“Sabbath School is an incredibly important part of our church,” said Gerry Lopez, associate children’s ministry director for the North American Division (NAD), during the opening general session of the 2021 Do It Together Sabbath School Convention. This two-day event took place online September 9-11, 2021.
To get the event started, Sherri Uhrig, NAD Children’s Ministry director for the NAD, asked participants to call out in the chat feature what their particular gifts are.
“It’s okay to share that with others,” she added; “God gave you those gifts to use for him and for others, so identify those that are unique to you and own them!”
Responses in the chat included caring, music, making others feel welcome, teaching, administration, listening, speaking, sharing God’s love with children, encouragement, and many others.
Following the opening session, participants split into their desired track: Children’s Ministry, Youth Ministry, or Adult Ministry, attending several sessions each day. Specialized training for online Sabbath School was also offered. Each workshop was presented in English and interpreted into Spanish and French. Most sessions saw attendance between 70 and 120.
“The whole ‘Do It Together’ theme is about saying that the better way to do Sabbath School, and the strength and the power comes when we all decide that we're going to do it, is together,” said Vandeon Griffin, NAD Youth and Young Adult Ministries associate director. "We feel like that's where the power comes — when we just all come together, intergenerationally, and do this thing.”
Children’s Ministry sessions started with “Ministering to Children with Special Needs,” presented by Linda Schaffner, a children’s ministry team member who also has a teen in this category.
“Serving children with special needs takes an open mind and an open heart to see the value and beauty a child with special needs brings to the body of Christ,” said Schaffner. “It takes willingness to see things differently. Jesus doesn’t just call those who can walk, talk, see, and hear; he calls all of them.”
Schaffner invited all attendees to find a pencil and a piece of paper, then asked them to hold the pencil in their non-dominant hand and write down the sentences she was about to say. “Listen carefully,” she warned, “because I won’t repeat any of them.”
The sentences started simple, working up to the final one: “In August, Sam and his family went to New Zealand looking for the lost articles of Mesopotamia that were said to have disappeared in the early 1600s.”
No participants were able to complete even one sentence, and many expressed frustration and a sense of defeat very early in the activity. Schaffner said children sometimes feel that way, too.
“We have a calling to see things through Jesus’ eyes,” she added. “It’s critical that we create a place where no matter their ability, children have the opportunity to serve and worship Jesus.”
Other Children’s Ministry events included “Understanding Challenging Kids,” “Teaching Children to Pray,” “Active Learning,” “Teaching Children to Think,” “Teaching from Nature,” “Interactive Storytelling,” and more.
In the fifth Youth Ministry workshop for “Involve” (the second I in “IGNITE”), Rogelio Paquini presented “How to Start Good Discussions.” Ideas ranged from voting on a particular issue/idea to giving the youth a dilemma situation and asking them what they would do and why, to interviewing someone in class.
“How you close a discussion is just as important as how you start it,” Paquini pointed out. “You want to leave them with something to do or something to think about until the next time you’re together.”
Suggestions included challenging the students to take what was discussed to the next level in their own lives, asking the group a question to ponder during the week, or giving them something to take home as a symbol of what was discussed.
One of the participants asked what they should do if the kids are talking with each other, but not about the Sabbath School lesson. Paquini was quick to point out that any and all conversation is important, especially for youth.
As presenter Steve Case shared in a different youth session, “Friends are currency to young people. The more friends you have, the richer you are.”
Paquini urged teachers and leaders to let those “small talk” conversations happen, and to use the topics they naturally gravitate toward to start the bigger conversations.
“Start with the things they’re comfortable with — school, sports, friends, food, family — and then move into the deeper, more spiritual issues,” he said. “Give them time to get comfortable interacting, and then guide them into a more meaningful experience.”
Other youth session topics included “Jesus in Your Youth Sabbath School,” “Increase Participation,” “Teaching Techniques of Cornerstone,” and “Communion: Communicating Community,” among others.
Now We’re Talking
In the Adult Sabbath School session “My Ideal Sabbath School,” Colette Newer shared ways to add a spark to traditional adult Sabbath School. Among other ideas, she urged leaders to honor diverse perspectives in their classes.
“Be aware not only of who is talking, but who isn’t,” she encouraged. “Pay attention to who isn’t represented in our understanding and discussions.”
Sometimes, Newer pointed out, we assume people don’t speak up because they aren’t interested in talking. But, she says, that’s rarely true.
“God is working through them, and they do have things to say,” she stated. “It’s healthy for them to be able to share, and for us to hear them.”
Newer gave examples of the kinds of perspectives to consider: economic status, gender, country of origin, field of education, ethnicity, culture, and age.
She also suggested that Sabbath School leaders make it a point to utilize outreach and activities in their classes, using the weekly gathering as a springboard for action throughout the week. In a different adult Sabbath School session J. Alfred Johnson II pointed out that “Sabbath School is not the church at study; it’s the church in action.”
Newer concurred: “This is not to replace the lesson or Bible study, but to amplify and intensify those things through work in our families and neighborhoods. Sabbath School should breathe life into my faith, making it an experience and not just a theory.”
Other adult sessions included “Changing the Growth Trajectory of Your Sabbath School,” “Creating Great Class Discussions,” “How to Organize and Teach a Sabbath School Class,” and more.
A Life-Long Journey
On Friday evening during the event, nearly 130 participants came together virtually for worship with Pastor Tara Vin Cross from the Azure Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church in California. Vin Cross pointed out that as of October 2020 the statistics still show that 50 percent of those who join the church eventually leave it, and while this may be discouraging, it also points to exactly what the focus of the church must be: discipleship.
“Discipleship is a life-long journey, and is not defined by the moment we’re in right now,” she said. “Every disciple has periods of high faith and times of devastating doubt. This doesn’t disqualify them as disciples, it simply means there are seasons to our spiritual journey.”
Vin Cross said we need to make sure our kids also know and understand God — -to have the depth of a relationship that leads them to make a difference in the world. But, she added, we cannot give them something we ourselves are not experiencing.
“You are chosen,” she said with feeling. “We sometimes get caught up thinking of other things, and need to leave those things behind in order to step forward into our identity in Christ.”
Vin Cross then asked all participants to take a Sharpie and write on the bottom of their shoe something that they would commit to leave behind in order to focus more fully on God and His calling in their lives. In the chat, many shared what they had written: control, mistakes, doubt, people-pleasing, the past, pain, judgmental attitude, worry, selfishness, insecurity, trauma, anger, self-assurance.
“We are invited to bring our brokenness into the light of Jesus,” Vin Cross said in closing. “Brokenness in the hands of God brings healing. When we place our meager offerings in the hands of Jesus, all are satisfied and there are usually leftovers. We may not feel like we have enough right now, but when we place what we have in God’s hands, it is enough.”
— Becky St. Clair writes from Angwin, California.