year or more ago, I had no idea of the tremendous amount of work that goes into planning and preparing the adult Sabbath school lessons. (See accompanying box for a brief sketch of what is involved.) This careful preparation and the input from world lesson committee members, who carve time from crowded schedules to read lesson manuscripts, ensures that the published Sabbath school lessons represent the thinking of the worldwide church.

Another factor that impinges on any format change is the natural resistance we all have to change of any kind. The Sabbath school lesson format has been revised frequently during the years since lessons were first distributed as separate publications in 1888, but most alterations have engendered protests of one kind or another from those who use the lesson quarterlies. It has fascinated me to see so much interest and attention on the part of Adventist Sabbath school members regarding what happens in and to the lessons. It is sobering, as well, to those of us who help prepare these lessons to realize how seriously what we are doing affects church members.

The current format was introduced in 1970; however, even this latest lesson plan has undergone rather significant changes on a gradual basis. For example, compare one of the 1981 quarterlies with the 1983 format. One of the changes now being incorporated into the 1984 curriculum is a set of application exercises that will come at the end of each lesson. These are being prepared by Lester Bennett, of the Northern California Conference. The reactions we have received when minor changes of this kind are made cause us to be concerned somewhat about the reaction we are sure to get when we implement the far-reaching changes in format conceived at the Loma Linda meetings. Here is where you as a denominational leader can do much to help prepare church members to receive these planned changes enthusiastically. We believe the new format will be an exciting improvement that will make the Sabbath school lessons more challenging and interesting.

What changes are envisioned? Two major proposals surfaced at Loma Linda for the adult lesson curriculum. First, a challenge to do something that had never been attempted in the Sabbath school before a plan for studying every book of the Bible in a given period of time. Second, a decision to shape the curriculum to meet a list of felt needs expressed in a survey of 2,118 Sabbath school members from the entire world field. The adult lesson subcommittee decided to accept both challenges and came up with a combined curriculum designed to meet the list of felt and observed needs uncovered in the survey, while at the same time studying all the books of the Bible. Some of these Bible studies will be approached exegetically, whereas others will be handled topically. There also will be room in the curriculum for the historical-narrative method of study.

How this twofold goal will be accomplished is illustrated in the lessons planned for 1985. The new curriculum will be introduced in the first quarter with the study of the Gospel of Mark. These lessons will concentrate on how Christ meets human needs. The second quarter's lessons will be based on the Christian's need to deal with religious life as he finds it in this contemporary age. In a time characterized by cults and the occult, as well as by the introduction of many new religious movements, the lessons for the second quarter of 1985 will focus on the contributions made by the book of Second Timothy in helping Adventists understand what is happening in the religious world. The third-quarter lessons will develop a topical approach to marriage and the Christian home, turning to the book of Ephesians and its theme of unity in order to help Christians sense the importance of security in home relationships. Because of the need for each Christian to discover his personal identity, purpose of existence, and the power God has given each of us over our own destiny, the fourth quarter's lessons will concentrate on what the book of Genesis has to teach concerning who we are and the purpose for our existence.

In the meantime, more in-depth Bible study is being worked into the 1983 and 1984 quarterlies, particularly in the lessons for the fourth quarter of 1983, which are on the book of Psalms. These lessons and the new curriculum come at an appropriate time. In North America, at least, a resurgence of interest in Bible study is becoming evident, not only among adults but among teen-agers. In other countries this interest has been manifested on a continual and growing basis. Certainly, Seventh-day Adventists worldwide need to become better acquainted with the Bible as we near the coming of our Saviour.

In order to prepare the members of the worldwide Sabbath school for this new emphasis on in-depth Bible study in the lesson quarterly, you, as a part of the Adventist ministry, need to be informed about these plans. But even more, our challenge is to prepare our churches to appreciate and take full advantage of this emphasis. One means of doing so is the You Can Understand the Bible course now available through conference and mission Sabbath school directors. This material has been field-tested thoroughly, upgraded, and is proving to be effective in getting members involved in personal Bible study. Not only are instructors' manuals, syllabuses, and textbooks available for group seminars, but the course has now been put on tape cassettes for individual study.

The following spectacular promise indicates what diligent Bible study in the Sabbath school class, and through the week in the home, can accomplish: "If the people of God would appreciate His word, we should have a heaven in the church here below. Christians would be eager, hungry, to search the word. They would be anxious for time to compare scripture with scripture and to meditate upon the word. They would be more eager for the light, of the word than for the morning paper, magazines, or novels. Their greatest desire would be to eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of God. And as a result their lives would be conformed to the principles and promises of the word. His instruction would be to them as the leaves of the tree of life. It would be in them a well of water, springing up into everlasting life. Refreshing showers of grace would refresh and revive the soul, causing them to forget all toil and weariness. They would be strengthened and encouraged by the words of inspiration." —Testimonies, vol. 8, p. 193.

Please do all you can to help make this promise a reality.

How the Adult Sabbath School Lessons are prepared

1. Curriculum planning and scheduling (five-year lead time).

2. Assignment and orientation of writers (manuscript due three years before circulation).

3. Approval by resident committee. Manuscript is duplicated and distributed to twenty-five resident members of adult lesson committee. After a preliminary reading and discussion decision is made to publish or not to publish, whether major revision is needed, and suggestions for change are considered.

4. Initial revising or editing.

5. Manuscript preparation. Editorial secretaries compare all quotations with original sources, mark the manuscript for publishing house style, type, proofread, duplicate, and mail to sixty-seven members of worldwide adult lesson committee.

6. Publishing house copy editing. While manuscript is being read by world committee, Pacific Press does copy editing and verification of all quotations so that their comments and queries reach the editors along with comments from world reading committee.

7. Revision and final editing. Manuscript is reedited and revised, taking into account comments from committee
members and the publishing house.

8. Distribution of manuscript. Manuscript is then retyped, measured for correct number of lines, proofread, duplicated, and mailed to 108 publishing houses, division offices, and translators for publication.

9. Publication. During the process of publishing the English-language quarterly at Pacific Press, the editors read
galley proofs, check page proofs and dry prints, and approve covers and advertising.

10. Teaching aids, youth lessons, and popular language editions. A copy of the manuscript is then supplied to the writers of the adult teaching aids, youth lessons, and the popular language edition. When these manuscripts are submitted, they receive the same verification, copy editing, typing, and proofreading process as the standard edition. They are then duplicated and sent to translators and publishing houses for publication.

11. Circulation. English-language adult quarterlies from Pacific Press Publishing Association, domestic and foreign, number 444,500. World Sabbath school membership as of 1981 was 4,405,370. In 1980, 46.5 percent of Sabbath school members were adults. Most of these use prepared lesson materials of some kind.


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Leo R. Van Dolson, Ph.D., is an associate director of the General Conference Sabbath School Department and editor of the adult lessons.

June 1983

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