Most of my readers know that my family and I have made a major life change in the past few weeks. On November 1, I started a new job as editor of a new curriculum being developed by LifeWay. I want to take this space to thank those of you who have written us emails and assured us of your prayers during this time of transition.

Some of you have asked for specific information about the new curriculum line. Last week, Ed Stetzer invited me to take part in his “Thursday is for Thinkers” weekly feature. There, I laid out my vision for this exciting venture. I am re-posting those thoughts here, in hopes that I’ll receive additional feedback from Kingdom People readers.

A Vision for Small Group Curriculum

Think about your best small group or Sunday School class experience. What made it work? Most of the time, people will talk about the fellowship and Bible Study. Both of these are vital components for successful small groups. As an editor, I want the Bible Study component to be the very best it can be for Sunday School classes, and that’s why I’m excited to help develop a new curriculum for LifeWay Christian Resources.

Here’s what I envision (and I’d love to get your feedback!):

1. Deep, but not Dry

The term that has been used to describe this new curriculum is “theologically driven.” That’s not to say that other curriculum options aren’t theological, only that these weekly lessons will be known primarily for digging deep into biblical theology.

I think it’s best to expect a lot out of those who attend a small group or Sunday School class. We need not adopt a “No Child Left Behind” mentality, as if we can and should go only as deep as the least knowledgeable person in the group. We don’t think this way in real life. When our son was still on baby food, we didn’t stop eating steak and potatoes. Neither did we stop feeding our son solid food when our daughter came along. Instead, we gathered as a family and ate together (some of us more than others!).

As a teacher, I want to provide a feast and let people draw the sustenance they need. We may have to “cut up the meat” for new believers and make sure that the truth is accessible. But the key is to put the biblical ingredients together and provide the meal. Fill up the plate! The important thing is that everyone has been fed and is sufficiently nourished when we finish.

2. Christ-Centered

I don’t want a week to go by without Jesus being present in our lesson. Jesus is the hero of every Bible story. He’s present in all its pages. The Scriptures are His word to our churches.

Tying everything to the gospel doesn’t mean that every lesson will end with a bullet-point presentation and the Sinner’s Prayer. But a Christ-centered lesson is drenched in gospel truth. Everything revolves around Christ’s death and resurrection and our need to repent and believe.

Sunday School and small groups are – at their best – evangelistic. We invite newcomers to our small groups and welcome them to our fellowship.

But being evangelistic does not mean staying superficial. A gospel-centered curriculum leads us Christians deeper into gospel truth, but never past the gospel. We never stop needing to repent and believe. There is a way to be theologically driven and still accessible to non-Christians, and that’s by massaging the gospel into every lesson.

3. Story-focused

Being Christ-centered naturally brings our focus to the overarching Story that the Bible tells in four parts:

  • Creation
  • Fall
  • Redemption
  • Restoration

In my experience teaching Christians in their twenties and thirties (some who grew up in church, and others who did not), I have discovered that though they may be familiar with certain Bible stories, they are not always sure how the stories fit together into the Bible as a whole. By focusing on the grand narrative of Scripture, I hope that our curriculum will help us connect the dots and think as Christians formed by the great Story that tells the truth about our world.

4. Mission-driven

Telling the story of the Bible is impossible without leading to mission, as the story of the gospel reveals the heart of our missionary God and his desire to save people of every tribe, tongue, and nation.

Too many of our Sunday School classes and small groups view our weekly meetings in terms of consumerist expectations. We come; we sit; we receive teaching; we leave. Even groups that prize participation can fall prey to the same temptation. We come; we sit; we talk; we leave.

A gospel-centered curriculum should be driven by the character of our missionary God seen most clearly in the person of Jesus Christ. Our weekly gatherings are not the goal of the mission; they are the means by which we connect with one another and learn God’s Word in order that we might be equipped to love God and neighbor while spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.

The goal is not to fill our heads with theological truth but to fuel our hearts with passion to join God on his mission to bring people to himself. Keeping a focus on how the gospel leads us to mission is a crucial aspect of how we apply the Bible to our lives.

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9 thoughts on “A Vision for New Small Group Curriculum”

  1. Chuck says:

    Trevin,
    The four points of your vision are great. As you build the curriculum around these themes I would focus on the discussion questions. Please, no inane questions about how Jesus felt as he was praying and weeping in the garden! I have been involved in small group ministry for nearly 3 decades and I can say for sure that this is where it happens in terms of growth. Many of us want and all of us need more of Jesus – through his Word. Take us into the narrative, help us to find Jesus, call us to action but only after we have been called to humility and dependence. Stretch us theologically, make us really think, but keep us always coming back to the gospel.
    May God give success to your efforts.

  2. Matt Tebbe says:

    My experience with most curriculum-based small group material is that “deep” refers not to taking people into their lives and stories more fully and honestly, but taking people into God’s story more fully. That is needful, and sometimes helpful. It becomes insulation to authentic Christlike transformation, however, when cognitive knowledge, answers, ideas, and doctrinal positions dominate discussion and content. I’d love to see a “deep” curriculum that helps people: 1- Listen to the voice of God in their life and pay attention to him. 2 – Not distract themselves from God’s work in their life with what appears to be good, Christ-centered learning but is actually taking them out of the work God has for them. 3 – Trains people in wisdom and discernment, not just in knowledge and easy answers.

    I’m not describing “better application” to inductive bible study. This goes beyond that. Application can become simply a “to do” list that we fold into our “try harder” Christian faith…

    So – for me – the “deep” that the Church needs is deeper love, deeper wisdom, and deeper surrender in our stories (together) to God’s story in Christ. I contend that we don’t primarily learn theology in a book or study, but in our lives as we encounter the resurrected Christ in our wildernesses, mountaintops, storms, gardens, and tables.

    John Calvin stated something similar at the beginning of his Institutes (drawing from Augustine and Teresa of Avila) about the crucial role of double knowledge – knowledge of God to know self, knowledge of self to know God. My contention is that most small group curriculum allows Evangelicals to remain woefully ignorant of self and thus, God. And when this happens – we end up controlling God with our bible knowledge rather than surrendering to him.

    Godspeed Trevin.

  3. Brent Hobbs says:

    As the pastor of a church that just switched from Lifeway to another publisher for our small group resources, I want to say that I hope you are able to accomplish these goals. And if so, we would gladly switch back to using Lifeway materials. As a Southern Baptist, I prefer to use our own resources, but the Sunday School material was basically none of the things you mention above.

    Not deep, but oftentimes dry.
    Often moralistic rather than Christ-centered.
    Usually examined passages without regard to larger context.

    And another complaint was that I think the lesson format sometimes made it more difficult for our teachers rather than being a help.

    Our SBC churches need some serious help in small groups, I believe. But even giving them perfect curriculum, it is still going to come down to teachers being able to lead and teach in an effective way.

  4. Tracy Irvin says:

    Brent, you took the words right out of my mouth. My prayer, Trevin, is that this new endeavor of yours is a paradigm shift in SBC curriculum, across the board. I have struggled with our SS literature for a long time, and like Brent, have used other resources for discipleship and small groups. May God bless your task.

  5. Thomas says:

    I am very much encouraged reading this post! Any chance they will make it available in Spanish?

    Blessings.

  6. Andy Chance says:

    I hope that all of these goals are achieved. It will have to be really excellent in order to convince some pastors to begin using Lifeway material again.

  7. Greg Gibson says:

    Trevin,

    This sounds like an interesting series. I look forward to seeing the finished work. A few thoughts…

    1. Deep, but not Dry
    “as if we can and should go only as deep as the least knowledgeable person in the group…make sure that the truth accessible”

    You always do a good job of that. Remember, the smartest Bible teacher who ever lived explained deep, complex doctrinal truths so that uneducated farmers and fishermen could understand. We include more listeners by translating scholar-speak to pew-speak.

    2. Christ-Centered
    “massaging the gospel into every lesson”

    Christ-centered, yes! Christ-always, no. Remember Colin Hanson’s CT article. John Frame has also addressed this.

    3. Story-focused

    Amen, the Christ-centered and Biblical Theology (story) are too rare in Bible studies.

    4. Mission-driven

    Hmm? This seems a bit arbitrary. Why mission instead of God’s attributes/worship, kingdom, church, prayer, etc.? I’m not sure I’d emphasize any one of those except maybe attribtes/worship with all the others flowing from it?

    5. Systematic Theology, Church History

    How about a brief sidebar or paragraph at the end of the chapter explaining how the topic relates to systematic theology or historical theology?

  8. Steve Lynch says:

    I have to throw in with Brent in that I cannot stomach the typical Lifeway material anymore. Why? Because I found a couple of great teachers who were able to take me down the “Emmaus Road”.

    They taught me just like Jesus taught those 2 disciples in Luke 24… and my heart burned for more as they opened the scriptures to me.

    What did they open? Well… that lesson Jesus taught was a prophecy lesson about himself using the Old Testament/Torah/Tenach.

    What passes for biblical understanding in most churches… is the ability to teach Sin Management. And that ain’t the Gospel.

    Have somebody from my group sit down and explain the book of Ruth to you… about the daughters of Zelophehad, the blood curse on Jeconiah, the 10 generational curse on both Pharez and Moab that get fulfilled…why the Messiah is called the “Son of David”… but never called the “Son of Solomon” (because he’s not).

    When you learn about all of that stuff… you’ll find the typical moral teachings of a typical Lifeway lesson… pretty much limp into listless forgettable screeds on sin management.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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