Friday, July 25, 2008

All-Church Curriculum: Everyone On The Same Page

The church, the body of Christ gathers together for worship Sunday morning. The children goes to age appropriate classes while the adults gather in the worship center. The sermon, Sunday School lessons and music are all coordinated so everyone throughout the building is studying the same bible passage at the same time. On the way home from church, the family can talk together about what they’ve learned and the parents can supplement what the children have learned by what they themselves have learned in their session.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Sounds idyllic? Sounds . . . nice to a certain extent. What’s the problem with this picture?

Creating curriculum for your church so that everyone – children, teens and adults - re all studying the same bible story sounds good in theory. For some topics, it’s a fantastic way to build enthusiasm and unity so that everyone can share in the same project. I’ll talk later about several programs I know about that work great on this kind of model. However, there are a limited number of topics that people of all ages will relate to. It may work for short term projects but I wouldn’t recommend coordinating material for the long term.

The reasons are basic ones. First, children have different learning needs than adults. Children are concrete thinkers up until the age of eleven or twelve. They really do need to learn the concrete, imagery oriented stories of the bible. They are not ready to handle the more abstract concepts of grace, atonement, sacrifice, forgiveness that adults needs to hear unless there is a lot of groundwork laid beforehand.

Children also need to learn the basics about God’s love, obeying God and serving others while adults are ready to move on the bigger topics. Children need repetition. The same lesson needs to be taught four different ways. That’s why children’s curriculum is often built on theme units. Each week, something is layered on top of the theme of the last lesson. Adults would get bored real fast with this approach.

If you try to coordinate your material for all ages, you’ll either water down the material you present to your adults or you’ll move too fast for your kids without laying down that foundation of basic Bible knowledge they need to have. Yes, parents could fill in that knowledge through the week. But we are talking about a perfect world where both parents attend church and are committed to continue biblical teaching outside the classroom. Sadly, families that attend church together are few and far between. Children really do need their own curriculum – for the most part.

In my next post, I’ll talk about the exceptions. In the meantime, I’d like to hear from you. Have you seen your church do a temporary program where everyone studies the same topic together? What curriculum have you seen that presents an “all-in-one” package? Email me at Let’s see what’s out there.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Writing Your Own Children's Curriculum

Several years ago, I heard a church member say to another in my presence, “Karen writes Sunday School curriculum. We ought to have her write our curriculum for us. It would save us a lot of money!”

Sometime later, my mother told me her church had hired a new children’s minister. “He wants to write his own curriculum for the children’s department,” she told me. He wasn’t happy with the material currently available on the market and wanted to write material that would better suit the needs of that particular congregation. Other churches write their own curriculum so everyone can be studying the same thing at the same time.

While each of these reasons sound solid and have their place, there are drawbacks to writing your own curriculum. Curriculum is not written by one individual. When I receive an assignment, a team of people have already decided the overall scope of the curriculum, the chronology of the lessons, the individual stories and applications, the bible passages, the memory verses, and the goals of what the student will achieve. I am only one link in a long chain of people who are expert in their chosen field. After I write the material, artists and layout directors take my roughed out ideas for activities and create beautiful worksheets. Computer technology allows us to do a lot more than we could at the home or church level, but we still can’t quite do the activity pages and visual aids that a company can produce.

Cost is a factor and my heart goes out to churches who don’t have the resources needed to buy curriculum. However, before you decide to have someone write the material, consider other ways to save money. A writer spends many hours writing that curriculum and is paid for their work. The Bible says that a worker is worthy of his hire (1 Timothy 5:17,18). If someone could be paid for the work they do, the church should not expect them to do that same work for free for the church. If you need to save money, consider reusing material, doing without the visual aids or cutting other corners so you have money for curriculum.

Curriculum, no matter how good it is will never perfectly fit your group of children. And it is so hard as a teacher to predict what will or will not work. I’ve done the same activity for two different groups of children. One will respond enthusiastically and the other group stares at me. One week my high school class will love a drama activity, a few weeks later, they’ll look at me like I just arrived from Mars. One complaint I’ve often heard is that material is geared for large churches. Look though your material more carefully. Often the writer will give alternatives for smaller groups.

When I was in Austria, I spoke with a man from Bulgaria. He told me how his church translates material produced in America. “Our culture is so different,” I said, “Don’t you have a problem with activities that are obviously for American children?” He immediately told me what I had forgotten; any teacher should adapt the material to fit the unique needs of his or her class. It doesn’t mean the material is bad. It doesn’t mean you have a difficult group of kids. Any good teacher is going to ask, “How can I best teach this material to this group of students?”

Having everyone in the church study the same passage sounds like a neat idea. Is it? I’ll talk about that in my next post.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Building Sunday School Attendance

I’d love to tell you that we had a mob of visitors at our church yesterday, that our Children’s department was overflowing with children. The truth is, our attendance was zero. There were no children in the preschool class. There were no children in the elementary age class. There were no children for Wee Worship or Junior Worship either.

We could account for most of the missing children. One child spends the summer with his dad in Florida. Another three were at a family reunion. Other children on the roster are infrequent at best and this just wasn’t their Sunday to be there. Yet I was discouraged and I saw discouragement etched on my teachers’ faces.

Yet two events came out of this that encouraged me. As our wee worship teacher told me of the lack of kids, I said to her, “We need to pray more fervently that the Lord will send children to us.” Her face brightened and she responded with a heartfelt, “Oh yes, exactly.” I was encouraged by her enthusiastic response to my suggestion. I want to follow up on that. I want to gather my teachers together for a prayer meeting where we will pray for the children in our congregation. If we had had children, I wouldn’t have thought of this idea – something that we need to be doing more anyway.

Second, a ten-year-old girl did come with her mother yesterday to church. She came because the mother was meeting with our elders to ask for benevolence. The elders asked me and my eighteen-year-old daughter to stay with the ten-year-old while they met with the mother. We had a fantastic visit with her. No we didn’t have an impromptu bible lesson. I didn’t read a bible story to her. We talked sudoku puzzles with her. We asked her about her. We built relationship with her and her mother. There’s a good chance the two of them will come back to church. There’s one student.

It reminded me that teaching happens outside as well as inside the classroom. It also reminded me that teaching is living the example of Jesus as much as it is talking about Jesus. We were teaching this girl that God cares about her family, that God’s spirit has been placed in people so they are able to be kind and generous like Jesus. We taught her that she is valuable and other people think she has unique gifts that God has given her.

I realized that I need to be ready to teach at any moment. I could have been in a bad mood all morning because we had no kids. Instead, the Lord taught me to look for the opportunities He has planned that may or may not be Inside the Classroom. I hope I did all that He called me to do and I pray He takes what I did do and magnifies it bring this girl and her mom closer to Himself.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Freedom In Education

Happy Independence Day! I hope you had a wonderful weekend. We have so much to celebrate! We have so many freedoms we don’t even begin to take advantage of. That’s true for those of us who teach Inside the Classroom as well.

Don’t let anyone deceive you. Our country was founded on Christian principles by men who staunchly believed in the God of the Bible. If you look carefully at the Declaration of Independence, you’ll find Thomas Jefferson liberally sprinkled his theology in this expression of desire to break from the Brittish. He acknowledged that he and the othe signers believed in a God who was the ultimate Judge, the Sovereign Ruler, our Protector and our Creater.

While the First Amendment does limit us from establishing our form of relgion inside the classroom, we still have the freedom to freely exercise our faith. As a teacher, you can pray, you can read your Bible, you can even have your Bible at your desk if it is not disruptive to your students. Some high schools even teach the Bible as literature. You can hold prayer meetings and bible studies with other teachers and quietly support student led efforts.

If you live in a more restrictive country than the United States, you still have many freedoms as a teacher. You can pray. You can act kindly to others. You can live a blameless and upright life. In many countries, if students ask you about your faith, you can answer.

These freedoms are inside the secular classroom. If you are a teacher of children in a church, you have even more freedom to proclaim the Gospel of Christ. Are you taking advantage of the freedom that you have? Are you thanking God every day that you have this liberty to live your faith and worship your God?

For more information about a Christian teacher’s rights and freedoms in the secular classroom, visit the Christian Educators Association International.

Some of the information above comes from a workshop I attended this past weekat the North American Christian Convention, a preaching/teaching convention sponsored by the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ. I’ve come home refreshed and renewed and full of ideas for this site. Come back often over the next few weeks as we continue to explore connecting with the children you teach.