Small Group Curriculum Review – Lifeway’s Platform Series – Stand Against the Wind by Erwin McManus

erwin-stand-against-the-windAs a discipleship pastor at a church that is driven by small groups, I’m constantly on the lookout for good, new curriculum, and especially of the video-driven variety (because they seem to work really well in our situation).  So, I excitedly picked up the new Stand Against the Wind curriculum by Erwin McManus which was developed by Lifeway.  Here are my thoughts…

Packaging

Despite the image on the front cover, which is a bit cheesy, the material came in a self-contained, durable, and unique case.  It felt up to date.  I was drawn to it.  It’s a well executed design from the outside looking in.  It contains one leader / participant book and one dvd (containing six messages), all for $25.  Perfect!  Relevant-feeling.  Affordable.

Video

It’s a dvd, not a blueray, but the quality was lower than I expected.  The lighting on Erwin (from Mosaic church services) was adequate, but somehow not appealing to the eye on the video.  The video appeared grainy.  The dvd menu screen was created in such a way that it didn’t seem to fit on my tv screen well.  It was almost like I had an overscan issue, but I don’t.  The menu designer failed to leave enough space between the content on the menu and the edge of the screen of the tv.  Overall it does work, you can read the words on the menu screen, but it feels cheap rather than well executed.

Content

The curriculum is marketed as a composition of six, 20 minute video talks.  But to be honest, most of them were more like 10 minute talks.  This is not a deal breaker if the content is laid out well, but it’s not.  A concise video portion could be advantageous for your small group if it leaves more time for discussion, but I wouldn’t call the Stand Against the Wind videos concise.  They were more like endless meanderings. They leave the viewer wondering what the heck Erwin is exactly talking about, and how he got that content from the Scripture passages that he’s reading.  And I’m not sure this is completely Erwin’s fault either, Lifeway (or someone) seems to have cut out portions of the sermons (that I guess they deemed unimportant – I’m honestly not sure why there are breaks in the video), that leave a dizzying effect in the overall structure of the message.  And, this isn’t really six different sermons, it’s three sermons chopped in half (and really chopped in even more pieces apparently because there are all these breaks in the video).

Having watched all the video portions of this curriculum, I’m still not completely sure what the study is about.  I know it’s about living a different sort of life, a life out of step with how the average person in our culture lives, but that wasn’t made very clear on the front end.  In fact there is no introduction on the video about the content of the curriculum.  The participant book sets up the content a little bit, but overall it’s still confusing.

Erwin’s a great communicator.  In fact he’s an unbelievable communicator, but this fact is clouded by the structure of the curriculum.

Participant Book

Good size.  Laid out well.  Good questions considering the video.  They’re probing questions, but because they follow the video, and the video is kind of weak, the questions are kind of weak too.  In my opinion the participant book is weakened by the content of the curriculum itself.  But this is not the question writer’s fault per se.

Gospel

Suffice it to say, that one could go through this curriculum and have never heard a clear gospel explanation.  They would know some things about how God wanted them to live, but I’m not sure they would understand that this sort of living is grounded completely in the cross of Jesus and empowered only by Holy Spirit.  Is this an intentional oversight?  I don’t think so.  Jesus is not ignored to be sure, but I’m not sure he’s lifted up the way he should be in a curriculum that is supposed to be talking about “standing against the wind” and living a life out-of-step with typical America.  Any small group leader could supplement the material with some additional gospel truth, but it’s not clearly included in the curriculum itself.

Overall

Love the price.  Love the packaging (minus the cheesy, motivation poster image on the front).  However, the quality of the video on the dvd and the menu screen execution makes this feel cheap.  The content, whether Erwin’s fault or Lifeway’s (I’m not sure), is confusing.  The overall message of the curriculum is clouded.  The gospel is ignored a little bit (this feels more like a motivational talk than true Christianity).  Erwin is engaging, as always, but the choppiness of the messages because of how the video is split up, makes him less engaging than he would be otherwise.  Worthwhile for your small group?  Probably not.  You might have some pretty good discussion from this curriculum, but I’m not sure it would clearly point you towards Jesus.  Memorable?  I really kind of doubt that it would be.  I can picture most people finishing this study and not really understanding what they just studied for six weeks.  The Platform series by Lifeway – of which Stand Against the Wind is a part – is certainly promising, but it needs some work before it’s worth the consideration of your small group or small group ministry.

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