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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Teaching Imperfect Sunday School Curriculum

Since there isn't a  perfect Sunday School curriculum, even ones that you have personally written for your own church, I guess I should have titled this "Teaching Sunday School Curriculum". But, that is boring and you wouldn't be reading to this point if I had entitled it as such.

What do I mean? Every curriculum has its weak points, areas that you have to skip, rewrite completely or tweak for your environment. The issues range from the theological and denominational to the educational. See if any of the following ring a bell:
  • A point is made or left out of a lesson that is theologically unsound in your mind
  • Your denomination or church doesn't endorse that particular take on that bible story
  • a lesson is written way over or way under the kid's heads that it was designed
  • an activity requires supplies that are impossible to get or haven't even been invented yet
  • a game or activity that takes space that you don't have
  • a drama or skit that lists more actors than you even have in your class.
You can no doubt add a dozen more personal illustrations I'm certain.

So, what do we do as educators and teachers when our curriculum or a lesson falls short. First, if you consistently have lessons falling short it is probably time to shop for a new curriculum regardless of how undesirable or bothersome that thought is to you. You can only spray paint an old clunker for so long before its completely rusted through and won't pass inspection or can no longer be driven.
However, here are some practical ideas that you must teach your teachers how to employ when the curriculum slips up or falls short.
  • Nothing replaces a teacher's personal time in the Word. I always tell people that a curriculum is Methodist if a Methodist is teaching it. (You can substitute every conceivable denomination or church here to work the illustration.) The point is: if a lesson is lacking your theology then add it. Talk about it. Help your students understand what you or your church believes.
  • Tweak every lacking aspect of a lesson. If an activity calls for butcher paper that you don't have then use a whiteboard, or a sidewalk and chalk or newspaper and bright red markers. 
  • Create your own fun twist to an activity. Don't like the provided game? Fine! Substitute your own game and utilize the conversation starters and references for the activity provided.
  • Most boring classrooms have teachers that seem to toss all the age appropriate ideas from a curriculum and go straight lecture method. Ugh! Even the best curriculums published can't get off the ground if a teacher goes with the straight lecture/torture method.  Gently break yourself or your teachers of this. You may need to take the wheel from a well intentioned teacher from time to time and show them how its done.
  • Classrooms are won or lost on the small things: transitions, arriving early, preparing the material sometime before the drive in that morning, greeting the kids, joyful attitudes, proper classroom management and discipline techniques. None of these 'show up' in a curriculum. However, a well written and well executed curriculum can minimize these issues dramatically.
  • Sometimes the simple order of programming can be changed or mixed up to add a zest to your classroom.
Well, there you have it. Teaching is an art form that has many hidden variables. As with any discipline that we pursue the rookies can easily be spotted from the veterans. Regardless, help all your teachers use the curriculum like a springboard and not crutches to limp in to the room.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Wouk on the dark side

Herman Wouk, the Cain mutinous, windy war and peaceful writer compiles his thoughts in a very good read. I happenstanced this book at the local library, intrigued by the title and the back cover description. I'm glad I did because this book is a real gift to the Christian. Plain and simple, this book is a window into the unbeliever's skeptical, agnostic mind. I learned so much about how the problem of evil as the trial of God really is the heart of the matter for the God hating evolution believing humanists in the world. I also got a nice snapshot of how the worldwide Jewish people have been affected by constant persecution of the world.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Family Devotions and Discipleship in One Resource

Perfect solution for family devotions
Jim Burns relies on decades of curriculum and devotional writing to produce a fantastic resource for parents. Quality family time is a rare commodity in our fast-paced modern culture these days, but this book could really help slow life down in a fun way.
The layout of the book sets up the leader for great success. The Key Verse and Big Idea sections keep you on track while the Focus section is usually filled with a very provocative story or statement that is sure to generate a buzz around the kitchen table or classroom. The In The Word section is loaded with plenty of scripture and super creative ways to study those passages. I believe this would take all the worries even out of the newest rookie teachers or parents that may be new or shy as leaders of their families. Finally, the Reflect And Apply section drives home the main point with great exercises that I think separate this resource from others that I have seen and used in the past. I think this section above all others gave me the vision for this book that it would work well in adult Sunday school.
If you removed the words "for families" from the title, this book would be perfect for training new believers, discipling college or highschool students or even a Sunday School class. In fact, as I read and used the book with my own family I dreamed about how easily these 52 chapters would make a perfect year's worth of Sunday school lessons for a parents class. While the studies with all the creative exercises for starting conversations probably wouldn't work for children younger than first grade, the little ones in the audience could still benefit from hearing dad, mom, and older siblings interact with God's Word.
"What a creative way to think about that concept!" were the words that kept coming to my mind as I read this book. When you see God's Word come alive with such passion and uniqueness it gets you excited to share the concept with your family. What's not to get excited about topics covered in the book like prayer, basics of Christian living, theology, modern cultural issues like sex and drugs, and relationships.
With all this book offers, when you finished it in a year I think you would want to turn around and do it all over again since all the kids would be a year older and would have new insights and answers.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Half Time Kids = Full Time Work

The plague of modern society:
Most folks are only 50% committed to anything. RSVPs mean absolutely nothing. Returning emails, getting a 'like' from a Facebook post, a one year commitment to volunteer, and showing up most of the time to church or Sunday school is relegated to "Leave It To Beaver land". Its somewhere in another time period and not anymore.

How many of us in church ministry lament the lack of committed attendance. No matter what we program and provide it seems like the majority of our kids are only showing up about half the time. Considering 52 weeks a year for Sunday school that's about 25 to 30 times we will actually see the child in class. Of course kids don't drive themselves so its really a parental issue and another post.

We already know why this happens but sometimes the stark reality of the list has some affect on us if none other than eliciting pain, thus proving that we are still alive. Here it is in all its lacklustreness: divorce, vacations, sickness, sports, hobbies, weather, out of town guests, church shopping, and just playing hooky. This list does not even take into consideration the ridiculous numbers that show up way late to every event and class. I bet another 20% show up so late that the disruption is painful and then I wonder why bother to show up at all for last 10 minutes of leftovers and crumbs. It is some of the most childish, rebukable behavior that occurs in every church I know. It is a shameful scourge on our programming.

Problem: got it down!
Answer: not even close to nailing it down.

I go back to what I'm trying to accomplish as a teacher, a discipler of children, a parent too. Biblical discipleship is what I'm trying to do. 1. Holy Spirit saves a person. 2. Holy Spirit uses a person (like a parent or teacher) through the Word of God to grow this new believer from point A to point B. This is the "walking in Christ" sanctification process.

A couple of quick thoughts:
  1. My goal is not the numbers but the quality of the training
  2. I have to work with who shows up, the committed. Just like a coach has to field the team that is there and practiced up. The injured reserves and the lazy won't be playing Sunday in the game no matter how good they might be, were, or could be.
  3. I have to start on time even if its just me and a fellow teacher's kid in the room. (Again, reason? See point #2)
  4. The content of the program cannot be driven by or dictated by the lazy and the uncommitted. Jesus had a ton of 'disciples' or followers who came and went based on the food and the miracle show. He always programmed for the 12, the truly committed. Sure the crowds benefited from this, but if you look closely at the context, Jesus always was working with the 12. We should do the same.
  5. The modern "seeker" churches are in a real bind. They appear to be more committed to the masses (in all likelihood the lost in their midst than they are with the truly saved, committed small core.) They have subscribed to the tragic mistake of programming church for the lost, fair weather fans instead of the core rain or shine fanatics. 
Bottom line: Jesus programmed for His 12 handpicked fanatics. The masses benefited as they came and went, fickle as it was. In John 17:4 Jesus prayed to His Father, acknowledging that He had completed the work He was given to do. Seeing how this is pre-cross and in the context of a prayer for His disciples it would seem that He was talking about finishing up His training of the twelve committed. We would do well to aim for the same type of prayer at the end of our ministry time as well.