LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Five white, older adult Sunday School teachers aren’t the first images that come to mind in looking at the “YOU” curriculum for urban, multicultural churches developed by LifeWay Christian Resources.
merged to form St. Paul.
But the teachers and their recently merged, mixed-race congregation are proving that YOU has fans even in the suburbs.
The teachers are members of St. Paul Baptist Church at Shively Heights, a church in Louisville, Ky., that launched in August when the mostly white Shively Heights Baptist Church merged with the mostly African American St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church.
The new congregation averages about 350 in worship and 160 for Sunday School, said Mark Payton, who was pastor at the Shively Heights congregation. “This has been the smoothest transition that I’ve been a part of.”
When combining the adult Sunday Schools, Orlando Allen, director of adult Sunday School for the new congregation, sought both a structure and literature that would serve all members. “We don’t want to end up with white classes and black classes,” Allen said.
For the new structure, Allen created five adult classes, each led by a team of three teachers from both prior congregations. Teachers will rotate monthly through the end of 2009 to promote variety and prevent burnout. “If we mix the teachers, you can typically mix the students,” Allen said. “At least that was my hypothesis, and it’s so far proven to be true.”
Allen proposed the YOU curriculum, which the St. Paul congregation started using shortly before the merger. “YOU is not about the African American congregation nor is it about the Caucasian congregation,” he said. “It is a culturally diverse curriculum.”
Allen said St. Paul chose YOU for three reasons: “One is it has excellent content. The second is it has excellent object lessons. And the third is it has good practical applications.”
It also helps classes to be “growth-oriented” instead of “teaching-oriented,” Allen said, voicing a desire for lessons to provoke members to be proactive and excited about sharing their faith.
“Basically we’re trying to get our classes out of the church building and into the breakrooms and the boardrooms,” Allen said. “We want the participants leaving the classroom thinking, ‘Now, what do I need to do?’”
The initial test came the first month of the merger when former members of the mostly white Shively Heights church taught YOU to all five adult classes.
Payton said he was initially concerned how teachers from his former church would accept the new Sunday School literature. “It’s unusual that all your teachers would be on board with it, but they loved it,” he said. “The main thing they’re saying to me is there’s almost too much information.”
Payton said he’s impressed with the formatting, which includes word studies and other resources all in one book. “It was easy to navigate,” he said. “All the information you needed was in that book, but you didn’t have to go hunting for it. They told you where to go.”
Teacher Jim Hornback said Shively Heights members have taken to the new curriculum as well as they had to previous LifeWay literature.
“It seems to have worked really well,” Hornback said. “The lesson itself does not make any difference if you were teaching it to an all-black (class) or all-white or a mixture. I’ve gotten a lot of good responses back from the class….
“Typically, the previous material we used was pretty much dissecting the Scripture from theological standpoints,” Hornback reflected. “This one seems to offer a whole lot more built-in illustrations and examples, so that a teacher who may not have a lot of resources available otherwise would not have to go outside the material to fully round out the lesson.”
Lincoln Bingham, pastor of the former St. Paul church, said he is delighted to be using YOU. “The main quality of the material is the content. But the recognition of various ethnic groups is also very important to us.
“I’ve always preferred LifeWay in terms of biblical content, but it had no positive images of African Americans to show that we are strong Christians, we are advancing the Kingdom of God,” Bingham said. “But now this material reflects muliticultural images.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Winfrey is a freelance writer in Louisville, Ky. For more information about LifeWay’s “YOU” curriculum, visit LifeWay.com/you. For the initial story about the merger of Shively Heights Baptist Church and St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, click here.)