By Ken Braddy
Curriculum comes from the Latin word currere, which means to run. The word curriculum was used during the Roman Empire to refer to the course used for races; the curriculum was the racetrack with its starting and finishing points.
Today, Bible study curriculum provides starting and ending points of a different kind. It also provides a lane in which the group leader and group members race toward the finish line of Christian maturity and spiritual transformation.
With all the Bible study choices available today, it’s not always easy to find the right study (or studies) for your church or group.
There are also some common myths about curriculum that get in the way.
Myth #1: I need to find the perfect curriculum.
There is no such thing. Some Bible studies will meet the needs of your people and the mission of your church better than others but none are perfect. No matter how good a particular curriculum is, group leaders will almost always have to adjust it to fit the needs of their group members.
Myth #2: The newest curriculum is best for my church.
Maybe, maybe not. If you constantly change curriculum from one series to another, your group members will never complete a scope and sequence (the full range of topics covered and the order in which they are studied). It can also appear like you don’t have a plan for people’s spiritual growth. Find the type of Bible study that fits the culture of your church and stick with it.
Myth #3: Group leaders teach curriculum.
Actually, group leaders teach people. Curriculum simply guides group leaders in what they should say and do in each session, and it provides a group plan including procedures and ideas for maximizing the participation in the Bible study. The most effective teaching requires a relationship with the group members. Remember the adage, “Telling isn’t teaching. Listening isn’t learning.”
Myth #4: Group leaders don’t need curriculum.
They can simply teach the Bible. It makes sense on the surface, doesn’t it? Why not allow the group leader to open the Bible, teach his or her favorite passages, and save the expense of buying curriculum? Because it tends to be a poor plan for teaching the entire counsel of God in age-appropriate ways and in a scope and sequence that takes into account the life-long developmental and spiritual needs of group members.
Selecting the right Bible study
There are several ways a church might go about choosing its curriculum. First, groups may decide on their own what they are going to study, with no input from a pastor or other church leaders. While this approach may have the appearance of empowering groups, it can lead to a “Judges 21:25” philosophy where everyone does what is right in their own eyes, which often leads to chaos.
The research in Transformational Groups by Ed Stetzer and Eric Geiger revealed that many pastors and church leaders don’t know what their church’s small groups are studying. That’s troubling, said Stetzer and Geiger. “The reason great pastors are involved in resource choices is so nothing heretical is taught and no false teachings are espoused,” they say.
A second and better approach is for pastors and church leaders to set guidelines for what Bible study (or Bible studies) are best for use in groups. A small task force including the pastor or other staff members could be formed to help select resources approved for use in the church based on cost, publisher, doctrine, leader resources, ease of use, and other factors. The goal is to make sure the curriculum fits the congregation’s theology and approach to ministry. It’s also a great way to facilitate communication, so everyone knows what’s going on in the groups.
Pay attention to the starting point
We spent a lot of time at Lifeway thinking about starting points when working on Bible study curriculum.
We’ve identified four major starting points that help us match a group’s preferred way of studying with a curriculum line. When those two things line up, the result is often a very satisfied group. When there is a bad match, a group will likely be unhappy with the curriculum.
Starting Point 1: Life. Some groups prefer topical Bible studies. The group members place a high value on knowing God’s Word so they can apply it to their lives. Bible Studies For Life has a life starting point that guides the creation of those studies. Sessions are carefully crafted to address life issues group members regularly face. Bible Studies For Life uses five key discussion questions to guide the group experience and to create conversations among group members.
Starting Point 2: Text. Other groups prefer to study the text in its context so they can properly interpret it and apply it in their context today. Explore The Bible is a line of ongoing and short-term Bible studies with text as the starting point. The studies take a group through entire books of the Bible and focus on major themes and application. In book after book and passage after passage, men, women, boys, and girls, systematically explore their way through the books of the Bible.
Starting Point 3: Theology. Then there are groups that love studying theology so they understand a particular doctrine in light of the whole counsel of Scripture. The Gospel Project has theology as its starting point. It helps group members understand how a particular doctrine is threaded through the hundreds of stories in the Bible. It demonstrates how the Bible is one big story of God’s redemption of humanity through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Starting Point 4: Your Church. An increasing number of churches desire to create sermon-based studies or unique Bible studies for their members. Lifeway has responded to this by helping them develop customized curriculum based on a church’s needs, culture, and mission. A church can receive customized curriculum in about 30 days from Lifeway, created by experts who learn about the church, understand its needs, and design curriculum that creates great group dynamics.
The key is to select the right starting point for your church. If you choose a life curriculum and give it to a group that prefers a text approach to Bible study, they won’t be happy—and more important, they won’t engage well with God’s Word. Normally, the problem isn’t with the curriculum itself; it’s a matter of misalignment.
Choosing curriculum doesn’t have to be difficult, but neither should it be taken lightly. Curriculum is a wonderful tool in the hands of group leaders, a tool that can lead people to faith in Christ. It disciples them through God’s Word, aids group leaders in their ministry to those under their care, and ultimately supports the church in its mission of making disciples. That’s a course worth running.
Ken Braddy (@KenBraddy) is manager of Lifeway’s ongoing Bible studies, magazines, and devotionals. He is an 18-year veteran of church education ministries in the local church. He and his wife lead a weekly Bible study group at their church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.