Resource Review: The Gospel Project

In my final “Ode to the SBC” post for this week I wanted to take a look at a curriculum piece published by their convention press, Lifeway. The Gospel Project is a new curriculum option for churches, regardless of denominational affiliation, which can be used for their groups ministries. Here is my review:

The Gospel Project

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Resource Name: The Gospel Project


In a Sentence: A comprehensive curriculum that engages the meta-story of the Bible, the plan and process of salvation, through weekly Bible studies at all age levels.

Cost: about $4 for student books and $12 for leader guides, ebook options are available that reduce the costs.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars, a solid curriculum option


One of the things that Southern Baptists have always seemed to do well is develop comprehensive Bible study curriculum pieces that can be used in Sunday Schools, small groups, and other group ministry avenues. Though the groups materials have been comprehensive (several plans have you reading through the entire Bible in a non-lectionary 3 year plan) there have been some who desired a more rigorous curriculum that engages the broader story of the biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation.

So, not too long ago a bold new piece was developed called The Gospel Project.

The Gospel Project (TGP) seeks to take participants on a three year journey through the themes of Scripture, keeping the Cross of Jesus Christ in plain view. This kind of Christocentric study is helpful as it reminds us that Christianity is, ultimately, defined by the person and work of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 2:2; 8:6; 2 Corinthians 5:20-21; etc.) Underlying the theological approach of TGP, the hermeneutical approach is to equip teachers/facilitators with a strong shovel and dig deep into the Scripture to talk about how we find Jesus in Scripture.

The approach is successful and TGP provides a fine resource for doing so. Each teacher guide is overflowing with exegesis, questions, historical quotes, theological discussion and other relevant data that equip the group leader beyond what might be necessary. So, in the preface the editors remind the group leaders to cut what they desire. One of my personal philosophies as I develop groups curriculum is to give teachers more than they need. It is always better to have more and cut away the rest than to be under prepared.

As TGP breaks out in different age ranges there are options for preschool, young kids, older kids, youth/students, and adults. This kind of comprehensive Bible study approach is important and not usually executed well. TGP brings this together well, though not perfectly, and provides a good platform for a church who want to journey through the Bible as a family.

The execution of the lessons plans is sound and through 13 week studies students are walked through theological discussions of the grand narrative of Scripture.

Questions are usually thoughtful and the examples/illustrations are helpful. One of the things that is provided at the end of each session in the leaders’ guide is a resource list. This probably could be more well rounded with other pastors, more diversity, and a broader reach into other media. Also, the 13 week curriculum cycle is fairly good though if you’re running an open group I’m not entirely sure how comfortable new participants might be showing up on week six or seven. Finally, it’s a Lifeway publication which does well to move away from some of the patterns often found in their curriculum, but it does keep its toes in some of the pedagogical patterns and that might backstop it from application outside Baptist churches. It shouldn’t but it might.

The curriculum is a solid piece and looks like it can be used across the evangelical spectrum in non-denominational or other denominational churches. My teachers, who have used it, have enjoyed it, though there is some need to soften the harder theological edges at times. All too often we hear clamoring about “substance, depth, and theology” from loud voices that are actually fewer in number than the rest of our churches. This is the kind of curriculum that provides grease for that squeaky wheel. However, if you’re not careful in the delivery the marginal, less mature believers who outnumber the others might get left behind (not eschatologically.)

I recommend The Gospel Project, especially for a deeper step and across the generational composition of your church.

One additional note

Recently TGP has gotten flack for being “Reformed” or “Calvinist” in its theology. Growing up at Calvary Baptist Church in Bel Air, Maryland I was taught that historically, Baptists (and Southern Baptist specifically) have appreciated reasonable diversity on theological perspectives. As I read through, and have used the TGP, I haven’t found a heavy handed Reformed or Calvinist perspective preached.

Now, many people on the board of advisors and some of the authors are admittedly Reformed. So it probably didn’t help the editors’ case that this is a general curriculum if one only looks at the first couple of pages of the first leaders’ guide. However, I don’t find an overwhelming Reformed or Calvinist perspective in the Gospel Project. There is a Reformed perspective, but there are other perspectives that are fully within the evangelical theological perspective.

As a PhD candidate in his final stages of program work, I have read a plethora of theological works and approaches. As I was trained at my undergraduate and seminary levels, I encountered perspectives from the wide range of theological positions. I am not Reformed. I am not a Calvinist. I love my Reformed and Calvinist brothers and sisters in Christ. I value their input. I am thankful for their passion. I love their commitment to Christ.

The Gospel Project isn’t a deeply Reformed or Calvinist work. It is safe for Southern Baptist in particular to use as it looks to elevate and proclaim Christ. Just a quick note. 


Resource Review: Faith Lessons Curriculum

Resource Review: Faith Lessons with Ray Vanderlaan

Resource Name: Faith Lessons

URL:  or the site

In a Sentence: Through live presentations filmed in archeological sites, this series takes the viewer into the places where biblical events occurred, tells the story, and draws applications.

Cost: $35/DVD or $320 for the entire set depending on where you shop

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars…an outstanding series


Perhaps I’m biased, but Faith Lessons videos were some of the first video curriculum options I encountered and began using in college and young adult group studies while in college. They were high quality then and continue to provide a tremendous group study experience.

Developed and hosted by Ray Vanderlaan, the Faith Lessons series has grown to 12 lessons sets with two holiday DVD sets that cover Easter and Christmas. As the ministry describes these videos they are:

In-depth video tours of the buried, distant, or otherwise forgotten places where the stories of the Bible actually happened. By weaving together fascinating historical, cultural, religious and geographical contexts, teacher and historian Ray Vander Laan reveals keen insights into the Scriptures significance for believers in this day and age.

What makes these videos unique is that Vanderlaan, as the host, takes a group of learners into an archeological place and films his talks. During these presentations Vanderlaan recounts the biblical story about that specific place, pointing out locations, buildings, and other relevant information that would have informed those who experienced those events in the biblical times. He then talks over how we read the story, begins drawing points, and comes to application for each of the videos. The entire method is very effective and it draws groups into the location with meaningful teaching content.

Click Here for a Video Demonstration

I first used the curriculum while leading a college aged small group where we covered the lesson series The Early Church. Already studying this era for my classes, the videos drew me in and our group participants who might otherwise have gotten bored with traditionally presented material. Being able to walk through the archeological sites and have a great teacher (Vanderlaan, not me) showing how the sites relate to New Testament texts made the biblical picture become more vibrant for these students.

One of the better parts of the video series is that I’ve now used this series with groups from college aged, young adults, middle aged adults, and even through senior adults. Each group is captured by the presentation and the discussions following are almost always full of life. This is a well researched and well done piece. It recently has gotten a make over from the older covers but the content remains the same. Though it might be a bit dated with regard to some of the fashions that appear on screen, this is easily overlooked as the content drives home important points.

Though you might well disagree with some of the thoughts, this is usually on some nettlesome issue that doesn’t effect the final, fuller application.

I really grew to enjoy these video curriculum options and have used them in every church which I have served in since my seminary days. As we can put high level, high quality content in front of our often distracted people we should find much treasure in these kinds of video curriculum options.

Lessons include:

  • Promised Land
  • Prophets & Kings
  • Life & Ministry of the Messiah
  • Death & Resurrection of the Messiah
  • Early Church
  • In the Dust of the Rabbi
  • Walk as Jesus Walked
  • God Heard their Cry
  • Fire on the Mountain
  • With All Your Heart
  • Walking with God in the Desert

So, my recommendation is to check out this series for yourself. You will certainly be benefitted. Also check out the YouTube channel above, it has many of the videos available from Zondervan.

As a final note: I have received no compensation nor preview copies of this curriculum in my review. This is an entirely objective review from a small groups leader in a local church.

Have you heard of this curriculum? How have you used it? What did you think?


Strategic Gaps

“A strategy gap refers to the gap between the current performance of an organisation and its desired performance as expressed in its mission, objectives, goals and the strategy for achieving them.” (source: strategic gap)

“A Forecasting technique in which the difference between the desired performance levels and the extrapolated (see extrapolation) results of the current performance levels is measured and examined. This measurement indicates what needs to be done and what resources are required to achieve the goals of an organization’s strategy.” (source: Business Dictionary)

Maybe as a kid you rode your bike on the sidewalk (because the street is too dangerous.) You’ll remember how the sidewalk would have a seems in the concrete every several feet? Now think of what might happen if you’re riding along and an entire section of concrete is missing. What will you have to do? You’ll have to get off your bike, walk around, or maybe try to pedal your bike through grass on the side. Either way your progress is inhibited and it takes away the smoothness of the ride. Its kinda of frustrating. 

One of the challenges of leading organizations like churches comes as we attempt to move from point a to b to c to … whatever point in our strategic vision only to find our work disrupted by gaps in the process. These gaps come from a variety of places. Imagine, if you will, that strategic gaps are like missing parts of a sidewalk.

This is how strategic gaps are experienced in your church. They mess up a smooth ride.

Strategic gaps stand between an articulated strategic vision and an accomplished that vision. They often arise from shortcomings in leadership competencies and resources for sustainability. Of course that simply means: lack execution.

All too common is an instance where the existing strategic plan is unknown or constantly shifting. In these instances, gaps become gorges that swallow your functionality and inhibit progress as an organization. In churches this happens just like in other organizations (because we really aren’t that different functionally.) The senior tier leader(s) are unable to frame and cast the strategy to the staff so they can go out and accomplish to goals. Along these lines poorly informed subordinates are unable to accomplish goals they know nothing about. This leads to the image of riding your bike at night without a headlight and hitting one of these gaps in the sidewalk. Ouch!

Constant assessment of the vision, strategy, and results helps in both identifying and filling gaps before they are met on the pathway. Doing a consistent strategy review with key team voices will aid in reducing strategic gaps.

Critical to any strategic review is knowing when and who: when to have this check up? and who to invite? Not everyone on your team has a voice that matters equally in this process. Also, it is not entirely essential to have all ministry areas represented. If the results measures indicate that a gap exists in, say, the groups ministry. Then it is important to visit with the groups staff leadership, then possibly involving lay people in the process. This isn’t a singular meeting, but possibly a series of meetings which openly discuss (in a safe environment) reality and end up with results.

Of course one the larger challenges for too many churches is that they lack resources to acquire and hire individuals who have high talent and an ideal gift set. Not having the best individuals occupying the right seats ultimately leads to more of a skills gaps than a strategic gap. However, alignment with the overall strategic vision is central to accomplishing your goals and minimizing gaps.

One final thought: Several studies of significant organizations have looked closely at the issues of strategic gaps and how they impact the final accomplishment of a vision. They all have discovered that 70%-80% of failure in accomplishing a strategic plan comes from execution mistakes and not a faulty plan. We should remember this, it isn’t our plan that is creating a rough ride it is probably is our inattention to strategic gaps that is doing this.

What kind of strategic gaps are common in churches? What do we call them in the real world? How do we bridge the gap?


State of the Plate Thoughts

For those of us in the biz (…showbiz…I mean church biz…) we’ve heard a bit about this report which has recently been called The State of the Plate. This is a study of 4,413 self-identified tithers on their habits in giving, reasons for giving, impact of their giving, and other important data. It was release a couple of weeks ago and available from The State of The Plate’s website in a downloadbale ebook for $24.95.

After purchasing and downloading a copy, I read through the report over lunch yesterday and have a few thoughts.

  • The data in this study is very well put together and will aid the pastor and teacher.
  • From the report, I am impressed with how different families who tithe are better off financially. (see the chart)
  • We can draw a direct correlation (I believe) between higher levels of spiritual maturity, or at least practices indicating maturity, and those who give at a high level. From the report: 96% of tithers attend services once a week. 
  • Those who tithe start early and have parents or grandparents as models of giving. This is how it worked in my family. My $10/week allowance always required me to put $1 in the collection plate every Sunday.
  • The 80/20 rule was confirmed in their research. 20% of our churchgoers support 80% of the budget. Yet that 20% is highly committed to the strength and growth of our churches, we should honor them appropriately. (note: not lavishly.)
  • If you couple the data from this report with another, recent Barna Report, you will have quite the statistical data set for understanding giving patterns in the local American church world. The Barna Research report was reported in April.
  • One of the points of the survey discusses how only 25% of tithers (committed givers) have an estate plan in place which gives to their local church. I made a note on my copy that, while not surprising, should provoke us to think more strategically about how we can talk to individuals and families about afterlife bequests. (Honestly, in all my years of attending church, I’ve never heard a pastor or leader mention this to their people.)
  • Though I’m all for calling something by its biblical name, perhaps a more apt term for churches to describe this giving is committed giving.
  • In the back of the study there are charts with links, a strategy for incorporating teaching on generosity (the new watchword for giving), and plenty of charts. This is a well rounded survey.

The data in the report is rather eye opening and it has been arranged in some great charts that are eye catching and informative. It is certainly worth you read.

It isn’t a perfect survey by any stretch. One key piece of statistical data I would like to see is the average age of tithers, committed givers. If the Barna, and other surveys, data is correct our most committed givers are growing older and older and not being replaced by younger families. This should be concerning for us.

All that said, I am definitely encouraged by the trend in discussing “generosity” in our churches. Leadership Network has some great resources and best practices on this. So, go and get this eBook and dig into its data. You’ll be encouraged and challenged.


How are you incorporating teaching/preaching on generosity in your church? Have you read this survey? What did you think?

As a note, I did not receive this survey or any other consideration in reviewing the materials. This is a completely objective review.

May 2013



Resource Review: Modern Parables

Resource Name: Modern Parables: Living the Kingdom of God


In Short: Modern Parables takes six parables of Christ and present modern retellings through high quality cinematography and innovative lessons.

Cost: $60 for the whole curriculum

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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A couple of years ago, Compass Cinema‘s released a video based groups curriculum called Modern Parables. The curriculum had six video lessons that took some parables of Jesus and recast them into a contemporary (or modern) setting. In creating and releasing these parables, the leaders at Compass Cinemas made having high quality cinematography along with high grade acting as vital to their effort. 

The six parables which are considered in this series are: (click the links for trailers)

Each parable has its own unique story which is retold in a way that captures a group’s attention and identifies central points. Each video is between 13 – 21 minutes long, though they generally stay within the 15 minute time frame. This is helpful for group discussion. Also, as part of their approach the group lesson plan uses two sessions to talk about each parable. The first session is a viewing of the film with a brief discussion and the second session explores the themes a bit deeper. You can check out some of the film trailers on their Vimeo site. (Also, if you check out YouTube you can preview some of the full length videos I believe.)

The curriculum content is rather good and provides a good lesson path for each video. Facilitators, or teachers, can easily navigate the sessions and draw out some important points. Biblical content is central to each lesson and it is handled maturely by the curriculum authors.

As I’ve used the content, the reception by twentysomethings and adults through age 45 has been excellent. The videos are rather engaging. They mix humor with serious drama. Various films aren’t afraid to confront difficult topics: a Middle Eastern man is the Samaritan, racism is still prevalent in another film, and other important themes. In the Shrewd Manager they get behind the seeming contradictory message to the deeper issues in a timely way. The Sower will make you want to become a farmer. Perhaps the only film that doesn’t clip along is the Prodigals video, but for good reason, it is the longest video because it is the longest parable. However, the authors nail the point about that Jesus was making.

Overall this is an excellent curriculum piece. I have not used the two session approach for the videos but opted for one setting with the video up front. This does compress the discussion time depending on your group setting. My only complaint in the videos is that there is some superfluous content in several that adds minutes to the video but not much to the story. This is a minor complaint.

Also, I’m still waiting for volume 2…but don’t expect that too soon. Check this series out for your groups, especially if you’re working with 20s and 30s who are discussion focused and desire high quality, well developed curriculum pieces. In every scenario group attendance maintained with the anticipation of each coming week.

Finally, check out everything Compass has to offer. They’ve diversified their approach since this initial release and have some great content for families, homeschoolers, and regular classroom stuff. I don’t necessarily agree with all their points in the various videos, but the content is well presented. Though it isn’t in stores yet, their video series for learning Klingon will certainly help us prepare for our new alien overlords. I for one welcome our new Klingon overlords, and would likely to remind them that I, a trusted minister and counselor, can be trusted to round up others for their Klingon work farms. But seriously, check out their other stuff.

Have you used Modern Parables? What did you think? How has this kind of content been helpful or unhelpful for your groups?