The Problem With “We Buy Curriculum”

Adam McLane wrote this article about why you should buy curriculum. The gist is, your time and money could be better spent elsewhere, but that’s under-selling it, so go read it then come back, because I’m going to disagree with it.

My problem isn’t with buying lesson plans and curriculum, my problem’s with the underlying premise of what a youth ministers job is. There’s this sentence; “my job is to minister to teenagers, not write curriculum” which is half re-emphasised later on “my role as a youth worker is to minister to teenagers”. And I read that and I want to ask, “what do you think ministry is exactly?”

The role a youth minister (or any church leader) is to bring people into a greater knowledge of who Christ is by teaching them about who Christ is and what he’s done. In Paul’s words Christ himself gave youth ministers; “to equip His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12-13) Or elsewhere “He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28) “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:2)

We’re teachers of the good news of Jesus Christ. That’s the job of a youth minister. Not just in the big once a week talks to all the youth group, not just in the small groups or bible studies, but also in the one to one meetings, in the informal times you have with young people face to face throughout the week. You might not have a talk to give, but you have a gospel to share.

So when someone says something like “my job is to minister to teenagers, not spend all my time studying the scriptures so I’ve got a message sorted”, that seems nonsensical to me. Your job as a minister is to fill up on the scripture and studying so you can go and minister it to your young people. To say you want to spend more time on ministering to teenagers so you’re going to cut down your time studying God’s word is like a shepherd saying “I want to spend more time looking after my sheep so I’m going to cut down on drawing water from this well for them”. You spend your time drawing water from a well so you can look after your sheep.

The fight in ministry is to protect time for studying and preparation so when you have all the time with young people you’re ready to meet with them and teach them. So when you’re leading a bible study or sitting down for a coffee with them you have something to give them. As youth workers we’re always wondering how we can see young people more, and the time that’s under attack is the time we spend studying the word. This is what’s going on in Acts 6; The apostles are having their time stretched by all the other demands of the growing church, so they appoint people to take over those jobs so they can devote their “attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).

This, is where curriculum can be really useful. If it means you can save time and effort on things that are not a priority, it frees you up for study and face to face time. Occasionally I moonlight as a kids Sunday school teacher and we use the On The Way curriculum to give us a framework each week and to provide craft activities and games. You can spend your time planning what the passage is saying and how you’re going to tell the story knowing you don’t have to really worry about preparing a craft. And yes, because everyone who does it does it as a volunteer, if you’re completely out of time and haven’t sorted out your week in advance to give you room to plan, you can fall back on their stuff with very little effort.

Every week pretty much, I fail at this act of prioritising study and prayer and face-to-face ministry. Every week I realise I’ve wasted time doing things that could have been delegated away, or done much quicker, or not done at all. That’s time wasted that I could have spent digging into God’s word, time I could have given over to prayer, time seeing young people that would have flowed out of those things. (And because because I’m not an apostle who can off-load everything, I could have spent that time doing the administration tasks that need getting done so the work can carry on). This study and over-flowing work that comes out of it; that’s the job of a youth minister. I don’t need to be given any extra excuses to hide from that job. Don’t tell us curriculum can save us from what we need to be doing.