6 Things to Look For in Kids’ Bible Curriculum

God places great value on our passing his instruction on to succeeding generations. He told Israel not to forget what they had seen, but to

‘teach them to your children and to their children after them’ (Deuteronomy 4:9).

He required diligence in that instruction:

‘Teach them to your children talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates’ (Deuteronomy 11:19-20).

And Paul repeats the theme when he tells us

‘Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord’ (Ephesians 6:4).

Yet finding good curriculum for use in our churches is not an easy task.

Tell Us Some Stories!

Recognizing the love kids have for storytelling, those who prepare children’s curriculum for Bible study focus on the narratives of Scripture, which can be especially powerful in conveying God’s redemption story if used properly.

A potential problem with prepared children’s curriculum is that the narratives are not given proper context: they focus on the faith, obedience, or attitude of the human actor in the story; how we should emulate (or not) the various characters; or some other secondary, peripheral or other theme that might not even exist in the text.

The story of Cain and Abel might focus on anger and brotherly love, rather than on obedience to God in worship. Noah and the ark might focus on Noah’s skill in shipbuilding and animal husbandry, but neglect explanation that the flood was God’s judgment on sin. And lessons on events in Jesus’ ministry might emphasize his love and compassion, but omit his demands of righteousness and obedience.

This leaves our children without the whole picture — or with an easily distorted picture — of God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus and of our need for redemption and God’s gracious provision. The church that desires complete biblical instruction for its children and youth, can look for several things to ensure that its content is complete and biblically sound and that it is faithfully and lovingly conveyed.

1. It must be comprehensive.

Most children’s curriculum repeat the same stories year after year, leaving kids with a stale knowledge of Noah’s Ark but will little understanding of God’s redemption story. By contrast, a two-year plan could easily accommodate teaching the complete Old Testament and New Testament story. Moreover, a plan to teach the basics, with other important materials, by grade six can be very effective. Any good education plan will be intentional about what material will be taught and on what timetable.
2. It must have Godward focus.

Most narrative focus on things other than that for which they were intended. Good curriculum will teach three things about each story: what it says about the condition of man, what it says about the character of God, and how it fits into the overall redemption story. Curriculum that focuses on other themes is in danger of treating God as cosmic magician or entertainer, performing great deeds for our amusement, or of treating stories as life lessons akin to Aesop’s Fables.

3. It must include memorization.

Children have great capacity to learn vast amounts of data, which they will, at some point, be able to assemble into meaningful understanding of redemption and of their own need for salvation.

4. It must include application.

All teaching should aim to affect at least on of the following: belief, attitude or behavior. Much teaching will involve all three. Children and youth should be taught in each lesson that God expects them to be different, in some way, as a result of what he has taught us.

5. It must be challenging.

Teaching for both children and youth must challenge them intellectually and morally. It must not be abbreviated, the difficult subjects adapted for teaching level but not diluted, and the unpleasant topics must not be avoided. If we tell children for more than six years that Jesus says “you are my friend” but they later learn that Jesus actually says “you are my friend if you obey my commandments” we have done them no service, and have created an integrity problem for ourselves. As youth get older and are able to use logic and rhetoric, they no longer will depend solely on narrative but their education should also include didactic instruction.

6. It must be taught.

Teachers must teach. They must believe the word, obey the word, live the word. And learners must learn. They don’t decide what they want to learn about and how it applies. Jesus said to “teach them to observe all that I commanded you,” not what they want to hear or what will make them happy.

Children and youth are capable of much more learning than we typically think. We should be good stewards of the mental and moral instruction and take advantage of the ability to teach them during their formative years. Our teaching should be intentional, it should be planned well, and it should be diligently executed.

Education & the Christian Parent

How believers are to go about educating their children has been a matter of debate for many years, especially since the advent of options such as government schools, private schools, and all the other variations (“home schooling” was all there was, originally). Every parent should take the issue seriously, and thoughtfully consider all the biblical evidence that sheds light on how parents are to submit to God and make wise decisions in these areas.

Apple for the Teacher

Apple for the Teacher (Photo credit: George C Slade)

One viewpoint is that Christian parents should not use public, government schools at all (other options will be presented below). Douglas Wilson, author of Standing on the Promises: A Handbook of Biblical Childrearing (Canon Press: Moscow ID, 1977) argues that “Christian parents are morally obligated to keep their children out of government schools.” While I don’t necessarily agree with his conclusion, we should see in Wilson’s reasons the important issues that parents cannot neglect:

  1. [The] Scriptures expressly require a non-agnostic form of education.  Wilson bases this reason on Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which is the foundational biblical text for parents regarding teaching their children. Education is inherently spiritual in nature, and government schools increasingly claim that they are unable to address legitimate spirituality in their education.
  2. [The] requirements involved in keeping the greatest commandment. Jesus requires His people to love the Lord their God with all their minds (Matthew 22:37). Similar to the first, this reason would prompt Christian parents to ask about their children’s public, government school (or other school, for that matter) whether it facilitates loving God with all their mind, or impedes it.
  3. God expects parents to provide for and protect their children…sending children into a intellectual, ethical, and religious war zone without adequate training and preparation is a violation of charity. Parents should recognize that public, government education is not neutral with regard to thought, ethics, values, moral and even spiritual instruction, and likely contradicts the biblical worldview in those areas.
  4. [The] declared intellectual goal assigned to the Church in Scripture (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). Believers are to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” The point of education is to glorify God, exercise dominion over the earth, and engage in spiritual battle in the realm of thoughts and beliefs. The goals of public/government education are quite different.
  5. [The] continued presence of Christians subsidizes a lie [that government is independent of God in all things, teaching without submission to God and his word]. Wilson’s argument here is that by continuing to utilize government education, Christians implicitly agree with the government’s idea that education is God-free.

Whether or not you, as parent, agree with Wilson that government schools should be avoided, you should seriously consider whether these principles about education are what the Bible teaches, and, if so, how you will follow God in them while participating in government schools. This applies equally to private and/or Christian schools: the crucial criteria for any non-home school is whether the Christian parent can abide by God’s teaching on education while sending his children there.

Many Christians teach in government and other non-home schools. It may be appropriate to remain there, but Christian public educators, too, should be deliberate and intentional about how they will honor biblical teaching regarding education while working in a system that, by definition, will not honor that biblical teaching.

There are, obviously, viewpoints other than Wilson’s regarding Christian education.  The Gospel Coalition (www.thegospelcoalition.org) has a series of articles written from the various perspectives: Favoring Home School; Favoring Public School; and Favoring Private School.

The Christian parent has significant responsibilities regarding his children’s education. The primary duty is to examine the Scriptures diligently regarding education, and submit to the Lord in what you find, regardless of how it changes your thinking or how it differs from the world or how it might change your life.

If the Christian parent concludes, after faithful examination of the Scriptures and diligent prayer over the matter, that public/government or private school is the way to go, he must recognize that God does not shift the primary responsibility of education to that public, government school, or even to that private, Christian school: the parent remains responsible to God to teach his children. The decision to send children away from home for schooling does not end the parent’s obligation to teach, or permit the parent to put the child’s instruction out of his mind; in fact, the parent may need to do more to ensure that such education is proceeding in a way that honors God.

The point is that God will hold parents accountable for how they instruct their children. If you are a Christian parent, examine the Scriptures for what God says on the subject. Humbly submit to that teaching, and pray for wisdom to apply biblical truth to your life. Once you make a decision, regularly review whether your choice remains the wisest and most faithful.

Copyright 2013 Rob Faircloth

EVALUATING TEACHING

Part 2

Churches of all stripes typically suffer from abysmal attendance rates as a function of membership. On any given Sunday in Southern Baptist churches, for instance, fifty percent or less (usually much less) of the recorded membership is present at morning worship. Even fewer attend morning Bible study.

We do not tolerate such rates of apathy in any other context. Civic groups, for instance, require attendance at a certain percentage of meetings on threat of expulsion, and harbor no pangs of conscience for expelling someone who fails to meet the club’s standards.

Yet churches are curiously different, refusing to address the non-attendance of ‘members.’ One might say that the church should not treat membership as the world does, and in a certain sense, that is true. But the church should not treat membership with less respect than the world does, but more, and in different kind.

Similarly, we do not tolerate the lack of evaluation or the imposition of standards in other circumstances. We expect our plumbers, electricians, doctors to have met some minimum standards to ply their trade, and many of those trades require continuing education to remain licensed to practice in their area of expertise. Even volunteers, such as those involved in disaster relief and ‘Candy Stripers’ receive training.

But mention the idea that Sunday school teachers should be trained and evaluated and you’ll find much weeping and gnashing of teeth. It would seem that in the context of the Christian church there are no expectations of membership, and when it comes to handling the Word of God, not merely for one’s own edification but for the instruction of others, no standards need apply.

The effect of this phenomenon is that it is more difficult to gain membership in the Rotary Club or the Exchange Club, and once a member, to remain so, than it is to become a member and remain in good standing in the average church. We are required to think more, exert more, and feel more in our jobs, our hobbies and our interests (the example of sports boosters says it all) than we are ever asked to do in our church.

I do not speak here of becoming a member of God’s church universal, the kingdom of Christ, to which no man can add standards of entry or requirements of membership. But God, in his Scripture, has provided certain standards that his people are to apply. Participation in God’s kingdom, through the local church, should certainly stimulate more of our minds, our energies, and our passions, and in much more profound fashion, than does our participation in the world.

A Call to Comfort

Evaluating Teaching, Part 1

“People in Sunday School should feel comfortable, welcome, loved, and willing to help.” So says a long-time Bible study teacher who was advocating against the notion of evaluating church Bible teachers. Is this true? If so, then what is the difference between an alleged Christian Sunday School class and the local Garden or Exchange Club?

Is this what the calling of Christ has become? A summons for those willing to forsake all for the Christ to ‘come, and be comfortable?’