Why Systematic Theology?
Systematic theology is organizing principle of each curriculum in the Praise Factory family of curriculum (Teach, Take & Tell, Big Questions and Answers for little people, and The Praise Factory). This organization shows up as 16 big questions and answers that are categories found in systematic theology.
A systematic theology is an ordered study of who God is, who He has made us to be, His plans for us and this world, His work of salvation for His people, and the things of the world to come. It gives children an opportunity to consider the magnificent way that God has ordered all things to His glory; and, equips them with a strong foundation of God's Truth to grow and live for Him in this world, with an eye of hope and joy towards the next.
Two Dead Men and a Diamond:
Praise Factory Curriculum in a Nutshell
by Connie Dever
The philosophy behind Praise Factory curriculum can well be summed up by two dead men and a diamond.
Dead Man #1: Martin Luther
The first dead man is Martin Luther. Martin Luther spoke of theology not being just dry, heady stuff, made only for the scholar, but the foundation of how men live and die. Look at your life and see if this is not so: what you think about God, His character, His plans for this world and us; and the things of the world to come affect how you respond to life each day.
This is why children care about theology, too-even if they have never realized it. The lens through which they see and understand their lives and the world around them is also tied to their understanding of God and His plans. God made children-like us-to know Him and understand life through His truth and character.
Kids care about theology, but they also care how they learn theology. That comes to the second dead man: John Bunyan.
Dead Man #2: John Bunyan
John Bunyan spoke of the gates to the heart: the eye gate, the ear gate and such. Kids are full of gates--perhaps far more than John Bunyan had in mind! They are people on the move, both inside and out. They learn by doing, interacting, experiencing, as well as listening. All these provide gates to their minds and their heart. Praise Factory incorporates thoughtful questions and projects into everything from games to crafts to songs and sign language to drama and even story-related snacks. These do not act as filler, but as the actual gate to the heart and mind.
Praise Factory seeks to employ the energy of the children to reach their hearts and minds with God's truth through these many activities; and not just truth through only one side, but from many facets. And that comes to the diamond.
The Puritans loved to hold up God's truth and reflect upon it from different perspectives to appreciate the breadth of its beauty and its applications upon our lives, much like holding a diamond up to the light, turning it in your hand and appreciating the beauty of its many facets. In the two preschool curriculum (Teach, Take and Tell and Big Questions and Answers for little people), the children are first shown the basic beauties of the diamond. They see God's truth is many-sided and yet fits together into God's One Big Plan of displaying and glorifying Himself in this world in marvelous and merciful ways. In Praise Factory, the elementary school curriculum, the children are invited to explore the greater intricacies of God's truth. They learn three different truths are presented that reflect upon the same Big Idea concept: one from the Old Testament, the New Testament and church history/missions, in hopes that the children will see different facets of how God has acted faithfully and steadfastly, yet in many different ways throughout the ages.
Two dead men and a diamond! That sums it up!
The Praise Factory family of curriculum is based upon a spiral of truth in the form of 16 Big Questions and Answers.
These 16 big questions and answers are major biblical truths, common to a systematic theology and which provide the framework on which all of the concepts learned in all three Praise Factory curriculums hang.
Twelve of these Big Questions and Answers are introduced from the beginning, in the Teach, Take and Tell curriculum for 2's and 3's; and then carry on through the other two curriculums (Big Questions and Answers for little people; The Praise Factory) Four additional Big Questions and Answers are added to these in the elementary school curriculum (The Praise Factory).
Teach, Take and Tell, the curriculum for the 2 and 3 year olds is a one year curriculum which introduces the big questions and answers as 12 one month units. The same concept, Bible story, Bible verse, action rhymes and songs are used each week of the unit. This allows the children to master the material on the simplest level. Different review activities and crafts are suggested to add variety to each week.
Big Questions and Answers for little people, the curriculum for 3's, 4's and pre-K 5's uses the same 12 Big Questions as Teach, Take and Tell, but smaller sub-concepts are introduced for each of the 12 Big Questions.
For example, in Teach, Take and Tell, the children learn Big Question #1: "How Can I Know What God Is Like? He Shows Me What He's Like!" for 4 weeks, then move onto Big Question #2: Can Anybody Tell Me What the LORD Is Like? He's Not Like Anyone Else!"
But in Big Questions and Answers for little people, the children learn 4 sub-concepts (3 weeks of curriculum available for each) that have to do with Big Question #1.
They learn: How Can I Know What God Is Like? He Shows Me What He's Like...
Before they move onto Big Question #2 and its sub-concepts, etc.
As with Teach, Take and Tell, one Bible story, one Bible verse, one action rhyme, and related songs are used for each sub-concept. Different review activities and crafts are suggested to add variety to each week of curriculum within a sub-concept.
So with Big Questions and Answers for little people, the spiral of truth has expanded from 12 truths to 52 truths, that can be used as a 1,2 or 3 year curriculum (depending on whether you use 1, 2 or 3 weeks of the curriculum for each of the 52 sub-concepts).
The Praise Factory, the curriculum for K through 5th grade, uses the same 12 Big Question truths as the preschool curricula, but adds four new ones: one on God's Word, the Gospel, the Holy Spirit and How God Sustains His People. Like in the Big Questions and Answers for little people curriculum, The Praise Factory sub-concepts--each called a "Big Idea" --are used to expand the children's understanding of the big question. Now there are 104 sub-concepts that fill the 16 big question truths. These concepts are much more complex as is appropriate for these older children. They have been prepared in the preschool curricula to expand their understanding even more.
The spiral of truth stretches in another way in The Praise Factory curriculum. Now the children do not learn just one story for each 3 weeks spent on a Big Idea concept; they learn three: an Old Testament, New Testament and church history/missions story that all reflect the concept. This helps the children see the enduring faithfulness of God and His unchanging character as well as the beautiful reflections of Himself and His ways throughout the ages.
So, with Big Question #1: "How Can I Know What God Is Like? He Shows Me What He's Like!" there are now 5 sub-concepts:
And there are three stories per Big Idea sub-concept, such as
In "God Made Our Hearts to Know and Love Him":
which all reflect this same Big Idea concept.
The spiral of truth provides reinforcement of truths learned as well as expansion of their understanding of them as the children progress through the three curriculums.
How Praise Factory Developed
An Article by author, Connie Dever
The story of Praise Factory is very much tied into how I've developed as a Christian and an educator over the years.
Growing Up and Growing in Christ
I was born in Tennessee and lived there until I was ten, when we moved to Colorado. I was raised in a church-attending family, yet one without a definite emphasis on the need of Jesus as a personal Savior. While attending a camp in North Carolina at the age of eight, I heard and responded to the gospel.
While my conversion was real and I had great, spiritual hunger, I had little input of Christian teaching or fellowship. Except for Bible studies and Christians I met at summer camps, most of the time I was a loner Christian, simply praying and reading the Bible on my own. I followed Christ best I could, based on my limited knowledge and teaching.
Upon completion of high school, I returned to the South to attend Duke University. If spiritual life had been a starvation diet up to this point in my life, Duke was a feast. I became very involved in a strong chapter of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, filled with men and women seeking to know God and His Word and bring glory to His name in their hearts and with their lives.
If Duke was a feast, the keeper of the feast was Mark Dever-now my husband. We would spend hours discussing the Bible and the things of God like two Bible geeks. It was simply wonderful!
Needless to say, it was a match made in heaven. We were married right after university and headed off to Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, outside of Boston. It was to be the beginning of ten+ years of theological education and ministry, not only at Gordon Conwell, but the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky; and finally, at Cambridge University in England.
My primary love and duty during those years was being wife, mother to our two children, and adopted mom, aunt, and/or hospitality queen to many high school, university, seminary students and others who crossed our doorway.
At the same time, however, I also had the huge blessing of being theologically "home-schooled" by my husband. Many nights Mark would read and discuss with me the things he was learning in his classes and textbooks.
As ministry and life experiences melded with theological education, it quickly became apparent to me that theology--so often thought of as simply a cerebral exercise--was actually the backbone of truth which God, in His kindness, has given His people through His Word. Sound, biblical doctrine helps keep the Church pure against the lies of many worldviews that bombard us. Sound, biblical doctrine helps keep God's people steadfastly joyful, hopeful and fruitful in the face of the hardships of life. God and His great and glorious plan of redemption of His people will prevail. They will be like Him and will enjoy Him forever, all to the glory of His name. I could see that every Christian needed to be a biblical theologian, in a sense. That is, they all needed to understand who God is, who He made us to be, His plans for us and this world, His work of salvation for His people, and the wonderful things of the world to come. A Christian's understanding of these truths was like the lenses of the spiritual glasses through which he would see and understand life, in all its ups and downs.
Enter Children's Ministry
During this same time, I started working with children at the local churches in which we were involved. These first experiences were both delightful and disturbing. Delightful, for that is how children can be with their inquisitive, fresh hearts and minds. Yet disturbing, for so much of curriculum being used seemed to either be repetitive and, well... boring; or, creative and fun, but without much substantive truth. Truths drawn from many Bible stories were too often moralistic or misapplied to make a point not faithful to the text. It was disturbing to see the precious moments teaching them about eternal matters being wasted.
A stimulating workshop, a few good books and I'd like to think the Holy Spirit working inside me, fueled my desire to make a better connection between kids and the great Truths of God's Word. An after-school "Good News Club" started by a group of us mothers at our children's elementary school in England provided me with many opportunities to experiment with presenting children with deeper, meatier biblical truths, brought to life and reinforced by creative activities. After four, fruitful years with that club, I felt more convinced that ever that this was not just a possible combination, but a powerful combination. Kids did care about the deeper things of God-just like I had when I was young; and their active, energetic bodies provided many gates to the mind and soul that made learning memorable and effective.
In 1994, our family moved from Cambridge to Washington, DC where Mark had been called as senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church. It was to be here, more than any other place, that I was given free reins to develop a "dream" children's curriculum. Tired volunteers happily handed over the children's church program to me without a single glance back.
Beginnings: Looking for Answers, Starting with 3 Questions
Starting with a clean slate, I started with three questions I wanted a curriculum to answer. It was these three questions and the answers to them that have shaped the development of the Praise Factory curriculum.
Question #1: What Would Be Best for the Children to Learn?"
If I could teach children anything about God, what would it be?
Question #1: Answered: The Three Goals of Praise Factory
The answer to this question developed into the three goals of Praise Factory: Active Minds, Joyful Noise and Prayerful Hearts.
Goal #1 Active Minds
To challenge and equip the children with a thorough, ordered study of who God is, who He has made us to be, His plans for us and this world, His work of salvation for His people, and the wonderful things of the world to come.
...otherwise knows as....a systematic theology!
To help the children see the great, unchangeableness of God and His faithfulness to His people throughout all ages, by learning stories from church history and missions as well as from the Old Testament and New Testament that reflect the same concept.
...so....a systematic theology with three stories on each key theological concepts, one from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, one from church history/missions.
To give the children Bible stories, filled with the rich details that make the story come alive and can have a greater spiritual impact because they are based on a deeper understanding of the story.
...so...a systematic theology with three stories on each key theological concept, one from the Old Testament, the New Testament, and church history/missions...with geography, climate, setting , cultures, customs and manners woven into them.
Goal #2 Noisy Joy
To encourage the children to be lovers of God and lovers of people. To help them understand how to apply the truths they are learning to their relationship with God, themselves and with others, that they might live joyful lives, pleasing to God; and, be encouraged to reach out to all with the good news of Jesus, with love, ion word and example.
So....a systematic theology with three stories on each key theological concept, one from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, one from church history/missions...with geography, climate, setting, culture, customs and manners woven into them....and with discussion questions to encourage them to think about applying these truths to their lives.
Goal #3 Prayerful Hearts
To help them understand what a church is; to help them develop a loving and prayerful knowledge and concern for the Body of Church, both locally and around the world.
To introduce them to key people who serve in their local church, outreach ministries and around the world to further the cause of Christ. TO develop and deepen their worship of God through prayer and have hearts that cry out to Him to grow His Church with more people and to build up His Church to glorify Him as a beautiful reflection of His character and response to His love.
So...a systematic theology with three stories on each key theological concept, one from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, one from church history/missions...with geography, climate, setting, culture, customs and manners woven into them....and with discussion questions to encourage them to think about applying these truths to their lives, and a prayer time to reflect on what they learned about God and to ask Him to work in their lives based on what they've learned. And, a chance to learn about people important to their local church and pray for them.
And why do all this?
In hope that the children might have a more knowledgeable understanding of the Bible; that they might be getter equipped with truth in their own struggles as, Lord willing, they live in this world as Christians. And most of all, that they might discover the wonderful of God, as He has revealed Himself in Scripture; and, come to know, love and glorify Him with all their being!
Question #2: "How could we structure a curriculum to be enjoyable and memorable for the children, yet keep the learning -not the fun-the main point?"
Question #2 Answered: The Praise Factory Structure
If the answers to my first question became the goals of The Praise Factory curriculum, then the answers to my second question: "How could we structure this program to be enjoyable and memorable for the children, yet keep the learning -not the fun-the main point?" led to the Praise Factory structure.
Kids like to eat, to move, to make, to sing, to pretend, to present, to ask question. Let's try a rotation of different creative, active activities that capitalize on what they like to do; yet, do it in a way that directly links back to discussion a and reinforcement of the lesson's most important concepts.
So, Praise Factory includes a story-related snack (a snack that refers to a food in the story or looks like something from the story), 8 different activities--everything from games to crafts to drama to songs and sign language--and a presentation time of each of these different activities at the end of each session.
Why do all this?
In hope that by harnessing the children's energetic, creative bodies, to activities that underscore rather than overshadow what we want them to learn, we might reach their hearts and minds in a memorable, enjoyable way.
Question #3: "Seeing as we would have the children once a week, and the parents the rest of the week, how could we provide resources for the parents to use with their children, as their primary spiritual teachers?"
Question #3 Answered: Parent Resources
The third question and answer meant a little hunting and pecking on the Christian book market ... and in the end, a lot of creating.
It meant finding and creating parent resources to run in tandem with the curriculum. Resources that parents could easily use at home to discuss and reinforce these same ideas with their children. So, Praise Factory offers take home sheets of key concepts as well as Music CDs of all the hymns and Scripture verses used in the curriculum. It also references readings in Leading Little Ones to God by Marian Schoolland, a wonderful little theology devotional for preschoolers and early elementary children.
Why Do This?
Because children learn best with lots of reinforcement! In the limited time we have with the children, we cannot nor should not try to assume primary spiritual care-giving. Our best way to serve the children is to serve the parents and enable them to do their God-given job better.
Putting It All Together: The Praise Factory
Put all these questions and answers together...and you get the original The Praise Factory curriculum...as well as now it's two little sisters: Teach, Take and Tell for 2's and 3's; and Big Questions and Answers for little people, for 3's, 4's and pre-K 5's.All three of these curriculum build upon the same key concepts in an expanding spiral that is both developmentally appropriate for each particular age group, yet preparatory for the next curriculum in the progression. By putting these curriculum resources on the web, I hope that they will become a useful resource to Sunday school teachers as well as the most important teachers of all: the parents.
Since 1997, The Praise Factory has been an experiment, an adventure and a work in progress that God has graciously seen fit to bless, both here at Capitol Hill Baptist Church and in other churches, even around the world. Who would have thought it! Perhaps it surprises me most of all! I hope that as you consider how to use them in your church (school, home, etc), that God guides you in using them in the best way possible to grow the children in your church-or family--too, that they might know, enjoy and glorify God with all of their lives.