Discipleship: It’s Not About the Curriculum

Today’s blog post is taken from a book I read recently. David Putnam wrote Breaking The Discipleship discipleship-codeCode, and he says a lot of things others do who are in the small group/discipleship space. One particular section of the book really stood out to me, though. It was in a short section where David described his negative experience in Sunday School. Here is what David said about that experience:

When it comes to belonging, a common mistake we make is to build our belonging around a kind of curriculum. I love curriculum. I write books. At the same time, our curriculum is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The churches I experienced early got it right in many ways but at the same time had struggles. While Sunday School was a good concept – people studying the Bible – it wasn’t structured for maximum impact. Sunday School as I knew it usually consisted of a small group of people meeting one hour before worship. The challenge to our traditional Sunday School was it became all about the curriculum. The teacher would stand in the front behind a lectern and lecture. As kids we were forbidden to speak or ask questions, and we sat in rows of chairs where we had to look at the back of the heads of the people sitting in front of us. I can’t imagine Jesus teaching a Sunday School class, at tleast not the one I grew up in.

As I read David’s experience in Sunday School, it became apparent why he prefers the small group experience over what he knew growing up. I can’t say that I blame him. I wonder how many times this scenario is multiplied in churches across the country on Sundays? Well-intentioned but poorly trained group leaders put kids, students, and adults to sleep with their tiresome monologues. Activity is reduced to practically nothing, silence is revered so the teacher can pour his or her knowledge into the mind of their pupils, and Sunday School gets another black eye in the process.

David’s experience in Sunday School is not my experience. I am blessed to have been a part of groups with well-prepared teachers who invited me to interact with them and my fellow group members. As a church staff leader, I have emulated active teaching methods for the group leaders I led. As a teacher today in my church, I refuse to lecture to my adult learners. Instead, I value shaking things up by using different learning approaches each week. I invite discussion, I use interaction to teach scriptural truth, and I don’t like placing people in rows.

Evaluate your own Bible teaching ministry to make sure that you aren’t part of the problem. Sunday School has been given a bad rap in many places, but perhaps it’s been well-earned. Don’t be like David Putnam’s teachers he grew up with, and certainly don’t accidentally drive anyone away from your group!

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