The Sabbath school should be one of the greatest instrumentalities, and the most effectual, in bringing souls to Christ." 1 "Our Sabbath schools are nothing less than Bible societies, and in the sacred work of teaching the truths of God's Word, they can accomplish far more than they have hitherto accomplished. The Sabbath school, when rightly managed, possesses marvelous power, and is adapted to doing a great work. . . . The influence growing out of Sabbath school work should improve and enlarge the church.... There is a most precious missionary field in the Sabbath school, and if there are now omens of good, they are only indications and beginnings of what may be done."2
In 1983, fresh from the seminary, I was posted to the Maryland church in Lagos, Nigeria. Working with Sabbath school officers and the church elders, I grouped the members into units (undershepherd planning). While inaugurating the units, I charged them with two responsibilities: (1) to increase their units' membership by inviting their neighbors and friends to Bible studies and prayer meetings; (2) to plant new branch Sabbath schools and churches.
The initiative opened up many new opportunities. I knew more than 90 percent of my members by name, where they worked, and where they lived. I knew the residences of the unit leaders, who, in turn, took me around to the residences of their unit members; when the shepherd knows the sheep and the sheep know the shepherd, the sheep also know themselves. The Maryland church today is the fastest-growing church in the Nigeria Union Mission. Last year it sponsored an action unit to another field 500 miles (800 kilometers) away from Lagos.
A silent messenger
A Sabbath school action unit is a silent messenger in a troubled or crisis-ridden society. In a depressed economy it is a useful tool to help an evangelist retain the souls baptized.
A Sabbath school action unit consists of six to eight members. Each unit, living in the same area, studies the Sabbath school lessons together every Sabbath. They meet weekly in their respective areas for Bible study and prayer. They launch action unit crusades that may be planned by the local church, the local field, or the union at least twice a year. They help sponsor church projects. They also support needy members.
The action units meet once or twice a week to plan programs that include children's special songs, memory verses, storytelling, children preaching to unit members, health talks, physical exercises, career talks, educational guidance, premarital and marital counseling, etc.
The materials used are the Bible, Spirit of Prophecy books, Steps to Life, Bible Speaks, Sabbath school pamphlets, etc. The Sabbath school action unit is not new, but it is dependent on how we allow the Holy Spirit to educate us for its usefulness.
Before He returned to heaven, Jesus made a farewell speech to the apostles. I under stand Him to be saying to the Sabbath school action units: "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (verse 8). I can also see the unit members, 120 of them (verse 15), meeting in "an upper room" (verse 13). Action units can meet in sitting rooms, on verandas, under trees, in school classrooms, in offices (during breaktime), in open fields, or in any appropriate setting. They meet for 30 to 45 minutes.
Meeting together in the spirit of Acts 1:11 -15, the Sabbath school action units can lead to: (1) a Pentecostal experience of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit; (2) an in crease of church membership, with hundreds of people accepting the truth; (3) a caring and sharing church (see Acts 2:1-4, 41-47); and (4) active home fellowships.
From home fellowships to large churches
Home fellowship is the getting together of two or more Sabbath school action units in the same area. When an action unit of eight conducts crusades and Bible studies and successfully converts at least four more souls, they are to divide into two Sabbath school action units of six members each. The two new units work and add more souls to each. This area is growing into a home fellowship. Soon they will need a larger space in order to form a branch Sabbath school, that will eventually grow to become an organized church.
The advantages of these programs can not be exaggerated. However, I would like to mention a few. 1. These groups help in spiritual growth. Members become mindful of holy living because of the closeness among the few unit members. 2. Units and fellowships keep expanding by active out reach programs, making more disciples for Christ. 3. Active, praying fellowships be come centers for God's glory. In Acts 12 Peter was miraculously delivered from the dungeon because God heard the prayers of a praying fellowship. In one of the churches in Lagos, Satan had chained a family through a series of problems. With the establishment of a fellowship in this home, a sickness that had gripped this family for more than five years was miraculously re moved. Prayer, intercessory prayer, works. Today this home fellowship has become a large church. 4. Such fellowships retain members. With only six or eight members in a unit, any member found wanting is quickly sought out by the remaining. Souls won at public crusades, if organized into action units, will surely remain faithful and loyal. 5. These fellowships minimize the cost of evangelism. Since there is no need to print handbills, posters, etc., there is no cost for advertisement. There are no heavy electric bills, making this one of the least ex pensive forms of evangelism. 6. Small groups are less risky. In some non-Christian areas or places where other Christian bodies attack Adventism, Sabbath school action units act as silent preachers. Just inviting a few friends into hundreds of different sitting rooms can bring more fruit than a public crusade and is not open to attack either by fanatics or other opponents.
With less than 80 Sabbath school action units at work in a two-month crusade in the Nigeria Union Mission, 3,001 people were baptized. Laity were responsible for all this. If pastors and their churches would practice the Sabbath school action unit system, we would soon lighten the world with truth. We would move from city to city until the last city was reached, from town to town until the last town was reached, from village to village until the last village was reached, from house to house until the last house was reached, from person to person until the last person was reached.