The Sunday School Looks Forward

by President David O. McKay

Dec. 1949

[620] "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? Simon answered, "Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus said unto him, Feed my lambs." —John 21:15

Such was the divine injunction given by the Risen Lord to Peter, His chief apostle, emphasizing the fact that the proper training of childhood is man's most important and sacred duty.

Children at birth are the most dependent and helpless of all creatures; yet they are the sweetest and greatest of all things in the world. They come, or should come, from the Father pure and undefiled, without inherent taints or weaknesses. This is the responsibility of the parents. Their souls are as stainless white paper on which are to be written the aspirations and achievements of a lifetime. Whether that life's scroll shall become a biography of a noble, Christlike soul or a series of blots and blemishes depends largely, if not entirely, upon guiding influences of parents, playmates, and teachers. In the formation of the character and guidance of childhood, parental influence is greatest, but next comes the teacher's influence.

There is true nobility in the soul of that man or woman who sincerely desires and series to lead children out of contaminating influences into an environment of high ideals and lofty endeavors.

Next to eternal life, the most precious gift that our Father in Heaven can bestow upon man is his children. Ideals that relate to God and to little children are indispensable elements to happiness and eternal life. An institution, therefore, that makes heaven its aim and childhood its obligation is one with which every loyal heart should [d. . .] [621] to be associated. Such an organization is the Deseret Sunday School Union.

The topic, Toward What the Sunday School is Looking in the future.

First: the Sunday School looks forward to the time when every girl and boy, every man and woman, will be enrolled as a member.

The Sunday school began in 1849 with one superintendent and teacher, and twenty-nine pupils. It required forty-seven years—from 1849 to 1896—for the Sunday School membership to reach the first one hundred thousand. The impetus of that one-hundred-thousand group added another one hundred thousand in eighteen years. With this multiple force of two hundred thousand, only seventeen years were required—1914 to 1931—to top the three-hundred-thousand mark. Think what gains are possible during the next ten years with the accumulated momentum of over four hundred seventy thousand, the total membership of the Union at the present time!

If every student, every pupil, will make it his or her obligation to bring in one new member, you will have with the application of just this one means, nearly a million members. Further than that, no teacher must be satisfied until she makes an effort to have every boy and girl enrolled who in age and ability belong to her class. The Sunday School looks forward to your accomplishing that duty. In handling these seemingly indifferent ones, fellow teachers, will you pleas keep in mind these three parables: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, The Prodigal Son. The first was lost in his eagerness to seek daily sustenance, in wandering too far from the flock. The coin was lost through carelessness of the housewife. The prodigal son became lost because he desired his portion and spent it in profligacy. He did not get back until he came to himself and said, "I will rise and go to my father." Through study and prayer to the best of your ability, counteract those three enticing elements as you seek to bring back the lost ones.

Second: The Sunday School looks forward to the time when in every class in the Sunday School the principles of punctuality, courtesy, self-control, respect for authority, studiousness, responsiveness, and particularly reverence and worship, will so impregnate the atmosphere that even the dullard by absorption will be benefited. This is not dreaming; I am not being visionary. The Sunday Schools of the future may realize just that ideal atmosphere.

Third: The Sunday School looks forward to the time when every teacher will possess the qualities mentioned by these Sunday School children tonight. You say, well, that will be perfection. Granted, then, let us do our best to approach it, fellow teachers, for they named some practical qualities and attributes which impress childhood. In that connection, every Sunday School teacher should come prepared to give his lesson. Did you [622] notice the emphasis one of the children put upon that? And rightly.

The Union looks forward to the time when no teacher will come unprepared to his or her class. That means that every teacher will have within his or her mind a sincere and prayerful desire to awaken within at least one heart every Sunday (and we hope in many hearts) the desire to achieve mastery over weak and selfish indulgences; to awaken even in childhood a hope in the boys to become noble characters; in the girls, to become modest, beautiful women. To awaken in their hearts the desire to become friends; also to look forward to the time when they will be worthy companions in loving homes, and, later in life, to be worthy of fatherhood and pure motherhood. These are true ideals of the gospel, but they are practical ones. Finally, the teacher will have in her heart the desire to awaken a love of the gospel of Jesus Christ, obedience to which brings happiness in this life and salvation throughout eternity.

Fourth: The great Sunday School of the future will have a teacher training class in which not only the active teachers, but also prospective teachers may receive practical instructions in the preparation and presentation of lessons. That is an important factor. To reach the ideals I have mentioned, or even to approach them, the prepared teacher must see clearly the message she is to impart. You cannot give what you do not posses. You cannot awaken in the hearts of children a nobility which is not yours. She must know the details associated with the incidents of her lesson; must, through keen observation and further research and study, gather illustrative material; must organize logically the accumulated material, that it may be presented impressively; must exercise discrimination and eliminate that which is irrelevant. This requires not only study, but intelligent guidance which may be given in these teacher training classes.

If a lesson thus prepared be developed in an atmosphere of cheerfulness, the child cannot help being interested and inspired, and the teacher is doubly blessed. To give a lesson well-prepared is like mercy—it blesses him that gives and him that receives. It is true in teaching as in life—Give to the world the best you have, and the best will come back to you.

Fifth: The Sunday School of this century—the beginning of this new century—looks forward to the time when, as a principal part of preparation, every teacher will pray sincerely and earnestly for God's guidance on the day she meets the children placed under her care.

There is a story told of General Charles George Gordon—that each morning, during his journey in the Sudan country, for one-half hour there lay outside his tent a white handkerchief. The whole camp well knew what it meant and looked upon the little signal with the utmost respect; no foot dared to pass the threshold to that tent while the [623] little guard lay there. No message, however pressing, was to be delivered. Matters of life and death must wait until the little signal was taken away. Everyone knew that God and Gordon were communing together.

Prayer is just as important in time of peace as in war. Teachers, begin the preparation of your lessons in prayer. Teach your lessons with a prayerful heart. Then pray that God will enrich your message in the souls of your children through the influence of His Holy Spirit.

Finally: The Sunday School Union looks forward tonight; and we hope the time is beginning today when nobility of character will be recognized as being greater than intellect, when faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and loyalty to the standard and principles of His restored gospel will be the motivating ideals in the life of every child and youth in the church. May God's nearness and His guidance, to which all pupils and teachers are entitled, hasten that day, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

McKay, David O. AThe Sunday School Looks Forward. The Instructor. 84 (Dec. 1949): 620- 623.