James Zackrison

About midway through the past quinquennium, the Seventh-day Adventist Church celebrated a momentous milestone: the 150th anniversary of the first Sabbath school. Founded by James White in Rochester, New York, Sabbath school has shown explosive growth since its inception. Today as many as 18 million members meet each Sabbath to participate in this worldwide ministry featuring fellowship, outreach, Bible study, and mission. Globally, there are--literally--more Sabbath school members than church members. To meet the needs of this growth, the current Sabbath School and Personal Ministries Department has enhanced and initiated an exciting menu of ministry during the years 2000 to 2005.

James White wrote the very first Sabbath school lessons. They appeared in the inaugural issue of The Youth's Instructor and were intended primarily for young people. Since that time Sabbath school has shown a firm, ongoing commitment to the religious education of the church's children and youth. The year 2005 has seen the completion of the GraceLink Curriculum, an ambitious project under the editorial direction of Patricia Habada that provides for the faith development of Adventism's children through colorful print media, active and interactive learning approaches, and diverse Internet resources. Informed by this creative emphasis, editor Kathleen Beagles has developed Real-Time Faith, unveiled in 2004, an exciting new two-year curriculum for ages 13 and 14, and is currently conducting a full revision of the Cornerstone Connections curriculum for ages 15-18.

The department also produces CQ, formerly called Collegiate Quarterly, for young adults worldwide. Based on the same content outline as the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide, CQ has developed under the leadership of editor Gary B. Swanson into an interactive ministry with a dynamic Internet presence at http://cq.adventist.org. In partnership with the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide, it is now producing a weekly program, Sabbath School University, for the Hope Channel. Begun in 2002, this 28-minute program, available by satellite and on the Internet, features young adults in a lively and creative discussion of each week's lesson that includes an emphasis on teaching techniques.

"We're excited to see the beginning of a renaissance in Sabbath school among our young people around the world," reports Swanson. "The well-rounded emphasis on fellowship, outreach, Bible study, and mission appeals to them as they interface with cultural influences of the postmodern world in which they live, and they are responding with newfound enthusiasm."

The rich mix of resources produced by the Sabbath School and Personal Ministries (SSPM) Department also includes "Cool Tools for Sabbath School," at http://cq.adventist.org/cooltools/cooltools.htm, a clearinghouse of downloadable materials since 2001, and Sabbath School Leadership, a monthly publication edited by Faith Crumbly at the Review and Herald Publishing Association.

Personal ministries is also an organic part of these creative resources.

Throughout the past five years the department has produced--and is continuing to produce--"Reaching and Winning," a growing series of learning guides, providing specifically targeted outreach approaches for Anglicans, Evangelicals, Mormons, Pentecostals, Jehovah's Witnesses, New Agers, Catholics, and Jews, with learning guides for Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists on the way. These are being made available through partnership with Global Mission, many of them authored by Global Mission specialists.

The production of resources, thus, is one of the central services of the SSPM Department. Another is training.

The overarching effort for training is the International Institute of Christian Ministries (IICM). Directed by Jonathan Kuntaraf and in cooperation with Griggs University, IICM offers certification programs for local church leadership, personal evangelism, and public evangelism, as well as for religious education distinctly for children, youth, and adults. Assisted by May-Ellen Colón, Kuntaraf reports that the IICM has been adopted by almost all world divisions as the central training system for its efforts in personal ministries.

In fact, one of the chief characteristics of all efforts of the Sabbath School and Personal Ministries Department is an emphasis on facilitating the goals and objectives of other entities in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

In the Go One Million initiative, for example, the SSPM Department produced the witnessing kits that have been utilized by more than 2 million members around the world since its introduction in 2002. Through the direction of the SSPM Department, the International Association of Bible Correspondence Schools--the first effort of its kind to mobilize and coordinate the work of Adventist Bible correspondence schools worldwide--led to the readiness of these organizations to meet the huge challenge brought on by the Sow 1 Billion project in 2004. In some areas of the world as many as 80 percent of those receiving the Sow 1 Billion pamphlet requested Bible lessons. And thanks to departmental leadership, the IICM has collectively produced 1 million graduates.

In the past five years Kuntaraf, with the assistance of his wife, Kathleen, in the Health Ministries Department, has also developed and implemented a system of evangelism that could arise only in Seventh-day Adventism. Called "Integrated Public Evangelism," this approach introduces and utilizes the harmonious balance of spirituality and health in public evangelistic outreach.

In cooperation with many entities around the world, the SSPM Department has focused its efforts on the development and implementation of small groups, the most effective
outreach strategy in today's world.

The training arm of SSPM is reaching into the very structure of the General Conference session in St. Louis. SSPM Tool Time, a rich offering of 40 workshops, will be conducted during the session. From June 30 through July 9, SSPM Tool Time trainers will include all members of the General Conference SSPM Department as well as Chris Blake, author of Reinvent Your Sabbath School, on ministry-driven Sabbath schools; Jackie Bishop on a variety of approaches to children's Sabbath school; Larry Bothe, director of International Learning Systems at Andrews University on using technology in learning; Al Johnson, North American Division director of adult ministries on relational Sabbath school; Kurt Johnson, of the Voice of Prophecy, on small-group dynamics and Bible correspondence schools; and Faith Crumbly, editor of Sabbath School Leadership, on a dynamic way to enhance learning in Sabbath school. Personal Evangelism Certification through the International Institute of Christian Ministry can be obtained by taking some of these classes during this GC session. The instructors will include Rex Edwards, Carlos Turcios, James Zackrison, Kurt Johnson, and Jonathan Kuntaraf.

"This is a golden opportunity to bring together the very best in trainers," says SSPM Tool Time program director Gary Swanson. "It will give attendees a chance to take away some concrete and creative ways to enrich their efforts in Sabbath school and personal ministries in the coming quinquennium."

As we survey the efforts of the Sabbath School and Personal Ministries Department over the past five years, we are grateful for the inspiration and leading that God has given to us as we have attempted to meet the demands of our fast-growing church in the twenty-first century. It is our hope that, by God's grace, we can continue Jesus' great commission. As we look back upon the growth of a handful of people with a dream in Rochester, New York, to some 18 million Sabbath school members worldwide and a host of lay Bible instructors and preachers today, we look forward with great anticipation to what God has in store for us in the future.

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