Curriculum Confusion Part 1: Different Approaches to Bible Class Material for Teens

If you are in youth ministry or are involved with organizing Bible class curriculum at church, you are likely aware of how difficult it is to select quality Bible class material for teenagers (in fact, I’ve actually written a bit about this before). If you find yourself in this situation, you basically have three different options:

(1) The “Do It Yourself” Model
This option is actually pretty self-explanatory: you want Bible class curriculum for your teens? Write it yourself.

There are several advantages to this approach:
  • Theoretically, you should know your teens pretty well, so you ought to have a good idea of what they need to study, and on what level they need to study it (generally speaking, 12th graders are completely different than 7th graders and need to be taught differently).
  • If you are producing the material, you can be confident in the content—you don’t have to worry about something being taught that you disagree with or think is unbiblical.
  • This is a cheap way to go about acquiring Bible class material—aside from the small cost of making copies of handouts, basically the only cost is your time.
But there are significant problems to this as well:
  • It is very time-consuming to write every lesson for your teenagers from scratch. I have written lots of Bible class material for my youth group and invariably, it takes a lot of time. If you happen to have a lot of excess time, that’s great, but I don’t: realistically, with other ministry responsibilities, grad school, and family concerns on my plate, there are only a few quarters a year when I have time to produce original Bible class material. 
  • Your Bible class material will only be as good as you are. What I mean is that if you are great at doing research, writing lessons, and putting together attractive powerpoint presentations, then your students will be in for a treat…but if this just isn’t one of your strengths, then subjecting your students to quarter after quarter of mediocre material is less than ideal.

(2) The “Least Common Denominator” Model

This option involves purchasing curriculum from a large company which specializes in producing it. I use the term “Least Common Denominator” because usually, in an effort to appeal to as many potential customers as possible, this material presents a very generalized, inter-denominational Christianity that offends no one.

Purchasing material from a large company like this does have its advantages:
  • Curriculum like this is written by professionals, and is usually well planned and very professional. It will usually come with supplemental materials like activities related to the Bible lesson or videos for your students to watch. 
  • Sometimes it will be planned so well that it integrates with children’s and adults’ curriculum as well; it is a neat thing to have everyone in the church studying the same lessons at the same time.
  • By its inter-denominational nature, this approach it tends to focus on “big picture” biblical themes that everyone basically agrees with (Jesus, grace, sin, etc.) and which really do need to be emphasized to and understood by teens.
Although this is a very popular model, it comes with multiple problems as well:
  • It is usually very expensive: a quarter’s worth of material could cost hundreds of dollars, and if you follow an entire curriculum plan, it could be thousands of dollars each year. A lot of churches (mine included) simply don’t have the education budget to afford this year-round.
  • There are a lot of disagreements within Christianity (about things like salvation, the relationship between faith and works, the way the Bible should be read, the way we should worship, etc.), but the Least Common Denominator approach tries to ignore all of them by presenting a simplified Christianity that few find objectionable. Maybe that sounds idyllic, but ultimately, a diet of only this type of material produces students who haven’t thought deeply about (and potentially aren’t even aware of) any of these issues. To me, that’s a significant problem.
  • Also (and related to the last point), going along with the Least Common Denominator approach, oftentimes these studies are topical rather than textual, and focus on moral issues that virtually all Christians agree about: the dangers of drinking, drugs, premarital sex, etc. While these topics are important and need to be discussed, too much focus on them leads to the already-too-prevalent idea (among teenagers and the church as a whole) that being a Christian is nothing more than following a particular moral Do’s and Don’ts List rather than living a redeemed life as part of the Kingdom of God. In other words, curriculum should focus on the Gospel, which includes, but is much bigger than, the fact that Christians should behave in a certain way.

(3) The “Brotherhood Material” Model
The third option is to purchase material from within your particular religious fellowship. In churches of Christ, we don’t like being referred to as a “denomination”, so we tend to refer to publications put out by members or companies affiliated with churches of Christ as “brotherhood material”.

Advantages to this approach include:
  • Theoretically, getting material from within your own fellowship should mean that it is doctrinally agreeable.
  • Usually, the cost for this type of curriculum is considerably less than the Least Common Denominator model.
But once again, there are multiple problems:
  • A lot of times, these materials are produced by smaller companies, and frankly, the quality is sometimes lacking.  In my experience, I have found this to be especially true on the presentation side (i.e., it doesn’t look that good), but it can also be weak on content as well.
  • Even “brotherhood” publishing companies want to make money and sell lots of their products, so they too can fall victim to the temptations to publish very general material that appeals to as many people as possible. When this happens, it is subject to the same problems as the Least Common Denominator model mentioned above.
So each of these models, although possessing strengths, is also characterized by significant disadvantages. I guess the major takeaway from all of this analysis is this: it is a challenge to find quality Bible class material for teens. So what is the solution? More on that in the second half of this discussion…


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