Exposing Hidden Curriculum: Choosing Ministry Tools with Care

A few years ago I decided that using my wife’s kitchen shears to edge around my house’s sidewalks was not only embarrassing my family (my neighbors made comments), but it was also highly impractical. So I went to the local home improvement store to buy a trimmer—a process that was far more perplexing than I had anticipated. The number of trimmers to choose from delayed my usual in-and-out approach to shopping. I finally settled on the one that would best meet my needs, and it has served me well ever since.

Choosing between ministry tools can be as confusing as choosing between trimmers, because we have so many choices. As ministry leaders, we need to choose our tools wisely, for they influence our people in ways that we may not have even considered. We ought to look for tools that reflect our doctrinal beliefs and allow us to minister effectively.

It’s not just what we say; it’s what we say and do!

When we choose ministry tools that do not support our convictions on key doctrinal issues, we communicate more than we think. We communicate a curriculum that is taught by our actions, not by our words. This curriculum is hidden; it is the ideas we teach as a result of our actions. Hidden curriculum is never what we intend to teach, but it has a lasting impact.

Hidden curriculum often speaks louder than our intended curriculum and may even contradict what we say we believe. For these reasons we need to think critically about the hidden curriculum we are conveying as ministry leaders. What does our choice of ministry tools say to those we minister to?

Jesus told His disciples to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees” (Matt. 16:6). Leaven represents pervasive yet unseen and undetected evil. Jesus wanted His disciples to understand what lay at the heart of the Jewish leaders’ teaching (v. 12). He wanted the disciples to examine the leaders’ true beliefs. These would become obvious as the disciples took note of the leaders’ actions. The Pharisees taught devotion to God with their mouths, but their actions revealed complete devotion to themselves. As a result, Jesus later called them whitewashed tombs filled with putrid, rotting flesh (23:27).

Jesus’ warning should cause us to pause and examine what we are really teaching. What does our choice of teaching materials communicate to our learners? What is the hidden curriculum of our teaching ministries? What are our students learning from us that we do not intend for them to learn?

It’s not just parts; it’s the whole counsel of God!

Teaching sound doctrine based on the whole counsel of God is of utmost importance in establishing an effective teaching ministry. Choosing teaching materials that are doctrinally unsound or unbalanced creates a hidden curriculum that we should not take lightly.

We may excuse the unsound material we choose by relegating certain doctrines to a secondary, less important status. Or we may choose to focus on what is right about the curriculum while ignoring doctrines that are wrongly taught or left out. Doctrines that speak to issues such as the timing of the Rapture or the Holy Spirit’s ministry to believers do not directly affect the fundamentals of the faith, but they are important parts of the Scriptures. All doctrine is important. If we sincerely believe a doctrine, we ought to use teaching materials that reflect our beliefs.

It’s not just the obvious; it’s the hidden curriculum!

Consider five hidden curriculums we may be teaching when we choose materials that do not reflect our beliefs.

Hidden Curriculum 1: God tolerates incomplete or inaccurate doctrine.

Using curriculum that is missing lessons on key doctrinal truths or that misinterprets Scripture communicates that God is okay with getting doctrine mostly right.

On the contrary, God is concerned about the details of doctrine (2 Tim. 3:16)! He doesn’t look the other way as long as we have good intentions. For example, God took careful measures to explain the sequence of end-time events. When our chosen ministry tools render the timeline of end-time events as of little consequence, that is a big deal! Whether a believer goes through the Tribulation is of significant importance to believers today.

Hidden Curriculum 2: People decide which doctrines are negotiable.

When we tolerate some doctrinal problems in our teaching materials, we suggest to our people that we have the authority to decide which doctrines we can waffle on. In reality, God doesn’t have a list of doctrines we are free to take or leave. He expects us to rightly divide all of His Word (2 Tim. 2:15).

Hidden Curriculum 3: Truth is something we all must decide for ourselves.

If we tolerate wrong doctrine, we communicate that truth is determined by our reasoning. Truth becomes what we choose to pick up from a smorgasbord of ideas. In a world where truth is presented as relative, we need to use materials that we can teach confidently and that have a high view of Scripture.

Hidden Curriculum 4: The messenger is more important than the message.

When we wholeheartedly buy into the teaching of a person who does not teach sound doctrine, we communicate that who is teaching the Bible is more important than what he is teaching. We teach loyalty to a man rather than to the Word.

Paul warned about the folly of identifying ministry with a personality instead of Christ (1 Cor. 3:1–7). Paul despised the idea of people claiming to be “of him” while other people claimed to be of others. If our beliefs are centered on a person other than Christ, we need to pay attention to the effects our teaching may be having on our students.

Hidden Curriculum 5: Passion and innovative thinking are more important than substance.

Promoting an innovative communicator for his thinking skills despite doctrinal differences conveys that how something is said is more important than what is said. We teach people to value a speaker’s innovative ideas and passionate speech above the teachings of the Word.

Paul did not in any way emphasize eloquence or wise-sounding speech (1 Cor. 2:1–5). The emphasis of his message was always Christ. Christ should be the Person Who comes up in our conversation when we are talking about ministry. If we talk about a personality more than we do Christ, we need to check to whom we are truly devoted.

We can try to temper some of the effects of using unsound materials by teaching with caveats. But even then, we are still to some degree communicating these five hidden curriculums.

It’s not just the enjoyable; it’s the trustworthy!

Our best practice is to choose teaching materials that are doctrinally sound and that present the whole counsel of God. Regular Baptist Press works hard to provide materials that meet these requirements. Everything we produce is firmly rooted in the Word of God and consistent with the GARBC’s Articles of Faith.

We have a serious job to do as ministry leaders. We will do well to recognize all that we teach through the materials we choose to use. Make sure your teaching is free of damaging hidden curriculum by choosing materials you can trust.

Reposted with permission from Baptist Bulletin © Regular Baptist Press, all rights reserved.


Alex Bauman serves as educational resources director for Regular Baptist Press. This article was first published in the Baptist Bulletin (September/October 2011).

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Bert Perry's picture

Liked the thoughts, and a couple easy "tells" that we ought to watch out for hidden curricula are (a) changing translation all the time to "get the one that fits the message we want to spread" and (b) clearly out of context Scripture citations.  I've thrown out a LOT of books for these reasons.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

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