While still a pastor, sometime around 2008 or 2009, I began to think about what a different kind of small group literature for a local church could look like. A few years earlier, when taking about 70 Sundays to preach through the Bible, it became clear that many people in my church (and I think most people in most churches) did not have a grasp of the grand narrative, or big picture, of God’s plan and purpose in redemption. All the stories of the Bible were just that: stories. They are true stories, but it is not always evident how they are connected to any larger purpose. For many believers reading the Bible is like scanning snippets from a dozen different newspapers accounts of minor skirmishes in the midst of World War Two with no reference to either the European or Pacific theaters.
One of the rooms at our church had been fitted with a marker board wall upon which I sketched ideas about a multi-year curriculum that would, beginning at about the age of three, thoroughly teach the big picture of what God is doing in all of human history. Within this grand narrative the major themes of the Bible would be covered in depth, demonstrating how the well known–and lesser known–stories fit within the larger framework. Alas, once the idea was sketched, owing to too little time and resources, it never took flight. It turned out to be one of those, “If only…” moments that pastors often have.
Fast forward to 2011 when, in the provision of God, I was hired at LifeWay Christian Resources. My role is not in that of curriculum development or writing, but I quickly heard of a new study being readied for release: “The Gospel Project.” I was very excited to hear that it functioned very similarly to what I had envisioned not too long ago. From the LifeWay News department press release:
‘The release of The Gospel Project marks the first time in more than a decade that LifeWay will release ongoing studies for children, students and adults under one theme,’ [Managing Editor, Trevin] Wax noted.
The Gospel Project, slated for preorder in June, will feature a three-year study plan with 13-week units, each using an age-appropriate voice, depth and course of study. Bible study resources will be available in multiple formats, such as print, downloadable, as well as e-reader and mobile app formats.
This is how General Editor, Ed Stetzer, describes the process:
‘We brought together a group of scholars, pastors and church leaders to speak into this project at the outset…We received direction regarding the topics we would cover, the approach we would take – Christ-centered, mission-driven, shaped around the narrative of God’s redemptive plan – and the level of accessibility we should strive for.’
In case you skimmed over it, The Gospel Project is a three year course of study during which children, students and adults cover the big picture of scripture. This has within it the seeds of great discussion starters for families who are in church together.
One thing I really like about this course of study is the student material. It is deep from the outset. I firmly believe students need to be challenged in their thinking about the Kingdom and the lack of such a challenge has contributed to apathy and disinterest. There are only so many different ways you can tell students, “Don’t drink. Don’t use drugs. Don’t cuss. Don’t have sex until you are married.” Too much supposed “Bible study” for students has become a more theological version of Dr. Phil. It tends toward, as Dallas Willard puts it, “sin management.” Consider this excerpt from The Gospel Project Personal Study Guide for Students on the sin of pride:
HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT about what makes Christianity unique as a religion? You might think about stuff like the virgin birth, miracles, or the prophecies of the old Testament, but think about this, too: Christianity is the only religion that tells people how bad they are.
According to Emil Brunner, the Swiss theologian: “All other religions spare us the ultimate humiliation of being stripped naked and being declared bankrupt before God.” That’s pretty strong language.
And yet it points to the humiliating nature of Christianity. Other world religions don’t treat humanity with such pessimism. In all other schools of thought, we have something to bring to the table. We can strive toward God and meet Him, and in a sense, be congratulated when we do.
In Christianity, we bring nothing to the table. In fact, the only thing we bring to the table with God is the sin we need to be rescued from. Perhaps that’s why, if we look back into history, Christianity has been called the religion of women and slaves. In cultures of the past, neither of those two groups had many rights, so it wasn’t a far stretch for them to admit their abject need of God’s complete and total intervention on their behalf.
The bottom line is this: The one character flaw that has, and will continue to, keep most people from Christ is not greed. It’s not lust. It’s not lying or stealing or killing. It’s pride. That’s the only thing there is no room for at the foot of the cross.
Recognizing that today’s students have grown up in an image oriented culture, student books use well done graphical presentations like the one pictured below to enhance the text-based sections.
The adult material delves even more deeply with important theological concepts, and scattered quotes from both early church and current theologians. Consider this section from and adult lesson on general and specific revelation (followed by a sidebar quote):
How is God’s “divine nature” revealed through what we see? One of the clearest imprints is not just in the way we search for objects to worship but is right here inside, in the way we think and act. We read in Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female.”
Because we are creatures made in God’s image, we have innate senses and compulsions that point to the reality of God’s divine nature. Of course, we are not divine ourselves, and after the fall of mankind, the image of God in us is obscured and broken. Still, we can nevertheless see that mankind’s generally innate sense of justice and fairness, compulsion to create, ability to express and experience love, and frequent appeals to conscience all point away from our being the evolved result of a random electric current in a primordial goop.
‘One effect of a persisting objective revelation is an uneasiness with our state, a longing and groping. We are restless with our condition, “knowing” we are made for more, in a quest for “transcendence,” and engaged in speculation about human homelessness in the philosophies of our own time.’ –Gabriel Fakre
If you are a pastor, minister of education, small group leader, spiritual formation pastor or anyone with Sunday School/LifeGroup/Small Group buying authority give an in depth look at The Gospel Project. If I were pastoring a church right now implementing this would be a top priority. You can download pdf copies of the Personal Study Guide for Students and the Adult Leader Guide as well as view a video introduction to the children’s curriculum.
To download multiple samples of curriculum for children of all ages please visit The Gospel Project samples page.