Does Curriculum Make a Difference?

chd-inside.jpgI am responding to two related questions below that focus on curriculum, the main topic in this edition of Equip for Ministry. One is what difference does it make what curriculum we use in our church? A second question has come from pastors who basically ask, why should I get involved in the curriculum used in the church? Several years ago in a random sampling, I found that only one-fourth of the pastors queried knew what curriculum was being used in their Sunday school.

Let me respond briefly to both questions before more elaboration. Curriculum choice becomes an extremely important question. If you read the lead article by Dave Matthews on curriculum evaluation, you will see its importance. So much of the materials that are put together in curriculum format, especially for Sunday school and other Bible study materials are either heavily moralistic or legalistic, generally reflecting a theology that is at odds with our Reformed and covenantal doctrines. Paul told Titus in the discipleship process to teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. Solid, biblically Reformed curriculum will avoid the simplistic and erroneous moralism and legalism so prevalent today. It will focus on God and his kingdom perspective, focusing on a creation, Fall, and redemption motif.

In response to the pastors’ questions, as the teaching elder in the church, it is your responsibility, as we will note below with the session, to be certain that what is taught is in accord with sound doctrine, particularly our biblically Reformed distinctives. That’s what Paul says to Pastor Titus and by implication to us today. But even from a pragmatic view, we have dealt with too many churches over the years where conflict has developed over the contrast between what is being taught from the pulpit and what is being taught in the Sunday schools and other Bible studies. I remember one church that we worked with having five adult Sunday school classes. One class was taught by a charismatic, another by an old-fashion fundamentalist, one by an knowledgeable dispensationalist , another younger couple’s class that was broadly evangelical, and one of the five that was distinctively Reformed taught by a seminary graduate. The church was an eclectic mess. I would describe the pastor as a classical Calvinist, but he would not interject himself into that part of the church’s ministry. I don’t have to tell you what that church had to go through before the session finally stepped up to the plate, hopefully from our encouragement, and dealt with the problem.

We have so little time in the church to disciple God’s people that we cannot afford to be theologically eclectic in our approach. There is enough confusion, especially with our younger generation, with today’s education systems, television influence, and the internet.

As Dennis Bennett references in his “Equip Tip” article in this issue, do not confuse curriculum with ends or objectives. The purpose of curriculum is to be a means to an end. It should assist the discipling process, including the leader/teacher, with ideas, information, activities, and good biblical exegesis. We do believe and encourage local churches to clearly define their objective in all the educational/disciple training programs to assure and insure accountability and meaningful evaluation.

The Presbyterian Church in America Book of Church Order (BOCO) chapter 12-5d states that the Session oversees the life and ministry of the church (with pastoral leadership), which includes all of its parts. It must approve the activities related to each group, including the people and study materials used in its ministry programs, especially its educational/discipleship activities.

To apply that oversight principle, approving materials that are not at cross-purposes with the churches mission and philosophy of ministries is essential. We noted some of our experiences above with one example. Whatever the church does as a whole or through its various groups must contribute to the overall accomplishment of the church’s mission.

The teachings throughout the church should also support the mission and direction of our PCA churches; therefore, the materials (curriculum) used must be consistent with Scripture. This is the most basic element in choosing curriculum or materials, though this is not intended to suggest that all studies have to basically Bible studies, though the Bible must be at the heart of the curriculum.

The materials used should be supportive of our confessional position, as set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger, and Shorter Catechisms in order to under gird the idea that as a PCA congregation we do represent a certain biblical, theological and philosophical perspective which should be woven throughout the ministry, and to insure that what is taught from the pulpit ministry will be carried throughout the church’s life.

The materials or curriculum should also be spiritually helpful to those using them. For example, they should reflect good solid exegesis and teachings that are consistently with sound doctrine. Remember that is the biblical principle!

We should be certain that the materials and people involved in the education/discipleship process are able to apply those resources to their specific situations so that the students, young and old, will have more of a kingdom perspective.

Last, whatever curriculum we choose, it should be clear and easy to use. Not only should the author’s purpose and intent be clear and attend to the above suggestions, but the students should be able to use them without too much difficulty. Christian Education and Publications has a network of regional trainers that are regularly assisting local churches with things like planning and teacher training. They can be scheduled from the CEP office by calling 1-800-283-1357.

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Charles Dunahoo pastored churches in Georgia and Alabama before being called to his present position as Coordinator for the PCA of Christian Education and Publications (CEP).

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