This article by Thomas J. Cook was published in the June, 1997 edition of The Sunday School Leader magazine in the column "Especially for the Sunday School Director." Copyright 1997 by the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Choosing Curriculum and Hang Loose Baptist Church
Let's visit our friends at Hang Loose Baptist Church, where every teacher is responsible for choosing her own curriculum materials. As we visit the classrooms on Sunday morning, we might find:
These are just a few examples of the problems one might expect without an underlying curriculum plan to guide the educational direction of the Sunday School. Every church needs a clearly stated and communicated policy on how curriculum is chosen and how teachers are expected to use it.
Without this basic decision in place, a church can expect at best lack of direction and at worst chaos. Let's consider several practical aspects of the place and value of curriculum in providing direction, balance, and guidance to our Bible teaching ministry.
Purpose of Curriculum
A good curriculum plan maximizes the opportunity for learning to each pupil's full potential, giving appropriate emphasis to every area of the biblical revelation and providing a rich selection of support materials to enhance the teaching of the selected Bible passage.
A curriculum plan presents biblical truth in ways to meet the varied needs of individuals from birth through senior adult years, with appropriate lessons and teaching plans reflecting the distinct developmental differences, life needs, and experience base of each age group. The result is a lifelong, coordinated sequence of Bible study experiences continually building Bible knowledge and understanding, while always providing relevant applications.
Southern Baptists are blessed with three outstanding curriculum lines which are uniquely suited to meet the needs of every type of church. Each is firmly based on a plan to provide balanced and comprehensive coverage of the Bible and consistent with the doctrinal distinctives of the Baptist Faith and Message. They provide a varied approach to meet the needs of smaller churches with a wider spread of ages in Sunday School groupings (Family Bible Series) to larger churches which require a more closely graded and focused curriculum (Life and Work Series).
Use of Curriculum Materials
How rigorously should a Sunday School enforce use of curriculum materials? As usual in matters of policy, the best advice is "be firm in principle but flexible in application." We should expect the teacher to use the curriculum provided by the church as a starting point and stay with the basic outline. At the same time we want to encourage the teacher to supplement the materials with illustrations, activities, and other materials which will make the lesson most meaningful to the class. We also want to encourage flexibility to seize the "teachable moment" when a real-life need unrelated to the lesson becomes apparent in a class session and sound biblical teaching can meet that need.
The teacher is the expert on the needs of his own class (although the curriculum provides excellent suggestions). At the point of deciding on a specific teaching aim, all the creativity of the teacher comes into play as he puts together the truth of the Bible with the needs of the pupils, then proceeds to select teaching-learning activities to achieve the desired aim.
While supplementary resources and studies may sometimes be useful in meeting short term or special needs, a solid core curriculum is absolutely essential to the long-term stability and health of a Bible teaching program.
Thomas J. Cook is Bible teaching director, Jersey Baptist Church, Gahanna, Ohio.