The No-Curriculum Diet
The problem with the majority of Sunday School Curriculum is that it is scattershot. It is like stuffing a shotgun full of moral truths, bible stories, and theological ideals, and shooting it at random at people. And our excuse for this action is often to say, "the Holy Spirit affects people's so what can I do?" God gave us brains, creativity, and talents, so why should we not use them for the Cause of Christ? We need to bring these talents under the submission of Christ like everything else in lives. When we teach, we teach with no arching goal. It is intelligent to support the goal of raising Christians to full maturity, but the results rely more heavily upon the chance that the layman will remember and apply the given nugget of truth and hopefully will yearn for additional knowledge. Why should we settle for so little? Didn't Christ give us the command to teach the disciples to obey everything He has commanded? So, why do we often drop the ball after the evangelism?
To understand how disoriented the curriculum is, compare it to teaching someone Calculus. We start by teaching the basics of addition and subtraction, move on to multiplication and division, then algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and finally Calculus. In Christian Education, we want our students to learn advanced Bible truths, have a growing relationship with Christ, and mature to the point where they are teaching others what they were taught. But, if you look at our teaching methods, it is somewhat like we want them to behave like they know Calculus, or at the least Geometry, but we continue to teach word problems over and over. Everyone is taught at the same level, except the children. We expect those who want to learn additional should go to Seminaries or Bible Schools to learn this advanced knowledge. However, Bible Schools and Seminaries have plans of study that start with the basics as well, but they progress steadily to more in-depth classes, until the students are formulating and employing deep theological ideas and actively participating in the future of the Christian Church. They are trained with the expectation that this knowledge will be used to further the Cause of Christ. Meanwhile, the local church is teaching the layman at a different level, creating two levels of education. If our members are the real ministers of the Gospel, shouldn't they be trained to not only give a ready defense for their faith, but to be able to train others?
We heap the training and education on one man, then expect that man to work miracles. If the most Biblically-educated in the church is handling the preaching, then don't the Sunday School children and adults deserve Biblically-educated teachers as well, especially since the majority of preaching results to either an evangelistic theme or a life application? Who is teaching our laymen how to read and study the Bible for themselves? Why should we expect our laymen to evangelize and give a ready defense when they have never been taught why they should believe in half of the things that we have told them to believe in?
The majority of curriculum is also missing the encompassing truth that if we teach our students how to cultivate their relationship with God, how to read and study the Bible for themselves, submission to Christ, and basic discipleship truths, then we will not have to focus on simple moral issues, like substance abuse or gossip, because the Christian who knows hw to submit to Christ will have the Bible and the Holy Spirit to guide them through moral choices. Instead of treating diseases as they arise, if we instead focus on preventive maintenance, or total spiritual health care, minor issues will cease to be a problem.
Therefore, the goal is to make the students self-sufficient in respect to studying the Bible and cultivating their relationship with God. First, start by making certain that they know how to read and study the Bible, like the basic math skills of addition and subtraction. Then, move into basic discipleship areas, having the students learn what the Bible says concerning sin, salvation, prayer, etc. When they learn these areas, guide them through discovering for themselves what the Bible says, making certain that they do not veer into heretical territory. The reason they should learn on their own is if they have a hand in the discovery process, it should produce a small measure of ownership. Reinforce the learning with in-class and outside of class activities that are aimed at enforcing the learning. For example, when teaching the students about sin, tape a square on the wall and tell the students to fly an airplane into the circle. That activity should reinforce the truths that sin is missing the mark, as well as emphasize that no man can achieve righteousness on his own. Certain outside activities would include a prayer journal when studying on prayer as well as an evangelism assignment in that training.
We expect our students to finish their homework for school and college, so why shouldn't we expect them to do homework on the most important topic, namely their spiritual growth? In fact, why is homework so difficult a subject to broach for Sunday School? Primarily, for two reasons. One, the students are conditioned by years of experience that reinforces the belief that Sunday School requires no outside activity. Second, parents do not enforce the need to complete an assignment issued from church because ultimately they feel that the education their children receive in church is not as important to their future as the education they receive in school. In the same vein, if we expect students to sit and learn one subject for forty-five minutes or more in their public school, why should we not expect the same thing in church? Do we think that our subject matter will not hold their attention as well as History or Science could? Or have we also bought into the lie that Christianity is boring as well as old-fashioned?
The main problem with Sunday School is that we do not treat it with the same respect that we treat the public school system. It is simply a case of the church conforming to the world's standards instead of pioneering out on it's own. Sunday School, or it's equivalent, for children and youth amounts to little more than glorified babysitting with a lesson thrown in, almost as an afterthought. Current Curriculum does posses goals, but the goals are broadly defined, making their success very difficult to measure. Obviously, we can not affect moral changes in a student's character. The student and the Holy Spirit directly control moral changes and attitudes. But, instead of attacking moral issues on different fronts, it would be more advantageous to attack the source of the problem, which would be the student's relationship with Christ. We can't make them pray or read and study their Bible, but we can show them how to pray and teach them to read and study the Bible correctly. By introducing the students to basic Biblical knowledge, they can better know God by better understanding His Word. By traveling through the areas of discipleship, as well as letting the students discover God's truth for themselves, we will be empowering the students to exercise less reliance on other's interpretations of scripture, and enable them to test everything that is presented to them against the truth of scripture. We need to leave the rote learning method behind and enable the students to see why we believe the doctrines that we believe. Understanding a process makes applying that process that much easier.
Is this sort of training too advanced for certain ages of students? Children have been told basic Bible stories and Biblical truths up until they are in Junior High. They know how to study for a test and to research for a project. If they can research, they can learn how to study the Bible. Bible study is really not much more than researching to determine what the Bible says on certain topics. Now, some aspects of scriptural interpretation may be too advanced for the Junior High student, but again, we build on basics. The student needs to shift the emphasis slightly from memorization to navigation. Memorization is a good tool and is very useful. But the Bible is simply too big to memorize everything we will need from it to live God-pleasing lives. Besides, memorization is useless is the students do not understand what the verse means. If the students knew how to locate information in the Bible, they may turn to the Bible faster for guidance than if they were not as familiar with it. Or, if they are faced with a problem that is not handled by a verse they have memorized, they could easily determine what the Bible says if they were trained to do so.
In addition, it is easier to apply something that was revealed first hand rather than received from someone else. When you discover something, it becomes a part of you. In contrast, we only remember a small portion of what we hear, and only slightly more of what we read. If we start to own the information, we will be that much more likely to use it. A case in point would be our laymen's evangelization ability. Most laymen could not readily give a defense for the hope that is inside them. They may be able to begin to discuss their salvation, but a simple objection would easily sidetrack their efforts. Could all of us logically defend why we place such a great trust in the Bible? If we cannot, then we need to be trained to do so as this objection comes to the foreground most readily.
An obvious advantage to this guided learning method is that we would be able to measure progress easier than if we utilized current curriculum methods. Being able to state that we are progressing helps both the students and the teacher. After all, we can't progress to Geometry if we're not certain that they have a firm grasp on Algebra.
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Amen! What parent would bring their newborn from the hospital, stick 'em in the crib and walk off expecting a genius to emerge. Only spiritual parents in the church...too often we abandon our newborns in the dressing room after baptism.