“The Sunday School as a Missionary,” Ensign, Aug. 1971, 29
Of all the auxiliaries of the Church, the Sunday School is unique. It is responsible for the entire membership of the Church. Its curriculum covers the entire spectrum of the gospel. It has more enrolled and more in attendance than any other organization in the Church. It has the best hour of the day and the best day of the week. It has done immeasurable good, but there is so much more that must be done. If the Church is to be strengthened, and it must be; if knowledge of the gospel is to be increased among the membership of the Church, and it must be; if the spirituality of our people is to be refined, and it must be—then the Sunday School must become even more effective. It is a marvelous organization that has within its power the opportunity to touch for everlasting good the lives of many hundreds of thousands of people scattered over the earth. Great is the opportunity; great is the challenge.
A man came into the office one day to get some missionary tracts, and he had in his hand a letter from his son who was in the war. The son wrote, “I’ve made a friend. I’ve taken him to the little group Sunday School that we have—just three or four of us. The others don’t know very much, and I don’t know very much. All that I know about the Church is the little I learned in Sunday School. Won’t you please send me some literature?”
That is probably the case with most of us. What most of us know about the Church is what we learned in Sunday School. We live in an age when the minds and hearts of men are being worked upon by a thousand influences. Richard M. Nixon, president of the United States, said a year ago: “The average high school student, by the time he graduates, has spent, 11,000 hours in school and 15,000 hours watching television,” to which I should like to add that he has spent less than 500 hours receiving Sunday School class instruction.
With challenges of this kind before us, there should grow in the heart of each Sunday School officer and teacher in the Church a resolution to do a little better. I keep under the glass on my desk a great statement from Browning: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp.” We all ought to stretch ourselves a little more to reach out in behalf of those who don’t come, who belong to the Church, and in behalf of those who don’t come, who could belong to the Church.
I remember a stake conference some years ago in a rural part of the Church. I asked for the hands of all those who might have joined the Church in the last eighteen months. Among those who raised their hands was a fine-looking young man and his wife and three children. I said to the man, “I know this is an unkind thing to do, but I wonder if I could ask you to come to the stand and take ten minutes to tell us how you came to join the Church and what it has meant to you.”
He came forward and said, “I have come to work as an engineer in the big plant that has been built out here on the desert. We decided when we came here that we might join a church.
“Because my wife once worked for a Mormon and was impressed with him, we decided to try this church first, and so we very timidly came one Sunday morning to this building and entered through the door back in the corner of the hall. As we came in, a man reached out his hand and said, ‘Good morning, I’m Brother So and so,’ and I responded and said, ‘My name is such and such.’ He said, ‘I haven’t seen you before. Have you just moved here?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘What ward did you come from?’ I was puzzled. He finally concluded that we were not members of the Church. He said, ‘Come in and sit down. Let me sit by you and explain what goes on.’ So he sat with us. And when it was time to go to the classes, he took our children to their classes and introduced them to the teacher. He took us to the Gospel Doctrine class. We sat on the back row where we wouldn’t feel conspicuous.
“When Sunday School was over he said, ‘We have another meeting this evening. My wife and I will be glad to come by and pick you and your family up.’ I said, ‘No, you don’t need to do that. We’ll come on our own.’ And so we came and he and his wife were there to greet us, and we felt comfortable and we felt enriched. We discovered we’d found something. A few weeks later we were baptized.”
As the man stood at the pulpit, his eyes began to moisten and the tears began to drop from his cheeks, and he said, “A month ago we went to Salt Lake City and went through the temple, and I can’t begin to tell you what that has meant to us and to our home.”
That man now has a son on a mission—the little boy who sat in that stake conference that Sunday afternoon, who had met the Church in Sunday School.
If I were a Sunday School officer, I would work as I had never worked before to see that in my Sunday School the spirit of reverence would be so impressive, the teaching would be so stimulating, the music would be so uplifting, that all who came on a Sunday morning would go away refreshed and with a desire to return a week hence. I would cultivate within my corps of officers and teachers a missionary spirit, an anxious desire to reach out and bring into activity those who are out in the shadows—and that would constitute about 50 percent—about one on the outside for everyone who is inside. I would ask my teachers to ask the ward executive secretary for the names of the home teachers of each such individual. I would then ask those home teachers to make a special effort in behalf of each individual and, if they could not accomplish what was needed, I would ask for the opportunity to assist them. I would not beg for attendance when I talked with those who were out in the shadows. I would pray for wisdom to find some kind of a challenging opportunity to offer to each one. People don’t respond to begging—they respond to challenges. And then I would make every member of my class a missionary to bring someone to Sunday School who isn’t acquainted with the Church.
I was greatly impressed a year ago in a testimony meeting in a branch in South America to hear a woman speak. She had come into the Church three months earlier. She was on fire, she was enthusiastic, she spoke as one who had had the kind of experience that Saul of Tarsus had. She wanted to do something and she was doing it. I talked to the mission president about her after that meeting and he said, “Since she joined the Church three months ago, she has given the missionaries three hundred referrals, of whom sixty-seven have come into the Church, within a period of three months. She has been their escort and their host in coming to Sunday School and sacrament meeting and MIA.”
If I were a Sunday School teacher, I’d get onto my knees and ask the Lord for inspiration and direction and help in this great undertaking. And I would so strive to improve my teaching skills and the spirit of my teaching that when my students came they would wish to come again. I would never lose sight of these great words of scripture: First, “Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers.” (D&C 112:10.) And second, that great commandment and that great promise, concerning this matter of which we are speaking: “Teach ye diligently, and my grace shall attend you. …” (D&C 88:78.)
There are more than 1900 branches in the missions of the Church. I think, with possibly a few exceptions, every one began as a Sunday School. From these very modest beginnings have grown strong branches, great districts, large and fruitful missions, and thriving stakes of Zion. The little branch Sunday School is to the Church as the bud is to the blossom and then to the mature fruit. Sunday School is the most natural meeting of the Church to which to take an investigator of the gospel. One can never foretell the consequences of that which you do when you start this missionary process working.
President Charles A. Callis relates this story: “When I was presiding over the Southern States Mission, there came to the mission office a young man who had completed his two years and was about to go home, and he came in to make his final report. I said, ‘What have you accomplished?’ and he said, ‘President Callis, I have accomplished nothing. I have wasted my time and my father’s money, and I’m going home.’ I said, ‘Haven’t you had a single baptism?’ He said, ‘Yes, I’ve had one. I baptized a man in the backwoods where we have only a little Sunday School—a man who doesn’t even wear shoes.’”
President Callis said, “I was intrigued with that young man’s sense of failure. When next I went up into that district, I looked up that man. I found he’d put on shoes, that he’d put on a shirt and a tie, that he was secretary of the little branch Sunday School. He became the superintendent of the branch Sunday School. He was ordained a deacon and then a teacher and then a priest and then an elder. He became the president of the branch. He moved off the little tenant farm on which he and his father before him had lived and got a piece of ground and cleared it and made it fruitful. He became the district president. He sold his farm and moved to Idaho, where he developed a fine farm in the Snake River Valley. His boys grew and went on missions, and now his grandsons have gone on missions.”
Then President Callis added, “I’ve been up in Idaho the past week making a survey and I’ve discovered that, as a result of that one baptism by a young man who came home thinking he’d failed, more than eleven hundred people have come into the Church.”
The Lord has declared: “Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.
“Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind. …” (D&C 64:33–34.)
The challenge of this great organization, then, is to make of it an effective and persuasive tool in bringing out of the shadows persons who walk in misery and unhappiness and regret, and in bringing into the Church for their eternal blessing those who presently do not know its saving doctrine.