Choose Sound Curriculum



Can you imagine a gardener taking a bag of seed and dumping it in a central pile of God’s rich soil, and then asking God to make it grow into a healthy row of vegetables? His rationale may go something like, “God, this is Your soil, Your sunshine, Your rain. Make this into a healthy crop.” Somehow or other I have never seen that happen.

But I’ve heard and observed numerous teachers take a Sunday School lesson, selected at random, and dump it on their class in the same unorganized fashion and, in effect, saying, “Yea, God, this is Your Word. You won’t cause it to return to You void. So make my students wise, mature saints in Christ.”

We could compare the way God makes gardens grow with the way He causes the Word to grow in our lives. Teachers are like gardeners–they have the supernatural agency of the Spirit to aid them, but they have an important key role to play in the process. No doubt that’s what the Apostle Paul was saying when he wrote Colossians 1:28 and 29. He was going to cause 0a students to grow into maturity in Christ by striving together with the working of the Spirit. Take note that he was working to the point of exhaustion himself as he was depending on the Spirit to work in 0a students’ lives. He needed to handle the Word with sensitivity toward the ability of the students to comprehend what he wee trying to communicate, so that the truth could germinate and grow in the students’ lives.

That, in essence, is what a curriculum plan is all about. The word “curriculum” comes from the Latin verb currere which means “running,” or “a racecourse.” It is a course of study in an educational institution. For a Sunday &hoot then, a curriculum is a planned, systematic study of the Bible and related subjects.

Keep Your School on Track

The curriculum plan, like a racecourse, has an end in view-like winning a race. In order to win that race, it must stay on a track. So, a curriculum plan is concerned with following a specific course of action to arrive at a prescribed destination, which is that course of action a teacher takes in bringing a student to maturity. The teacher, like the farmer, is first in importance. Second, is a good curriculum plan which, like a gardener’s systematic plan, causes the teacher’s work to be moat productive. I have noticed in my observation of so many teachers that they are like trackless gardeners. They have little sense of their final product and even less of an idea of what it means to produce it.

Publishing houses, whose business it is to provide teaching materials for Sunday Schools, provide you with a curriculum plan. Attractive materials to carry out the plan are produced by people knowledgeable in theology, education, and methods of communication. These keep the whole school on track.

Many teachers fail to see how their teaching fits into the total picture of what ought to be happening in a student’s spiritual development. Perhaps that is not their fault. They have never been taught the significance of a planned curriculum, so consequently they pick up any lesson on any given Sunday and go through the process with their class, hoping that somehow or other they will develop a beautiful crop of spiritual fruit.

Superintendents, supervisors, and Christian Education Board members may be guilty of the same thing when they allow each class or department to choose its own curriculum, with little thought to whether they are staying on the track which will get them to their destination.

My vantage point tells me that these practices are increasing. Perhaps it’s so because there is failure to see why it is so important to know their specific destination and to run on a prescribed track–or to follow a uniform curriculum plan throughout the entire school–to reach it. There are at least four sound reasons for doing so. Follow carefully as each one of these reasons is explained.

Advantages of a Uniform Curriculum Plan

1. Harmonious philosophy.

Before any school can wisely choose a curriculum plan, the leaders need to honestly wrestle with their school’s objectives and the philosophies which they feel will beat accomplish those objectives. These philosophies involve the general beliefs and attitudes of the leadership toward accomplishing the mission of the Sunday School.

(1) Philosophy of Christian education. A basic philosophy of education determines the direction it will go and the goals it will emphasize. For instance, a common liberal philosophy is that Christian education should change the social structure of the world. So the content is chosen to help achieve that goat and the methods and emphases in such education aim in that direction. A humanist philosophy emphasizes the development of the individual Content and methods are chosen to help do this. Of course, there are different varieties of humanists and different directions they think the human should develop, but all of them put man at the center. A philosophy which is more conservative theologically puts God and the Bible at the center, and content is chosen on this basis. You can see that there is naturally some overlap in what happens in the teaching. The God-centered philosophy, for instance, will do much to help the individual and to help society too, but it gives an emphasis to God and His Word that are not found in curricula based on other philosophies. You should come to an agreement about which educational philosophy your school is going to use and then decide which curriculum plan will beat help you accomplish that end. You need to choose materials which agree with your basic philosophy of Christian education.

(2) Agreement with church’s theology. Besides being agreed about the education philosophy, there must be agreement on theological tenets as well. If one department or class teaches one shade of a theological position because they use one particular curriculum plan, and then those same students run into a different emphasis or shade of meaning in the next grade or department, you can readily see the significant weakening of the teaching in the whole school.

(3) Consistent plan of age-related lessons. Each published curriculum plan follows a preferred method of age grading and lesson formats. The value of such expert planning is lost when students face a different system of lessons from department to department.

Now you can see why, if you are going to move students along the path to spiritual maturity, it is wise to have one curriculum plan in your school, one that has a consistent curriculum design, a uniform philosophy of education, and a harmonious theological position with the teaching of your church

The following chart shows the possibility of using both closely graded and departmentally graded curriculum in any size Sunday School. (In any case, however, it is advisable for first graders to meet alone because of their greater need for reading help, and sixth graders to meet alone because of their advanced knowledge over others in the Junior Department.)

2. Systematic plan of development.

Before our society became so mobile, you could count on large segments of students staying in one church school for their entire growing-up years. Today that is not quite so common. Yet, the school’s curriculum plan needs to be prepared for those students who will stay in one church for the major part of their childhood if not all of it. They need one planned system that is followed to assure them of a satisfactory Christian education.

(1) Developmental order. Learning proceeds best when it is carefully organized. We see that quickly when we try to listen to a speaker who tends to ramble and does not stay with his subject or follow an outline. This leads us to the conclusion that we must follow a curriculum plan that unfolds in an organized, progressive way. We wouldn’t expect students to learn math if we tried to teach them multiplication before they learned the concept of numbers. In the same fashion, there are certain foundational concepts which come first in the process of growing in faith and knowledge of Christ.

Robert J. Havighurst pioneered the thesis that every human being has certain “developmental tasks” which must be undertaken at proper stages of his growth from childhood to adulthood. At each stage of a person’s life he faces tasks, the performance of which are prerequisites to his further development. There are lifelong learning tasks which a person pursues all his life, but others he must learn at specific ages. Since teaching the Bible is basically guiding a student in his spiritual development, we must take precaution to see that the student is led through the process in proper sequence.

A good curriculum plan has that concept built in. To keep exposing students to a different curriculum every few years may jumble up that sequence and greatly hamper their growth in faith-life and knowledge of Christ.

(2) Precept built upon precept. The student must learn the great foundational teachings–one teaching based on a previous teaching. Christian ethics, for example, are built upon a proper concept of God. A person needs to comprehend God as He is pictured in the whole Bible, His sovereignty, His justice, wrath and love. The Old Testament stories taught in the childhood years give students a balanced concept of God, and help avoid the one sided “love only” concept.

Curriculum designers should be guided with such reasoning. Those kinds of things are not easy to see in a curriculum plan. You need to look beyond the surface to see which materials teach this way. But you can see that if a student constantly switches back and forth from one curriculum to the other through his Sunday School years, he may not get the whole picture of an eternal God which builds his view of Biblical ethics.

The classical education chapter of the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 6, teaches us that if we teach the “statutes, commandments, and judgments of God,” the student will soon develop a reverential fear of God which will provide him with a God-fearing conscience to guide his everyday living. Don’t miss the progression here which has great implications for curriculum development.

3. Uniform structure.

You will usually find in each curriculum plan a suggested schedule for various sections of the teaching hour. You will also find the structure for grouping and grading. Although each department usually operates as an entity in itself, there are numerous ways that the faculty and time schedule of one department influence the whole. One department’s curriculum may call for a precession activity while another department using another curriculum plan doesn’t. You may find it difficult to operate a precession activity in one of the children’s departments, but not in another, since the other parts of the church family are affected by the scheduling of one department or class.

You can see how the problems caused by these kinds of differences are increased when individual classes use various curriculum plans. Each part of the structure is important and should adhered to closely as possible, but that may be hard to do if each class or department is using its own curriculum plan.

4. Unified training.

I am convinced that staff training is one of the moat critical needs in the church today. And this training needs to go beyond simply teaching techniques; it needs to include also a sound understanding of the philosophy of teaching What are we trying to make happen to students and how best can that be accomplished? Our techniques are only tools to help us develop our master plan.

If a Sunday School is going to move students toward a desired spiritual maturity level, the staff members must work as a team. No teacher is the only or final influence in a student’s spiritual development, so there should be dialogue with other teachers who are involved in that same process of spiritual development. See if you can recall the last staff meeting where you spent serious time discussing how effectively you were working as a team to produce spiritually mature Christians.

A uniform curriculum plan allows for a more effective unified training program where you train staff members not only to use the proper techniques, but first of all to understand a Biblical educational philosophy.

Problems With Alternatives

If, after considering the rationale for a uniform curriculum throughout your Sunday School, you still want to use a different curriculum plan for various parts of your school it could still be done if you are willing to pay the big price, and if the following factors are taken into consideration.

1. Consider Bible coverage.

Develop a worksheet to show all the texts and doctrines to be taught in each class department each year. Check to see if the Scriptures are sufficiently covered, taking into consideration the various learning levels of each age. Watch to see that there are no omissions of important doctrines and texts, or excessive duplication.

2. Consolidate objectives.

Next, make sure that all those various teachers’ and students’ printed materials help you fulfill your school’s objectives. If the philosophy is not consistent you will have to train your staff accordingly. If all the theological tenets are not in agreement, then wisely you will need to clear up those differences with your staff. But, you may find you will have a hard time doing so with the students’ manuals.

It is generally agreed that there must be a uniform curriculum from nursery through the high school years. But a wise school also seeks to give some overall direction to its adult curriculum plan as well. Some adults who fail to see an overall plan for their study may lose interest in attending.

Choose Wisely for Your School

You will want to give a great deal of thought and prayer to the selection of a sound curriculum plan for your entire school, one 1) in harmony with your church’s theology and philosophy of Christian education; 2) which follows a good educational plan; and 3) is consistent in grouping and grading of the students. With such a curriculum in the hands of adequately trained staff, your teaching will stay on track.

The following suggestions may serve you well as you consider the right curriculum plan for your church.

1. Follow proper procedures.

Since the Christian Education Board has the primary responsibility for the selection and supervision of the curriculum, you will need to work under their supervision, whatever is the established authority in your church They will probably find it wise to guide the whole staff in the selection of a uniform curriculum. Since the teachers are the prime users of the materials, they should have some say in the choice of which curriculum plan they will use.

2. Establish your objectives.

To have solid criteria for guidance in the selection process, carefully define the philosophy or objective of your school before you start to look at various curriculum plans. Remember, various published curriculums may have differing educational philosophies and may differ in theological stance in some areas from your church’s teachings. You want a curriculum plan to help you accomplish and reach your ends and you may need to educate your staff in these matters.

3. Investigate the possibilities.

Each publishing house has a way they will help you look over their material. Most companies have a plan whereby they will let you observe their packet of material for a stated period. In moat metropolitan areas they will also send a representative to show you the material and assist you to get maximum value from it. Your Christian bookstore can help you make those necessary arrangements for the curriculum study.

4. Make your decision.

After you have studied each curriculum plan in detail you are ready to make that important decision. Make sure to announce the meeting in advance so you will have a high percentage of your staff in attendance. Start the meeting by informing the staff about the philosophy and objectives of your school and what you feel are the moat important factors in a curriculum plan. Next, present each curriculum plan that has been investigated and allow time for discussion before you vote.

Of course, you will want to establish the majority percentage necessary to have before a curriculum is selected. I believe that it is unwise to have any of the publishing house representatives attend this meeting.

A democratic vote by the teaching staff, departmental and school administrators and your Board of Christian Education members will greatly aid in the process of keeping all of the school on the track in the use of the curriculum for the years to come. In the process, you may discover that the curriculum plan you are presently using is the beat one for your school and you will not need to make a change.