Which is more important in your Sunday School–the curriculum or you?
If someone had asked that question 35 years ago, I would have answered, "The curriculum–definitely!" After all, curriculum was created by professional writers and editors. I was an untrained, teenage volunteer. Surely, printed curriculum was more important than I was in discipling children.
I've changed my mind.
Jesus commissioned people to make disciples.
He chose twelve men whose only training was following Jesus. Jesus sent these men to teach disciples to obey everything that He had commanded. The essential components of their ministry were their obedience and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Today, early childhood teachers are blessed with printed curriculum. Curriculum helps us understand how young children learn. Curriculum helps us teach the Bible systematically. Curriculum saves time. It saves money. Curriculum is attractive and interesting. It helps us focus the children's interest on God's Word.
Yes, curriculum is an important teaching tool, but you are more essential than curriculum.
You are the one who represents God's love, acceptance, and care to the children. You are the one who knows both the children and God, so you can tailor every lesson to introduce specific children to God. You are the one who can talk with God about the strengths, needs, and challenges in each child's life. You are the one the Holy Spirit will use to draw children to Jesus.
The truth is, the children in your class could still learn to love, trust, and obey God without a printed curriculum. They could not be discipled without a teacher, however. You make a big difference in children's lives.
Remember that as you tailor curriculum to fit the students in your Sunday School.
Tailoring curriculum for your students
Begin with prayer.
Teaching is an act of faith: faith that as we teach God's Word, God's Spirit will transform our students from the inside out (Romans 12:2). So, pray that God's Spirit will guide your lesson preparation for the specific children you teach. God is a personal God who knows each student in your class. His plans for them were complete before they were one day old (Psalm 139:16). His Spirit can guide your preparation to coordinate with those plans.
Decide what to emphasize.
Will you emphasize the quarterly or the Bible? If you decide to emphasize the Bible, you will hold it in your hands as you teach each Bible story. You can place a slip of lesson notes in your Bible to keep you on track, but if you want the children to know the lessons come from God's Word. They need to see the Bible often during Sunday School.
Will you emphasize the lesson or the children?
If you focus on the lesson, you may feel frustrated with interruptions. If you focus on the children, you will express grace, mercy, and acceptance as you rejoice with happy children or comfort tearful children or problem solve with upset children. As you respond in these Romans 12 ways, children will see how to love one another as Jesus loves them. They will begin to imitate biblical behavior.
Will you emphasize Bible facts or Bible living?
If you emphasize Bible facts, you will schedule lots of time to repeat every Bible verse and review every Bible story until the children can repeat them (at least for now). If you focus on Bible living, you will still teach the verses and facts, but you will choose methods that match everyday living. You may stack one block at a time as you say one word at a time of a verse about growing in faith. Then, when the children see blocks at home, they will be reminded of the Bible verse.
List children who need extra attention.
Write their names in your teacher guide right at the beginning of each lesson. As you plan the lesson, transfer their names to the margin near an activity that will appeal to them. As you engage them in learning God's Word in ways that are of high interest to them, you not only nurture a positive relationship between them and you but also between them and God. How? Young children connect the way God's people treat them with the way they believe God will treat them also.
Read through the lesson early in the week.
During this quick read through, highlight lesson sections that you plan to use as is. Some sections of curriculum will match your students' needs and interests very well. They will use resources available to you, either at church or from your own home. They will be methods that match your teaching style and the needs and interests of your students.
During the same read through, cross out sections that you plan to replace. Perhaps you don't have the equipment for a particular activity, or maybe your church owns equipment that is even better than what is suggested in the curriculum. Is a segment too hard or too easy for them? If so, modify or replace it. You know your students. Trust your judgment.
"You know your students. Trust your judgment."
Process the lesson as you work.
By crossing through segments early in the week, you give your mind time to process tailored ideas. It's called an incubation period. Even when you are not consciously thinking about the lesson, your subconscious will be at work. In the convenience store of a gas station you may see a great lesson-related snack. As you clean your house, you may notice a prop to go with the Bible story. On Wednesday night you may see a child who could bring a lesson prop from home.
By reading the lesson early in the week, you give the Holy Spirit time to help you tailor curriculum for the children in your class.
Set up a gathering point.
Designate a shelf, drawer, or closet in your home as a teaching supply gathering point. Each week, you can collect resources that will help you finalize the lesson. When you come home from the convenience store with that lesson-related snack, store it in your gathering place. One evening, you may have a half hour to begin preparing for a craft or game. Store those preparations in the gathering point too.
Finalize the lesson.
On Friday or Saturday, finish preparing the lesson. Very often, much of planning will already be done. Even so, schedule a time on your calendar to review and refine what you will teach. Treat this time like an appointment with Jesus, which you keep every week in order to effectively fulfill His Great Commission.
God will use Bible lessons to change your students from the inside out. Bible curriculum is a tool to help you continue that process. Week by week, the Holy Spirit will be at work in you and in your students to transform their everyday lives through their relationship with Jesus. It's a wonderful partnership.
Sharon Ellard is promotions coordinator for the Sunday School Department, Springfield, Missouri.Sunday School. All rights reserved. Used with permission.