June 1, 2015
Online Journal - Closer Encounters of the Jesus Kind
Kent Rusk, Principal, Cariboo Adventist Academy, Williams Lake, BC

Classic film references aside, as I have had opportunity to spend time in-servicing and socializing with dozens of Bible teachers from across North America, I have observed two very passionate heart-cries: 1) We urgently desire for every single student who walks through the doors of our schools to have an authentic, life-altering encounter with Jesus, and 2) our approach to reaching students, our methodology and curricular formats are, in many cases, as outdated as the sci-fi film this article’s title references.  We might understand what we’re attempting to share but do they?
 
Much research and training has gone into preparing educators to teach and reach the post-modern mind, and we succeed to varying degrees.  But to be honest, the closer we look, the more we realize that the way our students reason and ascertain value is dramatically different than that of most ‘experienced’ teachers.  The reality is that students are only barely able to relate to ‘our world’ and we are even less able to relate to theirs.  So what does that mean for a Christian church with a life-saving message to share?
 
Fortunately, much of what we need to know about reaching people of all ages with the life-giving message of Jesus is clearly patterned in the gospel stories of Jesus’ own ministry.  As I have read through the gospels, looking for examples of how the Master Teacher taught, it amazes me how post-modern His approach seems.  Truly, His methodology was millennia ahead of educational research.  So I have found this of significant help in unraveling what will work in the Bible classroom and, might I say, in our churches. But there remains one very significant struggle for many of us.  Curriculum: specifically, the current effectiveness of our instructional materials.
 
The challenge exists not in what is being taught, but rather in prioritizing and delivering content in the context of our target audience.  We deeply desire that, regardless of grade level,  every child entering the Adventist education system will know, the life-saving truth of the person and sacrifice of Jesus, and the power of His life-changing Spirit to pattern our lives in agreement with His covering righteousness.  Many have expressed, often apologetically, that the curricula we have been using may be very good at teaching concepts, but often fail at reaching students.  So what can be done to bridge this gap?
 
Last June, my wife and I were invited to attend a Bible curriculum training session in San Diego.  We were told we would be learning about a new Bible curriculum that the NAD was considering adopting.  Having taught Bible for 20 years at almost every grade level K-12, I have seen a few different Bible programs over the year;, some of them were really quite good as long as one could rearrange the ‘delivery part,’ and some of them so off-audience-target that it almost made me want to cry.  So I was very curious to find out where this new curriculum fell on the spectrum.
 
It didn’t!  The Encounter Adventist Curriculum did not fit anywhere on my spectrum of experience or expectation.  It took me by storm! Honestly, I think a part of me had given up hope that I would ever see a curriculum that could really connect today’s youth with biblical truth, end-time prophecy, the value and validity of Adventist history and most importantly, a life-changing love relationship with a deeply interested and interactive God.  From K-12, this is the most deliberately complete presentation of Bible truth I have ever seen in a curriculum.  It is Jesus-centered, gospel-driven, relationship-based, history and prophecy-connected, all within the framework of full-brain learning, and experiential heart learning.  This curriculum is deeply Spiritual, strategically academic and pedagogically post-modern, detailing not merely what will be taught, but guiding the teacher step-by-step, to ensure that both mind and heart connections we seek are taking place, and providing a wealth of materials and activities that will make Bible class a powerfully enriching experience every day.
 
This coming August if you are on the SDACC Caribbean cruise, you have the opportunity to meet one of the co-writers of the Encounter curriculum, Nina Atcheson, a woman with God’s heartbeat for His children.  Andon Boyce , from Crawford Adventist Academy, and I will be joining Nina in training secondary Bible teachers from across Canada, to be able to effectively implement this new and amazing God-inspired curriculum this next school year.  We hope to see many of you there.