Sunday-school curriculum emphasizes biblical literacy

By James Heine

Concordia Publishing House has introduced a new Sunday school curriculum that emphasizes biblical literacy, the worship life of the church, aSunday schoolnd opportunities for entire families to study and discuss God’s Word at home.

The new curriculum, Growing in Christ, has been in development for five years and replaces the Our Life in Christ Sunday school series introduced in 1988.  Congregations will begin using the new curriculum this fall.

Deaconess Pamela Nielsen, CPH’s senior editor for Sunday school, youth, and family materials, says that because many pastors and other church leaders are concerned about the decline in Biblical literacy — not only in culture, but also in our own churches and schools — Growing in Christ places a strong emphasis on the Bible and its stories.  Its goal, she says, is to equip a generation of children with a strong Scriptural foundation so that they know the stories and the people in them, and understand their Christian faith.

“I think Sunday school has a huge potential to immerse and enculturate a child of God into the family of God,” Nielsen says.

Nielsen also said that every lesson in the new curriculum connects the student directly to Christ our Savior, and at every level — from early childhood to adult — students focus on the same story or topic each Sunday.

These aspects of the Growing in Christ curriculum are intentional, according to Nielsen.  First, they help students “see how God in real time with real people revealed and wove His plan of salvation, which was in Christ from Adam and Eve — so we’re really trying to give them the scope of His saving work,” she said.

Second, designing a curriculum with the same stories taught across all the age levels allows the topics and key points discussed each Sunday in class to be continued on the drive home from church or around the dinner table.  Not only the children, but also Mom and Dad have studied the same story, Nielsen says. “Everyone is learning at their level of ability, and yet they can go home and talk about it.”

Because Concordia recognizes that all church and Sunday school situations are not the same, the new curriculum is also intentionally flexible, Nielsen says.  It is designed to be adapted easily to a variety of environments.

Growing in Christ also recognizes that teachers today have little preparation time, so it is designed to be teacher-friendly, Nielsen adds.  The new lessons are more self-contained than in the past — there is less “bring this from home,” Nielsen explains — and an important goal of the whole curriculum is helping individuals become better teachers “not just for that Sunday, but for the whole year.”

As with Our Life in Christ and its predecessor, New Life in Christ, the new Growing in Christ offers a three-year sequence of Bible stories during the fall, winter, and spring quarters.  The 10-quarter sequence is chronological (the Old Testament in the fall and the New Testament in the winter and spring quarters, with an additional fall quarter of new material in the fourth year), and in the winter and spring quarters the sequence is tied closely to the three-year lectionary.  During the summer quarter, the lessons are thematic and designed to accommodate the often-intermittent nature of attendance.

“If you’ve gone through the whole cycle of Growing in Christ, you will have covered Genesis through Esther, the Gospels three times and the Book of Acts once,” Nielsen said.

The new curriculum and its lessons also feature 130 new illustrations of Bible people and stories; teacher and director CDs that contain organizational helps, music, reproducible materials, and seasonal items; Web links to LCMS agencies and societies; and Catechism and worship tie-ins.

Nielsen is particularly pleased with the new art.  Gone from Growing in Christ are images that are “cartoony” or caricatured, she explained: “We want to visually impart the message that God’s Word is true and real and the stories the children are learning involve God’s work in the lives of our ancestors in the faith.”

The new art is a major part of the overall cost of the curriculum, Nielsen adds, and it will become the Biblical art that CPH uses for the 21st century.  Eventually, she says, you will see it on bulletin covers and in a children’s Bible that CPH will produce in a few years.

Music also plays an important role in the new curriculum, according to Nielsen. “We are deliberately teaching the language of the faith by setting Bible verses and the Catechism to melodies in order to aid the learning of these important words,” she said.

Even in small ways, the new curriculum strives to connect students to their faith and the life of the church, Nielsen notes. “Faith words” are emphasized throughout, and users will “see fewer flowers and butterflies and more symbols of the church,” she said.

“There’s a huge collection of symbols the church has developed over time.  So when we have an empty corner, and the artist says we have to put something there, now it’s something that you might see on a stained-glass window or on a banner, or on an altar.”

The new curriculum, Nielsen emphasizes, connects the student “to the family of God” and offers multiple opportunities for instruction, whether in the classroom, during a worship service, or around the kitchen table at home.  “In good education you layer it,” she says.  “You say it in different ways, in many ways.  We really are trying to help families speak the faith to one another.”

Growing in Christ student materials range from $4.25 to $9.75; teachers guides vary from $9.75 to $12.75.  Teachers kits that contain posters, CDs, and other materials are $16.25, and directors kits are $9.00.  A Growing in Christ sample kit and training DVD are available free.  Above prices do not include shipping charges.

To order or for more information, including details about training workshops, call CPH at (800) 325-3040.  Information about the new curriculum also is available at www.sundayschool.cph.org and at Christian bookstores.

Posted May 23, 2006

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