Sabbath School: A Survival Guide

“black and white portrait of a man in Medieval armor, getting ready to swing a sword.” by Henry Hustava on Unsplash

I don’t have to tell you what it’s like. If you’ve ever stepped foot in an adult Sabbath School you know exactly what I’m talking about. There’s a teacher standing up in front, probably leaning against the pew behind her, a podium set on the back of the pew in front of her, facing the few people who happened to show up at 9:30 in the morning.

Even though she’s the teacher, she doesn’t often get much of a word in. The members of the class are too busy using each other for mid-morning snacks to pay attention to what she has to say. Before the end of the hour Ellen White is quoted on more topics than she wrote about; numerous sins are called out, as long as they consist of smoking, drinking, or listening to music with a beat; and feelings are hurt as comments become increasingly personal.*

Numerous sins are called out, as long as they consist of smoking, drinking, or listening to music with a beat.

To be honest, only the diehard saints survive. This leaves the rest of us with one of two options: Try to develop thick skins and learn to fight like the best of them or stay in bed an extra hour and show up sometime during the worship service. Perhaps, however, there’s a third option. I’m going to give you a few tips that will help you not only survive the Sabbath School class but will also help you make it safe for others to attend.

Study the lesson ahead of time

If you open the Sabbath School quarterly or access it through an app on your phone, you’ll notice that it’s divided into sections to be completed each day of the preceding week. This breaks the topic down into manageable bites and gives you, the student, an opportunity to spend some time studying the topic in depth.

My first tip is for you to study the lesson as much as you can ahead of time. And don’t just look up the verses and fill in the blanks! Do some extra research. Open up a commentary or Google the passage and see what people have to say about it. See if you can find anything about the topic in one of Ellen White’s books. This not only helps you grow spiritually, but it also gives you a knowledge base from which to work.

Studying ahead not only helps you grow spiritually, but it also gives you a knowledge base from which to work.

When you’re in the Sabbath School class and someone says something that may not be completely accurate, you’ll be able to raise your hand and let the class know what you found out about the topic. But please, do it humbly. Otherwise you’ll be just like everyone else in the class, arguing for your point of view.

Another advantage of studying ahead of time is that you’ll be less confused. Because people have so many different ideas about the lesson, if you aren’t very familiar with the topic you may come out of the study with your head spinning. If you have studied, however, you’ll have a context in which to place each of the other members’ comments.

Get to know the other members

One thing that has helped me is getting to know the other members in the Sabbath School. The comments that are made aren’t random. They stem from the worldview and belief system that each person has. Brother John harps on smoking each week because his father died from lung cancer. Sister Jenny preaches the horrors of syncopated music because she read something that said it could harm your body’s rhythm.

I’m not saying that this excuses these people for making comments that could offend someone who walks in off the street. Not at all! I’m simply saying that, as you get to know people and learn their stories, you’ll discover that they have reasons for believing the things that they do. This enables you to look less at the comments and more at how to help them either stop making certain comments in Sabbath School or tailoring their comments to make them less offensive.

As you get to know people and learn their stories, you’ll discover that they have reasons for believing the things that they do.

Find the newcomer

If someone walks in and they haven’t attended your church before, go sit with them. This may mean that when you walk into the Sabbath School class you’ll see them and ask if you can sit with them or if you’re already seated, you’ll get up and sit next to them. This can be done easily enough under the pretext of sharing your lesson study and/or Bible with them.

Now that you’re sitting next to this person, you are their human shield. If something is said that appears to have offended them, make a comment privately explaining the speaker’s background or what may have caused them to make such a statement. This helps the comment to become less about the newcomer and more about the member who made it.

Now that you’re sitting next to this person, you are their human shield.

A newcomer in a Sabbath School class is like a civilian on a battlefield. They will probably only survive because you’re sitting next to them, absorbing the bullets before they reach them.

Less is more

My last tip is about thriving in Sabbath School and shielding yourself from becoming one of those members that bothers you. Here it is: Less is more.

One of the teachers in my youth Sabbath School growing up left a profound impression on me. Since there were several teachers, they would take turns teaching the lesson study. On the Sabbaths that he would not be teaching, this teacher would hardly say anything. Instead, he would sit and listen, maybe making one or two comments the entire period! When he spoke, though, we listened. By not talking all the time, he had increased the value of his words. Everything he said was well thought out and incredibly profound. Sitting in his class I made the decision that I would be just like him. When I spoke, I wanted to only say something that was worth listening to.

I don’t know that I’ve really accomplished what he did, but there is not a class period that goes by that I don’t think about his example. I’d like to challenge you to do the same. Because you’ve studied the lesson and gotten to know the other members, you can make comments that are incredibly insightful. Don’t speak often, though. The less you speak, the more you say.

The less you speak, the more you say.

Summary

There you have it! Four tips that will hopefully make Sabbath School not only bearable, but also safe for yourself and for visitors. Before long it may even become a place of deep Bible study and prayer, sparking a revival in your church. So study the lesson ahead of time, get to know the other members, find and shield the newcomers, and speak less than you say. If you do, who knows what kind of blessings you’ll discover next time you get up early and show up to church at 9:30 AM.


*Exaggeration is used to make a point. I understand not all Sabbath Schools are this way and this article is not based on any one in particular, but rather a conglomeration of many.