Guidelines for Adult Sabbath School Teachers
- Make it Bible-based
- Make it practical
- Make it interactive
- Make it your own
- Start and end on time
This document was written with a particular church in mind. I’m publishing it now because I believe it can be generally helpful in a variety of churches.
At our church, we have a variety of adult Sabbath school teachers who have their own personalities, styles, and spiritual gifts. We believe this variety is beneficial. However, the more people who are involved, the more coordination is needed. This document presents some guidelines to make our Sabbath school as effective as possible. It ends with some resources to help teachers.
In summary, the principles are that each class should be Bible-based, practical, and interactive. In addition, we want teachers to make their class their own and to manage their time well.
Make it Bible-based
Sabbath school is a time of Bible study; it is not a study of the quarterly, even though the quarterly determines the topics. A person visiting our church for the first time who has no prior knowledge of Adventists should conclude without having to be told that our church’s teachings are firmly based on the Bible.
Each point should be clearly drawn from the Bible, and the relevant passages should be read directly from the Bible during class. Class members and visitors should feel without having to be told that it is necessary to have a Bible with them in class and to use it.
Extra note: Use caution when assigning multiple passages at one time: While auditory learners will have no difficulty listening to others read passages and assimilating all the information in those passages, visual learners will have trouble remembering what has been read and will want to turn to each passage themselves. It’s better to either allow enough time for everyone to turn to all the passages or to delve deeply into fewer passages rather than skimming the surface of more passages. Being Bible-based doesn’t usually require sprinting throughout the Bible.
Besides the Bible, there are other resources that teachers might find useful. The most obvious one is the Adult Bible Study Guide (quarterly). Because Sabbath school is primarily a Bible study, the quarterly is an additional resource, not the main resource—the main resource being the Bible. Teachers should feel free to make use of the quarterly, but it should always be kept subsidiary to the Bible. There is no requirement to cover all topics raised in the quarterly or to cover all pages.
In addition to the quarterly, teachers may find other resources to be appropriate. Examples include the writings of Ellen White and other relevant books and articles. The appropriate use of such resources is encouraged, provided that the Bible remains the primary resource.
Two rules of thumb
The first rule of thumb is this: For every key idea, the class should read at least one Bible passage which supports the idea. If the Bible is used frequently in class, there will be little room for doubt that our Sabbath school is Bible-based.
The second rule of thumb is related: Aim to spend more time reading from the Bible than from all other resources combined (including the quarterly). If the Bible is really the Word of God, we should have no trouble spending such an amount of time in it.
A teacher goes page-by-page through the quarterly, spending most of the time on the points brought out in the quarterly. This isn’t Bible-based, because the bulk of the time was spent not in the Bible but in the quarterly.
A teacher expounds upon the topic of the day, perhaps referencing the Bible, but the class members don’t actually open their Bibles and read the relevant Bible passages. This isn’t a Bible-based class; it’s based on the teacher’s opinions.
A teacher has the class read several Bible passages and discuss them, possibly also giving some of his/her own thoughts as well. Because the focus is on the Bible and everyone used their Bibles, it’s a Bible-based class.
Make it practical
You should make sure that every week there’s something practical that the class members can apply to their lives. To do this:
Identify no more than four key points that you want to emphasize. Fewer is better than more.
Identify one or more calls to action which are derived from your key points and flow naturally and clearly from them. Again, fewer is better than more.
- A call to action involves the class members applying spiritual truth to their lives. While occasionally a call for understanding is appropriate, normally class members should be encouraged to do something with the spiritual truth.
Focus your lesson around these key points, omitting anything that doesn’t directly support the key points.
During the lesson, class members may bring things up which aren’t tied into your key points. Decide whether these extra topics are important enough to justify deviating from your plan. If they are, make sure to make those points practical, as well. If they aren’t important enough, politely refocus the discussion.
At an appropriate time in the lesson, make your calls to action explicit. If someone were to quiz the class members about the class, they should at the minimum be able to clearly articulate at least one of your calls to action.
Make it interactive
While each teacher has their own personality and style, all teachers should ensure that Sabbath school is interactive. It’s not the place for a sermon or a lecture. Some teachers will talk more than others, and that’s fine. But class members should have plenty of opportunities to contribute.
Here are some tips for making Sabbath school interactive:
Ask open-ended questions (questions which can’t be answered with a simple yes or no). Also, ask questions which require thought to answer, and ask follow-up questions to probe pat or trite answers.
Check for understanding. If met by silence or blank stares, or by answers which are quite different from what you were expecting, make sure that the class understands your question correctly.
Don’t be afraid of silence. When you ask thought-provoking questions, most people need time to think before answering. So expect to wait for a bit. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of silence, as long as the class understands what you’re asking. Resist the urge to say something too quickly.
Don’t answer your own questions too quickly. Instead, give the class an opportunity to answer. You only need to answer if—after the class has had its turn—a point you believe to be important hasn’t yet been brought out adequately.
Don’t expect class members to read your mind. When you ask a question, sometimes no one will give the answer you were looking for. That’s OK. Acknowledge any answers which are valid, even if they’re different from what you want to hear. If no one gives the answer you’re looking for, chances are that no one knows what you want to hear, and it can be quite frustrating to be in a class where the teacher is trying in vain to get someone to say something when no one knows what they’re supposed to say. So the best approach when no one gives the answer you’re looking for after a reasonable amount of time is just to give the answer yourself—without berating the class for not knowing. Remember, if the class doesn’t know something you think they should know, that’s your responsibility, not theirs.
Make it your own
Each teacher has their own personality and mix of spiritual gifts, as well as their own particular interests. Be a David, and instead of fighting in Saul’s armor, conduct the class as God has gifted you.
Regardless of your personal style, though:
- Make it Bible-based
- Make it practical
- Make it interactive
Finally, we all have certain topics that interest us more than other topics. You should be aware of your pet topics and try to keep a topical balance, not emphasizing your particular topics too much. In addition, because we have a variety of teachers, you should also consider the other teachers’ pet topics and aim for an overall topical balance.
Start and end on time
Sabbath school starts at 10:00 and ends at 10:50. Rely on cell phone time, as the clock in the sanctuary isn’t always accurate. While there may be audible time reminders, it’s your responsibility as the teacher to keep track of the time and not depend on any outside reminders.
The teachers’ quarterly provides various helps for teachers. Beware of following it verbatim, though, as it doesn’t always follow the guidelines in this document. However, you may find the lesson objectives and summary useful in helping you choose your key points and/or calls to action. If you don’t have a paper edition, you can also find it online.
Ssnet.org has a variety of resources for Sabbath school teachers. In addition to various articles about the lesson topic, there are several people who produce lesson plans and teaching materials weekly which you may find of value. You can subscribe to receive these materials via email.
“Discussion Starters” by Joyce Griffith offers thought questions about many of the topics covered by the quarterly. There isn’t time in class to use all of these questions, but you might be able to select a few which fit in with your key ideas.
“Lesson Plan” by Michael Fracker is a weekly Bible-based, discussion-based plan. It can provide a good framework for a lesson, though you might want to supplement it to add variety.