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Great Curriculum Won’t Make Disciples

We come out of a culture that prizes efficiency and systems.  We apply that mindset to spiritual formation and assume that all we have to do to grow is to find the right curriculum or enroll in the right course.It doesn’t work that way.Curriculum is helpful in the same way that books help a …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

We come out of a culture that prizes efficiency and systems.  We apply that mindset to spiritual formation and assume that all we have to do to grow is to find the right curriculum or enroll in the right course.

It doesn’t work that way.

Curriculum is helpful in the same way that books help a parent love their child better. In fact, discipleship looks a lot more like parenting than it does like Sunday school.

Discipleship is about connecting someone relationally to Jesus. It is imparted relationally. One of the first things Jesus wants to ask us is, “who do you say that I am?” That establishes his authority in our lives.

You can’t do that with curriculum. One of the first things Jesus wants you to know is that he loves you no matter what you do or don’t do. Curriculum is about doing. It presumes a download of information from one party to another. When facts pass from teacher to student, we see success.

This is not the paradigm Jesus gives us. It’s what he railed against in the Pharisees. “You study” he said, pointing out their flaw.

His remedy in John 5:40 was relationship with him. Study guided by curriculum will not bring us life. Only relationship will. When people ask for study-based answers, we need to point them to relationship with Jesus.

Comments (9)

  • I love Luke 24 for this; Jesus asks Cleopas in verse 19, “What Things?” he loves us to tell his story… I do believe once you are in a good relational discipleship space, it’s good to walk them thru a book and/or some practical Hermeneutics…?

  • Gary: I don’t know if you follow Fr. Richard Rohr’s daily meditations. For the next few weeks, he is focusing on scripture and how important it is to have a consistent method of interpreting scripture (which is the definition of hermeneutic – wow, that’s a new word for me and it is a mouthful!). In today’s meditation, he talks about the importance of maintaining a balanced “Tricycle of faith” – tradition, scripture, and experience. I think what he says in this post is interesting and applicable. If you don’t subscribe to his meditations, here is a link to today’s post that gets into this a bit: https://cac.org/category/daily-meditations/.

    Seth, I agree with what you’re saying – I think institutionalized Christianity is guilty of a considerable amount of “navel gazing”. Jesus calls us to action, not into endless study and debate. I teach an 8th grade confirmation class and one of the things my co-teacher and I are trying to do is get the boys (it’s all boys for our class) out and into the community on a monthly basis. We served dinner at a retirement home, we will be working in a homeless shelter this month, later in the spring we will be packing meals at “Meals from the Heartland”. This is in addition to our Wednesday classwork. Not only is this a great way to put the endless energy of a 14 year old male to good use, but I think it ties things together for them to actually walk the path that Jesus asks us to walk and not just read about it.

  • Tom – Sometimes God winks at me during the course of my day. I feel like he just did that with your comment. Half an hour ago, I read Rohr’s devotional and emailed Gary, “I like this. We have to have a hermeneutic. “Interpreting Scripture as Jesus would” is a good standard.”

    I like what Rohr says about how we “don’t think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.” And we do that relationally.

  • ahhh, so true! The challenge is that we are all only capable of of dozen or so healthy, long term, discipleship relationships…I am in for this year and decades to come. I hope many others follow your lead, so true.

  • I SO needed to hear that this week. I have been contemplating this very thing with a young woman I have been mentoring: Do I need a curriculum? A new book? An official Bible study? How can I help this spiritual growth thing move along at a faster rate?

    I can be so impatient!!!

    Seems these verses apply to mentoring as well as parenting: “So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. …. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates….”

    Thanks, Seth.

  • This is an ongoing discussion I have with several of my ministry colleagues and students. Although I agree with the basic tenet of your post, in general, we have a generation of some of the most “spiritually illiterate” followers of Christ. Of course there are exceptions, but overall, we have so many Christians who don’t know many of the basic doctrines, or rudimentary Bible knowledge.

    There is a whole movement that has had a “knee-jerk,” “aversive” reaction to the very concept of curriculum, especially in response to the “sterile,” “institutionalized” way of teaching many churches adopted. The result, I believe, is that they have thrown out the baby with the bath water (so to speak). There are many followers of Christ who struggle and waiver when it comes to defending the faith (sound apologetics), or being able to articulate a Biblical position on contemporary social issues (sound theology). I believe these things should be taught both by the life we live … AND solid Biblical teaching, which is often done … through, well … good curriculum.

    For me, it is not an “either/or” position, but a “both/and.” The pendulum has begun to swing so far now, that at the very mention of the word “curriculum,” withdraw. I do like your analogy of curriculum being like a book on parenting. But some people have taken the stance that “well, I don’t need the book (or curriculum).” I strive to teach that discipleship is a balance of both deep, meaningful relationships, and good, solid, consistent teaching (curriculum).

    • Yes, Tommy – we don’t want to throw the baby out w/ the bath water. We need the Scriptures and we need teaching. We especially need the Scriptures. I like pointing young disciples to the Gospels. We need to study Jesus.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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