How to choose your next best curriculum

People often ask me for curriculum recommendations. Since Cadre writes, publishes and offers a lot of training, people sometimes think we do curriculum.

But…we don’t.

I get why people ask. Choosing what to teach is a pressing, felt need many of us have as we plan to teach week-to-week…to week…to week.


Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-curriculum. But Cadre doesn’t write it because we believe disciplemaking is a way of life, and that’s our focus—helping you, as our in-real-life friends, follow Jesus with the people in your life, living sent to make disciples who make disciples. Disciplemaking isn’t meant to be a topic for us to teach for 8 weeks every other year as part of our Christian education rotation.

But wait, don’t close out the window yet!

We can still help.

The truth is, there are many great kinds of studies and resources you can use to cultivate disciplemaking values in your ministy. This is the best one. And I’ll share a few more at the bottom.

But let’s back up for a minute.

While I can share a few resources with you, I’d much rather equip you to choose your own curriculum well. In fact, this won’t be my only post on the topic. But today, I simply want to challenge you to think about the big picture.

Instead of picking a curriculum based on how well it’s designed, how easy it is to teach without much prep, or how many of your friends use it…stop and ask:

  • What does a disciple who makes disciples look like?
  • What head, hands and heart understanding do we want to help develop in people as we seek to make disciples?
  • What are our goals as we aim to make disciples who make disciples?

There are plenty of good studies out there. But unless you have clearly defined goals, you’re probably going to fumble around looking for “the next best thing” to teach every 3-6 months.

Here are some sample “exit goals” to show you what I mean.

By the time children finish Kindergarten, they should…

  • Know the Bible is God’s Word
  • Be able to pray a simple prayer

By the time kids finish 5th grade, they should…

  • Know God helps us overcome our fears
  • Be able to name the books of the Bible in order

By the time students finish high school, they should…

  • Understand God’s design for us to live in biblical community with one another
  • Be able to choose personal priorities based on their relationship with Jesus.

Once adults have experienced this class or group, they should…

  • Know how to lead someone to Christ
  • Be able to live out the one another verses with family and friends

Note that these are just EXAMPLES—they’re NOT mean to be exhaustive. You can view a more extensive list of goals and find practical help as you teach for disciplemaking in Cadre’s Teaching Genius of Jesus.


If the ministry you’re a part of isn’t ready to come up with goals for all ages, spend some time prayerfully identifying a few simple goals for the group you’re teaching or leading.

Once you know what you’re aiming for, you can find studies that will help people grow as disciples in the areas you’ve identified.

But if you’re still looking for Cadre-style “curriculum,” start here…

  • You can break down our Equip middle school training into weekly bite sizes and plan a lesson around it. There are lots of ideas and creative ways to engage, but there’s no script. You’ll have to be willing to study and share the Scripture together with those you’re teaching.

And finally, since I told you I would, here are a handful of additional resources I’ve found helpful in cultivating a disciplemaking way of life:

For kids:

Discover 4 Yourself Inductive Bible studies

The Jesus Storybook Bible (and curriculum)

252 Basics

For students:

Dare 2 Share’s Field Guide to Sharing Your Faith

Sticky Faith: 10 Lessons to Nurture Faith Beyond High School

For adults:

Let’s Read the Bible Together YouVersion plans

Prayer that Makes a Difference by Martin Sanders

A Righteous Brood by Hugh Halter

The gift your students really want

[This post is part of our Batteries Included collection just for people who invest in disciplemaking with middle schoolers. If you’re a youth leader, parent or teacher who spends time with middle schoolers, this is for you. If you’re not—share it with a friend who is!]

Talking with middle schoolers can be overwhelming. I often find myself surrounded by a group of excited girls, all telling me a different story. Sometimes my ears get overloaded as I try to listen meaningfully to all of them at the same time.

In these moments, I’m struck by how deeply middle schoolers long to be listened to, to be valued, to know someone really cares about their lives. These moments make me wonder how often people really do listen to middle schoolers. How often do we, as adults, speak to them with compassion, not just correction or criticism.

The best gift: your ears

As an adult, one of the best gifts you can give middle schoolers is your ears! Here are 3 ways to give the gift of your ears—moving your conversations from casual to heart listening.


Listen more than you speak.

Listen to the kind of words students use. How do they talk about their families? Their friends? What emotions lie beneath their words? What do they share about how they view themselves?

Do you hear insecurity, arrogance, self-defeatism, confidence? What hopes and fears do they express in their stories, in their mannerisms?

Listening well will provide you a wealth of insight on how to love them.

Ask good questions!

Whether students are naturally chatty or reserved, asking great questions helps students share what’s really going on inside. Sometimes the most talkative students are the least likely to really open up. Filling the air with words can keep others from cracking the shell.


Look for open-ended questions—ones that require an answer other than “yes” or “no.” Jesus was a master at asking questions like this! Here are just a few from Cadre’s Ministry is Relationships training that will take your conversations below the surface:

  • What is one thing you would love to smash with a hammer if you would not get in trouble for it and why?
  • Who is crazy about you—and how does that person show it?
  • What story do you enjoy hearing your parents or other relatives tell about something YOU did or said when you were little?
  • What is the greatest misconception people have about you?
  • If you could wave a magic wand and have whatever you wished for in any part of your life, what would it be?
  • What do you think God’s opinion is of you? If you could read His mind, what would God be thinking of you right now?


At ministry events, talk to students more than you talk to other adults.

This is so important. If you spend more time talking with your own friends and peers, students may feel like you aren’t interested in them. While high school students may be more interested in “space” from adults, typically younger ones crave attention from grown-ups. Listening to them is truly one of the best gifts you can give them.

Want to help your team grow in your heart listening skills? Ministry is Relationships is a great place to start. Contact us to find out more.



Our new digs for disciplemaking ideas, tools and resources

I’m excited to introduce you to Cadre’s updated blog—a merger of several of our earlier niche blogs, now together in one place where you can read and share with others easily.

We’ll be sharing new content here to spur you on in your disciplemaking as well as drawing from our existing library of articles from Cadre Connection, Batteries Included (middle school ministry), Spiritual Caffeine (disciplemaking for students) and other articles we’ve developed as a team.

You’ll hear from each of our distinct voices as a Cadre team as we share our unique journeys in disciplemaking, as we explore practical ways you can use our training and resources in your own context for following Jesus with friends.

You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter or subscribe to get new posts sent to your inbox.

And don’t forget to follow Cup O’ Joe with Bill for ministry and family updates from the Allison family.

Take a look around, and watch for more content to come!

Becoming a safe place

[Psst, here’s a secret: Middle schoolers are some of our favorite people. This post is part of our Batteries Included collection just for people who invest in this awkward, amazing age group. f you’re a youth leader, parent or teacher who spends time with middle schoolers, this is for you. If you’re not—share it with a friend who is!]

I often challenge our middle school students to make our group their safe place. They get cut-down and kicked around enough everywhere else. As people of God, we’re called to be different—to be full of the grace and truth of Jesus. This is a brand new concept for most middle schoolers.

Following Jesus isn’t “safe”—it’s full of risk and adventure. But fostering an accepting, loving environment gives students the courage to trust the dangerous message of Christ.

(Actually, I think this is the same for adults.)

And if we’re going to follow Jesus together, we need to build an environment of trust and kindness—the kind that flows out of mutual community.

I know, I know, this all sounds good…except that I mentioned this is middle schoolers we’re talking about, right???

You might think it’s impossible for middle schoolers to be nice to each other.

It’s not!

Pulling students in from the fringe

It does, however, take a lot of prayer, patience and intentionality on your part. The prayer and patience are easy enough to understand. So how can we be purposeful about helping students feel safe in our midst?

  1. Introduce students to each other. You may know all of them, but do they know each other? Don’t assume. Play name games. Show core students how to walk over and introduce themselves to new students by doing it with them.
  2. Play games that build bonds rather than break them. We seldom use elimination games that quickly disengage half the group. It’s not because I no longer believe in competition—it’s because students get bored when you cut them out of the game. Instead of eliminating, you can give students “disabilities” like using only one foot, running backwards or being blindfolded to penalize but keep them participating. Competition can build great bonds, especially if teams are working together toward a shared goal.
  3. Model words of kindness, encouragement and hope, and help your other leaders guard their sarcasm. When you hear students tearing each other down, challenge them on it! Cut-downs are second nature for many middle schoolers. They need help recognizing what’s not okay to say to each other. Just be careful that the way you challenge them still models the compassion you want them to have!

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8

equip sign, middle school

Want to Equip your middle schoolers to help create a safe place for following Jesus together? Find out how!

Disciplemaking through games

Sure, games are great way for your students to burn energy before you get into a lesson—and they need it. They’re also fun! But ministry is about making disciples, not “fun and games.” So what’s the point? Is game time just a thing you have to do to get students to calm down—or are there other reasons to spend your precious time planning games every week?


What if your games were all part of disciplemaking in your ministry? What if they could help your students and leaders follow Jesus together?

Younger students, especially middle schoolers, are at the height of insecurity and confusion about who they are. Their relationships are often complicated, awkward and emotional. They often start asking big questions about God. But games can help students grow toward mutual community as they learn to depend on each other.

The best games are not only fun; they help us make disciples by

  1. Breaking down barriers
  2. Building trust
  3. Building confidence
  4. Illustrating biblical truths

Bonus: Check out these TED talks on how taking time to play is good for us.


Study & Share tool: Romans 12:9-21

Read it together and discuss: How can playing together help us live out this passage? Then, brainstorm & dig to create a list of games that will help you reach your game goals.

So games are totally worth it—but if you want to suppport disciplemaking, avoid games that…

1. Embarrass or mock students. If we’re doing a game that could be especially messy or put a student on the spot, I let them volunteer to be embarrassed. If they’re choosing to let others decorate their face like a frosted cookie, they’re much more likely to enjoy it and not feel humiliated by it.

2. Isolate students. A lot of games are elimination based, and this is one of the quickest ways you can lose students’ attention. There are ways to tweak elimination games to keep everyone involved instead of leaving them to roam awkwardly while the game continues. In a large enough group, you may be able to draw the eliminated in to cheer on who’s remaining. In our smaller group setting, this almost never works.

But you can change the rules to make it work. For example, at the point where a student should be eliminated, you can instead give them a handicap (“Okay Ben, now you have to play with your eyes closed / standing on one foot” etc.) Or, come up with a “silver bracket” where the eliminated can keep playing.

3. Are more about competition than about fun and connecting. Keeping score is a great way to keep students engaged in the game, but don’t make winning more important than the people who are playing.