of Sabbath School and Personal Ministries
To answer that question, I would first like to share my own testimony and how God used the experiences from my youth to give me a deep appreciation for and understanding of the value of Bible study and outreach today.
I was raised in a devout Catholic family in Northern California. During my senior year at a Catholic high school, I went to mass and communion every day, seeking a closer relationship with God. Not finding the answers I was looking for, I took philosophy for three years at a secular college. When that didn’t provide answers, I dropped out of school to pursue a music career instead, not unlike “zillions” of other young people during the era of the late 60s and early 70s.
After about a year of playing music, I was again feeling frustrated at where my life was headed. One day I was strongly impressed with the following thought: “You know, Jim, if you gave up alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, coffee, and meat, you would be a lot better off.”
Somehow that voice made sense, and I resolved to follow through with that rather singular impression. Although smoking hung on for some time after that, I kept away from the “drunk, stoned, wired, and tired” lifestyle. Despite the positive changes I had made in my lifestyle, a short while later I found myself at rock bottom—no money, no job, and no hope.
But God did not give up on me. By His providence I received a Bible, and for the first time in my life I began to read the Word of God. His providence led to a job in the kitchen at the St. Helena Adventist Hospital, where I met my wife, Diana. I knew that Adventists were vegetarian, and since I had not eaten meat for a year, this singular trademark was of interest to me.
I began studying the Bible with faithful Adventists. When I saw the plan of salvation laid out before me, I was thoroughly converted and began to recognize God’s leading in my own life. This was the major turning point of my life; I had finally found what I had been searching for. I realized that God had never turned His back on me and had answered my heart’s desire to know the truth. As a former “seeker” who was sincerely looking for truth, I have no doubt that God was preparing me all along for a life of ministry and outreach.
I started teaching a Junior Sabbath School class even before I was baptized and have no doubt that this laid the foundation for my future career as a seminary professor. I believe Sabbath School and Personal Ministries are at the very heart of every Seventh-day Adventist church. The Adventist Church was born and is grounded in the prophetic Scriptures to share the everlasting gospel to every person and prepare a people for the soon coming of Jesus Christ.
At the beginning of Counsels on Sabbath School Work (CSW), Ellen White states that “The influence growing out of Sabbath school work should improve and enlarge the church” (CSW, p. 9). Carefully note the dual ministry of the Sabbath School work: it should both improve (spiritually grow) and enlarge (numerically grow) the church.
The catalyst for this growth is grounded by the study of the Scriptures, which is the foundational element for all growth in the individual and the church. Note what Ellen White says: “When we search the word of God, angels are by our side, reflecting bright beams of light upon its sacred pages” (CSW, p. 22).
We are not only called to share information during the Sabbath School time but to provide the opportunity for the Word to transform the mind and character of both the teachers and students. These transformational moments are not restricted to the time the class is taught on Sabbath—more importantly, they can be brought to the heart and mind during the week in the circle of the family.
“As a means of intellectual training, the opportunities of the Sabbath are invaluable. Let the Sabbath-school lesson be learned, not by a hasty glance at the lesson scripture on Sabbath morning, but by careful study for the next week on Sabbath afternoon, with daily review or illustration during the week. Thus the lesson will become fixed in the memory, a treasure never to be wholly lost” (Ellen G. White, Education, pp. 251, 252).
The work of the devoted teacher will not cease at the end of the class, but their concern for the salvation of others will lead them to “come close to them in loving sympathy, visiting them at their homes” (CSW, p. 75).
After all, according to both the General Conference and North American Division Departments of Sabbath School and Personal Ministries, the four emphases of each Sabbath School should be Fellowship, Bible Study, Outreach, and Mission. It is only as we convert our Sabbath Schools from study groups to wholistic small groups that the ultimate purpose of our weekly gatherings can truly bear fruit for the kingdom.
One of the very best ongoing resources is Sabbath School Toolbox, which is available on an ongoing quarterly basis at the Adventist Book Center website. Created by Jim Zackrison, the former head of the General Conference Personal Ministries and Sabbath School Department, it is full of practical ideas to transform your Sabbath School.
Although any local church could fulfill its call to be a personal ministries center by focusing on the Sabbath School alone, there are many individuals who will not come to a church. Any ministry that the local church can create, ideally on a weekly basis, can go far in fostering that relationship, which is so vital to soul winning.
Ellen White tells us, “If we would humble ourselves before God, and be kind and courteous and tenderhearted and pitiful, there would be one hundred conversions to the truth where now there is only one” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 189). My own conversion into the Adventist Church was not so much based on doctrinal truth as it was motivated by loving and wise members whom God was able to use at critical times in my spiritual growth. May their tribe increase.
For the past six years, the newly created Personal Ministries/Sabbath School Volunteer Department of the Pacific Union has been active in several important areas of research and ministry in order to enhance the mission of the local church, which is the very heartbeat of the Advent movement.
The first ever textbook on urban ministry is about to be published by the Global Mission Urban Center department of the General Conference. Several ministries within the Pacific Union are featured as case studies, including Glow, Youth Rush, Souls West, Thrive, the AMEN Dental Clinic, the Arizona Sonshine health ministry, and Manna Mesa, a food distribution program.
These important case studies will not only enhance the understanding on how to be fruitful in urban ministry in the Pacific Union but will have a widening circle of influence in other areas of the world field.
Finally, during the last four years I have also worked closely with our Pacific Union Conference Souls West program, which is a wonderful school and training center for young people. We have been working together with Pacific Union College to upgrade the academic viability of the program in order to enhance the two years the young people dedicate to the publishing and Bible work ministry of Souls West.
I deeply believe that by embracing the true purpose and spirit of Sabbath School and Personal Ministries, our churches and communities will flourish beyond what we can imagine.
Pastor Jim Park serves as Sabbath School and Personal Ministries coordinator for the Pacific Union. He is the author of several books and teaches at Loma Linda University and Andrews University. For more information about Sabbath School and/or Personal Ministries, or to inquire about church growth seminars or consultations, you may contact Jim Park at firstname.lastname@example.org.