Except for the best of dinner tables, there is nothing like a great Sabbath School class for building community through conversation. The impression that Sabbath school is in decline may be widespread, but in small circles of the truly fortunate, Sabbath School is the highlight—certainly one highlight—of the week.
Starting today, Spectrum is bringing you occasional interviews with leaders of truly great Sabbath School classes. By “great” we mean classes where members are intellectually adventurous, think and behave as communities, and regard their discussions as service to the cause of Christ and the mission of Adventism.
The idea is that these classes could inspire other classes, perhaps yours, and other leaders, perhaps you.
Chris Blake, of Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, leads the “Something Else Sabbath School” on his campus. With what you might call a serious wink, he told us: “I’m extremely committed to a Sabbath School revival and reformation.” Below are his responses to six questions.
Question: What are one or two keys, do you think, to building a great Sabbath School class?
Answer: An indispensable element is to make certain the class is authentic—it confronts life’s surprising and uncomfortable realities rather than mouthing fill-in-the-blank, pre-recorded confirmations. Seek more to explore than to defend. Also, keep the fun in the fundamentals; otherwise churches are left with just da mentals. If people don’t enjoy one another and laugh together often, any class loses its staying power. Echoing Psalm 16:11, Leon Bly observed, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”
Question: How do you build community—the sense that your class is a mini-Christian family—among participants?
Answer: In Something Else we view Sabbath School as discipleship time. (Worship time is later.) Our goal is to do Christianity, not simply talk about it. As a result, the class pursues five activist ministries: prayer, money, time, study, and social. At the start of our 70 minutes, we devote about 25 minutes to praying for requests and praises, which is absolutely foundational to creating community; we cannot meaningfully interact with each other if we don’t know what’s going on. Jesus didn’t wait for church board meetings to reach out—healthy families respond to needs quickly. During the week we communicate via email a synopsis of the previous Sabbath and a variety of updates.
Question: Do you bring in guest teachers? Are some taken from the membership of the class?
Answer: With around 85 regular class members, many of whom are professors at Union College, we use a cadre of rotating teachers. The class is divided into ministry teams of about six people each.
Question: Does your class attract some people who may be on the “edge” of Adventism? If so, how does it happen? Is intentional effort put into doing this?
Answer: We have had members who are recovering atheists, recovering Catholics, recovering Lutherans, and recovering Adventists. As long as we keep our focus on joyfully following Jesus, meeting needs personally and immediately, and staying authentic, people seem to be attracted. But we’re not attempting to appeal to everybody; we’re trying to be faithful to the Master’s commission to make activist disciples, doing everything in love that He commands. First-time participants are included in every ministry the moment they enter our class. To become a class member all one has to do is express interest.
Question: Do you follow the church quarterly? Always, sometimes or never? Why?
Answer: We use the Bible as the sole basis of study and hand out loaner Bibles. That way we’re all on the same page and we can explore whatever we choose without extra expense. Normally I make up the lessons. Our quarterly studies have included “The 40 Parables of Jesus”; “The Holy Spirit and Revival”; “John 1:1-14”; “Polarities in Jesus’ Time”; “Seven Churches and a Lamb”; “Galatians: Epistle of Freedom”; “Amos: Champion of Justice”; “The Gospel of Luke”; “Women of the Bible”; “Romans 12: The Life”; “Proverbs”; and “Jesus’ Other Commandments.” Currently we’re studying “The New Life Beatitudes: Ephesians 4:20—5:2.”
Question: If your class is intellectually adventurous—you take up matters many would be uncomfortable with—how do you maintain good relationships with the rest of your congregation?
Answer: Fortunately we’re in a large (2,200 members) and accepting congregation with numerous Sabbath School options. We do support the larger College View Church with our offerings of money and time. When we began 18 years ago, a few misgivings were voiced but we have a proven track record now. As an example, over those years the class has given about $330,000 to more than 650 special projects both within and without the church. We are grateful for the freedom to study and act with autonomy while remaining vitally connected.