Introducing a New Adult Sunday School Curriculum

By: David Ibata

Can “Live a Better Story” save the Sunday school?

That’s the challenge to Salvationists working with The ReThink Group, the nonprofit organization and resources provider behind the Orange Sunday school curriculum. On June 4, Live a Better Story for adults will deploy as part of the Orange rollout of new Sunday school materials for all age groups across the four territories of The Salvation Army in the United States.

“We’d like to see our Sunday schools more evangelistic, more seeker-friendly and more diverse in terms of age,” said Major Bobby Westmoreland, territorial youth secretary for the Southern Territory. “(Live a Better Story) has digested all the background material and synthesized it, so it goes to application. It’s the Word of God in an application-rich format.”

Essentially, that means less of a teacher talking to students, and more of the students talking to each other. Major Westmoreland calls this discipleship.

“If Sunday school is about discipleship, maybe we haven’t been doing the best job of it,” he said. “We all need to be discipled until the day we go to Glory. And we need to be discipling someone, always. I think that’s the way God created us, and I think that’s the way the Kingdom works.”

The Scripture that inspires Live a Better Story is John 10:10. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (NIV) The authors of the curriculum see a “full” life (some translations say “abundant”) starting with community. That community is intended to lead to discipleship.

Realizing the full life

“There are a lot of adult curriculums that teach great theology,” said Reggie Joiner, founder and CEO of ReThink, based in Cumming, Georgia. “We want to go beyond great theology and include practical application for what it means to fully live in response to God’s love and grace. We want to emphasize a relational rather than an informational approach to discpleship.”

The key word is “relational.” The new curriculum calls for Sunday school attendees to really get to know – and to share and pray with – each other.

Joiner and his team spoke to Salvationists, led workshops and staffed a table at the “Connect: Equip Youth Workers Conference 2017” May 1-4 in Orlando, Florida. Interviewed between sessions, Joiner said, “We don’t want adults to think they can do faith alone, by themselves. They should own their own faith, but they should never do faith alone.”

Crystal Chiang, ReThink’s director of high school strategy and of adult messaging, said, “Sometimes in the adult world, we believe the lie that if we follow Jesus, our lives will be less fun or not tell as good a story, as fun a story, as interesting a story – whereas Jesus said he came to give life to the full.

“The big distinctive for adult curriculum is talking about what God’s Word says and also how we should do it. A lot of our questions and conversations will center around the question, What does this (issue) look like to a single person, a single mom, someone married 50
years, a retiree?”

This past winter, the Southern Spirit reported on Orange. It doesn’t come in a box. Everything is downloaded from a website (certain pages can be printed out, if a teacher wishes). Orange uses customized lesson plans, storytelling visuals, drama, music videos and social media to communicate God’s word. Orange has been out for about 10 years and is used in children’s ministry in thousands of churches across 30 denominations internationally.

We already have the textbook

The adult curriculum is new. The Salvation Army will be the first to use the materials, available in English and Spanish. Like the young people’s program, everything is downloaded from the internet. There is no students’ book to hand out. In its place, there’s a book everyone already should have: the Bible. Students will be given five Scripture verses to look up in the coming week and thoughts on applying those verses to their lives. Think of them as 21st Century devotionals.

Teachers also are provided such aids as scripts for connecting with class members through Facebook, Twitter, texting and other media. There are text messages to keep in touch or to follow up Sunday’s lesson; there’s even a “just because” message for someone who didn’t show (people who start missing Sunday school are likely to drop out if someone doesn’t reach out to them). The materials are intended to work across all ages.

A typical Sunday class begins with a short video. In the video, a different presenter every week, representing a broad spectrum of races, ethnicities and generations, gives a summary of key points to be covered; a teaching script is provided if the teacher would rather do this part herself. Then, the teacher says a few words and provides the segue to small groups where people of like life interests can meet. Seniors can populate one group, Gen X’ers another, and millennials a third.

It’s emphatically not a top-down lecture with a teacher doing almost all the talking out of a book for 45 minutes (which adults younger than, say, 50, can find a real turn-off).

“There’s a master teacher approach that unpacks the idea,” Joiner said. “As (attendees) move into small group discussion, questions and conversations become more relevant to what they’re dealing with, what they’re wrestling with at their phase of life.”

Why small groups matter

The small group is “the key to discipleship,” Joiner said. “Discipleship happens with a life connecting with another life. Discipleship isn’t a class; it isn’t something that you teach. Application will show up in small-group relationships.”

Four sessions of Live a Better Story have been completed, with more in the works. The first, starting in June, will be “Story of My Life” (Jesus came to give us a better story, not a happy story). This will be followed through the summer and fall with “Activate” (four things that can deactivate – or reactivate – your faith); “For the Win” (the pursuit of wisdom), and “Forward Motion” (our spiritual journey). Future sessions will delve into Scriptural
themes of work, faith, service, change and (not) comparing ourselves to others.

Renowned Christian speakers and writers have been recruited as authors. They include Joiner and Andy Stanley, founding pastors of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia; Mike Park, a New York City church planter; and Captain Danielle Strickland of The Salvation Army Western Territory.

“We have a strong passion to see people engage in truth that is life-changing,” Joiner said. “The Pharisees knew their Bible. They prayed in the temple. They were very religious. But Jesus called them empty tombs. So I think for us, it’s not about information and knowing, it’s not about going through the motions of being a Christian; it really is about a lifestyle that is radically changed by God’s love and how we relate to each other.”