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Sugar-Coated Truth

Expertly Balanced Between Sweet & Meat

by Mikal Keefer

It was the worst day of her life.

Dragged out of an adulterous bed by silent men. Shoved into the dirt in front of Jesus. Through the drapery of her hair, she watched her accusers shift on their feet, their hands clutched in angry fists.

They were hungry to kill her, and she could do nothing about it. Nothing.

And then--they disappeared. Walked away. And hunched before her, one knee in the dust, leaned Jesus. And Jesus said, "So, you know you're a sinner, right? Interested in hearing four spiritual laws?"

Um…not exactly.

Instead, Jesus engaged this woman where she was, helping her experience the truth she was ready to embrace. He wasn't soft on sharing Bible content; he was giving her what she was able to receive at the moment.

Sort of like the best teachers do with children in their care.

The notion that today's curriculum is somehow "soft" on Scripture, sanitized and gutless, is flat-out wrong.

Well, okay, some curricula do have an imbalanced focus more on character development or denominational purity. But walk into a reasonably resourced Christian bookstore, swing a flannel graph, and you'll hit a curriculum kit that delivers solid, appropriate Bible lessons.

Bible lessons that point kids to Christ.

They are out there--you just have to look.

And after 30-plus years of working with kids in church, I think the best of what's now available is the best that's ever been available. Period. Here's why...

Developmentally Appropriate

When I was a child, I heard about stakes through heads, spilling seed, and horsemen thundering at me from the heavens. And then, in third grade, the lessons got really graphic.

Our Sunday school believed in marching through Bible books page by page…which means we heard stuff that all but traumatized us. It simply wasn't appropriate. Some of Scripture's more gruesome and complicated content isn't for young children. Leaving it out of your teaching isn't being soft on Scripture; it's being wise.

Kind of like Jesus, who tailored his message to his audience. He didn't compromise--but he didn't dump extraneous stuff on people, either. He met them where they were.

Repetition-That's a Good Thing

Curriculum that covers the same 40 or 50 Bible stories repeatedly during the elementary years is actually solid educational theory. Would you prefer your curriculum touch each Bible event just once and then move on? What would kids' retention look like?

Good curriculum lets preschoolers explore Noah through pans of water and floating boats. In third grade, the Noah lens may be obedience to God. Hitting Noah more than once deepens understanding, builds on knowledge.

Simpler and More Applicable

One-point learning has most curricula zeroing in on one passage per lesson rather than hop-scotching around the Bible. I don't see that as problematic because my goal isn't for children to know everything the Bible says about grace.

It's to know enough about grace for my kids to come to Jesus.

Then they become hungry to know more, to seek out Bible knowledge on their own. And if that seems idealistic, so be it: I trust the Holy Spirit to work in their lives.


Here's what I remember about my Sunday school teachers: nothing.

That's because curriculum used to be all about the lessons…and now much of it is about relationships--relationships between kids, between kids and their teachers, and between kids and God.

The best curriculum builds in time for discoveries to happen through discussion and prayer. For friendships to develop and grow. And, frankly, that can happen no matter what Bible content you're covering.

Yes, you want your kids to know the Bible. But more important is kids getting to know God--and that's not just about head knowledge. Publishers don't consider their stuff inspired and infallible. And neither should you.

If you feel a lesson isn't delivering enough Bible content--add some. Just don't throw out the baby with the bathwater (that's not in the Bible, but it should be) by abandoning the opportunities for relationship, prayer, and application.

Mikal Keefer has served in children's ministry for 30 years. He's the senior editor for LifeTree Café (

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