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, a time when someone is establishing their 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 a 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, the process should be an absolute commitment to each student’s growth. 


Consequences should always be fair and at the heart of the discipline, the 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?


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.




Scripture Memorisation

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?

Biblical literacy

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)

Pharisaic Thinking

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?

Behaviour Management

Does your behaviour management cause the most broken in your community closer to Christ or create a barrier for them to the focus growth or judgement?