Curriculum is Not the Problem!

It’s common these days. We look at the problems in our church’s education ministry and blame the curriculum. It doesn’t do this or that well enough, there’s no video component, it’s too hard to decipher, or it’s so easy that we’re done with a lesson in 15 minutes. So the search goes on for the new, the improved curriculum, that can’t cost too much or demand too much, but it had better be thorough in its representation of the gospel.

Curriculum is not the problem, friends. Our expectations concerning the curriculum are. If you use a curriculum produced by a denominational publishing house or one that is meant for mass consumption, then there’s no way it will please you in its entirety. Something in it won’t work for you. In fact, every curriculum developer I know expects the users to adapt and modify it for their own particular setting.

The onus is on you and me, the users. Don’t buy curriculum thinking it will solve your attendance problems or transform volunteers into master teachers. It won’t do it.

Today, it seems that churches use curricula that meet one of two criteria, aside from cost: its theological underpinning or its ease of use, which often boils down to accessible arts, crafts, and videos. If I were to choose, I would err on the side of the theological bent of the curriculum. Does it represent our theological tradition? How does it understand God? Do the interpretation of Bible stories focus more on what God does or on human actions? What view of God will the learners take away from the formative event in which the curriculum is but a tool? What understanding of the church does the curriculum convey?

If you find a curriculum that supports your theological tradition, then you might have to adapt or add activities that better engage your learners. It’s up to you and your education partners to make assessments and adjust as necessary. For example, if you locate a curriculum whose ecclesiology is on point with your tradition, but all of the activities focus on the individual’s response, you may decide to add community-based learning activities. That way the experience of community coheres with the theological point you want to make.

Let me know how I can help you and your church assess your educational and formational ministries.

—Mark Hinds


Knowing and Believing

“…once upon a time there was a man who had a vision and began pursuing it. Two others saw that the first man had a vision and began following him. In time, the children of those who followed asked their parents what they saw. But what their parents described appeared to be the coattails of the man in front of them. When the children heard this, they turned from their parents’ vision, saying it was not worthy of pursuit.”

What do we learn from this?

As Jacob the Baker says, we discover parents who believe in what they have never experienced and children who deny what they have never experienced.

Let me invite you to see yourself in this story. Imagine that you are the one pursuing the initial vision. How exhilarating to catch a glimpse of life’s deepest meaning and to know in the depths of your soul that it is within reach! As you pursue the vision and begin to make sense of it, you undoubtedly bring the sacred texts of your tradition to bear. These texts help to lend a vocabulary and definition to your search. Over time, you hear these texts in new ways—it’s almost like a veil has been lifted and you see your life as if for the first time. What a liberating, empowering experience!

Now, you notice others following you. These students have been drawn to you, to learn from you. What is your responsibility to them?

You may be tempted to try to recreate your experience in your students’ lives. But you can’t do it! Your vision, your experience of grace was a result of God’s initiative—both your vision and your ability to discern the vision are God’s gifts to you.

What can you do?

Parker Palmer says that the primary task of the teacher is to create a space for learning in which obedience to the truth may be practiced. This space is characterized by a particular mood or tone—openness and a willingness to entertain different, even opposing views. Perhaps the most significant contribution of the teacher to the learning space is the willingness to testify to his or her personal relationship to the truth.

Consider knowing. Every good teacher asks two basic questions: what is worth knowing and what is the best way to teach and learn the known? Is this only a question of imparting information, dates, and data? If a teacher’s personal relationship to the truth is a significant aspect of the learning encounter, then knowledge must be more than information. The Hebrew language gives us a clue—the word “yada” (to know) has a deeply intimate connotation. “Adam knew Eve and they bore a son.” Biblical knowing is personal, intimate; God knows us intimately and comes to us personally, in the flesh. Knowing and believing entail more than head knowledge. They indicate a relationship of trust and a willingness to be vulnerable with your students.

Notice how this changes the way we talk about teaching. As the teacher, you have probably been assigned a meeting location and time. Your first thought might be that you have a certain amount of time to cover the material in the lesson. Think about what that phrase—“cover the material”—means. When we cover something, we hide it from view. Is it possible that the teacher’s dutiful attention to following the lesson plan provided in the time and space allotted actually hides the truth from view? Might that result in learners who believe in what they have never experienced? How would a teacher “uncover the material”?

Uncovering the material is related to the teacher’s own vulnerability. Perhaps you can best prepare your students to hear the truth of the Gospel by modeling a trusting openness—by uncovering your personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Offer this relationship to your students not as a technique to adopt or an achievement to admire. Simply invite them to make themselves vulnerable before God and to trust Holy Spirit with their questions. As a teacher, uncovering the material may mean that you have to sidestep the lesson plan to provide the space required to practice obedience to the truth.

Does your church want to assess its educational ministry? Send me an email at hindscoaching@gmail.com.