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Renewed ‘Biblical instruction model’ at heart of BSSB 21st-century plans

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–To minister effectively in the “new world” of the 21st century, Christian educators must return to “a biblical model of instruction that calls believers to hear from God and obey him.”
That’s one of three “inescapable conclusions” made by Southern Baptist Sunday School Board leaders following months of research into the type of biblical studies curriculum and ministry design needed for the new millennium.
“Somewhere along the path of the 20th century, Christian education meandered off of the ‘narrow road’ and embraced many of the practices and world views of the ‘broad road,'” Louis Hanks, director of the biblical studies department in the board’s Bible teaching-reaching division, said.
“The need for God was softened with human potential. The altar of self-sacrifice was removed to make room for the altar of success with Christians consumed with ‘my rights,’ ‘my time,’ ‘my possessions’ and ‘my conveniences.’ The siren sounds of sin were drowned out by the trumpeting of self-esteem. Obedience and submission were replaced by meeting felt needs, or ‘What’s in it for me?'”
Hanks, whose department publishes more than 700 Bible study lessons a year for three dated curriculum series, gave a progress report on development of the BSSB’s “21st century curriculum and ministry design” to state Sunday school directors and associates gathered for annual planning meetings Dec. 8-9 in Nashville, Tenn.
Curriculum theory and design for Christian education has been “significantly influenced” by both biblical and secular educational ideas and concepts regarding the nature of reality, truth, the teacher, the learner and methodology, Hanks said.
“While curriculum design can benefit from general learning theory and research findings from secular theorists, Bible study educational models throughout the course of the 20th century — especially the last four years — have had a tendency to place an overreliance on secular educational theory for curriculum design and instruction. … We talk about Maslow, Piaget, Bruner, Erikson, Elkind, Bloom and Knowles, when we need to learn how to grow in godliness from Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Peter, John, Paul and Jesus.”
Hanks said board leaders also affirmed a need for “a new generation of leaders to discover for themselves a vision of the Sunday school as the ‘Great Commission’ school of the church.”
Baptisms in the SBC have remained flat for the last 16 years, with more than 20,000 churches baptizing five or fewer people in 1995-96. In response, BSSB leaders at the same December planning meeting announced plans for “FAITH,” a new strategy designed to “marry” evangelism and a church’s Sunday school organization. Members in participating churches agree to attend 16 training sessions and practice what they learn in home visits. The strategy also includes weekly meetings for Sunday school teachers and group leaders, intentional discipleship and plans for assimilating new Christians into the life of the church.
Sharing the BSSB leaders’ final conclusion, Hanks said despite 150 years of Southern Baptists’ intentional efforts to teach people the Bible, there is limited evidence of spiritual transformation in the lives of believers. One recent Gallup Poll, for example, showed little difference in the ethical beliefs and behavior of believers and non-Christians.
With that discouraging discovery in mind, a team of BSSB leaders from the Bible teaching-reaching, discipleship and family development and church leadership services divisions has been meeting in recent months to develop a practical model of “spiritual transformation” for use in the local church.
“We’re losing people at the altar,” Roy Edgemon, director of the board’s discipleship and family development division, said in a report to the state workers. “We don’t establish them in their faith, so many are beginning with a crippled experience. They are being shortchanged because they don’t fully realize what God can do in their lives.”
The spiritual transformation team meets “almost weekly,” Edgemon said, discussing issues such as the promises of God to new believers; the centrality of Christ; and definitions of terms such as “transformation,” “assimilation,” “discipleship” and “sanctification.” They are drawing from their own research and input from Christian authors and theologians.
“I think we’ll have a model developed by January or February,” Edgemon said, adding he believes it “will serve as a foundation for biblical studies and discipleship curriculum for many years ahead.”
In developing its 21st-century curriculum and ministry design, Hanks said the BSSB also is considering what he called “10 threats to the church.” They are:
1) a secular society permeated by the “truth is relative” philosophy.
2) the rise of alternate belief systems within a pluralistic culture.
3) a startling level of biblical illiteracy among believers.
4) a laity increasingly incapable of expressing a doctrinal apologetic.
5) believers who ignore or deny biblical authority and obedience.
6) the rise of the “every-other-Sunday” member and teacher.
7) Christians who give about 5 percent of their weekly time to spiritual activity.
8) a fractured methodological approach to Christian education in the church.
9) a low level of commitment to ongoing training and service.
10) a low level of commitment of Sunday school members to Bible study preparation.
The Sunday School Board also is involving state convention, association and local church leaders in its development process. More than 400 people attended a “Bible Teaching-Reaching Summit” earlier this year in Nashville to give input on the new curriculum and ministry design.
“We plan to launch our new 21st-century designs in September of 2000,” Hanks said. “We are deliberately soliciting input and feedback and looking at every area of our work.”

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  • Chip Alford