Encounter: Helping Students Know God

News March 22, 2017

In the summer of 2015, the North American Division Office of Education (NADOE) began rolling out a new Bible curriculum. Using the Bible as the textbook, the Adventist Encounter Curriculum seeks to help the students in our schools (1) develop a tangible, vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ; (2) have a deep and personal knowledge of the truths of the Bible and Seventh-day Adventist beliefs and apply them to everyday situations; and (3) be passionate about the salvation of others.

Advice from the Spirit of Prophecy has helped guide the development of this curriculum: “Parents and teachers should constantly seek for improved methods. The teaching of the Bible should have our freshest thought, our best methods, and our most earnest effort.”[1] Through rigorous pedagogical practice and the use of 21st-century learning techniques such as collaboration, problem solving, digital literacy, higher-order thinking, and creative expression, students are encouraged to use the Bible as their guide book to grow in today’s world. Students are led to think deeply, to make practical applications of their learning, and to, as Ellen G. White recommends, “see the force of truth for themselves.”[2]

Kent Rusk, pilot teacher of Encounter and Associate Superintendent of Schools, shares: “I am convinced that Encounter is God’s answer to how we’ll reach students in our Bible classrooms. We have realized that merely teaching our children about God is not enough. We want to reach them where they live with the saving message of a living, loving, involved Father God. The Encounter Bible Curriculum is enabling our teachers to do just that.”

The Adventist Encounter Curriculum was initially developed by the Australian Union Conference and New Zealand Pacific Union Conference in response to their schools’ needs for a curriculum that honoured the Great Commission—to “go, make disciples.” After a thorough pilot of the Encounter Curriculum over a two-year period, involving 30 pilot teachers across each union in the North American Division (NAD), a decision was made to use the pilot feedback to review and update the curriculum under the guidance of the NADOE Encounter Steering Committee.

Dennis Plubell, vice-president for Education, North Pacific Union Conference, was involved in the pilot process. “I still remember clearly sitting in five different classrooms in five different locations across the NAD where units of the Encounter curriculum were taught on a pilot basis. It was evident that this was far different than the Bible class I had taken in academy. The engagement of students in deep discussions in all classrooms did not resemble a textbook-based curriculum. With the Bible as the textbook, a plethora of good resources, and helpful teacher guides based on proven learning strategies, it was evident that students were being led to ‘encounter God.’”

Each unit consists of a detailed teacher plan, which includes a variety of age-appropriate creative activities, short videos, object lessons, in-depth Bible studies, group activities, discussion questions, assessment options, and worship moments that seek to build the student’s knowledge, faith, and relationship with God. Each teaching unit also comes with a Resource Kit, which includes various items such as posters, DVDs, books, and other unit-specific resources. The variety of material and learning activities seeks to engage all learners from all backgrounds and knowledge bases. Betty Bayer, the director of Education at the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada and chairperson of the Encounter Elementary Committee, shares some feedback from teachers in her union about the material: “Teachers have found the units and accompanying resources to be ‘planning friendly’ and, even more importantly, that their students have been powerfully engaged.”

“My students love the hands-on, group, and responsive activities,” said another teacher. “They really seemed to develop a close and authentic relationship with their Creator. There were so many times I could just strongly sense the Holy Spirit working on their hearts.”

Jud Lake, professor of Preaching and Adventist Studies at Southern Adventist University, had this to say about the secondary curriculum units he reviewed: “Teachers will especially appreciate the whole-person lesson plans that impact students intellectually, emotionally, and behaviourally. Accordingly, students will learn not only how to read and understand the Bible, but how to apply its lessons to everyday life.”

The NAD Office of Education and each of the nine unions have invested in running many two-day training and in-service events for all Bible teachers before they teach this new curriculum, to have a thorough understanding of new pedagogy and methodology that will make a real difference in the classroom. At these training events, teachers not only hear again the purpose of Adventist education, and the methods and approach of the Encounter curriculum, but they are personally challenged to spend more time with Jesus in His Word – for we cannot share with others what we do not have. As we abide in Jesus, we are able to model His love to others.

With the help of the Holy Spirit and guidance from their teacher, Encounter encourages students to search for truth in the Bible for themselves and to be able to explain and defend their faith to others. Teachers and administrators have enthusiastically shared how their students are responding to this curriculum—that it is changing the way their students are responding to the truths of the Bible, the call to walk in a close relationship with Jesus Christ, and the call to share the Adventist message of hope and wholeness to those around them.

For more information on the Adventist Encounter Curriculum and to view a sample teaching unit, go to http://encounter.adventisteducation.org/.

[1] Ellen G. White, Education, p. 168.

[2] Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, p. 434.

This article was originally published in Adventist World and posted in the Adventist Review Online in December 2016. It has been abridged here with permission from the authors.

Note from the SDACC Office of Education: The Adventist Encounter Curriculum is currently being used in Grades 9 and 10 in our Adventist high schools across Canada, with Grades 11 and 12 to be introduced in the next two years. The full elementary program (Grades 1–8) will be implemented beginning with the 2017/2018 school year, and elementary teachers will be trained this spring. Please pray for the writers, our teachers, and our students as we seek a closer walk with God through the use of this new Bible curriculum.