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
Personal ministries is also an organic part of these creative
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
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
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.