By Dr. Nancy Going, Director of the CYF Distributed Learning Program at Luther Seminary
I saw a job description last week for a Children's Ministry Leader, which listed as "able to write curriculum" at the top of the list of other capabilities this church was looking for.
Have you noticed how common it is when times get tough, and there are fewer kids showing up, or fewer families committing to the program you are running, or fewer people in the pew on Sunday morning, for leaders to spend more time working harder on the program itself?
It is as if we believe that a better program will change lives, when we know that people change lives.
And writing our own curriculum will keep us very busy, with a weekly deadline, a strong sense of purpose, and little time left over for changing the lives of others.
I'm guessing you might have heard much of this wayward thinking challenged in the church leadership you follow already--from workshops or blogs or books. But I find, most congregational leaders listen, and then go back home and keep writing curriculum. And writing curriculum really isn't the issue. What is NOT happening because we are writing curriculum is.
One of the wonderful gifts of the Exemplary Youth Ministry Study is that it focused its attention on the maturing faith of young people as the criteria for what made a youth ministry exemplary. And in the study, they did not uncover anything about curriculum. Nothing. From discovery that the lead pastor matters, to parents that matter, to the multiple adult leaders that matter, to the relationships between young people that matter, they found out that people matter. There are 44 Faith Assets that share the study results. Thirty-seven of them focus directly on relationships. Eight of the direct our attention to the ways that these churches were spiritually alive. Three of them focus on well-run programs.
Beyond the practical issue (that changes that don't focus on the spiritual lives of people don't bring the result we are looking for) there is a greater theological issue at stake here. Embedded over and over again in the biblical narrative is the story of people having a powerful effect on other people's faith in God. People. From Abraham to Joseph, David to the Prophets to Jesus and the disciples to Paul. There are stories of God's amazing saving action over and over. All mediated by and seen through people.
Curriculum writing--while important doesn't have the lasting impact that relationships do….what if your job description asked you to spend the 90% of your time investing in adults-- or parents or other kids who will invest in the faith lives children and youth? Or what if you just began by claiming an additional 10% of your time each year in face to face time with people instead of with administration or management or curriculum? And what if one of the KEY features about your job is to connect kids to others? What if you spent more and more of your time brokering spiritual relationships, with all that goes with that?
How about you? How much of your time do you spend in or on spiritual relationships?
Nancy Going is a life-long youth minister, who loves Jesus, other people learning to love Jesus, her husband Art Going, and the two new families that are her kids and grandkids.
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