It's true! The parish pastor is called to be all things to all men . . . and women: leader, administrator, evangelist, counselor, consoler, and keeper of the household of God. Only God can equip us to be successful in the area of our calling.
Yet we are also teachers, Sabbath School teachers. I have discovered in 20 years of pastoral ministry that the greatest joy after preaching is that of watching people grow in the Lord. That growth is aided by special attention given them by their pastor in regular classroom interaction known in Adventist circles as the pastor's Sabbath School class.
It is with much prayer and effort that we observe the charge of God to "go into all the world and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." Thus, after the effort to gather souls for the kingdom, we should exert the same, or even greater effort to retain them. This is discipling, and a pastor's class can play a crucial role in this important part of our mission.
Let's be honest. After baptism, the number of those who remain is alarmingly low. That trend must be reversed. I contend that if pas tors were more diligent in "rooting and grounding" new converts, we would have more vibrant churches and more stable members who would not be in danger of being "tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine ..." (Eph. 4:14). We would also keep more from leaving through the "back door," sometimes moving with almost the same speed with which they came in the front. And who better than the pastor to teach on a regular basis the new converts, and in what better place than the Sabbath School?
A balanced menu of doctrinal topics can be studied that will serve as a follow-up to the pre-baptismal classes. New converts must be protected. They must be shielded from "strange doctrines," secured from church members who can give a distorted view of the gospel or who can be a stumbling block with their extremism or impatience. A faithful shepherd of the flock will especially care for the newborn lambs.
"Satan is no idler; he watches his chances, and takes advantage of every opportunity to win souls to his side. He constantly sows his tares in every heart that is not barricaded with the truth."1
There are pastors who are taking on the seriously negligent habit of not attending Sabbath School! It is true that many pastors are charged with the care of many churches and therefore find it difficult to be with their people for Sabbath School. That is, of course, understandable, but the pastor should never be absent because of laziness or indifference. There is no excuse for the pastor who is genuinely able to do so, not to be at Sabbath School conducting his or her own class.
As pastors, we are teachers. Regular teaching of the saints, whether in an evangelistic or Sabbath School setting, keeps the tools of the pastor sharp and above all keeps him in close touch with the people who need him the most. It keeps him in touch with the new converts. One new in the faith needs the security of knowing that their pastor is there for them spiritually and ready to help with personal and doctrinal issues that arise. The pastor is charged with the responsibility of holding the reins of truth within the church.It is a responsibility that cannot not be taken lightly.
We preach the high standards of the will of God; these often attract men, women, and children to the message of Christ. But when they enter the fellowship of the church, new converts easily become confused as they begin to see the truths that attracted them compromised by seasoned members or as those members treat them unkindly or carelessly. While it takes a cooperative effort between strong, committed lay people and clergy, the pastor must be a witness to the fact that God's Word is tme and unchangeable, even if those who claim to follow it are neither.
There is often an appalling lack of knowledge regarding basic doctrines of the Bible and the Seventh-day Adventist Church by its members. Thus, it becomes a sheer necessity that there be ongoing instruction in the distinctive doctrines that identify the people of God. A solid pastor's Sabbath School class, where the essential teachings of the Bible are firmly rooted and affirmed by a pas tor who takes the Word seriously, will greatly strengthen the foundation of these new believers.
The pastor's class
Within the realm of the pastor's Sabbath School class, the pastor has the privilege of adopting methods that will root and ground these new members. Here is a suggested methodology:
- Create your own lesson series. It will do the following things: f You and the class will have greater flexibility.
- It will allow you to address those points of greatest concern in your particular setting.
- It encourages deeper study on the part of both the class members and the pastor.
- You are enabled to move at a pace that assures complete understanding of the Church's pillar doctrines.
Stronger bonds of friendship are engendered among the members of the class. It leaves more room for members in the class to become a sup port to one another in their new faith.
The warmth of class fellowship encourages members of the class to invite and bring members of their family to the class. In this way, the pastor's class becomes evangelistic without being called a baptismal class, which sometimes seems intimidating to a non-member.
You are more able to intercept hurtful views of truth before they become a problem for the new member, even while you are enabled to more easily help each member of the class in a personalized way as they deal with the particular questions they may bring with them.
Creating your own class challenges your own creativeness in lesson preparation.
It encourages attendance at mid week prayer services. Series that have started in the pastor's Sabbath School can be continued at prayer meeting.
It engenders better, more "live" lesson preparation and greater involvement in the spiritual growth of the class member. This also sets an example for other teachers and could result in a more dynamic Sabbath School overall.
Of course, everyone needs to do what works best for their individual situations. The above list serves only as a simple base. Whatever approach works best in your situation is the one you should adopt.
If you are now conducting your own class, continue with it. If you aren't, put away the fears and the false reasons you may have for not doing so. Discover or rediscover the joy, satisfaction, reward, and productiveness of teaching your own new-member Sabbath School class and observe the growth of those who take hold of the truth as you tutor under your Lord.
1 Ellen G. White, The Home Missionary, Feb. 1, 1890.