Sabbath School Units have been established since the 19th century to serve as a space for people's spiritual development. (Photo: Porto Alegre Central Adventists)

South America

The challenge of revitalizing Sabbath School

A conversation with the South American Sabbath School director points out challenges and paths to revitalize the so-called "heart of the church".

Brazil | Felipe Lemos

One of the emphases voted for by the Seventh-day Adventist Church throughout South America for the quinquennium concerns further strengthening the Sabbath School Department. In fact, the structure around Sabbath School encompasses not only weekly lesson study, emphasis on worldwide mission projects, and member participation in action units. It's about a motivational program for understanding the Adventist world mission.

Pastor Bill Quispe Sanca, a 44-year-old Peruvian, was appointed in 2021 to lead this department. In his 18 years of working with the Adventist church, he has served as a local church pastor, as well as, the director of the Personal Ministry and Sabbath School department at various churches in Peru. Before arriving at the South American Adventist headquarters, he was president of the region known as the Northern Peruvian Union. Quispe Sanca holds an MA in Theology and is currently pursuing a Doctorate of Ministry program at Andrews University (USA).

The South American Adventist News Agency (ASN) spoke with Quispe about the direction of the Sabbath School Department for the next few years.

Current Reality

What is the Sabbath School reality in South America today? Tell us a little about the structure that exists today in terms of teachers, students, units, etc.

In the past, we had more Sabbath School members in our Church than Church members; today, our reality is the opposite. According to data from the ACMS (system controlled by the Adventist Church's secretariat), at the close of September 2021, there were 2,571,853 church members. And 1,313,571 members enrolled in Sabbath School (51%), of which only 1,012,165 members attended regularly (39%).

On the other hand, of the 28,731 congregations (churches and groups), we have 6,802 congregations that hold teacher classes (23.6%). There are 150,965 Sabbath School teachers who teach the Word of God in 150,965 units of action. Teacher classes were traditionally established to serve as a weekly space for training the people who lead the Sabbath School action units.


What challenges today concern Adventist leadership most in relation to Sabbath School?

First of all, the big concern we have is really to make the Sabbath School an agency to save people, not just a place where only the lesson is passed on. In the early days of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Sabbath School's primary purpose was to help save people. Ellen White stated, “Sabbath School should be one of the greatest and most effective instruments in bringing souls to Christ” ( Counsels on Sabbath School , page 10).

Sabbath School went beyond just studying the lesson. The purpose of the Sabbath School members was to share God's Word (Bible studies) to lead people to Jesus. The Sabbath School class not only had Saturday morning activities, but also mission activities during the week.

For this reason, one of the emphases of the Adventist Church's South American Division for the quinquennium is "active participation in Action Units and Small Groups." This dynamic is important for spiritual and missionary growth. Each member must participate in their Saturday action unit (at church). And, during the week, participate in a Small Group (in homes). With this emphasis, we must also consider the presence and punctuality on Saturday, in addition to encouraging the registration and participation of church members who are not yet part of an Action Unit and Small Group.

Second, we have the challenge of recovering the work of the Sabbath School as the heart of the Church. This means going back to the origins, when, in the past, Church leaders and all members of the Church in general were part of the Sabbath School. We need to go back to the time when this was the only mobilizing structure of the Church for the fulfillment of the mission. Everything was done through the Sabbath School. In other words, the Church fulfilled its mission through the Sabbath School, and this was fully guaranteed through its four objectives: daily Bible study, fellowship, testimonies, and the notion of Global Mission.

Third, we are concerned that teachers are satisfied only with promoting Sabbath School Lesson subscriptions, going over the lesson theme once a week, or just running Small Groups during the week without any goals. We need teachers who are true shepherds to their flock, who care for their students and involve them in the mission of bringing people to Jesus.

Sabbath School Lesson

And as for the Maná project, how is it a reality today, and how can you help to foster interest in studying the Sabbath School lesson, going beyond subscription campaigns?

Of the 2,571,853 Church members, only 995,401 had their Sabbath School lesson (38.7%). On the other hand, the challenge becomes greater when reality shows us that only 587,470 members study the lesson daily (22.8%). Therefore, in addition to increasing lesson subscriptions, we should focus on creative initiatives to encourage daily lesson study.

The Maná project cannot remain simply a promotional, advertising, or commercial project. Above all, it should inspire and motivate us to make Bible study a daily and fascinating habit for our students.


What exits or paths have been thought of to strengthen and make the Sabbath School an area of ​​spiritual and missionary development in the coming years?

The key is the teacher. Flora Plummer led the world Sabbath School for three and a half decades (1901-1936). In her book, The Soul-Winning Teacher, she wrote: "The beating of the teacher's heart sets the Sabbath School rhythm for success in the soul-winning effort." Therefore, we need to revive the teacher's spiritual life with courses in spiritual and missionary formation - the training of teachers to renew their vision and role as a pastor and missionary mobilizer of their action unit.

On the other hand, considering that only 23.6% of churches have a teacher class, we urgently need to organize and revitalize this environment. But, not just as a program to broadcast the lesson content but rather as a missionary training center where the spiritual and missionary life of all members is planned and evaluated. In the first instance, the pastor must take the initiative to organize the teachers' classes in an effective way, and then delegate to the Sabbath School and Personal Ministry leadership to continue this important work.

The teacher class must be a priority on the pastoral agenda. If Sabbath School is the heart of the Church, the heart of Sabbath School is the teacher class. Therefore, let us invest time and resources to motivate and train the Sabbath School teacher permanently in the teacher class, and thus achieve a spiritual and missionary revolution in our Sabbath Schools.

What is the role of Sabbath School in caring for members and decreasing apostasy, that is, abandoning the faith?

In South America, district pastors average 706 members. On the other hand, Sabbath School teachers have an average of 17 members in their Action Unit and Small Group. The question is: Who could provide the best pastoral care? The 706-member pastor or the 17-member Sabbath School teacher? The answer is obvious. The Sabbath School teacher. Therefore, each teacher must be a true pastor to the members of his action unit (mini-church).

This pastoral view of the teacher includes three basic things. Every Sabbath School teacher should ensure that each of his students pray every day, diligently and daily studying his lesson; and above all, make sure each of your students is leading people to Jesus.

On the other hand, to achieve this vision of shepherding, the teacher must visit their students and coordinate the face-to-face or virtual visit to students who missed Sabbath School and/or the Small Group. Ellen White asserts that teachers, through visitation, should build deep bonds of friendship with their students: “With them ye shall be united in loving sympathy, visiting them in their homes” ( Counsels on Sabbath School , page 75).

Finally, to reduce apostasy, the teacher must carry out personalized work in his action unit and in the homes. Involving each member in the mission is the most effective way to vaccinate them against apostasy. Active members in missionary work never apostatize.

What can each Adventist pastor and member do to help in their reality?

Simple but effective stuff. For example, each pastor must be an active member of an Action Unit. When church members see the pastor involved and actively participating in a unity of action, they will follow his example. We need to remember that the value the pastor places on Sabbath School is the same value that the church will place on Sabbath School.

Another important action is that each pastor must carry out all of their pastoral actions and evangelistic efforts through the Action Units and Small Groups. In other words, making the Sabbath School the structure for pastoral care and missionary mobilization. All of this should be coordinated weekly in the teachers' class.

With regard to the members, each one should actively participate in an Action Unit/Small Group and commit to the Sabbath School objectives: daily Bible study through the lesson, fellowship, testimonies, and Global Mission. On the other hand, it is important that the more committed members encourage the ones that are less involved.

This article was originally published on the South American Division’s Portuguese news site.