Ethics: Your Pastor Takes Away Sunday School Material

What would you do Wednesday!

It is no secret that Pastor Ralph Green is dissatisfied with the new LifeWay Sunday School curriculum, The Gospel Project.1 It is also no secret that many disagree with Green’s criticisms.

Green’s criticisms have inspired today’s applied ethics post. I’d like to bring a similar situation to your local church. I know that pastors and laity read this blog so there could be some interesting perspectives offered.

The situation. New Sunday School classes started three weeks ago. An SS teacher brought in some new curriculum which he told the pastor about. The pastor wanted to review the material, but was never able to make time. Since the SS teacher has taught for years, and has been friends with the pastor just as long, the pastor trusted the teacher’s judgement.

The pastor finally looked over the Sunday School material a few days before the fourth Sunday morning class. Disturbed by the curriculum, he sat in on the fourth class. After class, the pastor asked the teacher to lunch to discuss the new curriculum.

During lunch the pastor informs the teacher that, upon review, he does not like the new curriculum. He does not like the theological leanings of some of the curriculum authors. He believes that some in the congregation may be negatively influenced by the authors if they seek out their personal sermons and writings.

The pastor wants the teacher to stop using the material immediately.

Confused, the teacher explains that class feedback has been positive for the first three weeks. People in the class are excited and growing spiritually. There are 16 weeks left in this Sunday School class schedule. The teacher believes people will continue growing in the coming weeks by continuing with the new Sunday School material. He continues to make his case in favor of the curriculum.

The Sunday School teacher asks the pastor clarify his objections to the material.

The pastor repeats what he previously said: he doesn’t like the theological leanings of some of the curriculum authors and is afraid people will be negatively influenced by them. He emphasizes that he wants use of the material to stop immediately.

The teacher disagrees.

Now what?

  • The curriculum should be stopped immediately.
  • The Sunday School teacher keeps teaching to the end of the class schedule.
  • They go Mano-a-mano; winner takes all.
  • Or…..
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tagged as , in Christianity,Church Issues,Culture

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 rhology August 22, 2012 at 12:48 pm

I vote for stopping the material and then scheduling a meeting with the pastor later to dig into why.

2 revcort August 22, 2012 at 1:11 pm

The right thing to do, biblically speaking, is to submit to your pastor’s authority, assuming that pastor is a part of a group of elders who also hold him accountable. It would also be recommended that this be discussed in a meeting of the spiritual leaders of the church. If the pastor is coming to the teacher in the authority of the church leaders/elders, the teacher should accept that and submit.

However, it should be noted, many Southern Baptist churches are the CEO model of leadership. The pastor is an island unto himself and makes decisions based on his own counsel. He might consider the opinions of others, but those opinions are of no real bearing on him. Other SB churches are deacon led more than anything. The pastor is a figure head. In this case, the deacons serve a dual role of servants and elders. If the teacher disagrees with the pastor, it could be brought to the deacons for a final decision. Other SB churches are purely congregational and this kind of thing would be handled in a business meeting where lots of snot can be slung and grievances can be aired out for all to hear. In this case, a vote of the people would decide what should be done.

Our church is a mixture of CEO, deacon-led, and congregationalism, so it would all depend on how big of a fuss the teacher wanted to make or how strongly he felt about the curriculum. If the teacher so desired, he could ignore the pastor and keep teaching. He could go to a deacons meeting and get their opinion. But if he didn’t like that opinion, he could go to a business meeting and state his case for a congregational vote as well.

But if you’re asking me what I think the “right” answer is, I would say that the teacher should submit to the pastor’s authority and then perhaps set up a meeting to discuss the reasons for discontinuing the curriculum. I would hope they could come to an understanding even if they can’t come to an agreement.

3 MarieP August 22, 2012 at 1:22 pm

What rhology said!

4 threegirldad August 22, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Dueling pistols at 20 paces.


OK, maybe Rhology’s answer is better.

5 MarieP August 22, 2012 at 1:40 pm

I was in a situation at church that was in some ways the opposite of this. As you’re probably aware, there has been difference of opinion since the 1st century on “pictures” of Jesus, not just in worship but in study and teaching materials. We use Gospel Light Bible narratives/coloring pages for the 2 and 3-4 year-old classes. A sizable number have Jesus portrayed in the picture, and up until a year or so ago, the teacher (we have 2-3 month rotations) used sheets that had the head of “Jesus” blacked out. I’d heard some of my brethren voice their dislike of the pages (and I thought it was looked weird, regardless of one’s view- “Darth Jesus”). Some of the teachers had replaced a few pictures already, but no one had done a thorough job. I thought the elders were leaving it up to the people and their convictions, until my pastor himself expressed that he happened to agree with JI Packer and that “this is why we don’t have pictures of Jesus in our Sunday School classes.” I mentioned to him after that we do have pictures of Jesus (albeit blacked out) and that the children were still saying, “That’s Jesus!” I found a good alternative to use for the problematic pictures- The OPC’s Great Commission Publications coloring book. I was given the go-ahead to replace the pictures in the coloring books, and it turned out quite well- those who were concerned were very appreciative. My intention’s not to debate the issue, but even if I thought they were ok, my pastor did not, so I wanted to ensure that this was resolved.

6 A Pastor August 22, 2012 at 4:59 pm

As a pastor, I’m not sure that any new material whether it was published by Lifeway or not would be taught unless it had been thoroughly reviewed. The controversy around the Gospel Project is not new. I’ve been reading about it for months. My question would be, “Why didn’t the pastor make time to review the material initially?” This would have stopped any issues before they began.

7 David (Not Adrian's Son) Rogers August 22, 2012 at 5:19 pm

I say that since the situation has arisen, it’s time to take a pause and have a rigorous critique of the material. I wouldn’t mind the material being presented as long as the congregation had received a point by point red flagging concern by the pastor.

However, it would be better if the material had been reviewed by the pastor before ordering, or that the pastor could know that the material would likely never be controversial because the advisory board was explicitly and intentionally careful to reassure that its material would never have any air of suspicion. The organizers of the curriculum should be able to point out that they have a self-evaluating mechanism in assuring that the material will not be controversial. They would begin by having an obviously balanced advisory board.

Do we need to add to the pastor’s duties that before the material is ordered each quarter that he review absolutely every phrase and sentence in all the curriculum and then prepare his rebuttal?

Could the publisher help reassure him with explicit pledges to be balanced?

8 A Pastor August 22, 2012 at 5:36 pm

I don’t believe that the pastor should be tasked each quarter to review the material, but seeing as how this was new material already embroiled in some controversy would it not have been prudent for him to review the material?

We switched our Wednesday children’s material last year. It was a four month process. The leadership reviewed the material with time to comment on any issues they felt needed to be addressed. Once the leadership team reviewed the material it was then disseminated to the teachers and then once reviewed by them with a time of Q & A with the leadership team the curriculum was then put out for the parents and the church to review. Each group had a month to review…Each group had the freedom to ask any questions or concerns they had.

Once the final decision was made the church was unified in the change.

This seems more of an issue with the pastors inability to review the material than it is with the Sunday School teacher, publisher or anyone in between.

Just my opinion

9 Mark August 23, 2012 at 12:51 pm

What do we do with those who cry foul anytime any type of spiritual oversight is granted to a pastor? I’ve read this many times on SBC blogs.

10 Brett R August 23, 2012 at 7:01 pm

To say the material did not go through the review process is dishonest, in my opinion. Not being reviewed personally and then given approval based on personal relationship may be a poor review of the material, but is a review none the less. To take it away is to undermine the trust he would like to have as a shepherd in the care of the sheep as well as undermining the trust in the students and the teacher. I think that the argument could be made that he has hijacked the class and is now responsible to teach this class by this action, but I think that would be ultimately unwise. To best feed and protect the sheep, I believe that the pastor should take one class period to explain the dangers he foresees, warn against some of the rabbit trails some of the source material could lead to, and for the class to look to the leader to lead in the right direction over the rest of the lesson. Then the pastor should repent for not putting a priority in giving the material a good review. Does the pastor have the authority to yank the material? Yes. But I think it would be unwise and possibly condescending in this hypothetical case.

11 DerekLBrowning May 7, 2013 at 7:56 am

I think you set the scenario up in a leading way by mentioning the Gospel project. I wonder if responses would have been different if you didn’t mention a curriculum. I, personally, am a fan of the Gospel Project, but I’m a bigger fan of letting the pastor lead his flock…so I would submit to the pastor’s request as long as his suggested replacement was within the walls of our church convictions (BFM 2000).


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