A Vision for New Small Group Curriculum
Most of my readers know that my family and I have made a major life change in the past few weeks. On November 1, I started a new job as editor of a new curriculum being developed by LifeWay. I want to take this space to thank those of you who have written us emails and assured us of your prayers during this time of transition.
Some of you have asked for specific information about the new curriculum line. Last week, Ed Stetzer invited me to take part in his “Thursday is for Thinkers” weekly feature. There, I laid out my vision for this exciting venture. I am re-posting those thoughts here, in hopes that I’ll receive additional feedback from Kingdom People readers.
Think about your best small group or Sunday School class experience. What made it work? Most of the time, people will talk about the fellowship and Bible Study. Both of these are vital components for successful small groups. As an editor, I want the Bible Study component to be the very best it can be for Sunday School classes, and that’s why I’m excited to help develop a new curriculum for LifeWay Christian Resources.
Here’s what I envision (and I’d love to get your feedback!):
1. Deep, but not Dry
The term that has been used to describe this new curriculum is “theologically driven.” That’s not to say that other curriculum options aren’t theological, only that these weekly lessons will be known primarily for digging deep into biblical theology.
I think it’s best to expect a lot out of those who attend a small group or Sunday School class. We need not adopt a “No Child Left Behind” mentality, as if we can and should go only as deep as the least knowledgeable person in the group. We don’t think this way in real life. When our son was still on baby food, we didn’t stop eating steak and potatoes. Neither did we stop feeding our son solid food when our daughter came along. Instead, we gathered as a family and ate together (some of us more than others!).
As a teacher, I want to provide a feast and let people draw the sustenance they need. We may have to “cut up the meat” for new believers and make sure that the truth is accessible. But the key is to put the biblical ingredients together and provide the meal. Fill up the plate! The important thing is that everyone has been fed and is sufficiently nourished when we finish.
I don’t want a week to go by without Jesus being present in our lesson. Jesus is the hero of every Bible story. He’s present in all its pages. The Scriptures are His word to our churches.
Tying everything to the gospel doesn’t mean that every lesson will end with a bullet-point presentation and the Sinner’s Prayer. But a Christ-centered lesson is drenched in gospel truth. Everything revolves around Christ’s death and resurrection and our need to repent and believe.
Sunday School and small groups are – at their best – evangelistic. We invite newcomers to our small groups and welcome them to our fellowship.
But being evangelistic does not mean staying superficial. A gospel-centered curriculum leads us Christians deeper into gospel truth, but never past the gospel. We never stop needing to repent and believe. There is a way to be theologically driven and still accessible to non-Christians, and that’s by massaging the gospel into every lesson.
Being Christ-centered naturally brings our focus to the overarching Story that the Bible tells in four parts:
In my experience teaching Christians in their twenties and thirties (some who grew up in church, and others who did not), I have discovered that though they may be familiar with certain Bible stories, they are not always sure how the stories fit together into the Bible as a whole. By focusing on the grand narrative of Scripture, I hope that our curriculum will help us connect the dots and think as Christians formed by the great Story that tells the truth about our world.
Telling the story of the Bible is impossible without leading to mission, as the story of the gospel reveals the heart of our missionary God and his desire to save people of every tribe, tongue, and nation.
Too many of our Sunday School classes and small groups view our weekly meetings in terms of consumerist expectations. We come; we sit; we receive teaching; we leave. Even groups that prize participation can fall prey to the same temptation. We come; we sit; we talk; we leave.
A gospel-centered curriculum should be driven by the character of our missionary God seen most clearly in the person of Jesus Christ. Our weekly gatherings are not the goal of the mission; they are the means by which we connect with one another and learn God’s Word in order that we might be equipped to love God and neighbor while spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.
The goal is not to fill our heads with theological truth but to fuel our hearts with passion to join God on his mission to bring people to himself. Keeping a focus on how the gospel leads us to mission is a crucial aspect of how we apply the Bible to our lives.