The Curriculum Challenge

The parents’ perspective

Curriculum / The Basics //

Finishing a seminar on using and choosing curriculum, I asked some of the finest children’s ministry pastors for their “take-away.” Said one, “I think I’m going to ask parents what they want in our curriculum choices.  I’ve never thought of that!”  There was the nodding of heads (not from sleep or boredom!) in agreement.

Why is it considered such a novel idea that parents would have a stake in the choice and use of our Sunday school, club, and other ministry materials? What do parents want and how can we connect as we use published or developed curriculum?

What God might want for parents

All curricula basically has four parts: Scope (content, not mouthwash), Sequence (developmentally appropriate learning, not the game), Methods (why we really buy/develop curriculum), and Philosophy (the hidden but essential foundation).

Scope. In the great Shema passage of Deuteronomy 6, God clearly lays out the purpose and content of instruction: Love God and know the Word! This is in keeping with why most publishing companies adhere to a biblical scope. Jesus said that the one who has and obeys the Scriptures loves and is loved by God (John 14:21).

Sequence. Observe these wonderfully contemporary verses about the process of instruction:

We will not conceal them from their children,

But tell to the generation to come the praises of the LORD,

And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done.

For He established a testimony in Jacob,

And appointed a law in Israel,

Which He commanded our fathers

That they should teach them to their children. (Psalm 78:4-5)

Our curricular choices should focus on parents as primary instructors.  This sequence sounds suspiciously like discipleship!  Rob Rienow, family pastor at Wheaton Bible Church, said, “God has a small group discipleship program–He calls it families!” So our curriculum should help parents understand that they are not the attachment to a church’s program, they are the main program.

Method. Two key verses come to mind regarding parental methodology. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).  And “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:16).  Notice, this verse follows one of the key Scriptures about children’s/family ministry–verse 15!  We spend a good deal of time equipping parents for the instructional aspect, but what is in our curriculum (for parents or church workers) that prepares them for the discipline (reproof, correction, training)?

Philosophy. The choices we make regarding the planning, implementation, and evaluation of teaching, both in the home and church ministry, should reflect the “heart work” of being “well-pleasing to the Lord” (Colossians 3:20, 21). Thankfully, most curriculum publishers are addressing their expertise to include parents in the process of spiritual formation of children. This is a welcome assistance.

Connection.  Our conclusion is this: To connect parents to our curriculum, we must connect to God’s heart.  Otherwise, we may find ourselves arranging deck chairs on the Titanic!  Robert Paxmino in Foundational Issues in Christian Education states, “The challenge in curriculum construction is to merge or blend both Christian content and experience so that the minds and lives of students are influenced and transformed by God’s truth.”  Our curriculum should promote the love of God and obedience to His Word

What parents might want

Ask.  Perhaps the best way to connect to parents is to involve them in the evaluating, choosing, implementing and adjusting the curriculum.  Do parents have a voice–not as a recruited church worker, but as an implementer at home–in the training of their children?  I’ve found surprising support from parents (after addressing long overdue communication and expectation patterns) when they are simply asked for their opinion. (See the phone or interview “question list” at the end of this article.)

Research. Sometimes, we just don’t have time or the capability to ask, so how can researchers help us? Search Institute’s groundbreaking study conducted by Merton and Irene Strommen may well serve as a foundation for understanding today’s parents. The give and take of participation can be guided with just a few moments of listening to the experts.

1. Understanding.  Often parents don’t connect with church programming because they just don’t know what we are teaching.

  • Why not include communication to parents about the goals (there’s that philosophy thing coming through again), methods, and Bible content? This is beyond take-home papers. This is face-to-face, or media texting/accessing/contacting which goes directly to our parents.  Let’s be sure to keep it simple, useable and biblically guided. (Personally, I don’t get real excited about recipes for “Bible cupcakes with Holy Spirit sprinkles.”)  Do we have an expected resource being sent to our parents? Think email or newsletter–several publishing companies will now even manage that email address list for you.
  • Can we find out from parents the issues with which they are confronted? Does our ministry website have a contact or comment option?
  • What can we learn about parents and children?  Researchers are increasingly making their information available.  Let’s share what we know with parents to develop a communication flow of trust and spiritual formation information.

2. Close Family. So how do we interact with parents regarding the spiritual formation of kids without destroying one of the most treasured aspects of family (and essential characteristics of good family discipleship)?

  • Let’s be sure that there are several levels of participation, not just curriculum for those families who include a pastor, resident Bible scholar, or long-term church leader.  All families–single, dual, grand, adopted, biological, blended, guardian or foster-parent, double, single, or no income, new-to-the-faith, multi-generational, or somewhere in between–need materials from the church that appreciate the time and financial investment needed to use them.
  • Resources to use the curriculum should be available.  Curriculum that is easy to use is more easily used.
  • Do we model how to be a close family in the programming of our church? If we are always separating our parents from their children to have biblical instruction, where do they “catch” being a close family?

3. Moral Behavior.  Families want to nurture godly being and behavior.  How can we connect?

  • Does our curriculum emphasize the transformation of salvation?  Do we train parents to lead their children to Christ and in Christ?
  • We need to demonstrate proper care and discipline when children are with us at church.  Child safety is so important, and concern for it models sound morals.
  • Does our curriculum teach for obedience so that we expect parents to join in that endeavor, or do we give them a “pass”?

4.  Shared Faith. Parents may not know they want the what, why, and how of belief, but connecting to this priority is essential.

  • An emphasis upon apologetics/catechism/pastor’s class is welcome and should be shared both to and with parents. Knowing sound doctrine isn’t just for kids and youth!
  • Shared faith between kids and parents often looks like shared faith between church and home.  Do we have parent-oriented experiences in our church ministry that model and equip for this kind of interaction?
  • Are there creative means to go beyond just knowing Bible stories to growing in Christ?

5. Outside Help. This Strommen characteristic is obvious in your life by the very fact that you are reading this article.  How can we connect with parents with the help that is there?

  • Let’s make our materials customizable. With the diversity of families we serve, we need to be able to change delivery times, sequence, depth of use, and still feel like we are okay with the church leaders.
  • Let’s make our materials biblically based.  It is the Bible that can transform our children’s and their parents’ lives (John 17:17).
  • Let’s go to the ultimate Source of Help!  Let’s ask Him to help us connect with our parents.


Parent Survey/Interview Questions

 1. What are the best ways to communicate with you regarding the spiritual growth of your child?  (internet, text/phone, face-to-face, seminars, “faith-talks”)  Would you feel comfortable giving us your email, phone number, Twitter, and/or home address?

2. What issues are challenging with your child?

3. How is your confidence level in parenting your child spiritually?  Do you anticipate assistance for that from our church?  If so, in what ways are you expecting this help?

4. On a scale of 1 to 5, (5 being high), how do you rate each of the following areas?  It’s okay to say, “I don’t know”, because that’s a bit of why we’re having this conversation.

a. Your child’s Sunday school, club, or other ministry curriculum.

b. Your child’s Bible reading and prayer materials and procedures at home.

c. Your family’s experiences of spiritual training from the church.

d. Your family’s practice and confidence to read the Bible and pray together at home.

e. The experiences both at home and church (or anywhere) that are helping your child grow in Christ.

5. Is there anything that we should talk about in relation to the spiritual growth of your son/daughter?





About the Author

Greg Carlson is a parent, pastor, and professor who serves as the chair of Christian Ministries at Trinity International University. Dr. C & Donna raised their three sons in Omaha, but now reside in Chicagoland.