Not all adults are desirous of the same type of study or a small group experience. They do not all want to make a commitment to a long-term study or to homework. Some are most interested in thematic study; some are new to the faith.
Three major categories of adults seeking some kind of weekday study emerge:
• Believers who want to know more about the content of the Bible from a historical and theological perspective. They want a chance to explore and reflect on Scripture within a small covenant group.
• Believers who want to study theological themes and contemporary issues within a biblical perspective. They want to deepen their understanding of Scripture and how it affects their lives.
• Congregations want to provide an introduction to Christian faith for new believers and seekers. They want a biblically-based study that appeals to those who are new in their faith.
A variety of curriculum resources are available in response to this need and interest. Each of them offers something different to the learner and makes different demands on leaders. It is often confusing to know exactly what each of these programs provides and what is required of participants.
The purpose of this article is to review four curriculums that offer diverse kinds of study, have a variety of expectations for learners and leaders, and address different needs. Many more curriculum resources are available but these are among those that may be most familiar to Presbyterian churches. A detailed overview of each program will be followed by an evaluation of the way in which the resource is suited for the needs of congregational members cited above.
Abingdon Press 800-672-1789
Disciple is a disciplined Bible study the goal of which is the development of Christian leaders. It seeks not only to give participants more information but transforming experiences that lead to changed lives. Underlying all of Disciple is the belief that the Bible is the key to the renewal of the church. Through a recovery of biblical literacy, believers will be equipped and prepared to be faithful disciples.
Throughout all Disciple resources there is an emphasis on the wholeness and unity of the Bible and an understanding of Scripture as the revelation of God. Both the Old and the New Testaments are given equal time. The work of biblical scholarship aids and informs the study. Disciple is designed to “address the hunger people have for content that can be read, studied, and digested – content that offers substance.” Disciple studies take place within a covenanted small group of twelve students and a leader. Members of Disciple small groups agree to:
• Prepare for each group meeting by spending 30-45 minutes a day in reading and study
• Attend all group meetings for the duration of the study – usually 34 weeks
• Participate in the discussion and reflections during the small group time
Four long-term studies are available.
• Becoming Disciples Through Bible Study – overview of Old and New Testaments
• Into the Word into the World – a study of Genesis, Exodus, Luke and Acts
• Remember Who You Are – a study of the prophets and Paul
• Under the Tree of Life – a study of the Writings, John and Revelation
It is recommended that Becoming Disciples Through Bible Study is completed first so that learners have familiarity with the whole Bible before studying sections.
A Planning Kit is available for each study. Kits include one each of the Study Manual, Teacher Helps and Implementation Resource, and a choice of either videos or DVDs. The kits come packaged in a Disciple-imprinted black nylon briefcase and priced from $250- 275. In the fall of 2005, two new short-term, eight week studies will be available.
Training to lead a Disciple study is encouraged and training events are scheduled around the country. A training video will be available soon for those unable to attend an event.
The Website is being redesigned to become more user-friendly. All of the Disciple resources are available for purchase at Cokesbury stores, online and by phone.
Kerygma began in 1977 with a single study and has expanded to the present twenty-six. It has been used with positive results by congregations representing more than thirty denominations. Kerygma is a curriculum of committed Bible studies that are designed to be “transformed and transforming.” Writers and editors believe that the Bible speaks for itself and every attempt is made to avoid any theological presuppositions. All the studies enable participants to:
• Learn the basics and complexities of the Bible
• Develop skills for interpreting Scripture
• Apply learning from the Bible to personal and corporate life in today’s world.
Three of the present courses are 30- week comprehensive studies of the whole Bible: Discovering the Bible, The Bible in Depth, and The Bible and Theology. The other studies are short term and focus on a specific book of the Bible or issue of Christian life such as the Lord’s Prayer. Each study includes a Leader’s Guide and Resource Book (for learners). Cost of the resources range from $37 for year-long Study Leader’s Guides to $16.50 for short-term Resources Books.*
In addition to the print resources for study, Kerygma provides support for congregational leaders in establishing and maintaining the program. Nationwide training events introduce congregations to Kerygma. The Kerygma Program Guide provides a complete overview of the program’s principles and a description of all the courses. The Adult Education Idea Book outlines a plan for a congregation to use and suggestions for choosing courses, identifying leadership, developing a schedule, and promoting the program within the congregation. Each Leader Guide is “user-friendly” suggesting learning strategies and multiple options for each session. The Website includes helpful information about the goals of the program, national training schedule, and overviews of courses. Kerygma resources can be ordered directly through Kerygma or through Presbyterian Distribution Service.
The Congregational Ministries Publishing of PC(USA) produces several adult curriculum resources that can be used for Sunday School or for weekday small group studies.
We Believe Bible studies based on theological themes within Scripture are available quarterly. The purpose of the curriculum is to deepen a common understanding of Reformed theology and how we Presbyterians understand the Word of God. Longtime believers will build on previous knowledge about the church; those who come to the PC(USA) from other denominations will find a basic foundation for what Presbyterians believe. Every attempt is made to make the resources user-friendly so it is simple to order and easy to use. At all age levels, We Believe encourages biblical literacy.
• Summer 2005 – The Apostles Act: God’s Call, Our Vocation: The goal of the summer quarter is to learn about the mission of the early church in the book of Acts. Rooted in the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s Word was spread through preaching, teaching, celebrating the sacraments, healing, and practicing hospitality. The work of the Church continues to take these forms to this day. ($19.99*)
• Fall 2005 – Our Faith, God’s Faithfulness: The goal of the fall quarter is to discover a variety of images of God and to ascertain the ways in which God remained faithful to the covenant people in the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Old Testament. ($10.95 for book and study guide*)
Book studies for the Foundation of Christian Faith series provide discussion questions for groups that want to read a book of the series together. Foundation of Christian Faith series explores central elements of Christian faith. Each of the twelve books in the series focuses on a theme that is central to the Christian faith. It is hoped that readers will engage in thoughtful reflection on these essential issues. Topics of the volumes include: the Trinity, Jesus Christ, The Bible, the Holy Spirit, and worship and sacraments. Individuals can read the books for personal study or use the guide for group study.
In addition to the curriculum resources it produces, Congregational Ministries Publishing makes Kerygma study materials available. Adult curriculum may be ordered through the Presbyterian Distribution Service.
Alpha is a ten-week course of study designed for those wanting to investigate Christianity, new Christians, newcomers to the church, and those who want to brush up on the basics. It is arranged around topics and is based on Scripture. Each gathering includes a supper, a talk on one of the topics, and small group discussion. “Alpha is a place where no question is too simple or two hostile.” The talk can be prepared by the leader based on the outline that is provided or by watching founder, Nicky Gumbel, on DVD. Guests have a manual so they can follow the outline of the talk and write notes and questions.
The topics include these and more:
• Who Is Jesus?
• How Can I Be Sure of My Faith?
• Why and How Should I Read the Bible?
• Why and How Do I Pray?
The Alpha Course began in Great Britain and has been used successfully around the world by both Roman Catholics and Protestants. The course attempts to be broad in its understanding of essentials of Christian faith and therefore is not aligned with a denomination or associated with any theological tradition. Case Van Kempen and Keith Derrick in their book, Alpha from a Reformed Perspective, are of the opinion that: “Because Alpha does not attempt to teach one particular position on narrower issues such as the sacraments, ecclesiology, or eschatology, it is compatible with Reformed/Presbyterian teaching.”
The Website provides limited information about the program. Resources can be ordered online. A Starter Kit for $459.00* is available and includes training DVD, director manual, leader guides, and introductory DVD, etc.
Each of these curriculum programs has a unique purpose and seeks to meet a particular congregational need.
Earlier in the article, three basic types of congregational need were identified. In light of the examination of the four curriculum programs, it is now possible to suggest resources that can best meet their needs.
A congregation in which believers want to know more about the content of the Bible from a historical and theological perspective within a small covenant group can make use of Disciple and Kerygma materials. Both curriculums make available year-long Bible survey courses and short-term courses with a focus on a specific section of Scripture. Learners participating in both courses are expected to prepare for weekly meetings. Training for leaders and support for congregations is offered. Neither Disciple nor Kerygma is suited for use during Sunday School time since sessions are planned for longer than an hour. Groups that agree to invest themselves in the study make the best users of these two curriculums.
Congregations in which believers want to study theological themes and contemporary issues within a biblical perspective and want to deepen their understanding of Scripture and how it affects their lives will find We Believe quarterly studies and book studies for the Foundation of Christian Faith meet their need. These studies can be used on Sunday morning and during weekday studies. Both these series are based on Reformed perspectives; the quarterly studies provide an introduction to the confessions of the church. Several of the Kerygma studies focus on elements of Christian life and worship and would be of use to those who want to deepen their understanding of how Scripture informs a life of faith.
Congregations that want to provide an introduction to Christian faith for new believers and seekers have several options. They may wish to explore using the Alpha program to reach out to new believers and seekers. In addition or instead of the Alpha course, congregations can use either Disciple’s Becoming Disciples Through Bible Study or Kerygma’s Discovering the Bible as an introductory course to Scripture. The Foundation of Christian Faith book studies may be helpful to new Presbyterians in understanding a Reformed perspective on issues.
*Please consult catalogues and Websites to confirm these prices.
NANCY FERGUSON is a minister member of the Presbytery of the James where she serves as part of the staff of Camp Hanover, is a Visiting Instructor of Christian Education at Union-PSCE, and a frequent writer of church curriculum.
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