Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Do I Really Need a Map? (multi-year curriculum planning)

On the Road to Nowhere?
It was called “Road Rules”. The plan was to take a group of students on a week long trip with no destination. I knew where we were going, but I decided that no one else should know. I ended up with upset adults and students not interested in going, because they didn’t know the destination.
We do the same thing every week, by planning lesson only a few day or even hours ahead.  We ask to take our students on a spiritual trip without let anyone in on the destination. It is time for us have a map and destination for our teaching and be willing to share it with those we minister to.
Consider your student’s school setting. They are being taught according to specific curriculum with direct learning destinations in mind. They and their parents know exactly where the teaching is heading. Why is it that we who are teaching the most important truth often have little plan, expectation, or destination in mind?

Multi-Year What?
            Say it slowly, “multi--year---curri--culum—plan--ning.”  Breathe and let it sink in before you run away. I know anything in youth ministry that has as part of its name “multi-year” has an immediate negative response. Then you see the word “curriculum’ and you think about outdated Sunday school books with the bad clip art and fill-in the blanks.  Finish it all off with a tall helping of “planning.”  You are thinking, “I do not think so, I am a Spirit-led wild child of God that can not be fenced it.  I need to run free!”
  I am with you or …was with you. I was afraid that planning would kill my creativity and quench the spirit. After recently finishing my Master’s in Middle School Education I started seeing actually the opposite is true. I found all the problems I saw, were actually solved by planning multi-year curriculum. I am sure; the question for you now is “What is Multi-year curriculum planning?”
Multi-year curriculum planning is making a map for your teaching over the long haul of your ministry.  In the simplest terms it is sitting down with the “scope” of your teaching time and coming up with a “sequence” of lessons and teaching. The “scope” is the years you are teaching your students. If you doing both middle school and high school you are trying to plan for the full youth ministry experience.  If you are doing only one or the other you are planning just for the time you have, 3 years or 4 years.   The “sequence” is the order you are going to cover your topics and how they are going fit together over all.
Why would you need a multi-year curriculum? Long time youth ministry veteran, Amy Jacober, contends that “a multi-year plan ensures that what is hoped to be covered while a youth is in the youth ministry is being (in fact) covered.”  The question then is “how?”

Is there an App for that?
            Just like any other youth ministry trip; you need to start with where you are at. Find out who is going with you. Finally plan the route you are going to travel, with stops along the way in order arrive at your destination safely.

- Where are you at? Physically, where do you live and minister? As you begin to develop a set of lessons for the long haul, you need to understand where God has placed you. You need to know your area, church, and group.  Ask some hard questions about your area.  Think about things like setting (urban, suburban..), region, diversity, socio-economic characteristics, etc…  Commitment for the long haul also requires you to know what things are most needed.  Jeffery Tillson, a Jr. High youth pastor in Houston, TX, with an outreach focus on his local community “starts every fall with topics that will connect with the un-churched students..” in his area. As you look at your area ask, “What are the things that are important and relevant to my area, where my students live out their faith?”  In an area hard hit financially when revising our own multi-year curriculum, we added to our stewardship component along with a short series on “joy and contentment in tough times”.
Next, understand your church. What are the values and theology that characterizes your church?  Your intent should be to prepare your students to transition into an active role in the church. Both Tillson and Jacober when asked about this responded similarly. Tillson advises “Remember that your ministry is a small part of the larger whole”.  He suggests, “Sitting down with your senior pastor to capture his heart for your ministry.” Jacober expresses, “…My heart is to connect students to the greater church...” Further plan to teach in ways that honor the core values of your church. If you are part of a denomination that has liturgical calendars consider using that. Jacober explains that it is important that “first and foremost the theology must fit who you are as a community…know your tradition…”  Finally find out what the rest of the areas of ministry are teaching, especially the children’s ministry.  If a topic is already being covered thoroughly, focus on those that are not being covered.  
  - Who is going with you?  If you are going to plan, you need to know who is on the journey with you. Who are your students and what other adults do you have to help you? A great way of getting to know the group and also allowing ownership is including students and adults in the process. Form a team and allow them to create a list of suggested topics and ideas.  Not only will students feel ownership of the teaching, but adults can include things that they are willing to teach. A strong part of my present ministry setting is a student ministry team.  Allow your leadership students to advise and even give you feedback after your have taught through a series.
Seek, however, to go beyond just teaching facts to teach real life application and synergy.  Jacober explains it as what students “…know cognitively, emotionally, spiritually and live…”  This requires us to know our students in order to talk into their lives and not simply be talking at them.  Although this process may seem removed and academic, it is not.  It’s rooted in relational, connected ministry. 

- Make yourself a map. Above I introduced the idea of “scope and sequence”. Think of it as your map.  Decide on how long, in what order and where you are going.  It can take on any form, any length, and can be divided in whatever way fits your students and ministry area. It is the key to organizing your topics and focusing your curriculum. “Don’t forget that a multi-year curriculum is much more that any single curriculum, it is about scope and sequence, what is offered and in what order”, Jacober points out.
Start by grouping topics according to what you feel fit best together (beliefs, life topics, social issues…) then organizes inside those groups the order of topics. Find a large white board or bulletin board if it is visually easier, but map out from beginning to end.
Our ministry’s current multi-year plan has two sets of three years. A set of teaching for Sunday mornings that is expositional and belief focused and the second set for Wednesday youth group that is topical and life issue focused.   The plan we came up with based on our process was to target church-kids on Sundays and to target the community on Wednesday nights, both with teaching and leader-led small group times.
You should plan from foundational to more advanced, like building blocks of learning as one truth prepares for the next. Tillson plans and teaches similar to the style of his church that is expositional.  “Preaching through the entire Bible, worship, pray and reaching the nations is all core to our vision”, so he forms his curriculum around that.  
After you have organized, grouped, and ordered your teaching topics, then decide on the scope of your curriculum, the time period it covers. Like a good outline, you are not including every single thing you are teaching.  You are coming with a main idea/theme for each time period, lesson unit topics, and individual lesson topics. Be aware of holidays and schedules that can be used to your advantage for topics and teaching.
Once you have a scope and sequence, it now allows you to color in the map you have created, with as much or as little flexibility as you like.  Create your own lessons that fit within your topics, purchase lessons or curriculum that fit, or a mix of both.  There is great curriculum out there for you to use and tweak. Depending on your time, abilities, and position, you now have a clear direction for teaching.  Add on and include retreats, mission trips, and other events that fit that year’s overarching focus.
Most important of all communicate and share your map.  Create an easy understandable document to make available to those who are connected to what you do. It can be a simple Word document or something more advanced, but it is important to inform, interest and include your students, parents and volunteers in the long term plan.  Jacober shares that “My job is to advise and guide for something that will outlast me.” In the end you want to create not just something for just your tenure, but something that will become a part of DNA of the ministry and your church.
Is this really the right direction?
Like anything you do there are advantages and concerns in choosing to plan for a multi-year curriculum.  Those who are actively using a multi-year curriculum all say that the pros far out weigh the cons.
The advantages fall into four main areas: Assessment, Accountability, Action, and Acceptance. 1.) Assessment. You now have a tool that will allow you a measurement of what is being “taught” and “caught”.  Both Tillson and Jacober mentioned that this allows you to know what is being covered and what may need to be covered again. 2.) Accountability. You have a tangible source of accountability to offer parents and other staff members.  Sprouse say that it keeps him “from running after the newest thing out there”. 3.) Action. Having an organized plan for an extended period of time pushes toward “Long term discipleship that is slow and steady” and lasting.  If you know what you are supposed to be doing you are more intentional in doing it. Instead of endless hours brainstorming and distractions you are action focused. Additionally, planning ahead frees you up for more active ministry with students. 4.) Acceptance. A better word could also be professionalism. Simply by taking time to plan and organize your ministry will be seen differently.  Offering transparency of what you are doing and teaching gives way to better acceptance and support.
The concerns come down to 3 areas: Spirit, Study, and Stay. 1.) Spirit. Simply make room for the Spirit.  Do not plan so inflexibly that you can’t take a break. You are not in a school setting.  Have “break weeks” to address current issues or a topic that God has laid on your heart. 2.) Study.  It will require time initially in order to plan well for the long term.  Understand even though you have a plan, continued study will be required to prepare and re-write lessons. 3.) Stay. In order for a long term teaching plan to work you need be willing to commitment to stay for the long term and see it through. A three year or seven year plan is not going to work, if you are only going to be around for one or two years.

On the Road?
            Consider and pray through this process and the destination of your teaching. You know as well as I do, we are driving on a winding, ever changing road. We simply seek to invite as many as we can to join us on the journey, and want only to offer a map for the trip ahead.

- This is an article what was submitted to Youth Worker Journal for their spring issue on Teaching/Preaching.
*  For more information feel free to contact me. If you like to see my own "Multi-Year Scope & Sequence" Go to the LESSON SECTION

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