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Does Your Sunday School Curriculum Meet the “IBM” Challenge?
By: Jonathan McKee

We have no choice but to admit it. Things change. We can ignore change. We can resist change. But we can't stop change! Changes, especially technological changes, have come at a rapid pace and affected all of our lives. Is there any place technological change has not touched?

How about Sunday school curriculum? While the ancient words of Scripture must continue to be the foundation of all we teach, does our curriculum ask us to use methods that are nearly identical to those we used 10 or even 5 years ago? Is flannel graph still king and the overhead projector the lady in waiting? If so, may we suggest that there is something wrong?

Technological innovation has given us new ways to be even more effective as we seek to teach eternal truth. Take a look at the curriculum you now use. Does it meet the IBM (Instant, Bigger, Mobile) test?

I—Instant Interaction
Gone are the days when the local, country doctor made house calls. But also gone are the days when that doctor would have to wait hours upon hours for an X-ray to be developed in order to treat a hurting patient. We can lament the replacement of the folksy for the efficient in theory, but when we are in pain, we will probably opt for quick and competent treatment every time.

Imagine that an event of such great importance occurs that everyone in your Sunday school classes will be affected that week. A good curriculum provider should be able to instantly offer direction and resources for you to meet those immediate needs.

Or ,what if you want to react to the content of a printed piece or ask other users for suggestions you can use in your classroom? Can you "follow" your curriculum provider on Twitter or become its "fan" on Facebook? Do the mascots of their take-home magazines have an e-mail address or a presence on MySpace? Do executives of your curriculum company blog regularly, allowing you both to get timely information and even give you access to the ear of those in "high places?" They can. And they should.

B—Bigger Books
Go to the supermarket. Just try to buy a pound of coffee or a half gallon of ice cream. Chances are you cannot. Why? Because dealers in hard goods have two choices—either increase price or reduce the size of the product. So, now the "pound" of coffee is about 13 ounces and the "half gallon" of ice cream is three pints.

But, a good curriculum does not have to follow the same trend. Thanks to technological changes, a good curriculum can actually increase usable content at little or no cost to you. Online and downloadable supplementary resources can actually increase the value of a curriculum, adding "pages" that do not have to be printed, inventoried, and shipped. Here are few supplements that a good curriculum publisher could be offering you.

Teacher training
Lay teachers are the backbone of the Sunday school. Conventions, seminars, and other types of continuing education are costly and time-consuming. But online articles that can be read at a teacher's convenience can allow a teacher to grow on his or her schedule.

Parent connections
Downloadable family devotion guides, tips for Christian parenting, and articles on spiritual development can be given to parents by teachers to help them collaborate in the faith formation of students.

Alternative programming
In tough economic times, a church can benefit by using Sunday school resources in multiple settings other than the Sunday school classroom—junior worship, cell groups, mid-week clubs, etc. Guides for alternate uses of curriculum resources and take-home papers can be made available for download, increasing curriculum value to help cash-strapped churches.

M—Mobile Media
Think about it. A century ago, those who wanted to hear music in their own home would have to play an instrument or hire a musician. Those who wanted to see a play had to visit the theater. Audiovisual media was expensive and relatively inaccessible. Thanks to Thomas Edison, the phonograph brought music into the home and the motion picture camera brought nationally known actors and actresses to the smallest towns. But that was just the beginning.

Today, MP3 players allow us to carry an entire music library in the palms of our hands. Movies can be streamed to our laptops, music players, and even cell phones. Radio DJs no longer program our music choices, nor does the TV executive control what we watch or when we watch it. In addition, the emerging development of portable print readers even allows us to wirelessly download a book, newspaper, or magazine from virtually anywhere. A storehouse larger than the Library of Congress can now be carried under our arms.

So, does your curriculum provider live in this same world? How easily (and legally) can resources they provide be placed in a presentation, e-mailed to students and teachers, carried on an MP3 player or smart phone, or streamed from a church website? Questions that need to be answered, indeed!

We may reminisce about filmstrips, picture cards, and flannel graphs. But technology continues to give us new and more efficient ways of delivering that same content to students. Has your curriculum provider kept up with technology that allows us to be instant, bigger, and mobile? If not, look for those who can pass the IBM test!

Jonathan McKee, president of The Source for Youth Ministry, www.thesource4ym.com, is a well-known author, blogger, and speaker on the topics of youth culture, youth ministry, parenting issues, and the influence of the media on teenagers.

Is Your Sunday School's GPS Giving You Good Directions?
By Alex Bauman

On a recent trip, I used my phone as a GPS for the first time. At one point, the phone commanded me to bear left and then immediately commanded me to exit to the right. "You've got to be kidding me!" I exclaimed, as I sailed past my exit. The voice, unfazed by my agitation, calmly responded with one word: "recalculating."

Driving on an unfamiliar road to an unfamiliar destination can be challenging, and having a GPS should make the experience successful. My phone's GPS proved unreliable.

In a church, the purpose for a ministry becomes that ministry's guide, or GPS. Every ministry should have a clearly defined purpose. But if a church is not careful, its purpose for its Sunday School can become a bad GPS. A bad GPS could lead to selecting curriculum that fails to meet a church's need for making disciples.

Inferior Reasons for Choosing Curriculum
There are lots of inferior reasons for choosing Sunday School curriculum. Some choose curriculum just to have something to give to teachers. Others choose curriculum based on whether it will make their teachers and students happy. The price of curriculum and its doctrinal stance are other reasons for selecting curriculum.

All of these reasons for choosing curriculum have some merit, but all of them fail to recognize the opportunities curriculum provides to a church. These reasons are indicators of a subpar GPS for a church's Sunday School ministry.

Understanding Curriculum
The word "curriculum" suggests a course to follow and a prize to win. It paints the picture of a runner in a race for gold rather than a jogger meandering through his neighborhood.

Paul captured the sense of the word "curriculum" when he wrote, "I have finished my course" (2 Timothy 4:7). Paul saw his life as a racecourse God laid out for him. His analogy helps us see that God expects all believers to join the race by accomplishing His will for their lives.

Sunday School should assist a church in helping students run the race God has laid out for them. Sunday School curriculum should help the church make disciples.

Biblical Reasons for Curriculum
If a curriculum is actually going to make disciples, there are key areas that the curriculum should specifically address. The curriculum should encourage students to believe the gospel by including clear gospel presentations, as well as lessons on how to share the gospel effectively. Sunday School curriculum should teach God's standards and should encourage students to live righteously from their hearts no matter their circumstances.

Clearly teaching Bible-based doctrine is an essential part of making disciples. Effective curriculum will include lessons on important doctrinal truths so the students might become confident discerners of truth.

Focusing on others and serving them are important emphases in the teachings of Christ. Curriculum that makes disciples should help students realizes these emphases in their lives.

Church leaders should get to know their Sunday School curriculum. They should investigate whether their curriculum actually helps students come to know Christ and grow to be like Him. If it doesn't, then it is time for a change.

Alex Bauman is director of Regular Baptist Press, www.regularbaptistpress.org.

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