Over the past year, I took on the daunting task of creating our own curriculum with the Jesus Storybook Bible as the main resource for the children’s ministry that I lead. While this is an excellent storybook Bible for kids, I call the task daunting because the curriculum that goes with the JSB is rather lacking. If you want to learn more about that experience, check out this post. You can also download a huge number of free resources that I created to go along with the JSB on my Jesus Storybook Bible Free Resources page. With the help of my ministry assistant and some key volunteers, we made it happen, and God really blessed this 1-year journey through the Bible, but it is quite an undertaking to create a curriculum for an entire children’s ministry. While I loved the experience, I feel that as we wrap up the Jesus Storybook Bible and move on to something new, I need to devote more time to other areas of ministry. So I have spent countless hours the last few months looking at dozens of different curriculum possibilities. I am sharing some of my experiences and observations here, and I am writing another post that reviews my top curriculum choices.
CAST VISION BEFORE SELECTING RESOURCES
As a church leader, I have found that if you do not have vision for the future of your ministry, then you are just treading water. This is true whether you work with kids, young marrieds, recovering addicts or seniors. Vision is key, and vision should come through much prayer and petition before God. When I began my current position, it became clear to me that the children’s ministry needed to be firmly grounded in God’s word, and it needed to better incorporate parents as the greatest spiritual leaders in the lives of the kids here. That is why I selected the Jesus Storybook Bible last year. I knew it would be a great tool for parents to use at home, so I worked hard to make our Sunday program supplement what I hoped parents would do at home.
After more than a year, this vision has not changed. Whatever curriculum we use, whatever we teach, whatever events we have, they are all designed to supplement, help and support parents as the main teachers, spiritual leaders and disciplers of their own kids. While the vision remains the same, we are taking a different approach this go-around. The Jesus Storybook Bible was great, but it only has 44 stories, leaving out tons of great stuff from the Bible. This time we are taking a 3-year approach to learning the Bible. As I set about finding a good 3-year curriculum, I had many frustrations along the way.
I commend any person or company who devotes their time, energy, money and careers to producing ministry resources for churches and families, however I have been rather disappointed with many of the curriculum choices out there. The curriculums that disappoint me the most do not come from no-name publishing companies, but they are actually some of the most popular, best-selling children’s ministry curriculums on the market.
My biggest frustrations are with Group Publishing and Orange. Yes, that is correct. This may be shocking to the thousands of children’s ministers who speak glowingly of these companies, but I am actually expressing my concerns with the 2 biggest and most influential publishers of teaching resources for kids in the church.
LOTS OF FLASH, NOT ENOUGH SUBSTANCE?
To be fair to both Group and Orange, these companies are doing some pretty great things for the Lord. Group publishes the best magazine (Children’s Ministry Magazine) for KidMin leaders, and Group creates the best VBS programs out there. I not only use Group VBS every year, but 99% of the worship music videos we use are from Group. So here is my problem with Group… they have every resource at their disposal… they have a staff full of creative minds who love the Lord… yet they cannot seem to produce a Sunday School curriculum that makes sense to me. I do not say this from an outsider’s view, but as someone who has used multiple Group curriculums.
The Hands-On Bible Curriculum seemed good for awhile because it had some fun ideas to capture kids’ attention. It focused on letting kids experience the story with sights, sounds touch… basically it was sensory learning. I love sensory learning, but once you get past the cool gadgets and gizmos, you are left wondering where this curriculum is taking the kids. It was not teaching anything blasphemous or doctrinally unsound, but it had no real sense of direction other than helping kids experience the stories. Can the kids not experience God’s story AND see how all the smaller stories tie into one greater narrative at the same time?
*While I would not use the Hands-On Bible Curriculum again for a whole program, I think the Hands-On Bible and My First Hands-On Bible products are fantastic for families.
My church was using Group’s Living Inside Out curriculum when I arrived, and not one of the teachers was pleased with it. They felt that the lessons and activities did not properly match up with the various age group labels. With a little effort, those lessons can be adjusted to fit different ages, but the real issue is that the curriculum is so random. It just jumps all over the Bible with no apparent rhyme or reason. This is what I have found with lots of curriculums available today.
DOES ANYONE ACTUALLY TEACH THE WHOLE BIBLE TO KIDS IN ORDER?
I tried… I really, really tried to like Group’s Sunday School curriculums because I am a fan of so many other things the company produces. I have talked to multiple customer service and sales reps both in person and on the phone about the Faithweaver (recently rebranded as Faithweaver NOW) curriculum options. I had high hopes for Faithweaver when I first discovered it because it is Group’s only curriculum that focuses on the 2 things I think are most important to a children’s ministry:
- It teaches the whole Bible.
- It focuses on the whole family. It is expandable to every age group so that everyone in the family is on the same page. This is great for home Bible studies or family devotionals.
My problem with Faithweaver is not its content. I have never had the chance to actually use the curriculum, but the scope and sequence appear to be pretty solid. It goes through the whole Bible in 3 years, alternating quarters between the Old Testament and New Testament. I have mixed feelings about alternating quarters this way, but maybe I’m just being picky? Anyways, this curriculum has a lot going for it from what I can tell. The problem is Group’s firm stance on forcing you to buy the current quarter of curriculum. They will not let you go back and buy something from last year. Also, the curriculum begins with King David instead of Creation.
If our program is beginning a 3-year journey through the Bible, it only makes sense to start “In the beginning…” Group Publishing does not agree with this simple logic, and they want to force you to follow their re-ordering of the Bible. So while this curriculum teaches the whole Bible, it teaches it in a weird order that just does not make sense. There is no option to buy the curriculum in the order you want.
DOES ORANGE EVEN TEACH THE BIBLE?
Orange is the latest, greatest thing in KidMin and family ministry. It is so popular that churches of all denominations are labeling themselves “Orange Churches.” It is well funded, well made, organized and nice to look at. It is always seeking to remain relevant by providing cutting edge music and resources. The creators and leaders of Orange bring decades of children’s ministry experience. I have KidMin friends who swear by Orange.
With Orange, the church is red, the family is yellow, and as both sides work together, they make orange. This strategy is woven into their teachings. All these things are great, and Orange is a HUGE step in the right direction. However there is one HUGE, glaring weakness that I cannot overlook.
Orange wants to be the curriculum that is used from toddlers to high school seniors, yet it is totally theme based and not scripture based. There is of course a time and place for theme based lessons and series, but if you want my church to put our kids through 16 years of your curriculum, you better teach the Bible. Orange does not. It teaches Biblical principles. It teaches stories from all throughout the Bible. I am sure over the course of several years the whole Bible is taught, but not in any order that allows kids to see how it all ties together.
GOD’S WORD SPEAKS FOR ITSELF
Orange makes things a little too complicated. Kids will have a blast, and families will feel encouraged at Orange churches. But when it is all said and done, I worry that the most important thing is left behind… God’s word. With these curriculums God’s word can easily become secondary. God’s word should be first and foremost for any curriculum and any church program designed to teach kids, teens or adults. There is no other way. Orange has the infrastructure in place to lead a huge movement, but it is a movement that will die out if it is not firmly grounded in scripture. Any shallow teachings of the Bible will fade away, leaving shallow Christians who feel good for awhile because it’s a great experience but then have no depth to their understanding and no roots to their faith. As for me, I want more for my family, and I expect other Christian parents to want more as well.
For that reason, I will not use Orange’s curriculums for the ministries I lead. For those churches that love Orange, please be careful to make sure you are providing opportunities for kids and teens to learn the whole Bible and to see the whole narrative of God as it plays out from Genesis to Revelation, continuing still today.
God’s word truly does speak for itself. It was designed that way by a pretty awesome God. All those themes and character traits that Orange and other curriculum companies love to push, they are naturally taught throughout the Bible, and in context. Any curriculum should be designed to bring people into the Bible and help people understand God’s word better, not to supplant the Bible as the main teaching resource for the church or education program.
IS THERE A PERFECT CURRICULUM ANYWHERE?
No, there is not, but there are some truly outstanding curriculums that put God’s word first. Read my next post for my findings and reviews of children’s ministry curriculums that teach the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation in chronological order.