On Choosing and Using Curriculum

Here’s an interesting reflection on choosing materials for age-specific ministry settings.
Attending a national, ecumenical children’s ministry leadership conference this past week, I have been involved in a number of discussions about curricula, primarily for age-specific ministry settings. Along the way I have also become aware of at least two new major children’s ministry curriculums which have recently been released for purchase and use. Curriculum is an important tool for ministry to and with children, and it is important to choose wisely from the marketplace of various offerings. In the wider arena of forming and transmitting faith, however, formal curricula are only part of the picture. Formation in the way of Christ is about much more than learning. It is also about experiencing, relating, acting, expressing and belonging. It is about not only words but also emotions, symbols, relationships, rituals, practices, habits and expressive actions and works. While good, age-specific curricula can and should point or draw children and young people into that wider dimension of faith formation, it cannot substitute for the spiritual shaping which emerges from genuine and embodied participation in healthy households and congregations of faith. It has been said that the fundamental curriculum for forming and transmitting faith is the community of faith itself. I would extend this to include the home. To the extent that children and youth are exposed to the way of Christ and apprenticed into the way of Christ in home and congregation, they themselves can become “wayfarers”. Good curricula can serve well as a “space” between those two environments, connecting children and youth more fully and deeply into both as contexts for faith experience and practice. With respect to the home, good curricula can provide modelling, resources, support, guidance and inspiration for a shared life in Christ. With respect to the wider congregation, good curricula can build and promote connections and intersections with communal celebrations, practices and missional expressions. The challenge, of course, is to utilize, adapt and contextualize curricula to reach in both directions. As a hopeless handyman, I know firsthand that it is one thing to have a tool. It is another thing to use a tool well. Another challenge is to ensure that curricula is not expected or asked to achieve more than it reasonably can, whether by parents, congregational leaders or children’s/youth ministry leaders. Age-specific ministry is a valuable faith formation partner to the spheres of home and intergenerational congregational life. As I wrote above, it is not an effective substitute. For too long, for instance, parents have “out sourced” the faith formation of their children to professional ministry leaders, instead of assuming the spiritual responsibility that is properly theirs. And for too long congregational leaders have regarded children’s ministry and youth ministry as adjunct activities, sitting outside the “core” of church life and practice. Neither approach has served children, youth, families and congregations well! It is important for the future of faith formation that the relationships between the spheres of home, whole congregational life and age-specific programming are reimagined and reconfigured. I welcome your thoughts and responses …