“In those days there was no king; everyone did whatever he wanted” (HCSB). Other translations render the last part of this verse, “and everyone did what was right in his own sight.” This is the closing verse in the book of Judges, and unfortunately represents a philosophy that has been adopted by some Sunday School leaders. What are the reasons why some church leaders take their hands off the wheel of Sunday School and invite disaster by allowing classes to study whatever they want? Is it really that bad to “let everyone do what is right in their own sight?” I believe it is. So why is this practice being allowed to happen in churches? I can think of at least 6 reasons why a leader might allow this Judges 21:25 practice:
Reason 1: the leader is afraid to lose his job. Some leaders know that if they change too much too fast, they’ll run into a buzz saw…a disgruntled teacher or personnel committee member who does not like the leader’s insistence on using an ongoing curriculum…and some leaders may have even been told that if they insisted teachers follow an approved curriculum plan, they’d end of losing their job.
Reason 2: the leader doesn’t want to make people mad. Other leaders want (perhaps need) to be liked. Relationships are a motivating factor in their life, and they don’t want to alienate people or cause unhappiness (most of us in ministry are “people persons”). The leader may have a Golden Retriever personality and peace is a value they hold dear.
Reason 3: the leader doesn’t understand the benefits of an “ongoing” curriculum plan. If you don’t care about people having a balanced approach to studying God’s Word, then any plan is fine. Let a teacher write his or her own material. Allow another one to teach the book of Revelation for two years. Give permission for yet another teacher to teach only from the New Testament. If you use an ongoing curriculum, you’ll ensure that learners receive balanced learning and counsel from God’s Word. You’ll also make sure that Personal Study Guides are available to help class members continue studying and growing outside the classroom.
Reason 4: the leader inherited the philosophy from someone else. A new Sunday School director or a Minister of Education may have walked into a situation that’s been ongoing under the former leader’s ministry. They didn’t create the Judges 25:21 situation, but now they are the one to have to deal with it and implement change. Class autonomy is a part of the Sunday School’s DNA, and teachers are use to calling the shots.
Reason 5: the leader genuinely believes it is better to empower classes to make curriculum choices. Some leaders want to push the decision about curriculum down to the class level, but I have a different opinion about this practice. As the leader, I want to set the pace and determine the direction. I want to be able to do what Scripture commands and “guard your doctrine closely.” I do not want to stand before God and give account for false doctrine infiltrating my church simply because I abdicated my leadership to the people. My son graduates from college this May with an earned degree in marketing. On the first day we registered him for college and talked with an academic advisor, Josh was given a degree plan that had been determined by his school; the Dean of his school, along with other faculty, had spoken into the kinds of classes that are required to earn the degree. At no time was Josh allowed to dictate to the college the courses he would study (except for the freedom to choose a limited number of electives)…quite the opposite. There is no institution of higher learning that allows students to determine the curriculum they study…those decisions are made for them. If this was good practice, colleges would have put this into practice years ago. It’s not.
Reason #6: the person responsible for the Sunday School is lazy. There, I said it. It’s the elephant in the room. Sometimes classes are allowed to select whatever they want to study simply because the staff leader or volunteer Sunday School director is not a hard worker. It’s easier and quicker to simply tell classes and teachers to “study whatever” and then move along to something more interesting that the person really wants to work on…there’s just nothing glamorous about selecting curriculum or dealing with teachers who desire to make that kind of choice for the class. Who needs the fight?
I hope that you are the kind of leader who does value a curriculum plan for both you and your learners. Publishers like LIfeWay have teams of people who develop outlines, lesson titles, and edit content on a full-time basis. Their ministry is to use their God-given passions and years of experience and Christian education to create lessons and teacher resources that guide teachers, allow for teachers to inject their own creativity into lessons, and save the teacher many hours of advanced preparation so that time can be better invested in ministering to people and leading classes to think and act like “missionaries to the culture.”