3 reasons to let others engineer your Bible studies

The book Crash Course by Paul Ingrassia details the rise and fall of the “big three” automakers.  The book is a fascinating look into the inner workings of the automobile industry and the decisions made by executives that led to the crash that took place in that industry not too long ago.

In the midst of poor decisions made by American automakers, Honda quietly rose to prominence because it was led by engineers, not the “bean counters” like GM (p.66).  Ingrassia notes that this was a critical difference in Honda’s success and GM’s failure.  Let’s think about this and how this applies to Bible study curriculum.

The car you drive was not created by a single engineer.  In fact, teams of engineers worked for years to develop and test the very car you drove to work today.  Would you dare drive a car that was designed by just one engineer? Surely not.  I wouldn’t trust the experience and background of just one engineer.  I’d want a team of engineers pooling their expertise.  In a similar way, some churches are opting to have a staff member (or group leader) write (“engineer”) their own studies each week.  In this scenario, one person is responsible for creating a lesson, not a team of experts.

Here are several advantages of selecting curriculum produced by a Christian publishing house rather than using the materials created by a single teacher/engineer who builds their own:

1)  A team of “curriculum engineers” keeps the lesson free of doctrinal error.  When you have multiple experts, editors, and denominational leaders writing and speaking into curriculum (like the people employed by my company, LifeWay) the chances of doctrinal errors slipping into the material is reduced to almost a zero possibility.  Multiple filters are in place to make sure that only accurate biblical doctrine is presented in each Bible study.  If you have a lone person writing curriculum, you don’t have a built-in system for catching doctrinal mistakes. I’ve sat in a group in which the teacher wrote his own lessons, and on two occasions before I decided to leave that group, I caught doctrinal errors in his teaching (and yes, I called those to his attention). The church has a mandate to guard its doctrine carefully (I Timothy 4:16). This is a serious responsibility that is made easier when a team of people is involved.

2)  A team of “curriculum engineers” develop a balanced, long-term plan.  It takes years to design a car, and hundreds of meetings with marketers, engineers, executives, and salespeople to create a product that will do well in the marketplace.  “Curriculum engineers” work a long-term plan that is known as the scope & sequence of the curriculum.  The scope and sequence is a detailed plan that sets strong guidelines for what the curriculum will lead learners to study over the course of time.  The scope & sequence can actually stretch many years into the future, giving the entire team a strong framework around which to build lessons.  Not so if you have only one person writing their own curriculum!  Group leaders who adopt the “write it myself” approach will struggle to tell you what they are going to lead their class to study in two weeks. “Making it up as you go” is a poor way to disciple people today. Too many groups repeat favorite topics or books of the Bible, which leads to an imbalance in studying “the whole counsel of God.” It’s like going to a buffet and eating only one or two items, when a world of opportunities lay before you!

3)  A team of “curriculum engineers” bring diversity, education, experience, expertise, and creativity to the process of building Bible studies.  Automakers employ hundreds of experts, engineers, craftsmen, and workers to produce the vehicles you and I enjoy driving.  No church can come close to employing the hundreds of theologians, editors, writers, proof readers, graphic designers, and others that produce quality Bible study materials like Christian publishers can. “Strength in numbers” is a truism that applies here.

The next time you are tempted to write curriculum for your church or your Bible study group, ask yourself if you are giving your members the very best by choosing that philosophy. Although I currently work for one of those Christian publishers, for 20 years prior to that I made a conscious decision to use only materials produced by a team of “curriculum engineers” for all of the reasons above, and then some. I was a fan of expertly crafted studies long before I ever drew a paycheck from a Christian publishing house!

I am in favor of a Bible study philosophy that says, “We’ll choose a trustworthy curriculum series from a Christian publisher, and ask our group leaders to customize it for each of their groups.” This is exactly what we do when we buy a car – we buy a particular model, drive it home, and begin adding things we want (backup camera, security system, window tint, custom mats, and other things). It’s so much better when group leaders start with a solid Bible study, then adjust it to fit their groups. Leave the engineering to the experts, and focus your time and attention on knowing and reaching people for Christ. Don’t spend your week at your computer creating studies.

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