We first met with the team of children’s ministry volunteers at Temple Eben-Ezer in Lome earlier this year. There are about 12 of them, each one a volunteer. They are men and women, married and single, young adults, and middle-aged, each with his or her own job and family to attend to. But they come every week to teach around 300 children between the ages of 2-16 the word of God.
“Tell us what you are doing,” we asked them. “How do you decide what to teach each week? Are you using a curriculum?”
An uncomfortable silence followed. They eyed each other nervously, each one hoping another would speak. Finally a young man in his twenties smiled shyly, “No,” he said. “We don’t have anything. We meet every week. We decide who will lead the music and who will lead the prayer and who will teach from the Bible. We decide what the Bible theme will be. Then we come on Sunday and teach it.”
“What are your biggest challenges?” we asked them.
“We need training,” they said. A few of them nodded and another one raised his hand, commenting that he had been to one of our training seminars. “And we need curriculum.”
Temple Eben-Ezer is normal. In fact, curriculum for the children’s programs is one of the three most-often expressed needs in Children’s ministries across Africa.
As KidMin missionaries, one of our number one priorities is to-
- Locate usable materials for Africa and facilitate their translation and distribution, and
- Create new, culturally appropriate materials
why do african churches need curriculum?
This may seem like a softball question, but let’s take it apart and examine it. Why do they need curriculum? Can they not teach directly from their Bibles? Children’s ministry is as old as the church, but children’s curriculum is a relatively new concept.
African kids ministries need curriculum because they need solid biblical content.
Children’s pastors in Africa are almost unheard of. Most of those involved in children’s ministry are volunteers. They may be adults, or it may be teenagers teaching the children. Many are new believers themselves. And in order to faithfully teach the Bible, they have to adequately understand the Bible. A good curriculum provides solid, Bible-based, doctrinally-sound content.
african kids ministries need curriculum because the teachers are largely under-trained.
Most children’s ministry volunteers in this part of the world lack any personal experience with creative teaching methods.
I was raised in the suburban American church. I am familiar with a flannel-graph Bible story, a memory verse game, what an object lesson is, etc. But across most of our region, those teaching children were taught as children using rote-memory and lecture-based learning. They were taught to repeat what the teacher says and to sit down and listen to the teacher talk. It’s what they know.
In our efforts to train teachers how to disciple children, how to transform their lives, we constantly stress the importance of teaching in a way that children will learn– that is to say, abandon lecture-style teaching, or preaching a sermon to children. Use methods that allow children to participate, to be involved in church, and to be active and vibrant members of the church, not just pew-warmers.
In fact, we kind of have a catchphrase we stress in all of our training:
The more you participate, the more you learn.
But if the teachers don’t have any frame of reference to even know what those kinds of methods look like, and they don’t have a curriculum to tell them how, they fall back on what they know- lecturing, preaching, and reciting.
african kids ministries need curriculum because they need comprehensive biblical content,
If you are writing your own lessons, week after week, month after month, how do you know if you’ve covered the entire Bible in the years that children pass through your ministry? How do you know that you have covered the broad range of topics that children need to hear in order to build their faith? How do you know if you’ve spent too much time teaching about the life of Joseph and not enough time teaching about the life of David? A well-written curriculum is intentionally planned to teach a broad and balanced range of topics, and to tie the Bible into one cohesive story.
So now that we know why. . . .
what makes materials USABLE in the african context?
A good curriculum covers a broad range of topics, and has been written to intentionally give children balanced spiritual nourishment. A good curriculum in any country, in any church, should always be Biblically-based, doctrinally-sound and comprehensive. But in addition to these criteria, what else are we looking for?
In order to be usable by a local African church, it must also be:
In a language the teacher can read.
If we can find materials in English, French, Portuguese, or Swahili, we can cover most of Africa. We can also cross-translate materials.
A curriculum that requires A/V equipment, supplemental materials or costly supplies is out of reach. Even one that requires photocopies, crayons & craft sticks is probably out of reach.
Children in this region are not familiar with western cultural references. Going deeper, even some of the issues children here face are different than issues faced by children in western cultures. A curriculum here needs to be able to challenge children to deeper faith in their own daily reality.
Unfortunately, this excludes 99% * of American curriculum from being usable in Africa. We hate to be Negative Nellies, but importing donated and out of date materials from the US really doesn’t help our churches. If you are interested in more information on why this is the case, please click this link to read my previous post, “The Donated Curriculum Conundrum.”
*May be poetic license, but you get the idea.
Locating and distributing existing materials
Why re-invent the wheel? We are always on the lookout for existing materials that are usable here. We look for materials that meet the above requirements, and we look for materials that incorporate creative teaching methods. How can we tell our teachers they need to teach creatively so that children learn, and then give them materials that don’t?
There just isn’t much that fills all of these requirements. But we are always on the lookout.
We ask Missionaries:
Missionaries have been here for decades and many of them have written materials for children. We just have to locate them. We ask everyone we meet. We ask other organizations. We ask other regions of the world. “Do you have any materials you’d be willing to share?”Then we put them on an online library that we all can access. It’s all about sharing.
we ask national churches:
National churches have written some of their own materials. The country of Togo has been producing Sunday school material and distributing them to all of their 2,000 + churches for at least ten years. This material contains good content, but is weak on creative ideas. So what can we do to help them strengthen it? We can help them add creative teaching methods! This way, they create a product that is both 100% theirs, and still effective at discipling children. We are also encouraging them share too!
Finally, we are working to translate the materials we do locate into other languages to widen their availability. One of our ongoing projects right now is the translation of an age-graded French curriculum. Eight years of Sunday school materials, already available in French, soon to also be available in English. This is a big step forward!
Creating New Materials
Creating new materials is a very labor-intensive process. That’s why we’d rather locate existing materials first! But in some cases, creating brand new materials is the best option.
We are currently involved in a project to create new Children’s church materials. The project, whose working title is “Principles for Life” is a cooperative effort between every region of the world. Missionaries and national people from all over the world contribute individual lessons which are being compiled into five years worth of curriculum. The lessons are specifically written for use in churches with little or no financial means, for use by teachers with little or no training. Currently, year one is complete, year two is in the editing process, and year three is completely written and waiting for editing. Translation is also in process into French, with the possibility of Portuguese to follow. We are serving as the coordinators of the project, facilitating the French translation, and we have input on the editing team.
The slideshow below shows a lesson from the Principles for Life Materials. Notice that the only props required are items that someone in a developing nation can find in their home, their neighbors home, or on the way to church. The activities are simple and the materials cover the entire Bible in five years.
HOW CAN I BE INVOLVED?
Thank you so much for your interest in The Malcolms in Africa Curriculum Campaign. We would be glad to answer any further questions you might have about the project, and we appreciate your partnership. Together, we can build children’s ministry in Africa, reaching a generation for Christ and shaping the future of a continent.