My all-time favorite literature ever
Literature only matters about 80% of the time. For our best 10%,
they are so good they can produce a great lesson with any
literature, bad literature, or no literature. For the bottom 10%, I
doubt any literature is going to be good enough to help. But, for
the 80% in the big middle, literature can make a huge difference.
Quite honestly, until recently, I have never been that excited
about any literature. I would never have written this article two
years ago, because up until then, I had never run across any
literature produced by anyone that I thought was truly remarkable.
Not that it was bad. It just was not the kind of literature that had
me call my wife and say, "Hey, let me read this to you; this
is great!" I find this happens quite regularly with the current literature we
The problem with literature
Most literature (with the notable exception of my all-time
favorite) has a kind of fatal flaw. It works like this. Smart people
get in a room and decide what we are going to study. There is a
rather elaborate criteria that I have never fully understood, but it
insures that we study a balance of Old Testament and New Testament,
that we study the life of Christ every so often and so forth. They
seek to come up with topics and texts that produce a balanced
spiritual diet. So far so good. Then, they go out and try to find
someone that will write something brilliant about the topic and
This is an almost impossible task to do consistently. Sometimes
the writing is good, sometimes great, but sometimes. . . not so much. It is
nobody's fault, really. It is just a difficult system. It is hard to
assign the task of writing something brilliant and consistently get
I couldn't do any better. If you assigned me the job of writing
something remarkable on some particular topic or text, I doubt I
could do it. If you asked me to find someone who could write
something brilliant about some topic or text, I doubt I could do it.
It is just a difficult thing to do.
Let me be clear: I am not saying all other literature is bad. I
am just saying I have never seen any other literature that was as
What if you went at it the other way? Imagine you found something
that had already been written that was brilliant, and you turned
that into Sunday school literature. What if you started with some of the best
books written by some of the best writers that God has raised up in
this generation and you built the literature around the best of what
they had already written? Then, what if you edited it down, to only
get the best of the best. What would you end up with?
Lifeway's Masterworks Series
This is exactly what Lifeway's Masterworks Series has done. They
take some of the best work done by some of the best writers and they
turn it into literature. They take writing done by people like John
MacArthur, Tony Evans, Beth Moore, and John Piper and the turn it
into literature. It is great. I love this literature. I have been
using it in the class I am a member of for a couple of years now and
it is great.
Who should pick the literature, anyway?
This raises a question that does not have a universally agreed
upon answer. Who should pick the literature, anyway? Who is in the
best place to make the best decision about what is the best
literature for a particular group to study?
The only answer everyone agrees on to this question is, "I am."
There are two schools of thought. Some are comfortable letting
the teachers decide, while in other churches the staff decides. I
have seen both approaches work effectively.
Often, when the staff decides, they have everyone in the same
literature. In some cases, all age groups study the same passage.
The idea is that this can create a conversation within families
about what was discussed in Sunday School. (For a great new book on
this idea, see The Big Idea
by Dave Ferguson)
In some cases there is a
teachers meeting where the Pastor or Minister of Education teaches
the teachers on Wednesday nights and the teachers teach this lesson
to the class on Sunday. In my own church, our former pastor used to
do this. He taught a class himself, so there was no additional
preparation; he just had to have his Sunday School lesson ready by
Wednesday. He was a great communicator and this additional help in
preparation was appreciated by the teachers. We are now in three
services on Sunday morning, so this isn't possible any more, but
when it worked, it worked great.
The other approach is to let each individual teacher decide what
to teach. There are two benefits of this. First, because the teacher
knows the class better, they are in a better position to decide what
the class needs. Second, we all tend to teach better when we are
teaching something that we are fired up about. By letting the
individual teachers decide, you release their God-given
entrepreneurial spirit and arguably get a better lesson.
A mid point between these two positions is to let the teachers
decide from an approved list. Or, let the teacher decide, but the
decision has to be cleared by the leadership.
On the whole, I prefer to let the teacher decide, although I have
seen all three approaches work effectively. Whether I was a teacher
or on staff, I wouldn't die on this hill. (The older I get, the
fewer hills I would die on.) An effective teacher will be able to
teach an effective lesson regardless of what the literature is or
who selected it.
We keep looking for the one right answer. Traveling some has
taught me there is more than one good way to grow a church.
And, no matter who does the selecting, I have a suggestion:
consider the Masterworks Series. I think it is the best literature