We’re joined in the Teachers Lounge by CJ Harris, president of Positive Action for Christ, and Roy Faletti, VP of customer care for Positive Action. They speak about Positive Action, a Bible curriculum publisher for churches and schools since 1969, which is now shipping their products to over 60 countries around the world. Between them, they have several decades in Christian education and more specifically in Bible curriculum with Positive Action and other prominent Bible publishers that our audience would be familiar with as well. So we asked them to provide a more global look at the role of Bible curriculum in the Christian school, and share their experiences and stories with us from that perspective.

What follows is a shortened version of the interview; we hope you’ll listen to the full podcast here.

Michael: Welcome to both of you, CJ and Roy.

CJ Harris: Thank you, Michael. It’s good to be with you today.

Roy Faletti: Likewise. It’s good to be here. And you and I go back a few years, Michael, so it’s good to see you and I’m honored to be part of this today.

Michael Arnold: I’ve known you the longest, Roy. Back in my curriculum director role at another company,
that’s when we first met. You were great to work with and I sensed your passion for education. How long have you been in the work that you do? And what drew you to Positive Action for Christ?

Roy Faletti: I’ve been in Christian education over 35 years. We had a small church-based school that I supported and then eventually ended up taking over and then I became the pastor shortly thereafter. So that was 36 years ago. But 20 years ago, I left that form of ministry and since that time, I’ve become affiliated with 4 different publishers. And about a year ago, I had a new opportunity that would expand my horizons into a ministry that was involved primarily with promoting prayer in churches and schools and uniting generations. And we had funding for 6 months, and I said, “Let’s do it. The Lord will provide.”

And we had a great 6 months, and the Lord didn’t provide. I had known Jeff and Nancy Ludlow from Positive Action for years. We had been at homeschool conventions and Christian school conventions together, had dinners together, and just became really good friends. And they kind of hinted at one time, that it was too bad I took that job at that ministry, that they would have thought about talking to me. So I contacted him and came on board about a year ago.

Michael Arnold: That’s great. I’m glad that you were able to connect with Positive Action. My first Introduction to Positive Action, and I think CJ may have been there back when I was in the classroom myself. We had just purchased the Wise Up series from Positive Action, and I was looking for an opportunity to create fillable PDFs of those workbooks. So I don’t know who I talked with on the Positive Action side. Was it you?

CJ Harris: Yeah, that was me. That kind of sprung us into the idea of fillable PDFs. We’d done a little bit on the digital side with teachers’ material, but on the student side, we really hadn’t done much at that point. And you got a ball rolling that kept us pretty busy for a little while.

Michael Arnold: Really? That’s great to hear. We had just adopted a 1-to-1 program, and all the kids had tablets through some funding grant for the school. I was just trying to figure out how to help my kids use devices, and we had just purchased all these wonderful workbooks from Positive Action.

So, that was a lot of fun, and it really opened my eyes to the beautiful work that Positive Action is doing. Share a little bit about that and the elevator pitch, so to speak, of what Positive Action is all about.

What Positive Action Is All About

CJ Harris: As you mentioned, we’ve been around for quite a while now. We just celebrated our fiftieth anniversary not too long ago. And the ministry was started by a youth pastor who really had a heart for teenagers and had been producing curriculum and had some buddies in other churches who were interested in that curriculum. And the ministry kicked off with about 20 or so churches using that material back in ’72 when we were founded.

And we’ve moved on from there, added the school curriculum, and that’s grown to a ministry around the world. And the heart of that initial youth pastor that got us all kicked off is really helping students learn to study their Bible in a way where they really get to see God and how He’s revealing Himself in the Word, and  grow in their own comfort with their own personal time in their Bible. So they’re learning not just the stories and not just even the theology, but they’re learning how they themselves can develop that relationship with God through the curriculum and, ultimately, through the Bible itself so that when they’re no longer in the curriculum, they have that skill to carry with them into college and beyond.

Michael Arnold: How would you describe the typical approach to Bible learning through the Positive Action model? Does it vary by grade? I’m most familiar with Wise Up, as I said, a great journal, great workbook, taking the kids into the Proverbs and some other scriptures as well, but really highly applicable to the student’s life from that kind of a journaling perspective. Is that the typical model?

CJ Harris: That’s a good description of our middle school. And in elementary, obviously, there’s a little less on the journaling side with the younger grades. We try to help them lay a good foundation. Now even as young as the kindergarten and first grade, they’re learning to look up maybe a single verse or two on their own and doing very basic journaling and answering questions.

As they move up through third and fourth grade, they get a lot more of that. By fifth and sixth grade, it’s a lot more what you’d be familiar with from Wise Up where the student is, at that point, able to do most of the work in the workbook on their own with their Bible. They’re getting really comfortable in the Word and studying it for themselves. The teacher’s there, obviously, to step in and hit the points that he or she would want to really drive home from the curriculum. And then by middle school and high school, there’s usually 1 or 2 days per week of teacher material that the teacher gets to do with the students, but they’re doing a lot of the work in a journaling style, looking up multiple passages and, again, getting really comfortable in the Word as they learn to study it for themselves.

Michael Arnold: What would you say is the main purpose of adopting a Bible curriculum, as opposed to maybe creating your own or leaving it up to the teacher to figure out what they want to teach. What purpose would you say a publisher plays in the mission and role of a Christian school?

What Purpose Does a Publisher Play in Bible Curriculum?

CJ Harris: We really want to be able to help the teachers by giving them a good scope and sequence. Let’s say, you’re teaching your fourth graders, but a curriculum is going to give you the opportunity to know what they’ve already gotten in third grade, what’s coming up in fifth grade, and it allows you to fill in the broad total scope of God’s Word as you interact with the students from the teacher’s side. I’ve taught in school settings, but mostly in church settings, and there’s just that benefit of having someone else do some of the spade work ahead of time, putting together a nice presentation visually that just eases some of that burden for the teacher.

And then for the student side, again, a good Bible curriculum is going to teach them not just the Bible stories, but it’s going to teach them how to study the Bible for themselves. And, certainly, a teacher can do that on their own with their own materials, but a well designed curriculum is going to just aid the students in feeling that they can be independent of a teacher as they study their Bible.

And that’s what we want ultimately. We know that they have amazing teachers in the classrooms but ultimately, they’re going to be out on their own, and they’re not going to have a teacher sitting there when they open their Bible at 7 AM before going to work on Monday morning, and they need to have that skill. And I think that a good curriculum is going to build that into a student.

Michael Arnold: Absolutely. Roy, what would you say? What would you say are some of the common goals that you’ve observed or common successes of a good Bible curriculum publisher?

Roy Faletti: I think you hit the nail on the head when it comes to structure. I would say most of them, if not all, that are on the market today are going to follow a similar structure, maybe a totally different scope and sequence depending on what they’re emphasizing, but none of them get up in the morning when they’re creating curriculum saying, We just want to make this really hard for teachers.

And so everybody, rightfully so, has given it a lot of thought. The companies I’ve worked for have done a lot of testing with schools, staying in touch with teachers. I think everybody has the same goal. The key seems to be making it so that for the students, it becomes life to them, and it’s not just another course.

I don’t want to offend anyone that does this because I know every school that does it has a reason. Bible should be something that is not just a subject.  I know the teachers are well meaning and I certainly do not want to bash any teachers, but they have the subject posters on the wall, and they have math and science, particularly in elementary. And I think it’s awesome that the students can see that. But Bible, instead of being one big subject with all of the others on top of it, Bible is just another subject. Bible needs to be the foundational subject.

For years, we talked about biblical integration. And I know, again, it was well meaning, but I think we kind of had it backwards. All wisdom and knowledge flows out of what we think about God. So I think it’s important that teachers understand that Bible class is the foundation for all other subjects, and shouldn’t be just something that we throw a verse out here and there. But if kids get that right and they get right who God is, then they may not be the best scientist. They may not get all of the other subjects fully, but they will have the foundation from which to understand those subjects and grow in those areas and particularly grow in their call in life because they got the foundation right, and that, I think, is probably the most important thing.

Michael Arnold: I’m hearing you say that educators need to ask themselves, What role do we want our Bible education to play in our school? And as you reflect on that question, it pretty quickly becomes the prominent role. And yet in my observation of trends and practices in education, sometimes Bible becomes the afterthought. I think that might underscore the value of a curriculum. I’m sure you could point to some others as well: This is what a Bible curriculum brings to the table that maybe the typical classroom teacher doesn’t have the time, the energy, the expertise to bring in. What would you say to that, CJ?

What Does a Bible Curriculum Bring to the Table?

CJ Harris: You as a teacher, especially today, are so much more than just an information giver to the students. You are a mentor. You are a discipler in those settings, and a good curriculum is going to let you offload some of the prep time for the informational side and even some of the applicational side, but allow you then to reach out to those students on a real heart level. You’ll have that extra time because you haven’t spent it producing your own material that day.

It also allows you some 1-on-1 time. If there’s a couple students that need a little more help, when the others are working on their journaling time, it gives you that opportunity to really minister to the hearts of those students.

Michael Arnold: Roy, 35 years in this ministry! What are some of the things that you’ve seen change? What’s different today versus two or three decades ago?

Roy Faletti: The church where I got saved was mainly an outreach in the early seventies, and the young people who were having children in their twenties came to the pastor and said, “We need a Christian school.” And this was very early on when the Christian school movement wasn’t even close to what we know it as today. So there was a vision for years to start a Christian school. I thank God for it.

But I think the vision back then was basically to keep our kids out of the world. And as I look back on it, depending on how you define success, I think maybe I did okay at that but the Internet was just coming on board. We don’t want our kids to be in the world in the sense that they don’t understand who Christ is and His involvement in the love for the world. We want them to love Christ as they love the world and participate in the world, not just stay out of the world because they love Christ, if that makes sense.

The world is out there, and no matter where the students go, those thoughts are permeating their brains even though they can’t process them yet. So the thing that’s been encouraging to me is to see teachers come up to me at a conference and say, we really need this curriculum.

The spiritual battle is intense. I’ve heard stories of first grade teachers talking about things that we think would only happen in middle school and high school. The world is no longer out there. It’s here. We are not only just a secular society. We’re actually becoming more and more an anti-Christian society. I don’t mean that Christianity is dying. Christianity is flourishing in many ways, but our culture as a whole and what drives our culture is now not just not Christian, it’s becoming anti-Christian in so many ways.

And so it’s important that we begin at a very early age helping students understand this isn’t just about knowing the Bible. It’s about learning who God is, but then learning who they are and how God has called them and what He has for them in this world. We need to act wisely and confidently knowing that when we teach students, it’s not just scripture, but it’s about who God is and how He loves us, how He has desired to have a relationship with us.

Michael Arnold: And I love that you said we should do it confidently. I think that might be the role that a Bible curriculum publisher wants to play. CJ, I know you were a youth pastor at one point in your career, and you’ve worked with Positive Action for Christ for a while, but you also have kids, a junior high and high school student. How would you describe the changes you’ve seen and maybe respond to some of what Roy described?

CJ Harris: I’m actually still a youth pastor. I don’t know if you knew that or not, but on the weekends, in my free time, I hang out with teenagers, which is the best way to stay young.

We just completed a fourth edition of our elementary curriculum, which is a major revision through the entire elementary. And one of the things we heard over and over again from teachers was that same thing that Roy was talking about, that biblical literacy has dropped so much. Just material that would have 10 years ago been expected knowledge for the majority of students is just not there anymore. And we’ve built in a lot more on-ramps in our curriculum to help those students that just haven’t heard the stories, haven’t been exposed to the scriptures.

It’s a struggle, and it’s forcing teachers to revisit some things that they used to be able to take for granted in their classrooms that just aren’t there anymore. And as far as teaching Bible curriculum, it means reintroducing people to God and His Word, coming at it from the very basics of what it is to have faith in a true God and introducing them to what God is really like. If what they have in their mind of God’s character and person is drawn from popular media, they’ve got a really messed up view of God when they walk into the classroom.

As a staff, we’ve been reading a book by A.W. Tozer, and I love one of the lines he put in there. He says that we do the greatest service to the next generation of Christians by passing on to them an undimmed noble concept of who God is. And I think so many teachers today are filling that gap in a culture that dimmed the view of God to almost darkness. And now they’re able to turn a light back on that is going to be the first step in a true relationship being rebuilt in those students’ hearts. These are the opportunities teachers and youth pastors have today.

Michael Arnold: Big opportunity, but also a big task. If you had to look at everything that we want a Bible curriculum to do and had to pick out one thing that has to happen no matter what in our culture, for our kids today, what would you identify as that one thing that we’ve got to get right more than anything else?

We’ve Got to Get This Right More Than Anything Else

CJ Harris: The ultimate goal is that they have to know who God is. But I don’t know that that would be the ultimate goal of the curriculum. I think the ultimate goal of a curriculum is going to be teaching them how to study the Word and be able to learn about God.

If you depend on the curriculum alone and it focuses entirely on just learning God’s character and not how to have that relationship, they’re not going to ever develop beyond the curriculum. And so a good curriculum is going to certainly introduce them to God through His Word, but it’s also going to give them the tools to continue that relationship for their entire life.

Michael Arnold: So you can go to the rumors of what you’ve heard God is like on TV, social media, or whatever. Or let’s go to the Word and find out what He says about Himself. Let’s go to the source, helping our students recognize that. How would you answer that question, Roy?

Roy Faletti: I think that the teacher is the living curriculum. But in recent years as I’ve done workshops at different Christian school conferences, one thing I’ve tried to emphasize is transparency. To make the Bible real, the curriculum is an awesome tool, but it’s just that–it’swhen the teacher shows them how they love Jesus and not just with the emotional fuzzy love.

We’re really good at talking about the fall and how we’re all messed up, and then we get really good when it comes to Calvary and getting kids saved, letting them see Jesus loves you. But I think where I missed it big time when I had my school, was helping them then realize, What does God have for you now in this life? And then what is the hope as we go through life now? What is the ultimate hope when all things are renewed?
We can’t live there, but we have to paint a picture to the students where the Bible is this big story, the story from which all stories develop their truth.

So I think the best thing the teacher can do is live the Bible before them. If a teacher gets up and says, “Hey, kids, I’m sorry. I didn’t sleep well last night. I don’t know what’s wrong with me today, but I’m just not with it, so please forgive me. Pray for me today”– They’re facing life, but then they bring it to Christ.

Michael Arnold: I like that idea. The living curriculum, the role that the teacher plays and being transparent and real. There’s an opportunity for that in the Bible classroom unlike anywhere else. Maybe in math, we need the teacher to be the sage on the stage and know what they’re talking about. But in the Bible classroom this is where we’re all equal. We’re all equal here at the foot of the cross, all recipients of grace.

That presents a threat because teachers aren’t used to feeling vulnerable, especially in the classroom. They kind of protect themselves. So I want to just kind of label that as maybe a threatening feeling, something we have to work through. What other threats or barriers or challenges would you identify to biblical instruction in the classroom today?

Threat, Barriers, or Challenges Today

CJ Harris: There’s certainly the distraction of the world for your students and for you as a teacher. I know I get up in front of my class sometimes to teach a Bible lesson, and a thousand things are running through my mind. I have teenage kids, and anyone who has kids knows that there’s always something going on somewhere in your life. And so the distractedness that’s there can be a real threat to your opportunity to give your whole self to the situation.

I think some of this may be the fault in some of our educational training in that performance mindset sometimes. It comes into the classroom where you’re expected to be the sage, the scholar, the one who has it all together. And I think Roy spoke really well to that, that it’s good to just let the kids know sometimes that it’s not been a good day. And there’s nothing wrong with us admitting that we need grace as much as they do. In fact, there’s something healthy about that. I think those are certainly some things that could be a threat there to the teacher in the classroom.

Roy Faletti: I just want to go back and clarify: the teacher still needs to be the authority. Students need to learn authority. That’s biblical. You still have to have rules. You still have to have discipline. It’s a different generation now. And I think that’s the hurdle that a lot of teachers face, even the younger ones. The world has changed tremendously since their time in the classroom. And even as they have children, they’re seeing that. So that is huge.

There’s an opportunity for this generation to reach the world in ways my generation never could have, but they’re also told they can do all of these things and this high expectation is put upon them that they’ll never reach outside of Christ. And so there’s, as CJ said, all of this noise coming at them.

So, we’re helping students understand the Bible, and that God has a perfect plan. Humans mess it up. We’re hurt because we mess it up, but it doesn’t change the truth of scripture. And we’re helping students know who God is, first of all, and His love for us, and because of His love, He has this well laid out plan that actually works when we apply it in our lives through obedience.

Michael Arnold: You addressed a couple of big areas, the family, the church, and the idea of social interaction. The world is more connected than ever, but more isolated than ever in some ways. Does that change how we approach biblical instruction? You know, the Bible doesn’t change. The message doesn’t change. But do our methods, our practices, our processes change? If I’m trying to build a Bible department now at our school, if we’re starting a school considering how we handle biblical instruction, what would you point out as something to consider as we look into the future?

CJ Harris: There is an underlying truth that doesn’t change. That goes almost without saying, but it probably needs to be said sometimes. There is a way in which we have to communicate to young people– the elementary students, the middle school, high school kids– in a way that they’re able to hear.

And, certainly the way I was taught when I was in school, which is longer ago than I like to think, was different than it is today. There wasn’t all that extra social interaction that isn’t really natural interaction anymore. And a teacher is going to certainly want to take advantage of those opportunities. There’s social media and stuff like that, if there’s a way to interact with your students on that. But I would encourage, no matter how advanced the technology gets and how much the students are into it, I have found that still the vast majority is that opportunity of face to face, 1-on-1 discipleship-minded interaction.

And I know that takes more time than a thumbs up on Facebook or double clicking something on Instagram. But it’s where the real discipleship is going to actually happen. The others help that, and they know you care if you’re paying attention to what they’re saying. But never underestimate the value of the in-person, classroom interaction. I think that there’s great opportunities there.

Michael Arnold: I’m hearing you say, don’t get too caught up in technology. Realize that 1-on-1 interaction is still very valuable. I think that could apply to a lot of pedagogical practices, right?

CJ Harris: Absolutely. You definitely don’t want to make fun of the technology that the students are using. There’s certainly a legitimate spot to point out some of the dangers and possible pitfalls there. But if that’s the way they’re communicating, then we need to recognize that, but also not let that replace that 1-on-1.

Michael Arnold: Anything to add to that, Roy?

Roy Faletti: You asked a question about if you were starting a school and had to develop a Bible department, what it would look like. I think the focus of the whole school, regardless of the subject being taught, needs to be a discipleship and mentor mindset. The word mentor is scary. It was something that Christian school circles talked about a lot several years ago, and it just scares a lot of teachers because they think that means time. But, really, it’s just the time in that classroom.

And I think this is what was hardest for me because I was stretched in so many areas. There’s all these things that are coming, and you’ve got a student in front of you. And when that student is there, just love on them as if they’re the only student in that room. And I think the key there is praying for every student by name as often and as much as possible. When you have that student in front of you or even to the whole class, just take those moments. They’re discipleship moments, mentoring moments, that you may not even be aware of.

Michael Arnold: Well, I want to ask you a couple more questions in closing. First of all, we’re going to invite people to check out Positive Action for Christ. So when they go to your website, what’s something you want them to check out? What would you highlight for them?

And then I want to just give you a chance to speak directly to teachers. What would you say to the teacher who is in the classroom today trying to help their students understand a little bit more about the Bible and the God of the Bible today than they did yesterday? What would you say to encourage, inspire, equip, challenge them in their work? Roy, let’s start with you.

Positive Action for Christ Website and Encouragement to Teachers

Roy Faletti: As far as the website, I would just say go to find the curriculum. It’s a very easy website to maneuver, for schools and even for some church material as well. There even are some free resources for some curriculum on there so that you don’t even have to buy anything from us. So pick out a course, pick out a grade, and make sure you page down and find out every resource that is there.

For teachers, I would just say, you have an incredibly challenging opportunity. This is probably the most challenging generation in the history of our nation to be discipling. But with those challenges, there’s also the greatest opportunities with all of the technology and the abilities that these students have to reach their world. And so I just want to encourage you in what you’re doing, whatever grade level, whatever subject, to stay in there.

Don’t listen to the lies of the enemy that you’re not making a difference, that it’s not worth it. Stay prayed up. And by that, I mean, apply what Paul said, and pray without ceasing. Be encouraged, uplifted, but stand strong, and remain faithful.

Michael Arnold: Thanks for that. CJ, go ahead.

CJ Harris: As far as our website, it is really easy. Just go there, click on the school tab, and it’ll show you all of our curriculum. I’d really encourage you to take a look at our new fourth edition elementary. K-5 up through sixth grade is complete now, and if you’ve already used the material, I think you’ll love the upgrades and the new content that’s there. If you haven’t, it’s a great onboarding time to take a look at some of those samples. So download it, print it out, and try it in your classroom. And if it works for you, great. We’d love to be a blessing to you. The website is positiveaction.org.

I love teachers. I grew up in a teacher’s household. My mom was a first grade through fourth grade teacher at different periods over her career, and teachers are, I think, some of God’s greatest servants out there. And just maybe a word of encouragement to the teachers that are listening. You’re doing the work of Christ.

I was reading in Mark chapter 10 this morning, and Mark writes, “Again, crowds of people came to Jesus, and as was His custom, He taught them.” And as I was reading that, I just was thinking again about the fact that teaching is great commission work. The very thing that Jesus was doing, it was His customary activity. And what would Jesus do if a group of preschoolers or sixth graders or middle schoolers wandered into His room at 8 AM on a Monday morning? He’d teach them. And He’s given you that opportunity, and He gives you the grace for it. It’s a great privilege.

Michael Arnold: It’s been a privilege to have you both with us today. Thanks for joining the Teacher’s Lounge. We wish you all the best as you continue to promote biblical education.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash