Chopped: The Sunday School Edition

What if the producers of Chopped, the reality cooking show, created a similar series for Sunday school teachers? Slick videos of four contestants would introduce us to their classes, styles, and why they want to be the last teacher standing. The camera cuts to host Keith Gammons of Smyth & Helwys fame who welcomes a minister, a curriculum writer, and a seminary professor to the esteemed judges panel.

Before their drama begins, Keith tells contestants, “Before you are the four ingredients you must use to prepare this week’s Bible study. Include any additional materials you would like. You have 30 minutes to prepare your session which will be judged on presentation, creativity, and taste (or solid content)—starting now!”

The teachers unpack their mystery ingredients to find:

(1) Genesis 22:1-19, the story of Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac;
(2) a copy of this week’s order of worship that includes a baby dedication;
(3) a headline from the morning newspaper that reads, “Child abuse rates reach new records;” and
(4) an email from the church’s youth minister reminding everyone “that the middle school group will be visiting adult classes this week and your class will have three visiting seventh graders.”

The camera catches the blank stares of befuddled teachers, as the television screen shifts to a video clip in which one teacher wonders aloud why she didn’t sign on for the food version of Chopped. “Making 30-minute entrees out of marshmallow spread, ancho chiles, venison tenderloin, and cauliflower seems more possible than completing this assignment,” she sighs.

Chopped chefs fascinate me, partly because the creative process of making meals and preparing Sunday School have more in common than we recognize. Chefs and teachers both want to nourish and delight. Chefs deal with unexpected circumstances, frustrating challenges, picky eaters, and the ongoing charge of preparing courses in a limited time. Such is the life of educators. Watching people create, experiment, improvise, and prepare something exciting can inspire others to do the same—whether they work with root vegetables or learner’s study guides.

Consider two things that Chopped champions teach us to do:

Embrace the challenge of learning something new. No contestant on the show expects to open a basket filled with four ingredients for an ordinary, familiar recipe—which makes their challenge exciting. Chefs ponder unfamiliar materials and tastes, anticipate the judges’ reactions, try unusual approaches and let their experience guide them into uncharted territory. What happens when Sunday school teachers expect an exciting challenge each week? They ponder the text more deeply, consider the needs of their students more carefully, attempt new ways to help their groups learn and experience biblical truths, and let what they do know guide them as they break new ground.

Use time well, because the clock is ticking. Time flies for the chefs on this show, and by using every available minute they transform a basket of daunting ingredients into culinary delights. Mastering their time means that when the sauce burns, or the ice cream doesn’t freeze, they have a chance to try Plan B and still get something on the plate. What happens when Sunday school teachers know what their text for Sunday will be on the previous Monday? They live with the story or verses throughout the week, and let it speak to events and experiences they encounter before their group meets again. They have time to let the Bible study material and teaching plans transform into something personal and memorable for their group. Slight preparation often means slight possibilities for groups. Using time well often translates into important learning experiences.

Chopped: The Sunday School Edition is a show unlikely to air. Churches rarely “chop” anyone willing to step up to the plate and teach. But every once in awhile, as you work on your notes for Sunday, check out the chef’s edition on the cooking channel. Let the dedication, creativity, and adventure you find on the screen encourage your preparation for the classroom.

Carol Davis Younger is Writer/Editor for the Center for Teaching Churches at the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University. For over twenty years a variety of church groups and classes have created, tested, tried and tweaked Bible study materials with her, teaching her about how to write them. “From Classroom to Koinonia” reflects this ongoing adventure of learning what is helpful for churches and their teachers as they pursue their teaching ministries.

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