Since my company publishes materials that are designed to be used as church curriculum, you might expect me to take a rather direct approach. What is the need? Which of our materials will fulfill that need?
But what I’ve found in observing the education programs in various churches is that there’s often a problem much earlier in the process. That problem is mission. A church that is not clearly focused on mission will never be a well-equipped church, and very likely will not be a unified church.
I find, for example, that if I have a problem in my business or personal life, there’s a certain amount of time that I need to spend thinking about it and taking action to deal with the problem. That amount of time varies, but it will always be just the amount of time that I can think profitably and act profitably. When I carry on thinking about the problem after I’ve dealt with all facets of it, I’ll simply be worrying. If I try to act after I’ve taken all the constructive steps to solve the problem I will just be wasting time, and I may even make the problem worse.
What I have to do after I’ve done the things that need to be done is to move forward on the mission, whether that’s the mission of my life or of my work. Keeping the focus on getting where I’m going helps me to keep problems in proportion and to continue using my time effectively in continuing toward my goal.
So what does this have to do with curriculum? The church that is not clear on its mission will spend time making trouble for itself, doing things such as debating the color of the carpet, gossiping about one another, and making mountains out of the molehills of non-essential doctrines. I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a colleague just today. He said of a certain person’s ministry that “when they get involved, they start tithing and go on mission trips and that can’t be all bad.” Indeed it can’t!
This does not mean that there are no important doctrinal issues nor does it mean that the church shouldn’t be involved in teaching sound doctrine. But a focus on the mission will tend to keep this in proportion.
I see this pattern in Ephesians 4:
11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. — Ephesians 4:11-14 (NRSV)
Note that the purpose of the offices is given first as “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” and then as this follows through, and people “come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God,” we get to a point where we are no longer “blown about by every wind of doctrine.” Doctrine is not the focal point, but at the same time it is not left out.
I would suggest that we cannot come to maturity, to a full understanding of Jesus as the Son of God unless we are fully involved in ministry, in service to others. The body of Christ cannot become unified and whole without a primary involvement in mission. By “mission” I do not mean just overseas mission service or mission trips, as important as these things are.
The starting point must be the gospel commission, but each person and each congregation will have their particular part in carrying out the mission of the church. If we keep our focus on that, I believe all else will fall into place.
(Tomorrow I’ll continue by discussing how the way in which we choose what curriculum we use, if any, relates to mission and impacts the way we carry that mission out.)