May 22, 2017

The Future of Youth Sabbath School

Tracy Wood, North American Division

A group of Sabbath School practitioners, curricula developers, media producers, university professors, and youth and young adult ministries directors met on May 9-11 to discuss what many are seeing as a crisis in Earliteen, Youth, and Young Adult Sabbath School across the North American Division (NAD) church region. The group convened on the campus of Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States, to pray, discuss, strategize, and commit to the re-visioning, reshaping, rebuilding, and relaunching of Sabbath School ministry for young people.

The collaborative event, called “180 Symposium,” was hosted by the Center for Youth Evangelism, with sponsorship from the North American Division Youth and Young Adult Ministries, Andrews University, Lake Union Conference, and Andrews Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary.

Youth Sabbath School in Crisis
The Sabbath School “crisis” is multifaceted. Very few conferences and unions provide Sabbath School leader training for youth Sabbath School ministry. Because of the many ministries that youth and young adult departments already lead (Adventures, Pathfinders, Master Guide, summer camp, youth, young adults, and public campus ministries), it has been difficult to add Sabbath School to the list of responsibilities for youth directors. Sabbath School resources continue to decrease in subscriptions, thereby making it a huge financial challenge for continued publication. And the purpose and focus of Sabbath School has become unclear in many churches across the division as attendance continues to drop.

For two days of the symposium, leaders made 15-minute presentations followed by discussions based on papers and articles they had written covering a vast range of issues relevant to the current Sabbath School crisis. These articles and papers will soon be available online, and AdventSource will soon publish a book containing the articles.

Some Recommendations

On the third day, participants were divided into groups to strategize from what was presented and formulate recommendations for addressing the crisis.

Among other items discussed, one group focused on the administrative needs and shifts needed to make Sabbath School ministry the primary focus of youth ministries at all levels. The refocusing of youth ministry on Sabbath School is a huge challenge that will need youth leaders, administrators, and educators at all levels of the churchcollaboratingto create the structural and financial answers to the current crisis.

The overall goal is to encourage directors and leaders to refocus Sabbath School ministry as the foundational component of Youth Ministry and reposition all activities and events to grow out of Sabbath School ministry at the local church—while involving youth and young adults in the process.

It is imperative that youth and young adults are involved in the process of re-visioning, reshaping, rebuilding, and relaunching Sabbath School because itisall about them.

“Can we ‘give them the keys’?” “Can they open these doors?”, were some of the questions leaders asked themselves. “Will we involve them as never before in the re-visioning of Sabbath School?” “Will they give suggestions of how to rebrand Sabbath School in ways that are relevant to them?”

“I think the key of the symposium was the love and concern for our youth shown by our church at every level,” said Nestor Osman, Master of Youth and Young Adult Ministries student at Andrews University. “For me it was a watershed moment, because I witnessed the NAD Youth Department stepping forward to officially take on Youth Sabbath School as one of its programs.”

Gerardo Oudri, who was part of the organizing committee, agreed. “I was impressed by the collaborative spirit, the frank discussions and the focused energy evidenced throughout the event,” he said. Noting that the NAD took the recommendations with a marked commitment to work on them until concrete action is seen, he said: “I see a big step in the right direction, and feel a refreshing sense that our long discussions won’t be fruitless.”

Marcos Paseggi contributed to this report.