Contextualizing Curriculum: Moving From Author to Editor

I have to confess: my first few years in youth ministry, I was anti-curriculum.  I thought they were overly simplistic, irrelevant, theologically unsound, or worst of all, boring!

My stance toward curriculum has changed. I used to think that being the author of my own stuff was the only sure way to express my theological convictions.  But as any good teacher will tell you, even the author needs to edit his or her own work.  Editing is a delicate process of rewording, removing, and re-envisioning an already fixed direction.  Sometimes the process actually reworks the direction itself, but most of the time, editing means that the author is revising his or her work to better fit his or her context.

Any good curriculum can and should be contextualized; meaning, it should be tailored to fit one’s theological convictions and the cultural realties within a particular community of faith.   It was a difficult switch for me, but moving from author to editor has served my ministry’s goals well.

Using XP3’s curriculum means that I have a thematic direction, biblical reflection that gives substance to the direction, illustrations that flesh-out the direction, and creative resources that give artistic edge to the direction.   Creating these on my own would be fun but time and energy consuming. By letting go of authoring a series I can move into the role of editor and maximize my time by reworking the material to better fit my context.

Take “The Never Ending Story” two-week series as an example.  Story is something our group had been talking through all year by the time we landed in the Advent season: God’s story, our stories, and learning from other people’s stories.  “The Never Ending Story” theme was an appropriate and consistent reflection on the Christmas story for our group during Advent.

As editor of this series, I contextualized the lessons for my group’s format and for my ministry’s theological convictions.  For me, this process involves making four key editing moves:

    • Going through the teaching script, I make sure I have the themes, the key language, and some of the better illustrations down.  This often involves me creating my own outline from the teaching script in the language common to my ministry.
    • I create my own “bottom line” – the one crystal clear statement I want my group to walk away with.  Sometimes the XP3 curriculum’s “bottom line” fits perfectly.  Other times, I take another concept the teaching script eludes to, and create my own.
    • I cut out parts that I think don’t add to the “bottom line”.  Pragmatically, I’m also considering my time constraints here, often reducing the original teaching script by more than half in order to better fit my group’s time frame and attention spans.
    • Lastly, I add my own creative touch.  Sometimes it involves a video I come across that segues nicely into the theme.   While preparing part 1 of “The Never Ending Story”, I remembered a video called “The Digital Story of the Nativity” on Youtube I had come across a year prior.  Instead of using the teaching script’s opening anecdote, I used this video to start a conversation about some of the familiar and not-so-familiar themes in the Christmas story.

All this takes a little work on my part – about 3-4 hours worth.  But this is considerably less time as compared to writing a series from scratch.  Also, working with a curriculum forces me to engage the theological convictions and teaching style of others, something that, in and of itself, makes me a better thinker and teacher.  XP3 has some great thinkers and creative collaborators on their end, and putting on my editing hat in order to work through their curriculum has helped me become a better steward of my ministry time and resources.  Over time, and with some maturity, I’ve learned to be pro-curriculum while still being attentive to the realities of my own context.

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Bio for Ray A. Medina

I am  Associate Youth Director at First Presbyterian Church of Burlingame, just south of San Francisco, CA.  I have been in full-time youth ministry for 6 years and have a MDiv from Fuller Theological Seminary.  I have been married to my wife, Jeannine, for 7 years, and she and I are expecting a firstborn son in April 2012.

 

Orange Conference 2018