A Possible Shift?

There were 12 folks in the room. We were brought in by LifeWay to brainstorm about their new curriculum. Likes, dislikes, ideas for implementation and the like. We were from Boston, Denver, St. Louis, and of course Texas and Tennessee were well represented.

How I got here? Through Rick Prall who I ‘met’ on Facebook through Chris Ediger. Rick is the content editor for the new Known curriculum coming out of LifeWay.

I got the stuff about 6 weeks before the meetings.

First of all, Youth Specialities and Simply Youth Ministry for the most part own the youth ministry world in terms of curriculum. They are edgy, deal with the real hurts and issues students are facing and the design – pretty much flawless. Why? Because they have real youth pastors in real churches writing for them. And because they are privately owned – they can take risks that other publishing companies can’t or won’t.

LifeWay is one of those companies. Owned by the Southern Baptist Convention, they have their limits in what they can and can’t do. It’s a double-edge sword. They have the security of knowing that for the most part, the stuff they put out is going to be used by the thousands of SBC churches around the world. But the security doesn’t leave a lot of room for exploration or edginess.

There may be a shift coming. Enough of the history lesson, let’s talk KNOWN.

My Random Thoughts About Known and Lifeway

Up, In, and Out
For the first time in a long time, there is a focus from these guys about being wholistic in their approach. It’s refreshing. It’s not just about knowledge but application and serving. Up, In, and Out.

This was great to hear and actually see them map out how they wanted to make sure their curriculum doesn’t fall into one category more than another.

Death By ’70′s
It seemed every piece of literature published by a SBC entity would have graphics and art from the ’70′s. Is this a minor complaint? I don’t think so. In the digital age, the ascetic is 50% of the grade. We want both – practical and beautiful. You can blame Apple for spoiling us.

Fortunately, after I saw the first copy of the curriculum – this concern was answered. The books look sharp, written more like a graphic novel than a study book. HUGE improvement.

Out of Touch With Outside Bible Belt
The opening statement by the LifeWay guys the first night we were there was encouraging.

“We’ve been great at developing student ministries. Not so sure we’ve been that great at developing students.”

For me – that was a huge confession and one that most of us should do our own self-evaluation on. It opened up the communication lines.

During that dinner, we had a conversation on the underlying assumption that the ‘family’ is mom and dad and two kids. In the South/Bible Belt – that may still be the norm (at least of those that go to church) but for Denver, Boston, and St. Louis – not even close.

70% of the students that go to my church are from a divorced home. Last night at youth, of the 30 students there – I can name you 4 families that have the “mom+dad” formula. Plus, I have 8 different schools represented in my youth group. I don’t have the couple of local middle schools and the town high school or two. I have 3 counties, 5 cities, 8 schools. And we’re a smaller church.

We didn’t come up with any answers but at least we had the conversation. I was encouraged. Lifeway is trying to do some podcasts and extra session work that can be downloaded addressing these topics. I appreciate the attempt. It’s a great start.

The Shrinking Theological Box
A few of the lessons had statements that were extremely narrow in their focus. “Prayer can’t change God.” “Selfish Prayers are ineffective prayers.” Couple others as well.

It was good to see that LifeWay had brought in people who disagreed with them. We had some great conversations. We went back to principle – are we trying to develop student ministries or students? We asked for more options, more leeway in teaching theological themes that maybe the SBC didn’t agree with but were on the reservation.

I was encouraged with the conversations. I think they are trying to do that. The proof of course will be in the pudding when this stuff comes out in Summer ’09.

Scope and Sequence
They will have a 6 year scope and sequence for this material. That means that there is some educator in the building that is demanding this scope and sequence. The reality is this – so few of us have a student for 6 years. Part of that is because the youth pastor doesn’t stay. Part of that is because families move. It’s just part of life.

I wish they’d publish it as a stand alone series and let youth pastors choose what they need when they need it. I don’t see this changing any time soon. It’s a shame. Some of the topics they will tackle in the future – I’d like to see now. I’d like to use now. Another downside to this approach…once it’s over, they won’t publish it again.

Of course, this could change but as it stands right now – they’ll publish this in quarterly sessions then they will stop. I personally like YS way better. We’re going to publish some curriculum. If it’s good, it stays. If it doesn’t, it won’t.

Overall, I loved the experience. I’d go again. I met some neat new friends and partners in ministry. I learned a ton of stuff and I’m looking forward to what comes of this.

3 thoughts on “A Possible Shift?

  1. Grant,
    Great comments. I do believe, by George (or the pirates), that the concept is sinking in. It was fantastic to have you here with us. I would like to clarify just one thing toward the end of what you shared. In reality, this will be a curriculum that will stay around. After each quarter is finished, all the electronic resources will be broken into clearly identified 4-week units of study and housed in an electronic warehouse. These will be available as stand-alone resources starting in December with the first three. Next year, we will have 12 stand alone studies. And so on…

    I am really excited about the Know God, Own your faith, and make your faith KNOWN concept.

    Thanks again for your contribution! You get inside-front cover billing next year! Whoo hoo!

  2. Grant, glad to hear about your involvement and the new direction. I hope it goes well. It might be the biggest come back ever seen in youth ministry curriculum.

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