Many parents, who don’t find the religion they learned as children very useful in their adult lives, still find themselves coming back to church with their children, hoping to give them a sense of community, ritual, and a spiritual grounding. But the curriculum in most Sunday Schools, even within progressive churches, has been more of a barrier than an asset. A Joyful Path is a new curriculum for children ages 6-10 from www.progressivechristianity.org (formerly The Center for Progressive Christianity/www.tcpc.org) and it is a “breath of fresh air”. This curriculum is offered in response to an aching desire by parents with a progressive Christian faith for spiritual education that will not require them to “de-program” their children from traditional Christianity when they get older.
Most Christian education curricula are premised on the unspoken orthodoxy of traditional Christianity. The-Big-Guy-in-the-Sky as metaphor for God, the magical Jesus who walks on water, and a “place” called heaven are the three legs of the traditional Christian stool. For progressive Christians, many would simply rather not subject their children to the idea of a judgmental God, a superhero Jesus, and a human community divided between the saved and unsaved. For them, A Joyful Path is truly an answer to prayer.
A side-by-side comparison of the various curricula on the market today shows the disparities and highlights what exactly A Joyful Path can offer. One example of a self-avowed evangelical curriculum is called Discipleland. Its stated purpose is to “train children in Christian Discipleship”. The downright scary part of their pedagogy is the idea that “introducing them to a Bible-times culture” will at all prepare them for serious biblical scholarship.
Seasons of the Spirit is the mainline ecumenical curriculum that serves the historic protestant churches. Seasons of the Spirit does not have the sharp elbows of Discipleland. The drawback is its feet being so firmly planted in the bible-based schedule of the lectionary, which dictates what scripture passages and themes are dealt with each week. This rigidity leads to an embarrassing situation raised in the lesson on the calling of the first disciples. The eminently bourgeois commitments of the mainline curriculum are on full display when the teacher material warns that “the passage about the disciples quitting their jobs (as fishermen) and leaving their families to follow Jesus may well stir feelings of abandonment and insecurity among the children who have had parents leave because of divorce”. In other words, Jesus is nice to talk about, but we would never do what he actually said! This is exactly the kind of watered down faith that has allowed the evangelicals and fundamentalists to raid the membership of the liberal pews and caused so many more to simply leave asking, “Why bother with religion at all?”
A Joyful Path utilizes this same story, but leads the teacher and the children to first examine how much of life is fully lived when people are open and willing to try new things! How refreshing. In contrast to the fear-based approach of both the evangelical and mainline curricula, A Joyful Path lives up to its name and nurtures the kind of carefree, faith filled attitude that we find so evident in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Using a theme driven curriculum rather than a lectionary based curriculum, the designers of A Joyful Path have based their lesson plans on a set of spiritual values rather than an arbitrary list of bible stories that have no coherent message. The central idea for each lesson is expressed as an affirmation and a verse from the Bible. Each lesson illustrates the main learning with a story, gleaning from the Bible, biographies, legends of saints, and folktales from a variety of cultures. The illustrations are beautiful and inclusive in their depiction of race and socio-economic differences.
A Joyful Path is little concerned with the magical, fantastic and esoteric aspects of what has been called the “Jesus of faith”. Many of the lessons focus on ways we can emulate the same practical compassion with others as Jesus so often demonstrated. This is the heart of the gospel for progressive Christianity, learning about what the “historical Jesus” said and did and let that shape our lives. Another advantage of this new curriculum is that it fully recognizes that not all spiritual people will sit in a pew. The home version of this curriculum engages the parent-teacher on their own spiritual journey as they lead their children down “A Joyful Path”.
Evangelical Discipleland offers to build obedient children. Seasons of the Spirit offers to create informed children. But only A Joyful Path offers children the opportunity to learn the core values of following the way of Jesus as they grow into an understanding of what that means at each stage of their lives. It is fun, interactive, hope-filled, and encourages children to see themselves as interconnected to all, preparing them for a life time of compassion and love for others. For more information go to www.progressivechristianity.org.