When I lived in Washington, D.C., I commuted by subway. On most days you could hear a pin drop during these rides because Washingtonians are allergic to talking with strangers. But one morning, an Ethiopian man sitting next to me struck up a conversation. He asked about my background, and then about my religious beliefs. I gave him the general rundown, but he probed for specifics. When I finally told him I was a Calvinist, he looked stunned. Then he said, “You’re wearing very bright clothes for a Calvinist.”
The words “Calvinist” and “Reformed” don’t mean a whole lot to people outside our faith tradition. And increasingly, people inside CRC churches are saying,“Reformed? Whatever.”
So why does the Christian Reformed Church have a publishing agency like Faith Alive Christian Resources dedicated to producing materials from a Reformed perspective? Is it all about indoctrination? About perpetuating our CRC species?
No way. Like it or not, the days of memorizing huge chunks of the Heidelberg Catechism or spouting the five points of TULIP to strangers are gone. So are the days of thinking Reformed people are the only ones with the corner on truth. But in today’s techno-driven, mile-a-minute, messed-up world, a Reformed worldview is more relevant than ever.
Len Vander Zee, Faith Alive’s editor in chief, observes, “We need to expand the horizon of ‘Reformed’ beyond the 16th century catechisms and confessions we still hold dear. Being Reformed is a whole-hearted, deep-thinking way of living in the world. It’s seeing the Bible as one great true drama and finding ourselves swept into the storyline. Being Reformed is living in a fearless and gutsy way because we know God’s new world is coming.”
Today’s curriculum from Faith Alive is about learning to know and love God and living out your faith as you serve others. It’s about finding answers to life’s burning questions in the context of God’s grace.
Ruth Vander Hart, Faith Alive’s managing editor and curriculum editor, says, “Kids and adults show up at church with questions: Who is God, and how do I fit in God’s story? Why did God make me? What does God want me to do? They’re important questions, and they deserve the most thoughtful and inspiring answers we can give.”
So what does Faith Alive have that other publishers like Group or David C. Cook or Willow Creek don’t have? What’s different about a Reformed curriculum?
Five Steps to a Reformed Curriculum
A curriculum with a Reformed view of the world (like Faith Alive’s Walk With Me or Kid Connection) does five important things:
Views the entire Bible as one interrelated story of God’s saving love for the world, not just a set of discrete stories.
Avoids presenting Bible stories as simply moral lessons; shows how each Bible story reveals God’s faithful covenant grace, putting that grace, not human actions, at the center of each Bible story.
Interprets Bible stories in the context of the rest of Scripture.
Calls us all to live as part of God’s kingdom now rather than merely focusing on “going to heaven” later.
Combines these distinctives with the very best educational methods (another thing Reformed folk are known for).
Those points are more than academic quibbles. They can have a profound effect on how kids and adults view God, the Bible, and the purpose of their lives. For example, one very popular evangelical curriculum is entirely structured on human virtues, using Bible stories to merely illustrate those virtues. In a Reformed curriculum, Scripture is central.
So when your church looks for a new Sunday school curriculum or a small–group study or a Bible study, we hope Faith Alive will be your first stop. No other publisher knows your church like we do, and no other publisher will show you how exciting a Reformed life can be.
Faith Alive at a Glance
- Who we are: Faith Alive is the publishing ministry of the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the resource provider for the Reformed Church in America.
- What we publish: Sunday school curriculum, youth resources, small-group studies, Bible studies, topical studies, resources for church leaders, curriculum and other resources for people with special needs, hymnals and other resources for worship, and two magazines: The Banner and Reformed Worship.
- Why we exist: to provide resources to churches in the Reformed tradition. Because we’re a ministry, we’re not here to make a huge profit or “push product” on churches.
- Online catalog: Check us out at www.FaithAliveResources.org.
“Reformed” in a NutshellAt Faith Alive we talk a lot about the Reformed worldview. Several of us put our heads together to summarize what Reformed folks believe in 100 words or less. Here’s one way to think about it (and it’s only 88 words):
We’re all stained by sin.
There’s no way we can make ourselves clean.
But by God’s grace and sovereign purpose,
through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son,
we are adopted as sons and daughters by God,
who will never abandon us.
In gratitude for that life-changing gift,
the Holy Spirit empowers us to serve God,
love our neighbor,
and reclaim every inch of this fallen creation
for Christ our Lord
until he returns
to usher in a new heaven and a new earth.
What’s in the Works
Here’s a rundown of some exciting new resources Faith Alive is working on for future release:
Work continues on additional units of the new Kid Connection curriculum, which has been a smash hit with the smaller churches it was designed for (but big churches love it too!).For youth:Believe It! 16 Things You Should Know About Your Faith. An easy-to-use small-group study for teens based loosely on the Belgic Confession.Living Your Faith in a Messed-Up World. A new course for teens based on the CRC’s Contemporary Testimony.
Discover Your Gifts and Learn How to Use Them (Third Edition). A new update of this very popular resource will include an online “gifts discovery” questionnaire to help you identify and use the unique gifts God has given you. Disciples, Year 2. The multiyear faith formation program continues with in-depth studies on prayer, Bible reading, worship, living in community, and overcoming sin. For worship:Global Songs for Worship. Songs from around the world are being gathered into a songbook that will enrich your congregation’s worship.
For This Church Plant, It’s KC All the Way
As the kids’ ministry leader of a new church plant, it was my job to choose Sunday school curriculum. I knew we needed a curriculum designed to reach ALL kids—those who knew God, were getting to know God, or who were meeting God for the very first time. It had to work no matter how many kids showed up, require minimal supplies, and be flexible enough to be used in any part of the building that was available. Since I wanted it to be FUN, RELEVANT, and RELATIONAL, I figured that probably counted out anything that was REFORMED.
So we tried the Promiseland curriculum from Willow Creek. It had fun sessions, awesome music, and great small groups. Problem was, we had a DVD player, four leaders, and a budget—not a tech crew, drama team, and unlimited supplies! We also cringed at some of the theology. We wanted kids to see the thread of God’s redemptive plan through every story we told.
We used KidMo from Orbit Church. It was funny, needed no supplies, and required minimal leader preparation. But we winced each week as we sat our kids in front of a TV for most of our hour with them. Sure, our kids could identify Johnny Rogers, feel empowered, and recite Bible verses—but were they really learning the incredible stories of God at work?
We’re so glad that Faith Alive Christian Resources was led to develop a new curriculum for small churches, midweek programs, and (yay, God!) church plants! The result: Kid Connection, a large group/small group curriculum that’s fun and flexible enough to use with one to 100 (or more) kids from kindergarten to grade six.
KC uses songs kids love from Promiseland and humor-filled storytelling techniques designed to get kids excited about God. It requires minimal supplies, can be used anywhere (we field-tested it in a school locker room—need I say more?) and comes with a cool family magazine to connect with the families of the kids you serve. The best part? It’s FUN, RELEVANT, RELATIONAL, and REFORMED. (Whoever said Reformed theology had to be boring?)
—Karen DeBoer is the editor of Kid Connection and part of thechildren’s ministry team atThe Journey church in Kitchener, Ontario.
Your Two Cents
What’s important to you when it comes to Sunday school curriculum? What are the top 10 topics you think teens should explore in youth groups? Log on to www.FaithAlive Resources.org to let us know!
Nathaniel and Albert: Walking Together
Nathaniel has been hearing Bible stories since he was a baby. Albert is visiting church for the first time in his life. Today they’re sitting side by side in a third-grade small group at my church. They’re both participating eagerly as their Sunday school leader helps them experience God’s story in a fresh and inviting way.
Our children’s ministry leaders use and love the Walk With Me curriculum because each theme and session is filled with creative ideas for presenting God’s story. Taking into account the various learning styles of today’s children, the session plans guide leaders through fun introductory activities. Then the session moves on to the knowing (head), growing (heart), and showing (hands) aspects of living out the Christian walk as emphasized in the story of the day.
I appreciate Walk With Me because I know that leaders from Reformed and non-Reformed backgrounds will be able to present the gospel in a non-moralistic, doctrinally sound, fun way. I also appreciate that Walk With Me is organized into four-week units so children who are unable to attend every Sunday can still gain exposure to a particular biblical truth.
We provide training and support for our leaders so that they can focus on preparing the session rather than on scrambling for materials. Our Walk With Me leaders can then focus on building relationships with children so that kids like Nathaniel and Albert have a sense of belonging as they grow in their walk with God.
—Bonny Mulder-Behnia is family ministries pastor at Rosewood CRC in Bellflower, Calif.