There is one question that plagues many church leaders as they determine what to teach, what curriculum to use, and how to spend the limited hours they have with the kids and teenagers in their ministry.
Is my curriculum deep enough?
After all, 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 and build 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 what we teach is high.
But first, what does deep even mean?
For better or worse, a lot of us would consider deep to mean heavy in information.
For me, that’s research papers, heavy books, big words, and sentences that I have to re-read a few times while I pretend to understand.
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?
How to know if your curriculum is deep
Ask a few questions to understand if your children’s ministry or youth ministry curriculum is actually deep.
Does what we teach intersect with the everyday lives of those we are teaching?
Deep can’t just mean it sounds good and it sounds smart. Information isn’t transformation.
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.
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.
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.
What do your kids or 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.
It’s why my first time working with middle schoolers, I actually thought my curriculum was shallow. But the more time I spent learning middle schoolers, speaking their language, and learning how their brains work—and I realized it was my understanding of the age was shallow—not the curriculum. Resources like XP3 Middle School and It’s Just A Phase helped shape my understanding of what middle schoolers need at that phase of life.
That’s why, when determining a “deep” curriculum it’s important to not just rely on our own judgment. Engage the people in your ministry. Ask your leaders.
What happens after the message?
Be curious about the dialogues happening after what is taught on stage. What might seem rich and deep from stage may just lead to quiet small groups and shallow conversation.
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 kids and teenagers out of our ministry and out into the world, is a faith rooted in love. A curriculum that teaches kids a lens of love through which they make decisions, see others and grow their faith is a deep curriculum. It centers what Jesus centered. It elevates what Jesus elevated. And it models what Jesus modeled.
Build a deep strategy, not just a deep curriculum
The curriculum you teach on Sunday morning or Wednesday night or whenever you put kids in a room is just a small part of your plan. Sure, the curriculum is important. But, if you are going to disciple kids you need to look at more than just what you teach. You have to consider managing and monitoring at least five different strategies if you’re going to create an effective ministry.
At the end of the day, we all want to teach content to the students and kids in our ministries that sets them on a trajectory to become committed followers of Jesus. Choosing the right curriculum (whether it’s Orange curriculum or not) is a great first step for doing just that.