dventist Sabbath school work began in 1852, when James White wrote the first Sabbath school lessons. The following year he organized the first Sabbath school in Rochester, New York. Today, more than 160 years later, 19 million members meet in more than 140,000 Sabbath schools to participate in this worldwide ministry featuring Bible study, fellowship, community outreach, and mission.
During the 2010-2015 quinquennium, in harmony with the goal of the world church, Sabbath School and Personal Ministries (SSPM) has contributed actively and extensively to the Tell the World, Revival and Reformation, and Mission to the Cities initiatives.
Under the leadership of Gary B. Swanson, associate director, who coordinates the production of Bible study guides and conducts training for Sabbath school leaders and teachers, the department provides resources for spiritual growth. Prayer, Bible study, and service form the essential core of discipleship throughout the Sabbath school curriculum for all ages.
The department produces the Sabbath school curricula, with Falvo Fowler serving as editor of Beginner, Kindergarten, and Primary; Bonita Shields, as editor of PowerPoints, Real-Time Faith, and Cornerstone Connections; and Lyndelle Chiomenti, as editor of Collegiate Quarterly. In this quinquennium, circulation of all Bible study guides has increased significantly. Children’s Sabbath school materials are available online in Arabic, Danish, French, German, Spanish, Mandarin, and Norwegian. Adult Bible Study Guides are provided online in Afrikaans, Amharic, Hungarian, Kiswahili, Malayalam, Nepali, SiSwati, Sesotho, Spanish, Tamil, IsiXhosa, and IsiZulu, with plans to add more as they become available.
The Sabbath School 4 app, the first iOS and Android app built at the General Conference, provides access to all the Bible study guides, two versions of the Bible, and all the media produced by the department or its partners. The first app was released in 2009.
Sabbath School University, a weekly video broadcast by satellite, online, and through the app, has completed its twelfth year of production. This first young adult Bible study program produced by the church still provides a practical, youthful application of the week’s Bible study. The program is available in Spanish, coproduced with the University of Montemorelos.
Sabbath School has also expanded its connection to the world church through an intentional emphasis on multimedia. Twelve Web sites provide inspiration and resources for all ages through video and audio podcasts, animation, PowerPointpresentations, downloadable Bible study guides, and other printed resources.
The GraceLink Kindergarten audio podcast was launched in 2007. In 2009 it became an animated video podcast. Today the kindergarten and primary animation series are viewed more than 130,000 times a month. It is used as an outreach resource, a second-language resource in day-care facilities, and is featured in homes around the world as a daily worship resource for children. The animation also extends to a felt app—GraceLink—available on iOS and Android tablets.
In January 2012 SSPM released In Step With Jesus, a new members’ Bible study guide for those who have recently joined the church. This series of four quarterly publications introduces new members to the doctrines, practices, and heritage of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Guided by Bonita Shields, SSPM has continued to work with other departments in developing a whole-person discipleship program under the name “Together Growing Fruitful Disciples.” This program provides materials to nurture members as disciples of Jesus Christ.
The Tell the World initiative involves community involvement. Adventist Community Services is a major responsibility of Sabbath School and Personal Ministries. Under the leadership of May-Ellen Colón, the department promotes worldwide emphasis on community service, centering on providing training, resources, and organizational support. A community service certification curriculum continues to be utilized around the world.
Personal ministries is a facet of the church whose origin is traced to the beginning of Seventh-day Adventism in the 1860s. It endeavors to inspire, equip, and mobilize members for dynamic Christian service.
In the past five years the department has conducted significant training in the areas of personal witness, city outreach, church planting, and evangelism programs. Through SSPM’s working with the North American Division ASI in mobilizing for DVD evangelism, more than 75,000 people have been trained and nearly 55,000 members from 13 divisions have been equipped with DVDs and players. One and a half million people have been impacted through these evangelistic activities.
SSPM is also equipping members with other witnessing kits. Thirty-five leaflets have been published to help members enhance their skills in service and witness. Utilizing such strategies as prison ministries, small-group dynamics, literature distribution, and others, Sabbath School and Personal Ministries provides training in all church-planting projects.
Over the past five years the department has continued production of “Reaching and Winning,” a growing series of learning guides of targeted outreach approaches for Anglicans, Evangelicals, Mormons, Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, New Agers, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Baptists, and secular people, with several more on the way. These are available to equip members to accomplish Tell the World initiatives.
Personal Ministries includes the International Institute of Christian Ministries (IICM). Under its umbrella are various modes of training for religious education, church leadership, global mission, and outreach. IICM provides a certification program for local church leadership, personal evangelism, and public evangelism. Thousands of lay members around the world have received training for evangelism. The results of lay training are featured at festivals of laity around the world where members celebrate God’s blessings in helping them in their witness. Some members have won thousands—and even tens of thousands—of souls.
SSPM personnel have also been directly involved in evangelism every year, resulting in the baptism of more than 1,000 individuals in the past quinquennium.
SSPM has also been assigned to coordinate a special-needs ministry to meet the needs of people with disabilities. Materials to meet the need of seven major categories of disability (cognitive, hearing, hidden, mobility, psychiatric, speech, and visual) are now available.
Bible correspondence schools began in 1942. Today there are schools and affiliates in 140 countries. Bible lessons are available in languages and dialects of these countries. Kurt Johnson has conducted advisories with Bible school directors in nearly all divisions. One world advisory meeting included Bible school coordinators from each division, with representation from Adventist World Radio, Adventist Mission, and Hope Channel. One result of these meetings was the establishment of the International Association of Bible Correspondence Schools to facilitate communication, sharing of Bible lessons, training materials, and ministry coordination among world schools. The Voice of Prophecy Web site links to or hosts Bible lessons in 46 languages. A Bible correspondence school information Web site was launched to provide communication among world schools regarding school locations, addresses, availability of Bible lessons, policies, and general communication.
The world divisions have also produced many valuable resources in the area of Sabbath school and personal ministries. The General Conference Sabbath School and Personal Ministries Department serves as a clearinghouse for these programs and materials. By the grace of God, the SSPM has faithfully upheld the vision of the pioneers and is moving forward to prepare more people for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.