Chances are you have heard the stats. The average student will be in our programming for less than 40 hours a year. That’s less than 40 hours to teach and influence the next generation, building a spiritual foundation that lasts far beyond their time in our ministry. So, the pressure to make sure we are utilizing those hours and getting the most out of them is high—understandably.
For that reason, if there is ONE question that plagues many church leaders as they determine what to teach, what curriculum to use, and how best to spend the limited hours they have with the kids and teenagers in their ministry, it’s this:
Is my curriculum deep enough?
But, what does deep even mean?
For better or worse, a lot of us would consider deep to mean heavy in information. Deep would translate to a lot of interesting historical facts, contextual information and thought-provoking quotes that—if we’re being honest—sound really smart, but we don’t totally understand. Deep, a lot of us think, means intellectual.
But what if we were thinking of “deep” in all the wrong ways? What if the way we think of deep is actually shallow? Because the truth is, fun tidbits of information might impress someone in a conversation, but if it isn’t growing someone’s faith, is it deep or just interesting?
Questions to Ask to See if Your Curriculum is Deep
In other words, one of first questions to ask to see if your curriculum is deep is . . .
Is what we are teaching in our curriculum intersecting with the every day lives of those we are teaching?
Deep can’t just mean it sounds good and it sounds smart. Deep has to translate to the lived experience of those we are investing in. Otherwise, it stays theory and never becomes practice. And practice is where truths we teach become true transformation. A deep curriculum is a curriculum that gives those listening a “go and do” with what they heard. As Jesus pointed out over and over to the religious leaders, their head knowledge meant nothing without the practice of love. We might hear the credentials of a 1st century Pharisee and think they sounded like pretty deep teachers. But Jesus reserved his harshest criticism for them, knowing that being deep is about far more than knowing the right things. It’s about doing the right thing, our actions being an overflow of the heart.
What do your students think?
The older we get and the farther we get from the age group we are teaching, the harder it will be to put ourselves in their shoes and determine what is working for the demographic we are ministering to. That’s why, when determining a “deep” curriculum it’s important to not just rely on our own judgement. Engage the people in your ministry. Ask your leaders. Talk to your students. Be curious about the dialogues happening after what is taught on stage.
A deep curriculum does more than just convey information. It isn’t just about the use of fancy theological words that we may like or our leaders may find informative, but don’t have any context in the world of a teenager. That may sound good to us, but the curriculum isn’t for us. A deep curriculum connects with the age group it is intended for and prompts conversation and dialogue outside of the day the message was heard. This is how you know a message goes deep—because it was remembered, it was talked about, and eventually, it connected the dots to action.
Does it make the most important thing, the most important thing?
In the gospel of Matthew, we read a story where a religious leader approaches Jesus and asks a question that I can’t help but think any one of us would ask, if given the chance. “What is the greatest commandment?” he wants to know. Isn’t there something in all of us wondering the same thing? “What do I have to make sure I get right?”
Even better than asking the question is the fact that Jesus actually answers it. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind…and the second is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s almost as if Jesus gives us a cheat sheet tucked into all the pages of the Bible. There’s a lot to cover, a lot that raises questions, a lot that can feel unclear. But when you get down to it, Jesus spells out the most important thing.
Love of God, love of self, and love of neighbor.
When it comes to determining whether a curriculum is deep or not, one of the most important questions you can ask is: Does it major in the majors and minor in the minors? And thanks to this religious leader and his question, Jesus tells us exactly what the major is: love. That doesn’t mean we don’t want a curriculum that covers other things. But the end goal for sending students out of our ministry and out into the world, is a faith rooted in love. A curriculum that teaches students the lens of love through which they make decisions, see others and grow their faith into adulthood is a deep curriculum. It centers what Jesus centered. It elevates what Jesus elevated. And it models what Jesus modeled.
What could be deeper than that?
At the end of the day, we all want to teach content to the students in our ministries that sets them on a trajectory to become committed followers of Jesus. Choosing the right curriculum is a great first step for doing just that. But remember, it’s even more important to connect teenagers to the right leaders who can help them process how the content we are teaching connects to their lives and helps them grow in their everyday faith.