On a recent trip to Maryland, I used my phone as a GPS for the first time. The voice giving me directions seemed obsessive at times, telling me to “bear right” or “bear left” as I navigated a strange interstate. When the voice became annoyingly nagging, I began talking back to my phone. “Enough already. I got it!” At one point the phone commanded me to bear left and then immediately commanded me to exit to the right. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” I exclaimed as I sailed past my exit. The voice, unfazed by my agitation, calmly responded with one word—“recalculating.” I was glad for the eventual new route, but an apology would have been nice!
Driving on an unfamiliar road to an unfamiliar destination can be challenging, and having a GPS should make the experience easy and successful. My phone’s GPS proved unreliable in giving me easy-to-follow directions and getting me to my destination in a timely manner. I needed a GPS that was clearer and more accurate.
In a church, the purpose for a ministry becomes that ministry’s guide, or GPS. Every ministry should have a clearly defined purpose. But if a church is not careful, its purpose for its Sunday School can become a bad GPS. A bad GPS will prohibit the church’s Sunday School ministry from reaching its full potential. A bad GPS may also keep a church from selecting good Sunday School curriculum and using it to its fullest.
Inferior Reasons for Choosing Curriculum
There are lots of reasons for choosing Sunday School curriculum. Most reasons are inferior at best. Choosing curriculum based on one of the following criteria indicates that a church is using an inferior GPS to guide its Sunday School ministry.
Sunday School superintendents understand the pressure to have materials to give their teachers. Some see fulfilling this need as the primary purpose for curriculum. As long as the superintendent orders the curriculum, he or she is home free. What is in the curriculum matters little as long as the material arrives on time.
No pastor or superintendent likes hearing teachers complain, so some will choose curriculum that will keep their teachers from griping. Keeping the peace with their Sunday School teachers becomes their purpose for curriculum.
Having happy students is important to most Sunday School teachers. Some of them demand that their church choose curriculum that meets this goal above all others. After all, happy students are easier for them to teach.
The bottom line
Conscientious churches try to spend as few dollars as they can on curriculum. How much the material costs becomes their main concern when choosing a curriculum.
Straight down the line
Churches are wise to consider the doctrinal basis of the curriculum they choose. For some churches, as long as the curriculum measures up to their standard, they are fine with it.
All of these reasons for curriculum have some merit, especially the one about meeting a church’s doctrinal standard. But all of these reasons fail to recognize the opportunities curriculum provides to a church. These reasons are indicators of a subpar GPS for a church’s Sunday School ministry.
We can better understand curriculum’s central purpose when we learn what the word means. “Curriculum” comes from the Latin word currere, meaning “to run.” The word “curriculum” builds on this idea of running. “Curriculum” suggests a course to follow and a prize to win. It paints the picture of a runner in a race for gold rather than a jogger meandering through his or her neighborhood.
Paul captured the sense of the word “curriculum” when he wrote, “I have finished the race” (2 Timothy 4:7). Paul saw his life as a racecourse God laid out for him. His analogy helps us see that God expects all believers to join the race. God has something He wants to accomplish in and through our lives.
Sunday School should assist a church in helping students run the race God has laid out for them. It should help the church make disciples, and the Sunday School curriculum should reflect this overall purpose. The curriculum should be grounded in the whole Bible with a balanced presentation of its teachings. It should systematically teach the Bible in age-appropriate, engaging ways that foster spiritual growth.
Sunday School curriculum’s central purpose falls in line with the purpose of the church. Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28:18–20 forms the marching orders for the church. He tells us to make disciples by going to the lost with the gospel, baptizing them once they are saved, and teaching them to observe His commands. The command to make disciples is included in all the commands that we are to teach believers to observe. Sunday School curriculum should help a church make disciple makers.
Biblical Reasons for Curriculum
If a curriculum is actually going to make disciple makers, there are seven key areas that the curriculum should specifically address.
Believe the gospel
A disciple-making curriculum should encourage students to believe the gospel. This means the curriculum should include clear gospel presentations. Teaching believers to share the gospel should also be part of a good disciple-making curriculum.
Understand Biblical ethics
God has a set of standards for believers to follow. Sunday School curriculum should teach those standards as part of the disciple-making process. This purpose for curriculum is becoming increasingly important in a world that sees truth as relative.
A true disciple of Christ will refuse to live with a facade of the Christian life. Instead he will live a godly life from his heart. Disciple-making curriculum should teach students to live righteously from their hearts.
Clearly teaching Bible-based doctrine is an essential part of making disciples. Effective curriculum will include lessons on important doctrinal truths so the students will become confident discerners of truth.
Develop life skills
Disciple-making curriculum must relate truth to life. The students should be challenged to live out what they learn in Sunday School. They should be challenged to respond to God’s Word so they are prepared to live in a godly way during both the mundane and the difficult circumstances of life.`
Focusing on others is a strong emphasis in the teachings of Christ. Curriculum that makes disciples should help students take their eyes off themselves so they can focus on the needs of others.
Prepare to serve
Christ came to serve others, and He expects nothing less from His disciples. Disciple-making curriculum should prepare students to serve the Lord in the context of their local church.
Know Your Curriculum
Church leaders should get to know their Sunday School curriculum. They should investigate whether their curriculum actually helps students come to know Christ and grow to be like Him. Pastors should lead in this evaluation and should make sure they have curriculum in place that helps their churches make disciples.
Regular Baptist Press understands a church’s need for disciple-making Sunday School curriculum. The curriculum developers have purposefully built RBP curriculum around the seven aspects of discipleship. In fact, both the primary and the junior curriculums spend one full quarter on each discipleship aspect, with an eighth quarter focusing on prayer and worship. The entire RBP Sunday School curriculum line, from nursery to adult, has the overarching goal of making disciples. A church that chooses RBP curriculum can be confident that the curriculum will contribute to their endeavor to carry out the Great Commission.
RBP’s curriculum could become a model for other discipleship ministries in your church. Your church’s other discipleship endeavors should reflect the seven aspects of discipleship covered in RBP curriculum. In this sense, RBP’s curriculum becomes a valuable tool for evaluating and planning all your church’s discipleship ministries.
Alex Bauman is the director of Regular Baptist Press.