I have always considered the teacher/leader of a church school class or small group to be the most important factor for contributing to the faith formation of those in their classes or groups. The curriculum they use is important and necessary, but it is only a tool to help the teachers and leaders in their task of guiding learners into the marvelous, mysterious truths of God’s mighty acts, past and present, for salvation of humankind.
Over the years I have looked for curriculum resources that respond to the needs of teachers/leaders by including the following features:
- Teachers need to be nurtured in their own faith development. The best learners in the church are the teachers. A commitment to teach or lead a class or small group is an opportunity to grow in their understanding of the Bible and their faithful commitment to Jesus the Christ. Curriculum can be a helpful resource for nurturing a teacher’s spiritual life by including prayers, sidebars with focused quotes, and questions to prompt the teacher to think, reflect, and pray.
- Teachers/leaders need support in developing relationships within their classes and groups. The most important thing that happens in the classroom or small group setting is the building of relationships between the teacher/leader and the participants, among the participants themselves, with the life and mission of the congregation, and most especially with Jesus through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Curriculum can be most helpful when it addresses this matter more explicitly by offering ways to build and gird relationships.
- Teachers need help to understand the context of the Bible passage of the lesson. Curriculum is a helpful tool when it includes a section of background information dealing with the context in which the passage appears, providing clues to understanding key words and concepts, and making connections to other passages. This will increase the teacher/leader’s understanding and the ability to communicate that understanding with the participants.
- Teachers need options for developing their lesson plans. No two classes or groups are alike and every teacher/leader has unique abilities, interests, and experiences. Given this reality, curriculum is a very helpful tool when it offers alternative strategies for developing a lesson as well as encourages teachers/leaders to utilize their own gifts, resources, and experiences. When the curriculum offers just one way to present or explore a Bible passage it presents difficulties for those who don’t have the space, the number of participants, the amount of time, or the resources assumed by the curriculum writer.
- Teachers need direction for how to involve the participants in reading, exploring, and reflecting on Bible passages in order to grow in their biblical literacy. There are at least four aspects of biblical literacy: 1) reading, reflecting, and remembering what I have read in the Bible, 2) making connections between what I read in one passage with what I remember from reading other passages, 3) seeing the relevance of what I read in the Bible to what I am reading and hearing about what is happening in the world in which I live, and 4) applying what I learn from the Bible to my personal faith and life journey in terms of the decisions I make and the way I relate to others. Curriculum is most helpful when it provides activities for teachers/leaders to use to assist participants to grow in their biblical literacy.
- Teachers need to be provided thoughtful questions to use with their groups. The questions teachers ask to guide discussion, interaction, and exploration of Scripture may be the most important resource for effective teaching and learning. Curriculum is most helpful when it provides a variety of questions for teachers to lead participants to think about a Bible passage, compare it with other passages, see the relevance of the passage to the world in which they live, and apply the truth of the passage to their own lives.
- In today’s technologically sophisticated world teachers need to be led to credible web and digital resources that will equip them to explore the subject of their lesson as well as to invite the learners to engage with the topic. Many teachers and younger learners, especially, as well as older learners, are techno-savvy in that they are comfortable using digital and Internet resources for exploring any subject. Curriculum could be helpful by pointing teachers and leaders to Internet links that will provide additional information and perspective on the Bible passage or topic of the lesson. In addition, curriculum could include CDs and/or DVDs that could be used in the classroom. In a day of smart phones, iPads, notebook and laptop computers, and LCD projectors it is important that in teaching the Bible we use the latest resources as teachers in every generation have done.
Even when a curriculum includes all of the above features it remains just a tool to be used by teachers and leaders. The most critical question for church educators, pastors, and other education leaders to consider is, How are we going to equip our teachers and leaders to make the best use of the curriculum tools that we provide for them? Teacher/leader training and support is critical to effective teaching. Given the realities of busy lives, limited time, and diminishing resources it is a difficult task to develop approaches to teacher/leader training and support, but it must be done in new and creative ways. That will have to be a subject for discussion at a later time.
Donald Griggs is a retired pastor and educator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) living in Livermore, CA. He has served as an author and editor of church curriculum resources, professor of Christian education, consultant and trainer, and associate pastor of three different churches. Don is best known for his innovative, practical approaches to teaching the Bible for learners of all ages.