- Getting more Christian and less religion in our Christian Schools.
Christian education can be an incredibly transformative force. It can take a life in its infancy, as the life is establishing its understanding, expectation and perspective of the world and bring hope. Hope in a world that is increasingly seeming hopeless. It can help a young person understand that success is not about who dies with the most toys, rather it is about how many others one person can help, not just here on Earth, but for eternity. It can help a young person understand that they are a not the centre of the universe, fulfilment comes when we learn to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind and learn to love our neighbour as ourself. At its essence, Christian Education is counter-cultural. It tells of an alternative narrative to the world that other schools promote. Christian Education compels a view of the world that the world has lost. A view of the world that society no longer wants to see, albeit a world that society needs.
While there is much to celebrate about how Christian Schools’ develop Christian thinking in our students, we need also to be aware that Christian Schools can contribute to students developing bad Christian habits. Habits that are less like Christian habits and practices that Jesus tells of and more like religious behaviours that the likes of the Pharisees would be proud of.
It would be safe to assume that most Christian educators have visions of students learning that prayer is an ongoing conversation with their Creator. Visions that our students will create not just a deep knowledge of but a lifelong passion for the Scriptures. Visions that our students will ‘hide His Word in their heart so that they will not sin against Him’. Visions that our students will love the unlovable, have ‘next level’ empathy and be outward looking, looking to not only, ‘love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul and strength” but to authentically “love their neighbour as themselves”.
Left unchecked, these visions that we have for our students in Christian Education can become religious events that they do because they have to, rather than because they desire to do. Christian activities completed when others are looking. Acts of obedience and not acts of passion or service.
Take a moment to consider the following aspects that will be visible in most Christian Schools. In your school does what you ‘do’ really lead to the objectives that you have for including them in your school?
Scripture Memorisation: Over the years the most common approach to scripture memorisation I have witnessed has been one best described as ad hoc, almost accidental. Teachers think through the theme of the term or semester and complete a google search for as many verses they need for the topic of work. The scriptures are then given as homework to be tested on Friday. Sadly that is all they become, verses are a homework task, they have no ‘life’ at all in the classroom. A compliance activity.
The best Scripture Memorisation programmes that I have seen in action include a deliberate choice of scriptures that the school desires their young people to ‘hide in their heart’ for all that life will bring their way. The verses are not only given as homework, but are a living part of the classroom for the week and are intentionally revisited over the year so that the verses become sticky. The best scripture memorisation program deliberately gets to a place where the students are introduced to the new scripture for the week and they almost complain that they already know this one!
The parroting of 40 random verses over the course of a year because they matched the topic that was being investigated is far from life-giving, is unlikely to lead to lifelong memorising of the scriptures and will never lead to His words being ‘hidden in their hearts’. They will simply and painfully be remembered for Friday.
Biblical Literacy: In junior years, the scripture is so often learned as a lovely story with fun characters and exciting plots. Yes, this is God’s Word, but the characters and plots are not as important as the principles that we learn through them. In the morning a story from the bible and in the afternoon a story from some fun author.
I have seen school’s who do more damage in their Bible programmes than good. The objectives of the programme being learning tools of interpretation, the preferred delivery being preaching or an exegesis of the Scriptures. And worst of all, a place where the students' questions are pushed aside to make sure the teacher gets through their preset curriculum.
The key objectives of a Bible programme must be the development of a life long curiosity of the Scriptures and the training that the Bible is authentic and relevant to our students' lives. Yes, students need the tools to understand and unpack the Scriptures, but these tools are only relevant if the students want to engage with His Word after they leave school.
Yes, the Holy Spirit has a huge part to play in the students ongoing engagement of the Scriptures. However, we need to be sure that we are not putting barriers in place that turn students off.
Prayer: I don’t know of a teacher in a Christian School who does not want their students to learn that prayer is an integral part of everyday life. Prayer is full of power, promise and potential. It is a direct line that we have with our Creator and there is not a prayer too big or too small that is not important to Him.
However, so many teachers are guilty of modelling prayer in the exact opposite way for our students. Even though we might teach all the above about prayer, it is often used in a way that is quite the opposite. We pray at the beginning of the day, before lunch and at the end of the day. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Students are persuaded that prayer is something that happens certain times of the day, usually following a specific pattern, rather than in the ways that we desire our students will establish prayer in their lives.
Model the prayer life that we desire our students to develop.
Devotions: Most Christian Schools that I know have some time in the day, usually the morning, that is set aside for devotions. We want our students to know that they should set aside in their own life, a time of the day for reading the Scriptures and hearing from God.
While we want our students to spend quality time with God through their devotional time, it is often approached through a clinically premeditated watered down reading prepared by someone who does not know your students, prepared sometimes decades earlier, in the form of a ‘devotional’ book called ‘best ever devotions for girls and boys’.
Why cheapen this important time. The time should be spent on understanding the Bible Verse which is now a living part of your classroom. Unpack God’s thoughts on the challenges that your class currently has. If honesty is an issue, focus on honesty; if hurting is an issue, zoom in on loving others; if all is well, focus on God’s providence.
The point is that no one knows your class better than you. Why let some devotional book from 1984 provide the framework for making the Scriptures relevant to your class, yes it takes a little more work for the teacher, but the return will be worth it.
Worship: This could be controversial, for some worship will have a place in Christian Schools, while others will argue it is something only for the Church. And don’t forget what James writes about worship as an act of service. Service is also something that has a place in Christian Education, however, this focus of worship is about the form of worship that happens in song.
I have come across many Christian Schools who include worship in their assembly of meeting times. I have seen this done well, and I have seen this done poorly.
When worship is done well, it is powerful. There is something incredibly powerful about being in a room full of young people truly worshipping our Saviour. However, done poorly, it is worrisome. You can see in it the way they slouch, their dead eyes, in the way that the words go in their eyes and out their mouths without touching anything on the way through.
In every Christian School there are young Christians and usually even non-Christians who are on a journey. When the powerful words that are in most Christian songs are sung (think meditated on) without having some form of reverence it sends a message about the importance of their message to everyone around them. Dare I say it if there is a real complacency in a school about the way students engage in worship, the first place to change is likely the attitude of the teachers who are possibly marking their rolls or working down the back.
Pharisaic Thinking and Grace: This is a tough one, obviously we cannot promote lawlessness in our Christian Schools, however, how do we maintain a balance of law and grace. What would it take for a graduate of your Christian School to comment, ‘I was shown what grace was at my school’.
I am not suggesting that we don’t know how to teach about grace, of course we do, but by now you surely understand, the emphasis of this piece of writing is not about what we tell our students, rather, what we do. What students learn about the principles if scripture through our actions, not our words.
Relationships: Teacher to student relationships in Christian Schools have no choice other than to be different to the school down the road.
Grounded in our call for transforming young people, at the heart of Christian Education is a Christ centred Educator whose greatest desire that each of their students will be equipped for their future. Teachers who will do all they can for their student to also become Christian Centred. The process is built on strong relationship and must be able to be defined by one word, love.
Though it is a high calling, there is no room in Christian Education for teachers who do not have a genuine love for each student that they have any responsibility for.
Behaviour Management: This is where one of the differences between the school down the road and the Christ centred Christian School must differentiate. Christian Schools should be places of discipleship, not punishment. Yes, there is a need for consequences, but at the heart of the discipline process should be an absolute commitment to each student’s growth.
Consequences should always be fair and at the heart of the discipline process is a balance of acting justly and loving mercy which with God’s help will lead to the student walking humbly with our God.
There are many aspects of our Christian Schools which are indented for pure good. However, left unchecked can actually turn our students away from Christ. Below are some questions that could be considered at your school. However, the overriding questions are simple.
Is the way your students experience the ‘Christian things’ you do conducive to the reason you do them?
Does your current Scripture Memorisation approach lead to students mastering the most important scriptures you would want your students to have hidden in their heart?
Does your current Biblical Literacy programme lead to a life long curiosity of God’s Work, or is it just another course?
Do your devotions lead model searching the scriptures in a way that is responsive to the issues your students are facing today...rather than just ‘going through’ a devotional book that someone foreign to your students wrote twenty years ago?
If you desire your students to sing ‘Christian songs’ at school, are the words of the songs that they sing passing through their eyes and out their mouths without touching anything on the way through? (if so you are better to sing Yellow Submarine)
Are students taught that their Christian walk is a process of growth? If someone was caught in adultery would your response mirror Jesus’ or the Pharisees? Is the Christian life about praying in quiet or putting on a big show?
Do the teacher to student relationships better reflect the Pharisaic relationship with their people (judgement) or Christ’s relationship for the Church (growth)?
Does prayer in your school look more like a religious activity done at specific times of the day, or model in some way Paul’s desire that we pray without ceasing?
Does your behaviour management cause the most broken in your community closer to Christ or create a barrier for them to cross....is the focus growth or judgement?
Don’t misunderstand me. This is not a post suggesting that we remove the fore mentioned activities from Christian Schools. Quite the opposite. We need these to better feature these in our schools. However, we need to be sure that the way we use them are not contradictory to the objectives that we have for them. Ultimately we pray that as students graduate from our schools they will know without a doubt that each of the above are important aspects to our walk. And, that they did not just learn about their importance through our teaching, rather that they experienced it through our modelling.
Not an easy calling, but a hugely satisfying one.
Such a curious thought, that I would have a calling on my life. A purpose.
Knowing you have a calling can be the most fulfilling aspect of living. Yet, not know what that calling is can be paralysing.
It can be what wakes you up in the morning, but it can equally be what keeps you awake at night.
Calling is something that I very much wrestled with over the years. Am I doing what God wants me to do? Am I all God designed me to be? What should I do next in my career? So many questions in the past, but it is now something that I have absolute peace with. Did I receive some prophetic message? A 'writing on the wall' moment? No. Just a better understanding of what God wants for all of us, and especially for me.
Let's start with the calling that you and I have in common. His Word is full of clues about our calling. In Genesis, it is made clear that we are called to take care of and rule over the earth and all that is in it, this is the Creation Mandate, and it applies to all of us. Furthermore, in Matthew, we are told to go into all the earth and to make disciples. This is the Great Commission, and just like the Creation Mandate, it applies to all of us. We are also told to love the Lord your God with everything that you have and to love your neighbour as yourself.
As you consider your calling you can be sure that the purpose that God has for you will include all of the above. If you are wrestling with whether something is your calling and that something works against your purpose to fulfil any of the above you can be assured it is not what you are designed for.
Does that mean that all of us need to be Ministers? No...and yes. No, in the sense that we are certainly not all called to be employed by a church, preach every Sabbath and have a name badge with the label 'Minister' on it. However, we are all called to do the work of a minister. We are indeed called to share the hope that we have in us, we are to love the Lord and to love each other.
God will no doubt call you to a purpose. For me, it is Christian Education. The thought of working with hundreds of children and dozens of teachers certainly is not appealing to everyone, but for me, this is my sweet spot, this is where I find fulfilment. Now, I find myself in a particular Christian school; this is important for someone who finds his purpose in Christian Education. However, I never received a 'writing on the wall' or a 'Road to Dimastas' experience to move here. So what happened that I find myself uprooting my family and shifting to a new school?
It was all about the freedom that I found in my calling.
This is an important aspect to calling. While God will call you to a purpose, rarely does he determine the place, not never, just rarely. Within this purpose we have freedom. In my situation, I was pretty much living the dream in Christian Education. I was at an amazing school, people came from all over the country and even from abroad to see what we were doing at school. I was invited to present our story and philosophy at both Christian and secular education forums and conferences and importantly, my family was very much settled. I was comfortable.
I was then asked to take up a new position in a school that would require me taking a difficult step away from my comfort and to begin the process of leading change once again. At first, it all seemed too difficult and too much like hard work...I had after all put in all the blood, sweat and tears (with the help of many amazing people around me of course) and I was reaping the reward of that work. Leading change is ugly, people get stretched, people often get hurt, and it is hard work, why would I willingly do that again? Especially if I was fulfilling God's calling on my life already, I was fulfilling God's calling on my life by being in Christian Education after all.
The reality is that your calling in not just about purpose, it is also about growth. As my last boss used to say, 'what can I do today to be of more use to Him tomorrow?
If you find yourself at a crossroad and you are looking for answers about your calling, a 'writing on the wall', of course, seek the Lord in prayer and talk to those around you whom you respect. However, also keep in mind that we are designed to grow. Seek out the purpose that gives you fulfilment and pursue opportunities to grow, to be of greater use to Him tomorrow.
Keep your eyes on the purpose God has designed you for and hold loosely to the 'place' (location) and even your 'plan' for that purpose. As stated in Proverbs 16:9, plan your course but allow God to direct your steps. The more that you understand your purpose the more agile you can be with the 'plan' and 'place' side of fulfilling your purpose.
A central theme of calling is freedom. Yes, God has designed you for a purpose but He gives you freedom within that calling. You can take it easy, or you can seek the track which leads to growth. I chose the growth path. There were many details within this path that I hadn't sorted out. However, as He does when we 'let go and let God', He took care of every last detail.
A central theme of calling is freedom, the choice to choose either comfort or growth. Choose well.
Christian Schools are great at doing Joseph and the Technicolored Dreamcoat. They are well rehearsed at starting the day with prayer. Many Christian School students can recite more memory verses than students from ‘other’ schools. Christian Schools are very good at getting their staff together early in the morning to pray, sing and have devotions together. But as we know, Christian Education is so much more than this.
Christian Schools are fantastic at doing many activities which blur the lines between Church and School. Students at Christian Schools all over the world participate in the good Christian performances, memorise scripture, learn about scripture and participate in morning devotions. Students of Christian Schools often have prayer modelled to them. Sometimes they learn to pray religiously, first thing in the morning and just before lunch, and other times prayer is modelled as a natural part of a Christian walk. They sing worship songs and recite scripture. All of these are vitally important in Christian Schools. But they must never be what defines Christian Education.
Our students need to learn about the scriptures and they certainly need to have the Christian walk modelled to them. However, the value of Christian Education is not found in the big picture events that are detailed above. It is in the small subtle and deliberate living out of a Biblical Worldview that makes the life-transforming difference.
To bring clarity to this point let's consider the parable of the Two Builders. What does it really mean to build your house on the rock? Jesus spoke of the wise builder who did just this in the parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders (Matt 7:24-27). Jesus gave us a picture of two builders at the end of his Sermon on the Mount; one was wise, and the other foolish.
Jesus taught many things in his time in ministry and the sermon on the mount was full of practical advice for living a life worthy of the God we serve. This sermon did not include advice on singing worship songs, memorising scripture nor was it about performances and religious activities. Christ's teaching on the Sermon on the Mount was about living a life of surrender.
As educators in Christian Schools, our responsibility is very much to give our students the best opportunity to build their life on the foundation of rock as outlined in the Sermon on the Mount. A life which in many ways is counter-cultural. built on a worldview which is different to that of those around them.
A life built on the firm foundation as detailed in the Sermon on the Mount is;
Christian Schools must not be only about the verses display in the foyer, about the songs sung at an assembly, about the staff devotions nor just about the use of biblical stories in literacy lessons. Christian Education that really makes a difference empowers our students to build their lives on a foundation of rock. Helping our students understanding that they are purposefully and wonderfully designed for this time and this place. That they would have confidence in what God has done for them and who God is. Christian education finds its purpose when it is incessant in establishing this understanding in its students.
Let us not forget our line of business, Christian Education is about education. As Christian Educators we must be outstanding in the field of education. After all, we do this not for man, rather for our Father in Heaven (Col 3:23). However, in order to be truly involved in Christian Education, we need to equip our students to be strong Christians who are confident in who they are and that if they truly commit putting Christ first in their life that He is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine (Eph 3:20). The purpose of Christian Education is not to educate students for Biblical times, rather it is to equip God's youth as critical thinking confident and connected young people who can be in the future world they will enter into without being of the World. Unfortunately, I have seen far too many Christian School's whose pedagogy and curriculum stifles thinking and does not give God's youth the competencies and skills they need to interact in the world they are commissioned to 'go and make disciples'.
Memorising scripture, singing songs of praise, learning the stories of the Old and New Testament, reciting Old Testament accounts such as the Joseph play are all very important aspects of Christian Education and indeed should be a part of every Christian School. However, they should not be the sum total of what makes a Christian School different from the school down the road.
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock." (Matt 7:24)
It has been seen many times. What truly gives Christian Education its value is the integration of a Biblical Worldview into the day to day happenings which each student in a Christian School experiences.
The big question for those of us in Christian Education is this: ‘In what way is our school different to the school down the road?’ (assuming it is not another Christian School)
Listen closely to the answers. Are the answers common for everyone? My prayer is that the answers are not limited to good Christian activities such as Scripture Memorisation, learning Bible Stories, Singing Songs and Praying a few prayers. You exist for so much more. How is your school actively empowering your students to build their lives on a solid foundation? The answer will be found in what you do daily, not just in the scheduled activities.
A friend from Church asked me recently, 'Why would I send my daughter to a Christian School when it is so much cheaper and closer to send her to the state school down the road - they are both schools after all?"
I told my friend of a man called Harry. Harry saved up for years to buy a brand new Chevrolet Impala Premier. At over $40,000 and with all the added post-purchase extras that Harry lavished upon it, this car was Harry's pride and joy. Every weekend Harry would meet with other Chevrolet owners and talk about their cars and encourage each other. They were so happy and grateful for their cars that they even sang songs about them and whenever they got the opportunity, they tried to tell Ford owners what they were missing out on, inviting them to their meetings and trying to convert them.
Harry was very protective of his new Impala and at first he would sacrifice nothing to be sure his Chevy only got the best of everything. However, with insurances and the rising cost of gas, it was quite expensive to own a new Chevrolet. But as every new car owner knows it is very important to keep the car properly serviced. This meant the car would be in fine form for a long time and with regular servicing the car was bound to be a classic Chevy one day.
Just down the road from Harry there was a Ford Servicing Center. It was very good at servicing Ford cars. The workshop was shiny and had all the newest electronic gadgets. Most of the people who worked there were very good at servicing Fords and there was even the odd worker who was secretly a Chevrolet lover and was there trying put a little bit of Chevrolet in the cars they serviced. Some Chevy lovers knew this and sent their beloved Impalas and other Chevy babies to this Ford Service Center with the hope that these secret Chevrolet lovers might service their car. However, the real reason some Chevrolet lovers sent their babies to the Ford Service Center was because it was nearby. And, most importantly, the government subsidized costs at the Ford Service Center, so it was much cheaper to have the Impala serviced there than at the official Chevrolet Service Center across town.
When it came time to start servicing his car, Harry considered the Chevrolet Service Center, but because of the location and the extra cost in sending it across town, Harry chose to send his car to the Ford Service Center instead. Harry knew the Ford Service Center would only use Ford parts on his car - in fact Chevrolet parts were very much forbidden at the Ford Service Center, but it was closer and cheaper. What was good was that occasionally, in the interests of multiculturalism, some people from the Chevrolet Club were allowed to visit the Ford Service Center and show videos of Chevrolets. They showed pictures and told some stories about Chevys from many years ago. They even sang some songs about Chevrolets. But they were only allowed to sing songs about tires, towbars and paint jobs, definitely no stories or songs about the intricacies of what made a Chevy a Chevy. They weren't even allowed to talk about the main Chevrolet symbol and what it really stood for.
In his heart of hearts, Harry knew that at the Ford Service Center there were some Chevy-haters, and there was a good chance that his baby would be roughed up a little. In fact, because his baby was a Chevrolet in a Ford's world, there was a very high chance of some damage, but Harry hoped that the damage would not last. After all he reminded himself, it was cheaper and closer to use the Ford Service Center.
After a few years, Harry found his baby was changing. Not all the time, but sometimes when his Impala got hot it made noises like a Ford. Actually sometimes it even drove a little like a Ford. But worst of all for Harry, sometimes it would not start on Sunday mornings when it was time to go to the Chevrolet Club meetings.
One such Sunday morning, instead of walking himself to the Club (his car wouldn't start again), he decided to get to the bottom of what was going on. He spent a lot of time digging around underneath the hood, trunk, and elsewhere. Everything looked fine on the surface, but when he looked deep in the car he found that unbeknown to him, some of the car's internal parts had been replaced. There were Ford parts all over the place! Some of them didn't look like they even fitted very well and had to have been beaten into place.
As Harry closed the bonnet, wondering what he could have done differently, he realised for the first time that the Chevrolet badge was starting to slip, just a little.
Why would you send your child to a Christian School when the school down the road is closer and cheaper? The answer seems relatively straight forward to me...
by Shaun Booker, Principal, Hamilton Christian School, Hamilton, New Zealand (slightly adapted and contextualised by Dr Richard Edlin from Edserv International)
Just an observation. An observation from 15+ years in Christian Education, leadership in many Christian Schools, chairmanship of a trust for several Christian schools and both initial teacher training and postgraduate study through Christian Tertiary Colleges. My observation is that there are five 'types' of families who send their children to Christian schools.
Identifying the current make up of your school’s community within these five types is not an ego thing nor is it a ‘some are better than others’ sort of thing. It is important to know the make up of your school community in order to best meet the needs of your current community. Secondly, if your school does NOT attract any of these types of families it will be because of the perception your school holds in the wider community. Acknowledging that the perception may or may not be based on reality. Knowing which types do not attend will enable you to try and target the perceptions and move the school forward.