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This Means Curriculum War

Ephesians 4:29 “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

I believe we live in the golden age of church curriculum.  I’ve looked at so many great fantastic things over the past few years, that it’s amazing.  It’s sincerely hard to put my finger down on exactly the best one.  But do I really have to?  Wouldn’t each individual and organization need to make their own choice, based on their own needs?

I’ve noticed an  embarrassing  trend over the past few years.  There is a battle being waged over which curriculum is the best.  Is it virtue-based teaching?  Is it chronological biblical storytelling?  Is it gospel-centered teaching?  Large Groups with videos, or large groups with skits?  Or should large groups go away, and we invest 100% in small groups?

The thing is I don’t find the following questions to have “either/or” answers.  There are some great materials, and each church has to decide which model they will use.  I’ve heard Andy Stanley make a quote that goes something like this, “We are married to the vision, but we just date the models.”  The models will change, and the curriculum will change as well.  The crazy part is that if you really look at all different curriculums, you’ll find that they have way more in common than they have not in common.  I’ve chosen what is best for my church at this moment in time, but I also recognize that other churches will choose something different for their church in this moment in time as well.

We don’t have to blow someone  else’s  candle out to make ours shine brighter.  I believe this can happen, and I see some early signs of collaboration happening between writing teams.  I dream of a day when pastors, leaders, and curriculum writers could sincerely cheer each others success; and back that up by toning down the rhetoric on both sides of either argument.

We can do this right?

Jonathan Cliff is married to his wife Starr and they together live out their days with two sons and a daughter. Jonathan serves as one of the Pastors at Grace Community Church in Clarksville, Tennessee; where he works with leaders throughout the city to help develop Christian community that leads to deep and meaningful spiritual friendships. His journey has been an adventurous one, having served in the local church for 15 years in family ministry developing leaders, building environments for kids and students to belong, and encouraging parents to take big spiritual steps with their families.


  1. Brian · March 6, 2012

    Jonathan – well said. As a writer and producer of Kidmin Curriculum for the last 8 years, I am in full agreement with you. Often, I have found myself listening to the needs of a Kidmin leader and recommending ANOTHER curriculum for them other than ours. What we produce is written specifically for OUR church and OUR kids. It’s not going to not is it intended to work for everyone.

    I have had many Kidmin leaders actually apologize to me and say, “I also use 252 Basics. I’m sorry.” Or, “I use Kidmo sometimes. Is that bad?” This is so sad in that it assumes that all Curriculum providers are competitors with each other. We are not and should not be – EVER.

    Our goal is to make the best resources we can and make them available for those who find them helpful in reaching the children God has called them to minister to. Thanks so much for posting this.

    • Jonathan Cliff · March 6, 2012

      I appreciate your honesty, and it’s heartening to hear that you see the grey in what is often times only seen as black and white.  

      And you really blew it, by the way.  I mean you really, really blew it.  http://www.amazon.com/dp/1936699869/?tag=jonathancliff-20  

  2. Andy Johnson · March 6, 2012

    Hey Jonathan,

    I appreciate what you do here at the site and would say that you and I are typically in the same boat. On this one, though, I’d have to slightly disagree with you.

    I’m not sure there is enough thoughtful critique in the flooded curriculum marketplace. I don’t think that the idea of a “best curriculum” battle being raged is a reality. Could you email me some places you may have seen this happen? Perhaps I’m just not aware of certain strata of this conversation.

    I certainly don’t think a battle needs to be raised, but I do think there needs to be some more honest dialogue about what is available, how the philosophies behind what is available can help or hinder ministry, and thoughtful judgments regarding methodologies. I believe there is some material out there which looked at from a meta perspective, may have a significant negative impact on the generation to come. To me, concerns like this are deserving of conversation.

    I certainly agree that we don’t need a curriculum pope and that churches should be free to choose within their vision, culture, and context. However, when we are able to talk about these ideas with a Proverbs 27:17 perspective, I see nothing but clarity and further unity happening. I think it’s near-sighted to say that every curriculum is a-okay.

    **Side note, the verse at the top is “Ephesians” 4:29.

    • Jonathan Cliff · March 6, 2012

      Thanks for the correction on my scripture.  If you had asked me where that verse was from, I would have said Ephesians.  Promise!

      I appreciate your tone, and your thoughtful comment.  My perspective is that even that curriculum that you’ve deemed as having a “significant negative impact on the generation to come” is not everyones perspective.  To believe that one person alone has the monopolies on all “thoughtful judgments” can be destructive.  

      For our church, our elders, our leadership, and our Senior Pastor; we have thoughtfully judged and prayed about what we will use with our children and students.  There is nothing perfect, but we have found a good standard bearer for what we believe.  We then work to make that curriculum fit our own unique vision, mission, and values for our church.  My point is that our choice will not always fit the vision, mission, and values for others.

      And the war I see waged, is waged all over the place.  You need only walk through a resource center, or read any ministry magazine to see the content aimed at what “they are NOT doing” to see the dig.    It’s in conversations at conferences, it’s in letters and/or blog postings directed to curriculum developers, it’s in the reluctance to embrace the holy convictions between curriculum providers, and it’s found in slight digs and rhetoric all over the blogosphere.

      I agree that not all curriculum is a-okay, but when I see what is available today (compared to even 10 years ago) we are living in a Golden Age.  I won’t back off that statement.  

      • Andy Johnson · March 6, 2012

         Thanks Jonathan, I hope I didn’t come across as having a monopolizing thought process! I have been told in personality profiles that “Andy wonders why others don’t see the world the same way he does” so I have to be on constant guard for that! :-)

        I am in full agreement that “digs” in ads and at conferences are not helpful. I’ve seen some of those and even spoken to the people involved in those firsthand. Fortunately, the ones I know about were resolved in a Christ-like manner. I certainly do not know of every post, article, or conference session that has taken place so my understanding of the broader scope here, I have to admit, would be somewhat limited.

        We may disagree that a statement in a blog or article would be a “dig” or not. Unless there was an air of malice, I would probably just interpret a comment toward a particular curriculum as thoughtful critique, in the same manner of a new Bible version, book review, or movie.

        I’d say that the license to critique or speak out on something is directly proportional to the level of public involvement that particular item maintained. If you wrote your own curriculum for your church (which no one else used) and I felt that it had serious philosophical maladies to it, I would have no right to speak out against it. I have no buy in to that curriculum’s intended audience. However, once something moves into the public sphere, it naturally must be prepared for public praise AND critique. There’s plenty of public praise for various curricula out there, why would public critique be a problem? Again, I don’t mean harmful insults toward people, companies, or methodologies, but thoughtful open-ended critique that brings about discussion.

        Here’s an article that, though dealing with the Matthew 18 principle, sheds some further light on my thinking here.   http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2012/03/four-reasons-why-public-critiq.php (sepcifically #2 & 4)

        I think on a positive note, discussions in the public arena would help clarify for others what decisions, motives, values, etc. are in play in curriculum decisions. I’m not speaking of forcibly defining those for them, but creating more awareness. Not all, in fact most, churches are not like ours, serving thousands of members with clear vision, nicely defined team meetings, and staff that can spend 50 hours over a year evaluating, consulting on, and trying out new curriculum. Most churches (meaning smaller churches) look to what’s the easiest for them. I just think that should be one of the last priorities (or at the least in the middle of the consideration) for a curriculum selection behind spiritual goals with children, communicating biblical truth, aligning with mission/vision of church, scope and sequence, and organization.

        Okay, so that’s all for me. This would have been so much more fun if we could have spent more time at CPC chatting about it! Thanks for letting me converse here and grateful for your partnership in the gospel.

        • Jonathan Cliff · March 6, 2012

          Those are great observations, and I really appreciate your link.  That’s some good reading, I love that blog a ton.

          Thanks for your thoughts, and your tone.  It was a rich read.

  3. Scott Godinez · March 7, 2012

    This is super cool to think about! Lately I have been blessed with the opportunity to talk to other preteen ministries about various things and the topic of “which curriculum is best” always comes up. I am of the belief that God can lead us to discern the specific needs of our ministry, what to use to guide them, and how to adapt curriculum to fulfill those needs. But maybe there is such a thing as an umbrella curriculum spanning all needs of children and preteens?
    I loved reading all of the comments below, I enjoy learning as much as I can about how to better serve our preteen ministry, and I just want to thank you for taking the time to write this!

  4. Patrick Newbill · March 7, 2012

     I think I would fall in the Andy category (though he may disavow me :)
    ). Think of it this way…few would argue weather or not missions is
    Biblical, yet the way missions is approached and practiced can and
    sometimes does run contrary to Scripture.   This scenario isn’t usually a
    result of people abandoning the Bible.   The Scriptures may have been
    inadequately examined or inaccurately interpreted. If we misunderstand
    what God has said, with a good heart we will misapply that information
    and it results in wrong practice. While the results may be wrong, they
    are often performed with a right heart.

    The same holds true for curriculum. I’ve seen some that, for the major
    doctrines, are right on target. I’ve seen others that, though they had a
    good heart…were simply biblically incorrect. It takes a critical (in a good
    way) eye…we pastors will have to give an account. That’s why I’m
    checking out my curriculum before we put it into practice.

  5. Jared Kennedy · March 20, 2012

    Andy and Jonathan, thanks for the way that you talked this out in the comments. I’m really thankful for the way that you have showed us how to disagree with love and without over-charged rhetoric.

  6. Jared Kennedy · March 20, 2012

    Jonathan, can I use your “This Means War” graphic for a post on this?

  7. Catherine Walker · March 24, 2012

    Dear God,

    Help all of these dear believers turn away from what is right and wrong about this or that curricula to genuinely considering how children learn…to what is the best way for them to hear and receive the message and remember it for their whole life. May there be a re-discovery of singing! Thank You Father for giving us SINGING! Singing is much better than just watching or listening! Singing sticks and singing carries the message further and is recalled easier.
    We look forward to hearing children singing more about You! We praise You Lord, the kids will be singing in the cars and on the play grounds and as they walk with their parents through the mall! How wonderful, they’re singing about You at the dinner table and they are singing in their beds before sleep and the first thing in the morning.

    And we especially thank You Lord, that singing is something we can all do together! Bless the singing in every place.   Colossians 3:16

    Catherine Walker

  8. Wayne · April 3, 2012

    Jonathan, as always thanks for starting an interesting and much needed conversation.   I’m a little late to the party here (as usual), but I wanted to offer my two cents.  

    I think I tend to fall in where Andy is on this one.  As those charged with leading kids in our churches spiritually, I think it is our duty as stewards to fully investigate any curriculum that we intend to use with our kids.  This includes prayer, of course, but I think our primary measuring stick has got to be scripture.  I am not as interested in other’s opinions of a curriculum so much as I am interested in using scripture as my measuring stick.  There is no doubt that there are many different ways to approach teaching the truth of scripture, and it’s a shame when people begin to believe that “my way is the only way.”  As Christians, I believe we should be open to discussion of those ways (the pros and cons), but those conversations must had in love and full of grace.  On the other hand, I worry about an “It’s right for us, so it must be right” mentality as well (not that I suppose you to have this, but I can see some going down that road to justify their choices and not needing to think further on those choices).  “Right” or “Good” must be judged first, foremost, and solely in relation to God.  So, I would argue that if you write a curriculum (no matter how good and relevant to your congregation) that ignores the Gospel or distorts the Gospel of Christ in some way even if it teaches lessons which are consistent with the Bible, that is not appropriate curriculum.

    I’m rambling now, but in short, I think the conversation is helpful if handled in an appropriate manner (I think you and Andy demonstrated that admirably by the way).

    Finally, I think that this “war” goes beyond just curriculum.  I think you also see it when it comes to types of programs, vbs or no vbs, family experience vs. traditional sunday school.  Our sinful nature fools us into believing that our way is the only way when it is only Jesus who can rightly make that claim.

    Thanks again for starting the conversation!