The best curriculum for forming children, youth, and anyone else in Christian faith is guided participation in a community of practice where people are vibrantly, passionately risking themselves together in lives of faith in a world crying out for the love of Christ (Mercer, 2013).
Yes, Yes, Yes. Most definitely. The best curriculum is solid engagement in a vibrant practicing faith community. I believe this wholeheartedly. And yet... I also value written curriculum. And Joyce Ann Mercer does too. She's simply saying that it doesn't matter how good the material is that you use in faith formation if it isn't also rooted in a vibrant faith community. That doesn't mean that we don't look for good material. :)
And so I really value well crafted curricula. Curricula that has been formed by passionate individuals with understanding for the faith development of persons across the life-span, and a theology grounded in their faith tradition.
And because my faith tradition is Anabaptist, I want a curriculum that is grounded in the person and mission of Jesus Christ. For me, this means the curriculum is Christocentric, it understands the biblical story through the lens of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. This doesn't mean that it ignores or devalues the Old Testament, quite the opposite. I look for curricula where the writers have a strong understanding of Jesus' Jewish heritage and are willing to tell those stories for their own merit, knowing that those stories formed the basis of Jesus' faith and are, in many cases, significant stories for our sisters and brothers in the other Abrahamic traditions.
I look for curricula that always seeks to be inclusive and accepting. The writers value the church as a diverse community. They remember that the people in our churches are male and female, they are individuals who self-identify in a variety of ways, they represent every ethnic background under the sun, and they experience and meet God uniquely based on their own dynamic faith journey.
I look for curricula that understands the mission of God as one of peace and reconciliation through the person of Jesus. Where the writers demonstrate at their very core that the life that Jesus showed us, the love Jesus demonstrated, is a love that always actively seeks justice, mercy, humility, and peace in the midst of community. And the fact that each of us is called to live in this way too, is simply a given.
I also want a curriculum that remembers that we are a people of story, ritual and practice. I want it front and center in our material that we cannot live into the biblical story if we haven't heard it. We cannot enter into the mystery of the Christian life if we have no rituals that open us up to the Spirit. And we cannot develop deep relationship with self, other, and God, without spiritual practices that root us in the divine. Faith is about knowing, being, and doing.
And I also want a curriculum that is completely transparent and upfront about the values, pedagogy, and theology embraced by the writers and supporting agencies. And this is remarkably difficult to find. All of us come from a particular tradition, or embrace particular values, but it is rather uncommon, from my experience, to find curriculum writers that actually seek to articulate their beliefs upfront (limits possible sales!).
Because these are the things I really value in curricula, I'm very excited to use the new children's curriculum from Menno Media that will come out in fall 2014, and no, I'm not being paid to say this! It's called Shine: Living in God's Light. And I know it won't be perfect, no curriculum is. And I know I'll need to adapt, that's a given with any curriculum. We always need to remember that any curriculum is meant as a guide, and a springboard and requires contextualization. But I know without a doubt that the beliefs of the writers will be clear. I know it will be Christocentric, I know it will value both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, it will be inclusive, rooted in peace and love, community, story, ritual and practice. I know that the most important ground work that needs to happen when writing curriculum will have been done, and done with integrity, making it possible for me to focus my attention on my own faith development, and the developing faith of the children in front of me. Because that's what good curriculum writers do, they do the ground work, so we have the tools we need to enter into sacred spaces together.