Using Curriculum in Youth Ministry: Is Curriculum Even Necessary?

Adapted from a presentation given on Sat, Sept 11, 2010 at a Metro DC Synod youth ministry workshop.  Four points guided the discussion. This blogpost focuses on the first point.

  1. To use, or not to use, curriculum?
  2. Are you ready to teach?
  3. How do you evaluate and select a curriculum?
  4. Some recommendations

First question: To use, or not to use, curriculum?

This is an important question.  Though I used to sell Sunday School curriculum for a living, I do not believe that every learning opportunity in the church requires the use of a published, purchased curriculum.  Teaching and learning requires planning, but we don’t always need a packaged curriculum.  So first ask yourself two questions: what do you want to achieve in a period of study?  And, do you need to go out and buy a curriculum do achieve that goal?

For example, if your goal is to read the Bible with your youth group, you can do this without purchasing a curriculum.  A very popular, simple, and down-to-earth Bible Study method is often referred to as The African Bible Study Method.  This method involves reading the text aloud three times and, after each reading, inviting each participant to share a word, phrase, or feeling that emanated from the hearing of the Scripture.  There is no discussion, no need for historical analysis or heady theology.  It is a shared time of reading and hearing the words of the Bible, and allowing its words and message to speak to our faith and life.  Visit the link for more information.

For an overview of several curriculum-less methods for reading the bible, enjoy this article written by Pastor Paul Lutz, formerly on staff at the churchwide headquarters of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and now serving at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Princeton Junction, NJ.  In it he writes about Bible reading methods that seek not only to inform, but to transform.

Simple methods of reading the Bible in community are easily memorized or noted on a folded sheet of paper tucked inside the front of your Bible.  If you, as a leader, want more background in a certain book of the Bible, you can access Study Bibles, commentaries or other Bible study material, without needing to buy materials for your whole group.  But before we reach for fancy (and expensive) materials perhaps we should simply open the Bible and use a method that allows the grace and truth of God's Word to speak to our faith.

A closing comment about reading the Bible in community.  I avoid the use of the term "Bible Study" when possible.  There are many ways to read the Bible in community that are not "studies" in an academic or heady sense.  We can and should read the Bible devotionally, as a faith-filled story that connects with our own stories of faith.  We shouldn't disregard the significant academic issues related to ancient texts, theology, and the traditions of the church.  But these things need not dominate or become roadblocks to the way we read the Bible in community, either.

Of course, going curriculum-free is not for everybody or for every situation.  Sometimes we just need to use a curriculum.  More on how to select and use curricula in future posts.

Next post: On being prepared to teach in the church.

About Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.
This entry was posted in Faith & the Church, Lutheran, Youth Ministry and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Using Curriculum in Youth Ministry: Is Curriculum Even Necessary?

  1. Great post, Chris. It’s been amazing to watch the rapid evolution of youth ministry resources in the last 10 years. When I first started in ministry, THE way to prepare for youth group, Sunday School, etc. was to buy curriculum. I still have the “Starter Pak” of materials from Youth Specialties that I was given as a welcome gift. Ha!
    Anyway, I’m shifting the way I look at this topic…starting to move from “curriculum” to “resources”. For example, we use a lot of the re:form resources for our Confirmation ministry, but we also pull from other sources. In this sense, we aren’t teaching directly from a particular curriculum; rather we are embracing a pedagogical model for how to help kids grow in faith.
    The approach/structure that is offered by certain curricula are invaluable to me. Companies that are good at what they do will provide a lot of the leg-work that we’d have to do to create our own relevant materials. They employ people with a high level of theological and educational expertise, conduct a ton of research, and vet samples of their product to test groups for feedback. If I can piggy-back on their work by using some of their resources (but not completely selling out to “the product”), it makes me a better teacher.

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