Why Orange Curriculum is Bad

April 27, 2023

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In this eye-opening podcast episode, Elizabeth Urbanowicz analyzes the effectiveness of the popular Orange Curriculum and discusses the pitfalls of proof-texting moral lessons. We'll even look at scripture-based alternatives to Orange Curriculum. Don't miss this essential conversation on transforming kids' ministry for the better!


Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.

Hello friends, and welcome to another episode of the Foundation Worldview Podcast where we seek to answer your questions so that you can equip the children that God has placed in your care to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter and understand the truth of the biblical worldview. I'm your host, Elizabeth Urbanowicz and I'm thrilled that you've joined me for another episode today. Now, today's question is short and sweet and it's one we get frequently at Foundation Worldview, and today's question says, "I would like to get your input on the Orange curriculum." Yes, you and thousands of other people. So this is the question that we're going to dive down into today.

But before we do that, if you found the content of this podcast beneficial, would just ask that you consider liking and subscribing to make sure that you're notified of all future episodes, and also ask that you would consider writing a review and sharing this content with those in your sphere of influence so that we can equip more adults to get our kids to carefully evaluate the ideas that they encounter.

Now this question, as I mentioned, is one that we get frequently at Foundation Worldview. Since we are a curriculum company, people want to know information about other curriculums, and Orange is one of the most, if not the most widely used curriculum right now in the US across evangelical churches. Now, this is a podcast that we try really hard to keep under 20 minutes, so my response is going to be somewhat brief. So if you would like more information, more in depth information about the Orange curriculum, highly recommend that you check out a super stream that was done by a number of different YouTubers. I believe it was Alissa Elisa Childers, Natasha Crane and Krista Bontrager. And they went in and they just did a deep dive into the orange curriculum so you can check out that video that they did. Also, if you would like a further analysis that I have done, if you check out a previous webinar that we ran at Foundation Worldview, that was called Preparing our Children to Confront Unbiblical Ideas within Christianity. So those are just two other resources that you can go through to understand a little bit more about Orange.

Now, I'm going to give you a very brief overview just of my thoughts about Orange and then how to wisely choose a curriculum. But first, just wanted to start off with just a little explanation of why I do not view myself as the best person to offer a review of Orange. And the main reason for that is just because of the line of work that I'm in that I run Foundation Worldview, and we are a company that primarily creates curriculum. Now, our curriculums are most widely used in homes, not churches, but we do still have a large number of churches that use our curriculums. And so my hesitancy sometimes to speak out about other curriculums is just that it will look like or can give the impression that I am just trying to lift up the Foundation Worldview curriculums while putting another curriculum down.

So I am going to say if you are watching or listening to this podcast and your church currently uses Orange, I am going to recommend in this podcast that your church stops using Orange. However, I am not going to recommend that you start using Foundation Worldview curriculums simply because Orange is very comprehensive. It has curriculums basically from birth through high school and it provides so many different resources for those who are volunteering to teach the programs for their midweek programs, the Sunday programs, and also for the parents at home. So if you're looking for a birth through 12th grade curriculum, Foundation Worldview is not the shop for you, but there are some other great curriculums out there that I will get to at the end that I would recommend you highly check out as a replacement for Orange.

Now, what I see as one of the main problems with Orange, even just from a cursory glance at their website, I think that this is obvious even before requesting a sample of their material, is that they've really given into the spirit of the age and tried to make the self the hero of the story.

Now, all of Orange's, orange's materials include scripture. They include lots of talk about God, but when you even just look at their website, you see that they have really made the self the king, just like our culture is seeking to do rather than viewing reality as it is with God enthroned and us being his image bearers who are marred by the fall and are reconciled to him through Jesus, and that we just play very, very minor parts in this grand drama. For example, if you go just to Orange's homepage, the first thing that you'll see is the statement create a better experience for kids and teens this week. And so my question to you would be, is that what we should seek to do as we have children's and youth ministry? Are we seeking to create a better experience for them or are we seeking to equip them to understand reality as it is?

Are we seeking them to deny themselves, pick up their cross and follow Jesus daily? Because that is the call of discipleship. Jesus did not tell us to follow our desires, to let our heart guide us and to fulfill our dreams. He didn't even tell us to just try to create a better experience. He's his call is to deny ourselves, to pick up our cross and to follow him daily. Just some other things on the website that just make it clear that they're kind of giving in to the felt needs of the culture rather than our actual needs as fallen image barriers.

What they try to do that they say for the elementary age is that they work to engage their interests. Now, engaging elementary students, that's not a bad thing. I think teaching in a way that's engaging is the biblical model. That's what Jesus did even in the Old Testament. God used very clear and physical examples through the prophet, so we should seek to engage the kids that are in our care. But is that the primary goal? Is that the primary goal of our instruction with elementary students to engage their interests? Again, what is it doing? It's focusing it all on them. We as fallen, sinful humans, we already struggle against the belief that we are the hero of the story. That life is all about us, that our desires are the best guide for reality. We're constantly fighting against this. So if our kids are getting this in church that it's all about a better experience for them and engaging their interests, we're just feeding that sin nature.

And then for teens, or for middle schoolers, I'm sorry, what they say is affirm their personal journeys, affirm their personal journeys. Now, I'm sure that we've all experienced when somebody actually takes the time to sit with us, to sit down with us, to display interest in us, to get to know us, and our stories that really in a deep way communicates love. And so yes, we should care greatly for the children that God has placed in our care. We should seek to get to know them, to understand them, to understand who has God designed them to be? What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? What are the things they do really well? What are the sinful tendencies they have? But are we just supposed to affirm their personal journeys? I don't know about you, but there are things in my personal journey that are sin ways in which I have rebelled against God, and I'm very, very grateful that my parents and pastors and others in my life have not just affirmed those sinful patterns in my life.

Again, getting to know kids is super important, but is affirming their journey, what our kids' ministry should be focused on. So that's what I think is one of the main mistakes of Orange. And this is just seen on the front end of their website before diving into any materials that they've just given into the spirit of the age that the self is king. And God kind of plays a supporting role in that. And this becomes even more clear once you dive into their materials. Now, one of the most difficult things I think with discerning the truth from error in Orange's materials is that there's always a lot of scripture included in their materials, and there's a lot of true things that are said, but that's when discernment becomes most difficult. Not when something is blatantly wrong, but when something is not quite right, but it's almost right.

And so I would say the main mistake, as I have looked at their materials, the main mistake that I found in the teaching of their materials is that they make the mistake of when they look at scripture, they incorrectly interpret scripture and use it to make a predetermined point that they'll pull scripture out of context. They'll pull a story out of context, and they'll use it to teach something that is not at all in that narrative in the text. And they'll have looked at, okay, this month we're teaching this character trait, or we're teaching this lesson and what scripture can we use to support that?

For example, I was diving into their materials in the spring of 2022, and in the spring of 2022, I believe it was either in May or June, their materials were focused on the Book of Acts. And the theme that they had chosen for that month was resilience. And what they were doing is all throughout that month, they were using the different stories in the Book of Acts to teach the kids resilience, getting back up when you're knocked down. Now, is resilience a good thing? Resilience is a good thing. Okay. Do we see the apostles being resilient in acts? Maybe I would say that a more accurate biblical term is that they were empowered by the Holy Spirit to do the work to which God had called them. And so everything in their lessons throughout that month was all about like, "oh, look at the apostles. They hear they healed this lame man at the temple, and then they were put in prison. But did they get down and discouraged? No, they were resilient." Okay. And it's like, is that story about rah rah resilience or is that story showing God's faithfulness in displaying who Jesus really was, that Peter was able to heal the lame man at the temple because that's the power that Jesus had given him to show the truth of who Jesus was.

And then Peter kept proclaiming the truth of Jesus to the Sanhedrin even when he was put in prison because he was empowered by the Holy Spirit to do the work that God had called him to do. And this is Peter who just months before had fled, had denied Jesus three times, had fled in the garden, but he was now empowered with the Holy Spirit to do the work that God had called him to do. And so in this month-long materials in Orange, they were taking the book of Acts and they were using it to teach this lesson of resilience that's really not the main focus or any focus in the Book of Acts.

Similarly, a few years ago, I think it was probably 2019, I did another dive into Orange and they were teaching different moral lessons. And one of the lessons that I looked at was the narrative of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17. And the lesson that they taught for 1 Samuel 17 is honor others by giving them a chance. And so they were saying David was the little guy, and his older brothers criticized him and made fun of him, and he couldn't even wear Saul's armor. He was too small, but they honored him as the little guy by giving him a chance. And look what happened. And when we look at that narrative, it's like, okay, they did give him a chance. Did they really want to? No. But is this about giving the little guy a chance? No. When we look at the narrative of David and Goliath within the context of all of scripture, we see that this narrative is about God being a faithful covenant keeper, that God promised that when the nation of Israel followed him, when they loved and trusted and obeyed his commands, that he was going to bless them and he was going to give them success over their enemies.

And here most of the nation of Israel was off cowering on a hill. And David, who actually trusted God, who trusted that God would be faithful to his promises, this little guy, he was able to slay this giant that was more than twice his size. Why? Because he was little and they gave him a chance. No, because God is a faithful covenant keeper. God is always true to his word. And so this is what I would say is the main problem in the teaching of Orange is they just decide some little moral lesson that they want to teach the kids, and then they take scripture, and it's not like they're completely twisting it to teach something unbiblical, but what they're doing is they're using that scripture to prove a point that's not even in that scripture. And if this is what our kids are getting Sunday after Sunday, after Sunday, after Sunday, this is how they're going to learn to read, interpret, and apply God's word in a very faulty way.

So what I would say, whether your church is using Orange or another curriculum, no matter what curriculum it is, you should be asking, is this curriculum teaching children truths from scripture for the purpose of them knowing and loving God and knowing how to read, interpret, and apply his word? Or is this curriculum using scripture to proof text some predetermined point? And so it's really the posture and the attitude of those who have written the curriculum. Have those who written the curriculum say, okay, this is the text that we're going to cover. What does this text reveal about who God is? Where does it fall into God's big story? Or do they say, "okay, this is the moral truth we're teaching. What scripture can we find to back that up?" Okay, because that's a really faulty way to read, interpret, and apply scripture. So you want to be asking yourself, what is the model used in this curriculum? Is it going to the text and learning truths about God from the text? Or is it trying to teach some predetermined moral lesson and shoehorning a certain biblical text into that?

Now, two curriculums that I think do a great job of the first thing of actually going to the text and saying, okay, what does this text reveal about who God is? The first one is another popular curriculum, which is The Gospel Project, which is published by Lifeway. The Gospel Project is a great replacement for Orange because it provides so many of the similar materials. It goes all the way from, I think babies all the way up through high school. So it's that full-on scope and sequence of the curriculum, and it provides great materials for those who are leading. It provides great materials to go home with the kids. So The Gospel Project is a good one that I have done a deep dive into before, and I can wholeheartedly recommend.

Another curriculum that I haven't done quite as deep a dive into, but I've heard really good things about, and the few materials that I have seen were solid, is the Truth: 78 and that's put out by Desiring God, which is the ministry of John Piper. So I've heard really good things about that curriculum and know that it spans a wide variety of ages. Okay, so those are two curriculums I would highly recommend that you check out that actually do a proper job of exegeting God's word and teaching kids how to approach scripture.

And then for those of you who have followed the Foundation Worldview ministry for a while, you can probably already guess the next thing that I am going to recommend. And one thing that I am very passionate about and my entire team is very passionate about is actually rethinking the way that we do kids ministry. That there's nothing in scripture that specifically tells us how to do ministry. Kids ministry really didn't exist until just a little over a hundred years ago. So it's a very new thing for the church. But one thing that I always encourage parents and pastors to think through is actually having children participate in the corporate worship experience. That we not have children's programming during the time of corporate worship. Yes, we can have a Sunday school class that's before the service. Yes, we can have a Wednesday evening program, but during that time that we encourage parents to have their kids in the service with them.

This is a lot more work. We need to actually train parents how to do this. But I personally believe that it is so much more valuable to teach the kids how to be an active member of the body of Christ, how to worship God through song, how to worship him through the listening to the preaching of his word, and gleaning what we can from that pray faithful preaching of God's word. So you can check out other Foundation Worldview podcasts that we've done about that, talking about kids' ministry, as well as different webinars that we've done as well.

Well, that's a wrap for today's episode. But as always, my prayer for you as we leave this time together is that God would continue to richly bless you as you faithfully disciple the children He's placed in your care. I'll see you next time.

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