The Advantages of Curriculum
One of the perennial challenges a pastor faces regarding Sunday school is the question of what to teach. That question is relevant not just to the week-by-week routine, but also to the longer-term life of the church. But whatever the long-term strategy, the question of what to teach every week is an acute one.
My simple goal in this article is to point out the potential advantages of using curriculum in your church’s adult Sunday school.
By “curriculum” I don’t necessarily mean something published by a denomination or tied to a yearly schedule. Rather, I simply mean pre-prepared teaching materials that cover a topic or a portion of Scripture in a set number of studies.
A caveat: There’s a lot of bad curriculum out there. In fact, it seems safe say that bad curriculum is one of the reasons many churches have abandoned Sunday school altogether. Clearly my commendation of curriculum applies only to good curriculum, curriculum that is first of all faithful to Scripture. Further, curriculum should be clear, substantial, straightforward, and relatively easy to pick up and use.
Where can you find such curriculum? Here are a few suggestions: Matthias Media, The Good Book Company, Capitol Hill Baptist Church’s Core Seminars, 9Marks’ forthcoming Healthy Church Study Guides and Church Essentials (a resource based on What is a Healthy Church?), and the forthcoming Lifeway curriculum called “The Gospel Project.”
THE ADVANTAGES OF CURRICULUM
What are the advantages of curriculum? I’ll mention three.
1. It saves time.
First, it saves time. At Capitol Hill Baptist Church, for example, dozens of men have invested thousands of hours in writing a set of Core Seminars that takes about four years to teach through if you stand it end-to-end. All the manuscripts and handouts are free for the taking online, and other churches are welcome to use and adapt the material as they see fit.
Why reinvent the wheel? If you want to teach a class on Bible overview, or systematic theology, or church history, or evangelism, or biblical counseling, or discipleship, or parenting, why not reap the benefits of others’ labor? You can always improve the material and adapt it to your context as you like. That’s a whole lot easier, and quicker, than coming up with the outline for course and preparing every class from scratch.
Every pastor feels the pinch of time when it comes to teaching prep. Using theologically trustworthy curriculum is a great way to free up your and other church leaders’ time while still delivering solid supplemental teaching every week.
I should add that I wouldn’t apply the same logic—using somebody else’s manuscript to save time—to a sermon. First, Scripture seems to suggest that a pastor’s preaching should be the overflow of his own scriptural study (2 Tim. 2:15). Second, a good sermon applies the text in ways that are specific to the congregation. You can’t truly shepherd a church with an imported sermon. A Sunday school class, being more informationally driven, loses less when its contents were not tailored to a specific church. Finally, it seems that most people expect that a Sunday school class can make use of materials that weren’t developed by the teacher, just as teachers in various other contexts make use of curriculum. But people generally expect that a sermon is an original work, which means that preaching someone else’s sermon as if it were yours is plagiarism.
2. It’s helpful for new teachers.
Second, it’s helpful for new teachers. With trustworthy curriculum, you can be more confident in the content than if an inexperienced teacher prepared a lesson from scratch.
Further, teaching a ready-made lesson is a much less daunting task for a new teacher than coming up with forty-five minutes’ worth of content themselves. It’s a whole lot easier for most teachers to learn the contents of a manuscript or lesson than to create them.
Thus, curriculum can be a great tool for training new teachers. And teaching a ready-made class can be a useful stepping stone into more challenging territory. (For more on how to develop Sunday School teachers, see Jamie Dunlop’s article in this Journal.)
3. It can generate more interest among the congregation.
Third, curriculum can generate more interest among the congregation. Some Sunday school classes feature long, meandering treks through books of the Bible. On the other hand, Sunday school can turn into a miscellaneous grab bag of whatever the pastor or other leader feels like teaching. I’m not at all saying that slow, in-depth Bible exposition is out of place in Sunday school—far from it. Done well, it can be a rich blessing to the church. Though, along with the far more egregious grab bag approach, it has its drawbacks. For example, if you’re not in the class from the beginning, it can seem a little daunting to jump in right at Exodus 18:4.
Curriculum, on the other hand, opens the door to well-defined, time-limited, fairly brief classes. And both the shorter time commitment and the (often) topical focus can generate more interest.
Rotating through topics and classes on a regular basis provides a consistent opportunity to invite new people to attend the classes. Whenever a new class comes up, you can introduce it to the congregation and invite people to attend, even and especially people who are not in the habit of coming to Sunday school. Many church members will be interested in a new class on biblical counseling who weren’t eager to parachute into the middle of Exodus with no end in sight.
TAKE UP AND TEACH
I’m sure there are other advantages of curriculum, though I think the first one is probably the most pressing for most pastors.
Of course I’m not suggesting that churches should only use outside curriculum. Material that’s specifically tailored to the present needs of your congregation can be a very important and even crucial resource, especially if you’re leading through a season of significant change.
But on a wide range of subjects, there’s a growing amount of solid, ready-to-use material out there, much of it free. So take up and teach!