The Material is Just Another Tool

I’ve really lost my appreciation for curriculum… or maybe I never really was a big fan anyway. I think there was something always that didn’t quite fit when I heard that word or when I was told about the latest and greatest new material. Being educated in youth ministry and getting a masters, I heard the word “curriculum” pretty frequently. In the church, I heard it even more. People are always looking for an easy way to get information out there to small groups, big groups, or individuals. And that’s really what curriculum is all about, what material of study for a group is so often about… getting out information.

Do you want to build authentic and transformative community? Do you want to help people do the self work so that they can begin to pay attention to God’s movement in their lives? Do you want to help people learn how to actually talk to each other and even learn from each other? Time to change the way that we look at the material that we use. If our interest is on personal growth and soul formation, THIS must be our main focus, not the material we use.

In the church context, we are so often concerned with getting the “right” information out about how we should be understanding scripture. Granted, this is helpful and appropriate, but do we want Bible scholars or Christ-followers? What did Jesus want? Time to start seeing scripture as one of the means of getting us to the soul work. How do we respond to this text? What is our reaction, positive or negative? What are our questions and resistances? What is God doing in us or teaching us through this? Let’s work with that! Use the text to get there.

I don’t care if the material you are using is sacred texts, a workbook, a novel, a movie clip, a poem, or a YouTube video… if you are interested in helping people grow and figure out God’s movement in their life, you’ve got to see this material as a tool to get to the personal story that we bring with us. The focus is the community, not the information. If someone can tell me how we can do community soul building through sermons, I’d be very interested to know how…

4 thoughts on “The Material is Just Another Tool

  1. Hey Nate……I totally agree with your words!!!! I realized that the way I was taught to be a “student” was to “listen to the teacher, they have all the answers and that is what you put on the paper, then you get an A if you remembered everything they told you”. We do the same thing in the church….you write down notes from the guy’s message and try to remember everything he told you and act the way he tells you…..When I began to teach my children at home I learned so many lessons that I had no idea that I needed to learn. I finally got the revelation that my job wasn’t to fill up an empty vessel(their brains); but to give them a loving environment where it was ok to ask questions, help them search for their own answers, make mistakes, and not just give them 2nd hand knowledge. Most importantly introduce them to the savior and teacher. Jesus said: “I leave you the Holy Spirit, He will be your teacher… John 14:26 We need to help people see that they have within them the tool that will enable them to learn everything they need for life. What is the thing within? The soul breathed in by Creator God…which is dead because of a choice to be separated from God way back when(each person chose that at some point in their life.) It needs to be brought back to life by Jesus Christ. When that new birth takes place…and they take the Holy Spirit as their teacher they will naturally be hungry for all His answers and if they seek Him, and are open to the answers…the answers will come while they are watching a sunset, growing tomatoes, riding their bike, arguing with their teenager, driving too fast, getting anxious for something, feeling sad, are empty and all the other things that happen in life….if they(we) are open for HIS training and teaching we will hear His gentle, soft answer and voice directing us….one day at a time…one moment at a time…..bless you Nate and thanks for sharing your wise insights!


  2. You said “In the church context, we are so often concerned with getting the “right” information out about how we should be understanding scripture. Granted, this is helpful and appropriate,” I have to disagree that this is either helpful or appropriate.

    Yes, churches have done this in the past, but we need to stop this process and get on with letting people do their own exploration and help to guide them, not lead them by the nose any longer.


  3. I’m glad that you wrote this. I recently joined a small group and am not enjoying it very much. The emphasis seems to be to get through the chosen curriculum in the amount of time allotted. My personal feeling is the curriculum should be a starting point to get God talk happening but once good conversation is going we should be able to lay it aside. I don’t really care if we don’t get done all 19 questions. I’d rather thoroughly discuss a really good question and leave with something to think about, look into or do than merely finish up a lesson. I’m all for pitching the curriculum entirely if someone gets the talk going without it. I’d rather refer to Scripture than regurgitate what some leader said on some video and get the answer “right”. I tried bringing this up through e-mail in a nice way with the group leader. I’m not sure she took it so well. It was almost as if she was saying, “Well, if you want to lead, be my guest”. I’m not looking to usurp leadership. I’m just not willing to sit through yet another Bible study group where everyone gives the correct answer (often one-word) and leave wondering why I even bother going anymore. I want to think about what the Bible says, wrestle with it and have life change happen in my life and in the lives of others I’m trying to reach out to.

    All that to say, thanks for writing this. I hope I can communicate the idea that curriculum is just a tool after all and not the be all and end all of everything.


  4. Bob,
    What I was saying was helpful was that it is good to help people learn how to interpret scripture. If we don’t give people tools and guidance in their interpretation than certain foundations could very well be lost. Don’t you think we need to continue to know about the history at the time of the writing?


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