If my wife didn’t forbid it, I would play Christmas music all year. I would give (and gladly receive) presents every day. I would sing “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing!” every Sunday. I love Christmastime.
So I was delighted to hear of Marty Machowski’s new Advent devotional and classroom curriculum: Prepare Him Room. By using these resources in the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas, families and churches will lead their children through a study of Old Testament promises, Jesus’ birth narratives, and New Testament explanations of Christ’s person and work. This material ties the entire Bible together in a sound and simple-to-use package. I highly recommend it.
How It Works
If you’re not familiar with Machowski’s other works for children (The Gospel Story for Kids series), an explanation is in order. If you are familiar, and you’d like to get to the meat of my recommendation, you may want to scroll to the next section.
With The Gospel Story for Kids (TGSFK), Machowski developed material for use in both churches and homes. The idea is that church children’s ministries ought to support what parents do at home (duh!), and so the curriculum all fits together. The pieces are:
- The Gospel Story Bible – a Bible storybook for young children
- The Gospel Story Curriculum – lesson plans for Sunday Schools, grouped in 3 age classifications: preschool, lower elementary, upper elementary
- Long Story Short – 10-minute family devotionals through the Old Testament
- Old Story New – 10-minute family devotionals through the New Testament
You can use any part of the package independently of the others. (For example, if your church doesn’t want the curriculum, you could still use the family devotionals at home). But if you use them all together, they take your children through the entire Bible in 3 years (a year and a half for each testament), and your children will experience the walk through three times (once at each age level: preschool, lower elementary, and upper elementary). All children and families are studying the same Bible passage each week, in an age-appropriate fashion.
Prepare Him Room works just like the rest of TGSFK series, except that it’s designed just for Advent season. There is a family devotional book, and a CD with lesson plans for classrooms. For those using TGSFK materials, Prepare Him Room will give you a 4-week break to focus on the birth of Christ.
Why I Like It
My church has used TGSFK for over a year now, and we love it. We use the curriculum for ages 3-11, and a church member donated money to give each family copies of the Bible storybook and family devotionals. We had a special meeting with everyone to kick it off, and I’m scheduled to lead a seminar this Sunday to refresh those who need encouragement to press on in family devotions.
It has not proven to be a magical ambrosia guaranteeing eternal life to all who partake; we still have to train teachers, equip parents, and shepherd children’s messy hearts. Christian discipleship is a heavy business that resists oversimplification and systematization. But these tools have made our job simple and delightful, and here’s why:
- Machowski focuses on reading the Bible. His materials supplement the Scriptures but do not replace them. Even in the children’s Bible storybook, much space is spent quoting the text of Scripture. The upper elementary curriculum trains students to read and study the Scripture for themselves. Hurrah!
- Every class lesson explicitly connects the Bible passage to the gospel. No child can escape the weekly mantra: “The gospel is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our salvation.” The most eye-catching part of each lesson plan is the little box explaining how that week’s text preaches the gospel.
- When every child and family reads the same passages each week, it grows our identity as a community. We now have shared material to discuss informally. And every time a teacher reads from the story Bible or devotional, at least one child is guaranteed to shout, “We have that book at home, too!”
- The family devotions are short. When the subtitle says Ten Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God, it speaks truth. We’ve been able to work ours in at dinner time, and it rarely feels like a burden. There are devotions for 5 days per week, but when we’re feeling overwhelmed with our family schedule we can drop the 5th one without losing too much continuity. It hardly takes any time, but without sacrificing depth.
- The lesson plans are easily adaptable. They give suggestions in 5-10 minute chunks to cover a class up to 80 minutes long. Our church schedule allows for only 40 minutes of class time, but it’s not hard for teachers to figure out which chunks to drop to fit within our constraints.
- The lessons require little preparation. Of course, the best teachers (not me) spend oodles of time and have terrific lessons. I teach, not because I live to teach children, but because I want to serve. And this curriculum doesn’t cost me too much. I can gather my props in 5 minutes and spend the bulk of my preparation in study and prayer. I’m not chasing down construction paper, wiping off bottles of glue, or picking glitter out of my hair. Perhaps I’m showing too much of my hand, though, and other teachers may prefer supply scavenger hunts.
A Few Qualifications
Though this review is about Prepare Him Room, the Advent devotional and curriculum, I couldn’t review it without reference to the rest of The Gospel Story For Kids series. If you like TGSFK, you’ll love Prepare Him Room. If you’re unfamiliar with TGSFK, Prepare Him Room may be a painless introduction to the model.
As with the rest of TGSFK, you can buy Prepare Him Room as either a set of family devotionals or a classroom curriculum. There are just a few differences with Prepare Him Room, when compared to TGSFK:
- The family book includes devotionals for just 3 days per week.
- The family book also includes a 4-chapter story, one chapter per week, to serve as a fourth family time. The story is okay but not great, and I wish there was a fourth devotion in the Scripture each week instead.
- Sovereign Grace produced a CD of carols old and new to go with Prepare Him Room.
- For some reason, the fourth week of the Sunday School curriculum doesn’t match up with the fourth week’s family devotional topic.
Though New Growth Press gave me a complimentary copy of Prepare Him Room in exchange for an honest review, I would absolutely buy it if they hadn’t. I’m delighted to recommend it to you.