It has been said that if you aim at nothing you will be sure to hit it. Knowing why we do something and what we hope to achieve are vital parts of earth’s labors and no less seen than in the Sabbath School ministry. I am certain that most of our readers would agree that such a ministry plays an important role in the work of the church. But Thomas Murphy, in his work on Pastoral Theology, states:
“There are but very few persons, probably, who duly appreciate the importance of the Sabbath School work. We must fix our minds upon it, awake our attention to it, measure its proportions and study it well, before we can see it in anything like the greatness to which it has attained.”
Why do we hold Sabbath School classes on the Lord’s Day? Is it because we think we should? Or do we do it because we’ve always done it? For we have not always done it. The history of Sabbath Schools only dates back about 250 years. There is evidence of some schools in England in the early 1700s, but the 1780s is looked upon as the era of their increase. That was the time of the Industrial Revolution when many children worked long hours in the factories, including Saturdays. The Sabbath School program was established as an attempt to deliver these children from a life of illiteracy, and the Bible served as an excellent reading textbook. This idea quickly became popular on both sides of the Atlantic and one writer observes: “By the mid-nineteenth century, Sunday School attendance was a near universal aspect of childhood. Even parents who did not regularly attend church themselves generally insisted that their children go to Sabbath School.”
So, why are we still holding Sunday School classes? To address literacy concerns? Some parents send their children to Sabbath School in order for them to learn “right from wrong.” Is this our purpose? Let me suggest that our aim should be that the children in our classes know and walk in truth. I think of the words of the Apostle John: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 1:4) Of course, the Sabbath School cannot achieve this goal on its own. It should not be used as a substitute for parents teaching their children at home, but children should also be instructed in the regular, public ministry of the church.
Keeping this aim will influence and govern how we run our Sunday Schools. When we realize that children are “born in sin and shapen in iniquity”, we will desire to evangelize children from Christian and non-Christian homes. Children within our church families need to be saved too. Our grasp of truth reminds us that they will not be saved simply by being raised in a Christian home. Faith comes by hearing the Word; thus, we want our children to be under the Word when possible. But that is not all.
D.L. Moody was not long converted before he had a tremendous burden to present children with the gospel. In fact, he wanted to teach a class in a mission Sunday School on the North side of Chicago. The superintendent initially refused as they already had enough teachers for the number of pupils. He told Mr. Moody that he would be free to conduct a class provided he would get his own pupils! The next Sunday Mr. Moody appeared with eighteen dirty, unkempt children. The young teacher observed that each child had a soul to be saved. Sunday School work is an evangelistic opportunity. Are we willing to go out and bring children in under the sound of God’s Word?
Evangelism will not be the only outcome from the aim of seeing children walk in truth. Not only do we believe that children need to be saved to walk in truth, but we also believe that children can be born again and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Thus, Sunday School teachers will desire that their lessons are used by God in the edification of believing children who need to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In summary, our one aim produces two outcomes, and each is obtained through one work. In order to evangelize and edify, our Sunday Schools must prayerfully focus on presenting Christ in all the Scriptures. And in order to see children walking in truth, we must present them with the Word of truth about the Christ who is the Truth.
Dr. Pollock is minister of Malvern FPC, Malvern, PA.