Transformation on Sabbath Morning

We want to reach everyone God gave us to teach—including the illiterate. To do so requires that we use a natural, four-step process that answers the needs of each learner:

  • Why do I need this? Is this something I value and care about, and how will it affect me? (learning style: imaginative)
  • What does the Bible say about my need? Does this reflect what the experts think, and will it enable me to be accurate? (learning style: analytic)
  • How does what the Bible teaches actually work in daily life in my world? (learning style: commonsense)
  • How do I use these principles that matter to me for my growth and for the people I want to touch for Christ? (learning style: dynamic)

A Bridge. James Zull, professor of biology, Case Western Reserve University, and author of The Art of Changing the Brain, explains connections in the brain. He says that the integrative cortex and the motor cortex are where we develop ideas and abstract hypotheses. Here is where we organize our thoughts into bigger pictures that seem to make sense and decide whether to do something. This bridge between the front cortex and back cortex is where transformation of the learner from a receiver to a producer of knowledge takes place (pp. 33-41).

By answering the four questions, we complete a natural cycle of learning that can be demonstrated in the brain. Answering “Why do I need this?” and “What does the Bible say about my need?” are primarily functions of the back cortex of the brain. Addressing “How does what the Bible teaches actually work?” and “How will I use what I have learned?” are functions of the front cortex of the brain. Receiving knowledge is primarily a function of the back cortex of the brain. Using knowledge is primarily a function of the front cortex of the brain.

A Balance. In the early twenty-first century (2002), James Zull wrote: “Our structure for learning should have a well-proportioned foundation. There should be balance between receiving knowledge and using knowledge. If this is achieved, then our foundation can do more than just support. It can be an integrated part of the larger structure” (The Art of Changing the Brain, p. 45).

However in the early twentieth century (1905), Ellen White had already written the same thing: “Let the youth advance as fast and as far as they can in the acquisition of knowledge. . . . And, as they learn, let them impart their knowledge. It is thus that their minds will acquire discipline and power. It is the use they make of knowledge that determines the value of their education. To spend a long time in study, with no effort to impart what is gained, often proves a hindrance rather than a help to real development” (The Ministry of Healing, p. 402; italics supplied).

The Work

The natural cycle of learning follows these four steps: 

  1. Strike gold. Create a reason for receiving the information. 
  2. Mine the field. Facilitate receiving the information. 
  3. Go to the bank. Support them as they try using it. 
  4. Make multiple deposits. Let them add value to it and use it in their lives.  

Strike gold. “Why do I need to know this?” Connect what I already know to what you want me to know. Ellen White said: “True education is not the forcing of instruction on an unready and unreceptive mind. The mental powers must be awakened, the interest aroused. For this, God’s method of teaching provided. He who created the mind and ordained its laws, provided for its development in accordance with them” (Education, p. 41).

If we analyze how Jesus taught, we see this cycle emerge. He was teaching to the multitudes, most of whom, based on the history of that period, were illiterate. He always started with the learner’s context by using objects and stories that were familiar to the learners. Jesus referenced things such as boats, fish, sheep, water, wine, bread, fig trees, seeds, grain, etc. Effective learning builds upon what the learner already knows. Starting with the learner’s context shifts the emphasis from teaching to learning. 

Mine the field. The goal must go beyond giving facts. Adults need to develop their own understanding and information, making it more useful.

Jesus used discovery learning. When He beckoned Peter to walk on the water, the lesson was about faith. Jesus could have simply given Peter a little lecture on all the aspects of faith, but He wanted Peter to discover it. 

After He pulled Peter from the water, He asked, “Why did you doubt?” Jesus knew and could have told Peter, but He asked instead. He allowed Peter to discover. The emphasis was on learning, not teaching.

Go to the bank. Jesus realized that when people were engaged in a captivating activity, they are ready to learn. In contrast to the rote practice of the Pharisees, He created lessons out of what happened around Him:

  • The woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11)
  • The storm on the sea (Luke 8:23)
  • The paralytic (Matthew 9:2-9).

Many adults don’t want to be lectured to. They prefer problem solving. All adults want to learn about relevant topics.

“When our Sabbath School class members are truly captivated by something, they are already learning. Teachable moments place the emphasis on learning, not teaching” (Why Nobody Learns Much of Anything at Church, p. 34).

Multiple Deposits

Lead participants to add personal value to learning by using lesson principles in their lives. For example, Jesus taught the disciples about betrayal and then gave them opportunities to practice their loyalty. (Read Matthew 26:31-49.) The failure of Peter, Judas, and the others during practice sealed the lessons into their memories. Few lessons stick without practice. 

Ministry is full of examples.

Example: When telling others how God is working in our lives, we can ask each person to turn to a seatmate and tell what God has recently done for them. Everybody practices and that practice will result in genuine learning.

Create an experience that will help teach the content of the lesson. This section is based entirely on past experience and what the learner suspects or intuits about the subject.

  • Examine and discuss what was done in this experience.
  • Image the experience in such a way that learners begin to think about the concepts that are part of the lesson. The method here should be informational based on the experience that the group has had. The information presented will include the class reactions to that experience. This leads into the lesson study.


  1. Expand content by learning new material. Look at the parts and define what needs to be known. This is the teaching time. Remember, adults need to develop their own understanding and information, making it more useful. Jesus used discovery learning.
  2. Practice defined givens. Try them. Test them and see if they work and how they work. This is reinforcement for what was taught.
  3. Let the learners develop originality. In this activity the learners refine the effectiveness of their personal additions to the content.
  4. Probe, enlarge ideas, encourage, and challenge. Allow the class to experience self-discovery as they take what they have been taught a step further by adding their own creativity to it.
  5. Totally integrate what they have learned into their lives. To do this they must use it. Make sure they leave Sabbath School with a plan for personal application.

Life Experience

A new picture of illiterate adults is beginning to emerge. Qualitative studies in which the adults were provided opportunities to share their own perspective show that, although they may lack formal schooling, many have educated themselves through life experiences. Many illiterate adults are frustrated with educators and Sabbath School facilitators-teachers who place all the emphasis on teaching and forget the most important part: learning.

Again quoting what Ellen White wrote so many years ago: “In the common walks of life there is many a [person] patiently treading the round of daily toil, unconscious that [they possess] powers which, if called into action, would raise [them] to an equality with the world’s most honored men. The touch of a skillful hand is needed to arouse those dormant faculties” ( The Desire of Ages, p. 250).

Sabbath School facilitators must have the touch of a skillful hand to awaken dormant faculties.

Eugene Brewer
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists