Sunday schools, when operated with vision, vigour and evangelistic purpose, achieve great things, and their distinctive virtues ought to be appreciated and extolled. Like no other agency they enable us to reach a large part of the rising generation, and to draw children and teenagers to the Saviour.
Indeed, whether or not a congregation contains young people saved from the neighbourhood will usually depend on whether there has been an effective Sunday School, coupled with teenage Bible Classes. The general rule is – no Sunday School ministry, no saved teens and twenties in the church, except, perhaps, for children of believers, and those converted in some other church. It is as predictable and inevitable as that.
Warning and protecting
But aside from its evangelistic purpose, the Sunday School is also a vital ministry of warning. We must not forget that we have a dual ministry, because God has determined that his mercy and his love will be declared to all so that those who reject him shall, in the last day, be without excuse. We are to warn and teach everyone (Colossians 1.28).
However, there are other special and glorious attributes of Sunday Schools which we should value very highly. For example, Sunday Schools protect the young like no other agency on earth. They gather young people in from the community and rescue them from the foul rape of the mind carried out by this present world. They deliver children from the murder of their souls, ruthlessly perpetuated by an evil, arrogant, apostate age. They snatch young lives from the pain and injury of the permissive society. May God so bless our Sunday Schools that children and teenagers shall grow up – even if not yet saved – unscathed from the worst excesses of moral experiment and sin.
We have seen great deliverances arising from this aspect of Sunday School ministry. Throughout this land many former Sunday School and Bible Class children have embarked upon young adulthood possessing a training which has not yet had a saving impact on their lives. Then, just as they have been about to launch into some moral excess, something has stopped them. What they have heard from God’s Word has restrained their minds and hearts, and enabled them to see the futility and immorality of the route they were about to take. We have heard of those who have been suddenly sickened as they were about to immerse themselves in some utterly godless, blasphemous or sensual activity. Their Sunday School background held them back, and the Holy Spirit used it to bring them under conviction.
We see the same divine handiwork in the annals of Christian biography, where godless men and women have suddenly heard again – in their hearts – long-forgotten elements of childhood instruction. It is a teacher’s privilege to be able to put a shield of Truth around the young to protect them from the destruction and mutilation of sin.
In the communities around our churches there are countless young people who are being subjected at this very moment to the most savage anti-Christian brainwashing, and only the Sunday School can help them. It delivers children from being duped by this present world, and from being spiritually maimed and hurt.
The Sunday School is wonderful in another respect also. Nothing ducks under the devil’s defences like the old-fashioned Sunday School. Notice how it gets round the fortified walls of Satan. In communities where there is a high degree of drug abuse, alcoholism, crime, and hatred of the things of God, it is immensely difficult for church visitors to get into homes, and to speak in a credible way to adults. How can we reach such homes? What can we do? How may we overcome the barriers and the antagonism in many communities? The fortifications of the devil are seemingly impregnable.
Yet the marvellous thing about an old-fashioned Sunday School is that its influence goes right under the walls which Satan has erected. Sunday Schools may reach into all kinds of homes. When we visit for the children we are often successful, and they come enthusiastically out to attend the house of God.
Parents who would slam the door if the visit was an effort to reach them, will send their children, and then the parents will gradually become more sympathetic. Older brothers and sisters, even those unreachable through addiction to current teenage idols, or even to drugs, may one day be touched, because the church cares for the little ones, and has developed a credible contact with their homes.
How often we have heard testimonies to the unique and remarkable agency of Sunday Schools. Today, the Sunday School is still the greatest spiritual and social blessing to needy children. In our toughest urban communities there are some children whose only contact with genuine kindness, sympathy and affection, is at Sunday School.
This is the greatest social work we can be engaged in. We have children today who are cursed, never loved, and even abused, and whose lifeline to sanity and to people of character is through the child evangelism ministry. In their Sunday School, Bible Class, and weeknight meeting staff, they have friends who relate to them and are concerned for them. May God help his people to see once again the wonderful merits and opportunities of Sunday Schools.
Can we not draw the teenagers into our church? Is it impossible to attract them in any number to the Gospel services? The reason is, we have no ‘fishers’. And we have no fishers because we have no effective Sunday School ministry to outside children.
It is the fruit of the Sunday School which provides enthusiastic teenage fishers, and just one such keen, zealous youngster will fill a room. May God grant us such fishers, so that young people of Bible Class age, and up into late teens and early twenties, may be found in our congregations, seeking the Lord.
Aside from its soul-saving, soul-protecting, and soul-warning ministry, the Sunday School also blesses the adult church in a deeply significant way. It does this, firstly, by providing important avenues of service for all.
The writer was saddened and surprised some years ago to read in a Christian magazine an article by a Christian woman who complained that there was nothing for women to do in evangelical churches. Yet, as Luther pointed out, a woman has more wisdom and power for teaching and handling children in her little finger than the average man in his whole body.
Avenues of service
In the Sunday School we have the most urgent and profitable ministry imaginable, and usually we have insufficient people to fulfil it on the necessary scale. Why have our Sunday Schools closed when they provide such important and fulfilling avenues of service for all the Lord’s people?
The Sunday School, as an employer of the gifts of saved people, is a most effective channel of personal assurance. Why do the people of God sometimes lack assurance of salvation? The reason, so often, is because the Sunday School is too small. What has this to do with assurance? The answer is that if God’s people were labouring in the work of the Sunday School, visiting the children, teaching the young, pouring out their hearts in intercession before the Lord for ever-increasing numbers and for conversions, and also praying for personal strength and blessing, they would be so much in touch with God, and receiving so many wonderful answers to their prayers, that they would no longer have an assurance problem. If we have a large Sunday School, then we have many of the members of our fellowship in service, and it is through such service that believers prove the Lord.
Sunday Schools also yield up many ‘incidental’ benefits to the churches. They are, for example, a most effective means of identifying (or disqualifying) and training future preachers. In fact, Sunday Schools are arguably the best schools for preachers which could possibly be devised.
Show us a man who wants to declaim importantly, but who is not interested in young souls. It is because he cannot speak plain, engaging, understandable English, and cannot adjust to different kinds of hearer. He has never struggled to address children or teenagers, or to put things simply and plainly. Such a man would be no use in the ministry, and the Sunday School will reveal that with almost ruthless efficiency.
On the other hand, the Sunday School will draw attention to those who are really apt to teach, and then prove them in endurance and largeness of heart.
Influencing a community
Think, also, of how the Sunday School commends a church to its neighbourhood. Even hardened cynics will often begin to think, ‘Well, they do a lot for the children,’ and develop a soft spot for the church, and greater openness to its approaches.
It is the writer’s experience of many years ago that even a powerful county authority may be moved to extend land and favours because a pioneer church has built a large Sunday School in the community.
Then, finally, who knows what blessing and instrumentality may be given to a church in its adult outreach on account of its faithfulness to the rising generation in its community? For did not the Lord say, ‘He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much’ (Luke 16.10)?
Sunday Schools, without doubt, are not only the best but generally the only feasible means of reaching large numbers of children in our communities, and they still have unique strengths. Have we allowed our appreciation of this ministry to become eroded? Have we lost sight of the opportunities and possibilities?