Your Annual Teaching Plan Is Here — Meet The New Scope and Cycle 🗺️

Why does Orange Curriculum have an Annual Focus?

Spring has sprung in Atlanta, Georgia, and you know what that means.

Pollen.

Yellow-green haze.

Red eyes and constant sneezing.

A bum rush on car washes and pharmacies everywhere for Benadryl, Claritin, and Zyrtec.

Personally, spring sprunging in Atlanta, Georgia, means I am days away from spending a day or two in a mind, body, and soul therapy session. 

“Bruh… are you ok?”

I am more than fine.

Because very soon, I will powerwash our home. 

Power washing is therapy for me for one very simple reason…

Immediate, tangible results.

I am admittedly maniacal in transforming our concrete porch and steps and driveway and bricks from sludge, grimy dirt, collected over months of dreary fall and winter, to glistening cement again. And no matter how many times I have used a garden hose in the past six months, even with a spray nodule with multiple settings, nothing erases the grime like the laser focus of a power washer. 

The secret is that a pressure washer uses a narrow, high-pressure jet of hot or cold water to blast dirt free.

And therein lies the secret of an annual focus.

One of the most difficult parts of investing in and leading the next generation is that the full effect of our efforts are very difficult to measure immediately. So much of our blood, sweat, and tears invested in the next generation do not see fruition until years later when kids and teenagers become adults.

Complicating the effectiveness of our efforts, we all realize that there are so many things we want the next generation to understand about God. The New International Version Bible has 727,969 words, and we feel angst to express every single word in a relevant way to a post-modern, post-Christian generation of whom, on average, the most committed attend our churches once per month.

The odds are not in our favor. 

But think about what can happen if we take all of the information and inspiration we have to give and, like a pressure washer, we narrow that focus to communicate one simple idea that is memorable, understandable, and doable. 

What has felt like one of those lawn sprinklers, far-reaching, overarching but not very powerful, becomes a concentrated, concerted effort to communicate something compelling and timeless. 

Want an example of an annual focus in full effect?

Look no further than the Judean desert in the first century….

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In the first century there were three primary Jewish sects: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes (and a more radicalized group, the Zealots). 

There was almost immediate conflict between and among those three sects. There was cultural conflict between those who favored Hellenization and those who resisted it, another conflict between those who emphasized the importance of the Temple and those who emphasized the importance of other Mosaic Laws, and a specifically religious point of conflict involving differing interpretations of the Torah and how to apply it to current Jewish life.

And what resulted? What started as ten basic rules of civility to function as a society ballooned to over 613 rules intent on micromanaging behavior and motive. All an attempt to be pure, clean, holy, undefiled. All policed by the God Gestapo. 

John was the son of Zechariah, a priest and part of the priestly class centered in Jerusalem around the Temple. John decides not to follow his father’s footsteps into the priesthood like everyone expects him to do. Some Bible scholars believe John actually spent some time in Qumran before moving north to Jordan, where he starts baptizing people in the dirty Jordan River. It was moving muddy water, a major infraction of the ceremonial washing tradition. Additionally, John is doing the baptizing. This was counter to traditional norms. No one baptized another. You stripped down and washed yourself. 

And John has one message. 

John was the nozzle of the pressure washer.

He said more by saying less. 

And it wasn’t a message of “Conform to our identity.” 

John the Baptizer’s message, his annual focus, was repentance. 

John’s message of repentance wasn’t just “stop doing bad things.” It was about changing your mind. It was about rethinking. It was being willing to say, “Maybe I haven’t gotten this right.”

Matthew’s account tells us that John has both Sadducees and Pharisees coming to him to be baptized. Sadducees and Pharisees were not friends: think Republicans and Democrats. Think Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell deciding to be identified as the same. 

And John keeps telling them all one thing.

Produce fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8). In other words, your life should match the devotion you say you have toward God.

Luke’s record of John the Baptizer tells us the throngs of people that hear John screaming about repentance asked for an explanation. 

You see, an annual focus elicits questions.

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked. (Luke 3:10-18 NIV) In other words, “How do we rethink what we have always thought? What does a new way look like?” 

And John’s answer?

“Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” (Luke 3:11 NIV)

Tax collectors came to be baptized and wanted clarification on the whole repentance vibe. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” 

“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. (Luke 3:12-13 NIV)

Roman soldiers watch this play out, and they ask, “And what should we do?” 

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” (Luke 3:14-15 NIV)

The crowd, full of classism and ethnic and gender divisions, asks what kind of fruit God wants to see from them. And in every single case, John’s response relates to how they treat others. In other words, “You are so accustomed to your classism and upper hand. Use your greatest strengths for the good of others. Strength is for service, not status. It is not for you to look better than and down on everyone. Quit seeing your separateness as indicative holiness. It isn’t how far away from one another you can get, but how close.”

Repent of being identified any other way.

Far too often, it is lost on those of us who have wrestled with the story of Jesus that Jesus demanded that John baptize him under this banner. 

It was Jesus’ way of saying, “This is my way, too.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

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That is an ancient example of the power of an annual focus and why it is important.

An annual focus serves as a centering of your values as a faith community, ministry and team. An annual focus becomes like the nozzle on a pressure washer. It concentrates your vision, mission, and values on one idea, one focus, or one point of emphasis.

And why is that important?

Because priorities happen.

You, your faith community, and your ministry have established priorities, whether intentionally or not.

You, your faith community, and your ministry have a first place and a last place. 

Why? Because there is always a first place and a last place missionally. 

An annual focus is, in essence, the organization of your values for this year.

You are ordering what is most important to you.

And whatever you prioritize will eventually materialize.

But this isn’t easy. It has been said that there are two things that are the most difficult for people to do: to think… and to do things in order of importance. Priorities never “settle.” They continually shift and demand attention because life is ever-moving and demands attention.

This is especially true in ministry and in faith communities. 

In almost every way, establishing and prioritizing an annual focus is planning neglect. Yes, you read that right. An annual focus allows you to neglect other things for the sake of highlighting the most important thing. Thus, planning neglect. It is your way of declaring that, while almost everything holds some importance, this idea, value, or point of emphasis holds ultimate priority for us this year.

I have heard it said that focus is the reason animal trainers carry a stool when they go into a cage. They have their whips in hand and pistols on their side. But more often than not, they carry a stool. It is the most important tool of the trainer. The trainer will hold the stool by the back and thrust the legs of the stool toward the face of the wild animal. Those who know say that the wild animal tries to focus on all four legs at once. In an attempt to focus on all four, a kind of paralysis overwhelms the animal, and it becomes tame, weak, and disabled because its attention is fragmented.

Way too often, our faith communities and ministries’ attention is fragmented like that.

But allow me to take just a moment to remind you of just how important you are to the next generation.

Your presence as a leader to a child or teenager is a gift.

In a world where it feels like Amazon has replaced the mall, Netflix has replaced the theater, and Zoom has replaced face to face interaction, to actually, physically, really be somewhere seems rare these days.

To be fully engaged, fully present, a safe place, with no strings attached, with whomever we are with. 

There is something significant about being exactly where your feet are.

To be… here.

That’s true for you as a leader.

For the next generation, being here means some very important things.

Consider the formative things that happen in middle school or high school.

Starting a new grade or a new school…

Navigating relationships with friends, crushes, breakups, silly feuds, teachers, coaches and parents… 

Wrestling with questions about faith, both big and small…

Making the team, not making the team, dealing with an injury, or…

Parents fighting or divorcing…

The loss of a pet or someone important…

This year, we want to challenge you to be here for all of it.

Imagine what can happen if you and other caring adults in your faith community who love and lead children and teenagers made a deliberate, conscious, and brave choice to be present in a unique way for this generation?

To just be here.

Regardless of the drama, loud noises, early mornings, late nights, energy drinks, coffee shops, bus rides, bad jokes, tears, strange odors, Taylor Swift on repeat, hard questions, meltdowns, awkward conversations, and out-of-control situations . . .

. . . something amazing happens to your own faith when you engage personally with a child or student in their respective now. When you are just… here.

Leaders like you who are here on the front lines with the next generation realize that kind of focus can be risky, challenging, unpredictable, overwhelming, and life-giving all at the same time.

You are here for it.

What changes if you walk into every room and every situation with an “I am where my feet are” mindset?

What changes when you simply declare with your presence I am here?

So, this year, we are going to keep reminding ourselves to be here.

When life is good…

When everything is up and to the right…

When things seem to be working out the way we hoped, 

When our friends are all getting along…

And when life seems to be

really out of control…

really messed up…

really wrong…

really heartbreaking… 

and really broken.

Will you be here for all of it?

Can you see the possibilities?

Can you see the possibilities when every series you teach and every training for leaders reinforces one idea? 

Can you imagine what would happen if you could cast vision to your leadership and rally the whole church around the idea of “Here”?

Can you imagine what would happen if even kids and teenagers who came to your programming only a few weeks out of the year walked away understanding that God is here with them and for them? 

Reminds me of the power of my pressure washer. 

OK. 

Got to go.

Time for my annual focus on my grimy cement.

While I am doing that, if you would like to learn more about the annual focus and how it shows up in our Scope and Cycle go to thinkorange.com/plan

Orange Students Scope & Cyle Teaching Plan

Orange Kids Scope & Cycle Teaching Plan

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