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Lifeway Sunday School Literature Fails Again

July 9, 2007 by Jeff Wright

Did you know movies are “more effective” in evangelism than the church? I sure didn’t – at least not until I read ahead in my church’s Sunday School Literature that is. This wonderful revelation came courtesy of curriculum purchased from our dear Lifeway Christian Resources. (If you are wondering, this is the specific Lifeway product I’m talking about: Bible Studies for Life: LifeWORDS KJV Learner Guide – Summer 07).

Read it for yourself:

LifeWORDS Summer 07 Cover
Lesson: Sharing Christ with All People
Week of July 15

Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia is a Southern Baptist church that is challenging conventional wisdom with regard to ministry. On Friday, September 29, 2006, Facing the Giants was released to theaters nationwide. This film tells the story of Grant Taylor, a coach at Shiloh High, a Christian high school. Coach Taylor and his teams have endured the humiliation of six straight losing seasons. The coach not only faces challenges of “giants” at work but at home as well. As the story unfolds, viewers see Grant turn to God with his struggles. The result is a powerful movie that grapples with the realities of life in authentic and profound ways. Produced for $100,000 “ a fraction of the cost of most movies today” Facing the Giants was a ministry project for Sherwood Baptist. Brothers Stephen and Alex Kendrick, associate pastors at Sherwood, wrote the screenplay. Alex produced and directed the movie and stars in it. Many donated time, effort, and money. Yet, despite all the “volunteer” hours that went into making this film, it is not an amateur, second-rate production. Sherwood’s senior pastor Machael [sic] Catt and executive pastor Jim McBride strongly believed in and supported the project from the beginning. They had read a report from George Barna stating movies were more influential than churches. If that’s true, Sherwood’s leaders said, churches need to start making movies themselves (see Plugged In Online’s Review;Breakpoint.Org’s Review). What a contrast to the negative Hollywood portrayals of Christians and media misrepresentations of Christ like those presented in The DaVinci Code.

I’m not suprised to hear something like that coming from George Barna. He’s no friend of the church, that is well established (if you aren’t familiar, his book Revolution informed the Christian world that the local church was an obsolete concept). I am however very surprised to see that family of drivel advanced through the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, particularly when my church paid money to Lifeway for the material under the (increasingly revealed to be naive) assumption that we would be receiving Biblically solid material.

I don’t know for sure that the staff of Sherwood Baptist Church really concluded that a movie is more effective than the local church at sharing the gospel. I hope not. If they have, I pray God grants them grace to repent. I also don’t know if James Burke, Director of Missions for the Lafayette and Marshall Baptist Associations in north Mississippi, (who the inside cover of the learner guide indicates wrote this section of the book) really believes the church has lost effectiveness in relation to movies. If so, my hopes and prayers for him are the same as what I wrote about Sherwood BC’s staff.

The egregious trouble with this publication, however, doesn’t rest with Sherwood BC, James Burke, or Facing the Giants. The problem is with the doctrinal accountability evidenced (or lack thereof) in Lifeway material. This is now the third strike for Lifway’s literature at my church (Strike One and Strike Two) and quite frankly I’m done as soon as I can find a better alternative. As a bi-vocational pastor I don’t have time to write every item of teaching material that is used in our church. My hope is to review and correct what we purchase. The continual failure of Lifeway to provide a useful resource to my church leads me to conclude that I’m going to have to find another source of curriculum or clear out more time for writing. Is it any wonder our churches are full of spiritually anemic Christians or, conversely, hemorrhaging believers, when this is the kind of material we put in their hands? God help the church who doesn’t have someone to examine what they buy from Lifeway.

So why am I writing? First, to let other concerned Pastors and laity know that what is coming out of Nashville must be examined with a fine toothed comb. Secondly, it’s to encourage those who might be able to influence Lifeway to let whoever you can know that there are people out there like myself who are tired of finding poor doctrine and the denigration of the church in the material they are purchasing. Lastly, I’m appealing to anyone who might read this (small chance, I know) to let me know if they are aware of a solid source of curriculum for use in Sunday School and Discipleship Training contexts and where I might find it.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.


23 Comments »

  1. Terry Felton says:

    Jeff, our church has spent the summer reviewing different SS curriculums and by the fall we are going to have very few classes using the Lifeway material for most of the reasons you mentioned. I hope though that in time these materials will get better but I don’t know when that time will come

  2. Jeff says:

    Terry, thanks for the information. Any of the curriculums you reviewed stand out for recommendation?

  3. Roy says:

    It looks like from your quote that it says that “movies are more influential than churches.” Did you not quote where it says “movies are ‘more effective’ in evangelism than the church”? I didn’t see that in the quote you pulled. Just tyring to understand how you came to that conclusion.

    Have you seen this movie by the way?

  4. Terry Felton says:

    We’re actually having a meeting this Sunday to talk about the curriculum that has been tried for some of the summer period

  5. Jeff says:

    Roy,

    While your point about the literal term I used in discussing the lesson is correct (it does technically say “influential” as opposed to “effective”) it is a meaningless quibble. The story comes in the context of a lesson about evangelism and even if that were not the case “effective” is a perfectly reasonable synonym for “influential” in this case. Feel free to substitute “influential” for “effective” the three places I’ve used the word. My point will be unaffected regardless.

    Terry,

    I would love to know the fruits of your meeting.

  6. Joshua Manning says:

    You might want to check out some of RC Sprouls literature designed for small group teaching. A friend of mine was using “Essentials of the Christian faith” for a few years in his class. It went over basic doctrines, and how they relate to an overarching view of the bible. Better, it is made to be read by people with little or no systematic understanding of the Bible. So it’s not like pulling out John Frame and letting people read themselves to boredom.

    A second thing that our church has been using since before I began attending, is the smaller catechism for children. I know this sounds dry and dull and PCA-esque, but the kids really enjoy it (or fake it well) and they are learning a good foundation for the rest of life. It is better than them learning that Billy used to lie, now he doesn’t so he’s a good boy, which is most of the moralism-approach most curriculi use now.

    Just some ideas to get lifeway free. Not everything they do is bad, but its getting that way.

  7. Jared Moore says:

    Jeff,

    Mark Dever’s church offers much of their Sunday School Curriculum for free on their website. I d/l all of it the other day. It includes teaching manuscripts, plus student handouts.

    Mark Dever’s Church – Sunday School Curriculum

    Here is the .zip file for all the classes available on Mark Dever’s Church’s website. The total size is roughly 14 mb.

    Also, a good website is: http://www.goodtheology.com

    It’s a bookstore with discernment. It is reformed though… more than us :).

  8. Jared Moore says:

    By the Way,

    Here’s the Link for the Website where I d/l this curriculum from.

  9. Robert Vreugde says:

    I think movies are more influential (in the short run) than a typical church service. Movies reach a wider audience and have a larger sensory/philosophical impact – and they are designed to do that. That influence is often negative and churches scramble to try and repair the damage. Look at how the church flailed around in response to the recent “Da Vinci Code” movie.

    Nevertheless, that aside, I think that Lifeway sucks. I hate it. My church is addicted to Lifeway. The result is the most dumbed down Sunday school ministry I have experienced in the 35 years that I have been a Christian.

    We walk in lockstep with Lifeway to the point that no one is permitted to teach a Sunday school class from their heart, their life and/or the Word of God – unless one can somehow squeeze that into the canned lesson. We even have a class taught by a PhD Seminary professor, who also is an Army chaplain, where our church will not even allow him to develop his own lesson plan. Everything must be done according to Lifeway.

    I would not look for another canned curriculum though. The problem isn’t just Lifeway – its this ever increasing reliance upon the pre-packed bible lessons – which are becoming more and more dumbed down to appeal to the supposedly dumbed down “seeker” person. who may or may not wander into our church on Sunday morning.

    Instead, get rid of the canned curriculums altogether. You will save the money wasted on “seeker pabulum”, give more freedom to the Holy Spirit and to some degree, force people to learn how to study the bible for themselves. Let the Lord Jesus speak through people and let them develop their Sunday school lessons based on their own gifting. If they want to use source material or Bible study helps that is fine. But as long as they are not teaching heresy, let them alone to minister to their classes. The canned lesson plans are a crutch at best and a motivation for intellectual & spiritual slothfulness at worst. I say “can the canned curriculums”.

  10. Chris says:

    Thanks for the heads up. I was looking at getting lifeway but now, no way.
    Chris

  11. Chris says:

    Forgot to leave a curriculum source Here is a good source
    http://www.abaptist.org/curriculum.html

  12. GaitherLover57 says:

    I work at Lifeway, leave them alone!!!!!!!

  13. leatrice says:

    i am not of your faith but have found that FHES (Family Health Education Services) are a reliable souce. everything is bibically base. some may even tell where in the Bible it is talking about.

  14. Jeff says:

    Leatrice,

    I appreciate the mention but the “About Us” section of their site seems pretty vague. Any further information on their doctrinal position?

  15. Jeff,

    I’ve been using Lifeway material on which to put together my lessons and I’m able to put together a good, Bible based lesson. The lessons are discussion type lessons where the teacher poses the question which draws the learners to look at what the passage says and what it means and the applications. I use some of the questions from the Lifeway resources and some from a piece of software called WORDSearch.

    I have posted these lessons for several years now and have an archive of over 400 lessons — free to download and use. They are at http://www.letu.edu/people/stevearmstrong/SundaySchool/sunday_school_lessons.htm

    I’m getting between 3000 – 4000 page hits per week for the last few months.

  16. Jeff Wright says:

    Steve,

    Thanks so much for sharing that. I’ll be checking it out.

  17. Gloria Morrison says:

    Hi Jeff, I’m a Sunday school director for a SBC in the Charlotte, NC area. I absolutely agree with your analysis of Lifeway Literature. I’ve known it was weak doctrinely for a long time, but I couldn’t do anything about it as a teacher. I began quizzing our teachers about their impressions of the material. I was stunned to find out that I was not alone in my opinion. In most of the children’s literature, the lesson portion is less than a page long with 5 plus meaningless activities that did nothing to delve into Scripture. Down through the years I’ve used many different curricula. Without a doubt, the stand out material is Regular Baptist Press out of Schaumburg, Il. It’s comprehensive in it’s approach to God’s Word for every age. check it out. In Service to Him, GHMorrison

  18. Jeff says:

    Gloria,

    Thanks so much for the recommendation. I’ll certainly check them out. I will say that I’ve got high hopes for the new Lifeway product called The Gospel Project. Have you looked at it?

  19. Lula S. Singletary says:

    Through the many years of using Lifeway resources I have found them to be an excellent guide. The presenters are well-equipped to teach and present interpretations of Scripture. I daresay credentials of Lifeway presenters meet or exceed the qualifications of their detractors. No one has a corner on the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has led in discussing controversial insertions, to our benefit, or deleting them. When I have personally disagreed with a writer, he was gracious and gave a well-reasoned response.The feel I get from the detractor has no doubt roots in some other root

  20. David Warren says:

    The Gospel Project is heavy calvinism

  21. Jeff Wright says:

    David,

    No it isn’t.

  22. David Hardy Jr says:

    WOW!! I was glad to find this reviews as relevant as of Sept of 2012 which is just a few months removed. I am currently making attempts at reviewing Sunday School curriculum as of now Im trying to decide on David C Cook vs Lifeway of which I understand Ed Stetzer to be the Editor. I actually like The Gospel Project what I’m struggling with is with this question what am I trying to accomplish in Sunday School? Life Lessons or an Introduction to the Bible book by book that allows for in depth study. So would The Gospel Project be recommended over Explore the Bible

  23. Jeff says:

    Our church is starting The Gospel Project in December. I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen although there are still kinks to work out in the ordering (example: the supplemental visual pack we ordered ended up being for the last quarter’s material). However, more than Ed Stetzer, I’m encouraged by Trevin Wax’s involvement and the strengths of the curriculum on teaching the whole of Scripture as part of God’s Big Story (for lack of a better term). We went with it (a) because we wanted to give Lifeway one more shot and (b) it puts our separate SS groups on the same page – it should facilitate more cross-generational conversation on spiritual issue. It also puts all the children on the same page (so a dad can talk to all his kids at the same time about what they learned in SS).

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