I see today that a good thing has happened. Free curriculum, that due to its source, can be considered doctrinally safe and sound. What follows has nothing to do with the curriculum. I am genuinely pleased that in our capitalistic culture, the time and effort was made to help student ministries the world over with this incredible need.
However, in reading the comments from the press release, “Youth curriculum debuts: 6-year free resource”, by Michael Foust on Baptist Press (http://www.bpnews.net), I do have a concern that the stated goals will not be achieved – and it has nothing to do with the curriculum.
I know, appreciate, and applaud Richard Ross. As a student at Southwestern, I was privileged to have him lead a class when he was only an adjunct professor. He’s been around student ministry a little longer than I have.
I know him well enough to know that he would likely agree with at least some of what I share below.
In the press release, Ross is quoted as saying,
“Our broken culture, the millions of lost in the U.S, and the unreached people groups globally demand that we develop true disciples,” Ross told the Southern Baptist TEXAN, news journal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
“Yes, we need to offer biblical ministry to every teenager, regardless of spiritual condition or motivation,” Ross said. “But every church absolutely must offer a place where those select teenagers gather to truly become world-changing disciples. That is what we are missing today, and that is what we must begin to do — or all is lost.”
While everything Ross shared above is absolutely true, neither he, nor I, have ever seen or used any curriculum that can accomplish this.
Candy Finch, one of the writers of the curriculum is quoted:
“While many churches are doing a great job of discipleship, the truth is that we are losing the majority of our young people,” Finch told the TEXAN.
I also agree with Finch’s statement, but we are not losing them due to the content and quality of our curriculum. We are losing them, in part, because we are depending on curriculum to do what God has called us to do.
Churches that are doing a great job of Discipleship use their curriculum to support their discipleship efforts. Some may even strategically choose or write their own so that what happens in the classroom aligns with what is happening in life.
As a youth minister that was purpose driven before the book was written, I love Richard’s question,
“What is your plan for discipling your core teenagers for six years, from grades 7-12?”
It would be best if your answer to this question was crafted to answer the question posed by Thom Rainer in Simple Church. In his discussion of the imaginary pastor of the imaginary Cross Church, this pastor’s dream was accomplished, in part, because he answered the question: “What does a mature disciple look like?”
If you answer this question, and then build a ministry strategy that is designed to accomplish what you imagine, including the scope and sequence of your Bible Study, you have the best opportunity to develop that which you seek.
While I am extremely confident that Ross agrees that this plan must not depend solely on curriculum, the unintended consequence of the offer of free curriculum that promises… to make “teenage disciples who are fully prepared to disciple others — now and for a lifetime.” will not achieve the intended result.
There are a couple of scenarios where this promise can be met.
Scenario 1: A Mature Disciple can follow Curriculum.
Because experiential learning is a powerful method, it is likely that many students involved in six years of this study will be able lead others through this study. That is a good thing. It is a really good thing if your definition of a disciple is someone who can lead others through a discipleship curriculum. If this is your definition, then the promise will be met.
You see, as Southern Baptists (speaking for myself) we’re really good at offering Bible Studies, and believing that this simple fact means that we are making disciples. Bible Study = Discipleship. However, the facts don’t bear this out.
We’ve known for decades that a large percentage of students leave the church upon graduation. Many never return. Some return with then have children of their own. All of these students have been in Bible Study. Bible Study that, by and large, was led using some vetted and approved curriculum.
However, we’re now seeing the same thing happen with adults. There is a large number of formerly churched people in the United States that no longer want to be involved in church. It is one of the fastest growing segments of our culture. These people have been in Bible Study for years. Most also in a Bible Study that utilized some piece of curriculum.
And yet we are still seeing our churches close at a rate around 4000 a year. Curriculum will not fix this.
Scenario 2: Mature Disciples Actually Making Disciples (and the curriculum is only part of the process)
Andy Stanley, in his book Deep & Wide, makes the point that classes don’t …”create mature believers. Classes create smart believers.”
Again, experiential learning is a powerful method.
Discipleship is not the process of teaching others what you know, or – often in the case of curriculum – teaching others what you studied so that you could teach this week’s lesson. Discipleship is transferring what you experientially know to others so that they can know it experientially.
I’ve looked through some of the lessons in Disciple6. Great topics. Valuable information. Anyone who purposefully goes through this material will certainly be smarter.
But, how powerful would your disciplemaking process be if your students actually saw you witness well to Muslims so that when you lead them through Session Yellow 23, you and they share the life experience? This disciplemaking would align with your study.
Don’t know any Muslims? Then how about Yellow Session 4 – “Defending the Faith in Society”. If your students only see you passionate about Christ inside the walls of your church, if they have never seen you “defend the faith in society”, you have lost opportunity to engage in disciplemaking, regardess of which curriculum you use. But, if you were to purposefully place yourself, and those students you disciple, in situations where you – and they – can defend their faith in Society, how much more powerful would your Bible study be?
What does a mature disciple look like? Create experiences and opportunities (outside of the church) for those you disciple to give them the best chance at getting there. Create experiences and align your Bible Study with those experiences.
Studying ministry is not experiencing ministry. Studying evangelism is not doing evangelism. The same can be said for (Spoiler Alert: Discple6 topics ahead) Relationships, Ethics, Missions, Service, Prayer, Leadership, Worship, Stewardship.
Smarter. Mature. Pick one.
Richard, to you and all of the authors, I thank you for this great work. To all who would use it, use it well, but don’t depend on it.