What About a Curriculum Pathway?

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“What about a curriculum pathway?” That was the question in a recent email from a reader.  Specifically, the question included an interest in predetermining the curriculum “scope and sequence” for the small groups in their system.

And after interviews with Steve Gladen on Saddeback’s Leadership Pathway and Eddie Mosley on LifePoint’s Discipleship Pathway, you can understand how the idea of a curriculum pathway would seem natural.  You might even see how it would seem to make sense to predetermine the scope of curriculum (that is, to select the list of topics or studies to be completed) and the sequence (that would be the order of the studies completed).  In interpreting the question, I landed on the notion of an educational degree plan (a certain list of required courses, prerequisites and electives).

However, despite seeming natural and like something that makes a lot of sense, it might be harder to pull off and less practical than you’d think at first glance.  Since life-change is the objective and the essence of grouplife has very little to do with education, the notion of a pathway to ensure coverage of certain essentials would seem both impractical and beside the point.

Impractical in part due to the relatively short life-span of most groups.  Yes, there are groups that remain together for several years.  However, they are clearly in the minority.  Even in the case of a closed group system like North Point’s, many groups completely rearrange in 18 to 24 months (and you’ll remember my argument for open groups).

An Alternative to a Curriculum Pathway

So…if a curriculum pathway doesn’t make sense, how can we help group members move in the right direction?  After all, in a very real sense, small group champions and small group leaders are responsible for the spiritual growth of group members (you may not like the term “responsible,” but in the sense that we’re entrusted with members, we’re accountable to steward them wisely).

I think it makes sense to incorporate three ingredients into the development of your own concept:

First, I’d recommend reading Jim Putman’s Real Life Discipleship and Real Life Discipleship Manual.  I think you’ll find a very helpful concept in these two books.  I’m not suggesting you adopt their system, only that their concept will help you develop your own.

Second, this is exactly where a discipleship pathway enters the discussion.  It also provides the background for the development of the Purpose Driven Life Health Assessment and Plan (I describe the use of the Assessment and Plan in Equip Leaders to Help Members Plan to Grow).

Third, I’ve also found that it makes sense to provide a recommended curriculum list.  In fact, without a recommended list you’ll spend a lot of time on discussions and decisions that could nearly be automated.

What do you think?  Does this make sense?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

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  1. J. Gregory Gillum on May 9, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    As someone who the Holy Spirit has graciously given knowledge and teaching and wisdom as my trifecta of spiritual gifting, I disagree with the notion of grouplife having little to do with education – as Paul said, we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. I think the “dumbing down” of grouplife, especially with the leadership, and the Biblical illiteracy that is sweeping the country (see Barna study on emerging trends in 2010), is it any wonder our small group members know nothing of apologetics and how to defend their faith, and that the Pew Forum recently noted that Atheists and Agnostics know more Scripture than we Evangelicals? Unfortunately the answer is no, it is not surprising. We have to have a reformation of what is the most important aspect of grouplife – the study of sacred Scripture.

  2. Anonymous on May 9, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    Thanks for jumping in here. I appreciate your thoughts. You’ve made some good observations. My primary point in saying that “life-change is the objective and the essence of grouplife has very little to do with education” is just that. Education plays a supporting role in the life-change process, but it is not the focus. In fact, I’d go so far to say that in my experience, those small groups and small group systems where education becomes the primary point have little life-change to show for it. Knowing scripture is a good thing, even a great thing. Doing what it says is the point.

    I’m glad you feel comfortable putting your perspective out there. It is the reason I have the comment section open and only lightly moderated.


  3. Rick Howerton on May 9, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    Some other thoughts… I think we need to keep in mind that there’s a difference between an educational model of discipleship and a relational model of disciple-making. It’s obvious when we look at scripture that discipleship is relational. This doesn’t mean that we ignore gaining knowledge of God’s Word. That is most certainly a major part of the process. But when we focus wholeheartedly on simply educating people, that is, giving them more and more knowledge without giving them mentors that model the teaching, we may simply create another pharisee.

    A few months ago a friend of mine asked me a very interesting and difficult question. He prefaced that question by asking if we have some of the greatest preachers and preaching available to us in many, many years. My quick response was, “yes.” He then asked, “What happened to discipleship when the pulpit replaced Christian community?” The only right answer… We moved from becoming mature in Christ to being knowledgeable without becoming mature.

    Gaining knowledge is vital to spiritual growth but when it becomes the only goal of the Christian journey and is done without conversations that keep us focused on action not just knowledge, we miss the ultimate goal… disipling those to maturity who will evangelize and disciple others.

  4. Anonymous on May 9, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    I like it! Thanks for clarifying an important point!


  5. J. Gregory Gillum on May 9, 2011 at 11:25 pm

    Well said – there must be a synthesis of relational discipleship and intentional leadership that focuses on study of Scripture – we can know nothing of the special revelation of God apart from His word, and nothing of making disciples of our Lord without studying and meditating on Scripture.

    Paul was one of the most educated of his day. Raised a Hebrew in the chic university town of Tarsus, and eventually a star pupil of Gamaliel, he used his education to propel the gospel.

    I agree we should not promote Pharisaic isolation, but we will never optimize the parenting of spiritual infants without studying the instruction manual.

  6. Anonymous on May 10, 2011 at 11:39 am

    I’m glad you brought up Paul! While it’s true that he was educated, he was also an extremely savvy operator and could be “all things to all men, so that he might win some.” You’ve got to love the fact that knew how to adjust his presentation according to the audience (see Acts 17) and how to work with the raw product at hand (Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free).

    Gregory, I’m so glad you feel the freedom to contribute to the conversation. That is a good thing.

  7. mbronson on May 11, 2011 at 7:14 pm

    @mbronson:twitter has a related question. We are a small (300) church preparing to launch small groups for the very first time. Our struggle concerns how to ‘divide’ members into groups. We have good leaders. We have good training resources. Our intent is to begin with sermon-based curriculum in order to better align our direction. However, how do we will the groups?

    1. Ask people sign up based upon the date/time/leader?

    2. Collect names of those who are interest and divide them up? (This seems very unseemly to me)

    3. Have a ‘draft’ among the leaders and ask them to personally invite people.

    We fully intend to reach the community but I am assuming we need to populate the core of the group with our own members at first :0

    Sorry to be so dense . . . any advice will be gladly received!

  8. Anonymous on May 11, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    Great questions…but not the best place to ask them. Email me at mark@smallgroupresources.net and I’ll point you to where you can find answers.


  9. Anonymous on May 16, 2011 at 3:00 am

    Right now, and possibly for the rest of my life, my personal theme is transformation.

    I used to think that meant maturing. It still does, but I’m learning that it means much more.

    It means the rewiring of our minds. In a way, re-baselining, restoring our minds to the manufacturer’s default settings and, building on to that restored baseline,  wisdom, knowledge skills, relationships–all the things we need to grow and heal and reproduce.

    This is done by applying Scriptural truth to the sometimes toxic ways we think. I think it’s what Paul had in mind in Romans 12:2.

    Here’s the problem for me: I cannot do a whole lot of transformation if I’m not plugged into community. If there’s no one to challenge my assumptions on the basis of scriptural truth. If there’s no one to remind me of what God has already been telling me. And–almost more than that–if there is no one to share with and encourage in THEIR transformation journey. “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

    I remember going through a video series a decade or so ago, where a teacher taught that we must be equipped in Character and Competencies in the context of Community. One application of that for me is studying the Word and applying it together with friends, both in starting with need and moving toward doctrine and in starting with doctrine and moving to personal and community application.

    What’s hard is finding friends you can trust and who will get on the journey with you.

  10. Anonymous on May 16, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Thanks for jumping in! All true…the questions are: (1) does that require a pathway? (2) would every group need a customized pathway? (3) given the dynamic nature of grouplife (members come and go), is a group-based curriculum pathway viable?


  11. Anonymous on May 16, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Thanks for jumping in! All true…the questions are: (1) does that require a pathway? (2) would every group need a customized pathway? (3) given the dynamic nature of grouplife (members come and go), is a group-based curriculum pathway viable?


  12. Anonymous on May 16, 2011 at 2:05 pm

     I have a natural allergic reaction to uniformity. For one thing, it’s too easy to take on a checklist mentality with curriculum. It’s very common to complete a curriculum without internalizing anything at all or changing your approach to anything. This is true whether you provide a generalized path or a group-customized one. And, as you point out in point 3, open groups can’t do curriculum paths very well long term. I’ve closed my groups once or twice for a season in order to go through a curriculum, but I think the open group dynamic is too important to be tossed aside for curriculum paths.

    To me, more valuable than a PATH is a CULTURE of discipling/equipping/mentoring/encouraging. Led by folks who are themselves the curriculum. They’ve lived the Christ life, they’ve fought the battles, they’ve failed and succeeded and adjusted course multiple times. And they’re still growing and learning and reaching out.

  13. Anonymous on May 16, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    Good thinking! I like the way you describe building a culture as opposed to a pathway. Nicely put!


  14. Anonymous on May 16, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    Thanks, Mark. I realize my comments may leave the impression I don’t use printed curriculum. I actually do, and am currently in the market for materials to use with younger people. It’s just that I’m not a fan of big, one-size-fits-all curriculum paths.