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The headline in the latest Education Week caught my attention: “Abstinence Programs Don’t Work, Largest Study to Date Concludes.” The article went on to say that students who participated in sexual-abstinence programs were just as likely to have sex and had the same number of sexual partners as those who did not take part in the program. Both groups had a median age of first intercourse of 14 years and 9 months – yikes I said to myself as I recalled my state of maturation when I was 14.9! I began to ponder why abstinence programs didn’t seem to be making a difference in student behavior. I also began to consider why some teens I know are keeping their vow of abstinence before marriage. What is different in the lives of the teens who are abstaining?
Barna’s research has found that Christians with a well developed Christian worldview, are more likely to have their beliefs impact their behaviors than the general population, including evangelical Christians. One of the best places to develop a Christian worldview is within the Christian school setting. I would love to see the data in the report mentioned in this article disaggregated by students and their connection to a Christian worldview. I do believe that students who have a more mature development of a Christian worldview and see the connection between their beliefs and actions would show a more positive abstinence rate result. If the concept of abstinence is not connected to a larger worldview that helps students see themselves as imagebearers of God and their bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, it is easy to understand why abstinence is ineffective. In other words, if as a student my stand on abstinence is grounded in a larger belief system or worldview, then I have larger reasons for remaining sexually responsible.
When meting out consequences for the misbehavior of middle school students in a public school, they used to ask me, “Why should I be good?” In the absence of being able address that question from a spiritual perspective, the best answers I could come up with were limited and not as compelling. Rob Bell states in his latest book, Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality: “And when we begin to sort through all of the issues surrounding our sexuality, we quickly end up in the spiritual, because this is always about that…you can’t talk about sexuality without talking about how we were made. And that will inevitably lead you to who made us. At some point you have to talk about God.” I really appreciate his thought that we live between the animals and the angels: “When we deny the spiritual dimension to our existence, we end up living like animals. And when we deny the physical, sexual dimension to our existence we end up living like angels (a being with a spirit but without a body.) And both ways are destructive, because God made us human.”
We desire in Christian schools and churches to show kids who they really are in God’s eyes. They are imagebearers of great worth as Bell reminds us using Paul’s statements from the book of Ephesians: “…they’re blessed, chosen, predestined, given, redeemed, forgiven, included, marked, been made alive, saved, raised up, seated with, created, brought near; they are fellow citizens, they are members, they are being built together.”
Sexuality is a precious gift, a gift God designed to be saved and given exclusively to the person with whom one chooses to enter into the sacred bond of marriage. If we are able to help our students connect how they are viewed by God with how they live their lives, I cannot help but believe that we will see a more positive abstinence result.
Other links I have run across recently which may be of some help with understanding our students better are:
(Girls growing up too fast) Sexualizing Girls: Liberals and conservatives can agree that this is no good at all by Mona Charen, National Review, February 23, 2007.
Sexually Active Teenagers Are More Likely to Be Depressed and to Attempt Suicide by Robert E. Rector, Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D., and Lauren R. Noyes on The Heritage Foundation website, June 3, 2003
Carolina-led study examines sexual content of several media, affect on teens’ sexual behavior, University of North Carolina, April 3, 2006.
A Cock-and-Bull Story: Explaining the huge rise in teen oral sexSlate, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2006.
After Hours on Campus: The Sexualization of the American College by Vigen Guroian, Breakpoint, March 27, 2007.
One of the best and most popular practices that teachers can use to encourage student faith development is the strategy of reflective writing. Reflective writing assignments help students to think more deeply about life and to make sense of it. As Thackeray said, “There are thousands of thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up the pen and writes.” The writing process helps connect the writer to their inner life – to their own emotions, beliefs, and forces them to make thoughts and ideas concrete. When we write something we are forced to try to articulate what it is we want to convey. This practice is an opportunity to connect a student’s head with their heart, to ask them to bring expression to what they understand and what they believe. It is one of the better ways for teachers to understand a student’s thinking and thought process – their mind and heart.
The purposes of the use of reflective writing as a Faith Enhancing Practice in a Christian school may be several:
- To encourage students in their relationship to the Lord by causing them to
reflect annually on matters of personal spiritual growth.
- To provide evidence of this journey for students each year as they are asked to
reflect on their growth.
- To provide a medium for teachers to discuss student spiritual growth, both with
student and parents.
- To provide a final portfolio keepsake at the end of the 8th grade that will be given to students and to parents.
If reflective writing is adopted as a school wide strategy, I recommend that teachers spend time at each grade level developing appropriate student prompts. These prompts should provoke student reflection at a developmentally appropriate level on significant spiritual issues. Examples for various grades could be:
- Kindergarten – a picture of my favorite Bible story
- 2nd graders: “What I believe about God”
- 4th graders: “Who or what has helped me love Jesus more and why?
6th graders: “How did you see God in 6th grade? (Things learned, in your teachers, your learning, in your friends, chapels, field trips)
(Prompts above were developed and are in use by teachers at Holland Christian – more examples and the Faith Enhancing Practices modules available on the CSI Member Community Center website.)
There needs to be significant discussion around the issue of who sees the student portfolio and full disclosure to the students about not only who will see their writing, but the purpose of the writing.
Reflective writing is a very significant tool for Christian educators to connect head and heart. When this practice is used over time it can demonstrate to students their journey of spiritual growth.
Last time around I posted an introduction and a request for comments on the document we will be using at our CSI summer convention for discussion around student faith nurture – see fourth post of April 9.
This time around I would like to ask your comments on the “Therefore” statements:
- We commit to working together around the faith nurture of our youth in order to maximize effectiveness and to avoid duplication and contention,
- We commit to investing significant time, attention, and resources toward the faith formation of youth,
- We hold that the importance of the kingdom on an individual and corporate level outweighs concerns of individual sovereignty of home, school, and church,
- We will seek to explore best ways to communicate, collaborate, or co-plan,
- We will explore best ways to work with parents,
- We will encourage regular religious practices in our youth so that faith may be demonstrated and deepened,
- We will commit to: knowing our youth at an individual level, knowing them a developmental level, and understanding their changing cultural context.
- We will seek the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit for direction and guidance as we seek to nurture faith development in our youth.
I invite you to make suggestions to add or delete to this list above. What should we commit to as schools and churches that seek to encourage faith in our youth?
Important reminder – if you know of civics/government teachers who would like an all expenses paid study for two weeks with outstanding Christian policy experts in Washington, D.C. this summer, please point them to the blog post of April 9. The deadline for application is May 1. This is a great opportunity to engage in discussion and work around integrating a Christian perspective into the teaching of civics and government. Please encourage someone you know to apply!
Christian Education Distinctives course – this course will be beginning soon. If you have hired new teachers or administrators recently this is a course designed just for them! It will be taught online over a period of six weeks. If you are interested but this time frame doesn’t work for you please let us know – we are also considering offering it in July – early August and again in October/November. For more info click on the title above or call 1-800-635-8288.
Christian Schools International and the Center for Public Justice in Washington, D.C. were recently notified by the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning that they have been awarded a $7,100 grant for a joint summer faith integration project. This grant will provide an opportunity for three high school civics teachers and a college professor to connect with public policy experts in order to advance the thoughtful integration of Christian perspective into civics education. CPJ will bring together many resources, ideas, and contacts to the table to assist schools in equipping students to “serve God, advance justice, and transform public life.”
The goal of this project is to produce a product that is helpful for Christian high school civics teachers to use in their classrooms. This product would be written and field-tested by the participating teachers in the academic year following the summer experience.
This two-week program will take place from June 11-22, 2007 in Annapolis, Maryland and Washington, D.C. and will be organized and hosted by the Center for Public Justice in collaboration with Christian Schools International.
Teachers selected for this program will have all expenses covered for the two weeks in Washington, D.C. and will each receive a $1000 stipend for completed curriculum work. This anticipated product could provide valuable thoughts and ideas related to increasing the integration of faith and learning for all high school civic teachers throughout the CSI network. This work would be housed in the CSI Member Community Center (a resource sharing bank) for dissemination throughout CSI as well as available via the Kuyers Institute website.
Applications will be received until May 1 and are available by clicking here. Awardees will be notified by May 5. For more information you can email me: email@example.com or call 1-800-635-8288.
Excellence… we seek it and celebrate it, yet in our culture the word excellence is often overused. In a Christian ministry setting we are sometimes wary of this word – does it smack of ambition and success? Yet on the other hand should we be settling for mediocrity? Is this word helpful to us? Does it help move us in the right direction?
We need vigorous discussion about what this means in a Christian ministry – this is one of the best debates we can have because if we seek excellence for the right reasons we can gain a clearer understanding of our mission and are led into doing passionate ministry.
I love the word excellence and consider this verse as a key to understanding the proper context for excellence: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord,
not for men.” Colossians 3:23
Therefore Christian excellence is:
- Motivated by a desire to please God and fulfill his purposes.
- Demonstrated by offering one’s best to God as an act of worship.
- Demonstrated by doing something great for God and being faithful to his call and claim on your life. Some examples: Solomon building the temple, Samson destroying the temple of the Philistines, Paul’s missionary journeys.
Our context in Christian schools is often framed in competitive and quantitative ways by our public school counterparts, NCLB, and business. If we define excellence in simply reductive, results oriented ways we are missing a critical dimension of excellence in Christian education (see my blog post of 2/09/07 – Generation (and re-generation) through Christ.)
What is the true standard of excellence? In their book Resurrecting Excellence, Reclaiming the Church Jones and Armstrong state: “Fidelity to the crucified and risen Christ …Christian ministry, lived faithfully and well, is beautiful.” Excellence is cultivating the eyes and ears to see and hear the beauty of God, his world, and his people.
The motivation for excellence in our ministry flows from a heart of passionate love – we understand this best when we are in love and want to give the best to another …the finest diamond we can afford to one we love, the most beautiful flowers, and doing the best we can at a task that we know is valued by the other.
Beautiful ministry is inspired by people who have lived and are living out their lives in the beauty of Christ – this in turn inspires standards of excellence. “Learning to attend to God’s beauty and to see and hear through God-inspired eyes and ears calls forth the strongest patterns of feeling, thinking, and acting. This is an excellence that is not about our efforts or culturally defined expectations. Rather, it is an excellence that is shaped by God’s excellence, nurtured by the new life in Christ to which we are all called in the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Jones and Armstrong, pp. 20, 21)
Let’s focus on fueling a passion among ourselves and a beauty of ministry in our midst…is there a richness of character, of grace, of virtue, of faithful actions, of restoration and reconciliation, of creativity? If the kids see this attractiveness in us as examples of excellence, they may also be inspired to serve the Lord with excellence.
There it was on the front page of our local paper – the graduation speaker at a local high school telling students the oldest untruth in history – “…seniors told they’re ‘the boss’ of the journey that awaits them.” I wondered how many people reading it thought “That’s not right.” How many people’s “there’s something wrong with this worldview” detectors went off? I know mine did. It was the same line that Satan gave to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden…and it is still in heavy use today. The basic problem of most worldviews outside of the Christian worldview is that they place man at the center as opposed to God/Jesus. Let’s look at four examples:
Moral relativism – what I believe about truth is a personal preference, there is no absolute truth – a popular philosophy in the age of postmodernism where all beliefs, values, behaviors, and ideas are seen as being equally valid. This philosophical position is reflected in Smith and Denton’s assertion that the predominant religious view of today’s youth (see my post of 11/11/06) can be labeled “moral therapeutic deism.” This concept helps to explain why we have such a large number of people professing Christ in this country, but not accepting the truth claims of Jesus and not dealing with the issue of making him Lord – a cheap grace position that does not count the cost of discipleship. Evangelicals with a worldview who are dealing with Lordship issues make a difference. Therefore this is the hard stuff, the Lordship piece that we must take on with our kids.
Materialism – our culture reflects a “get all I can for me” mentality. In a fascinating book called The Progress Paradox Gregg Easterbrook points out that “the percentage of Americans who describe themselves as ‘happy’ has not budged since the 1950’s, though the typical person’s real income more than doubled through that period.” Are we demonstrating something different to our kids? Materialism leads to isolation and leads away from community and submission to others. Materialism needs to be countered by gratitude and humility.
Utopianism – the belief that human nature is basically good and the existence of sin is denied – one of the main findings of the Smith and Denton study is the belief by teens that “good people go to heaven when they die.”
Fatalism – “whatever will be, will be”, a “this world only” perspective. Smith and Denton refer to teens who lack a “morally significant universe.” These are youth who have not received or have rejected strong moral grounding. In his book The Road to Whatever: Middle Class Culture and the Crisis of Adolescence Elliot Currie paints a bleak picture of these type of middle class students who have been raised in high demand, low support homes and who then turn to drug use, binge drinking, destructive violence, and suicide as a respond to a culture that doesn’t seem to care.
If we accept the research/thinking of Barna (and others throughout history) that a child’s spiritual identity is mostly set by age thirteen, then what does this mean for us as school and church educators dealing with the issue of worldview? Where should we be putting our efforts?
Colson has pointed out that there are four basic questions that everyone deals with in constructing their worldview:
- Where did I come from?
- Why am I here?
- Where am I going?
- Does life have any meaning and purpose?
How will we help our youth deal with these questions?
A helpful teaching tool that has been used in business, law, and medicine has been the case study. Case studies are basically stories with an educational message. They deal specifically with people in action and the consequences of their actions and behavior. Case studies help us compare what values are being applied and what worldview is being advanced. The example at the beginning of this post could be considered a simple case study.
There are a couple of excellent resources I recommend you consider for work with older students: A book for use with teens and young adults called No Easy Answers: Making Good Decisions in an Anything-Goes World written by Bob Rozema and Dan Vander Ark – available from Faith Alive Christian Resources and also the Exploring Ethics book for grades 9-12 that is available from CSI.
Are there other case study resources that you have found helpful?
Let’s start the conversation…for those of you have already received a direct invitation to this summer’s convention – you may have noticed that there was an attachment called A Covenetwork Manifesto. You may be wondering what this is all about. If you didn’t receive an invitation to the convention already, please consider this to be your invitation to consider attending (for more info – click on the graphic below.)
At our CSI convention this summer we are hoping to have educators joined by church youth workers and pastors. Our theme reflects our desire: Discipling Youth Together. Part of our time we will be hearing stimulating speakers on the topic of nurturing faith in youth and part of our time we will be sharing together what we know about ministry to youth and how we could better work together in that endeavor. We thought it might be helpful to have a starting point for our conversations and so we have put together some draft thoughts and ideas into a document called A Covenetwork Manifesto. I would like to have us start thinking about the draft document now and engaging in some dialogue around it before we even get to the summer convention.
First, a word about the name – A Covenetwork Manifesto. Covenetwork is a term that a friend of mine, Rex Miller, coined to describe relationships that work between home, church and school. He first used this term in his book The Millennium Matrix – a book I highly recommend that you read! The word manifesto may sound a bit dramatic but a manifesto is simply a public declaration of beliefs or aims. So, let’s consider the first part of this Manifesto in this blog post and see what you think needs to be added or subtracted.
We will start with the “Whereas” section of the working document – what do we really believe about our youth and faith nurture? Here is the list so far:
- We value all of our youth as image bearers of God,
- We commonly desire to nurture faith in our youth,
- We believe that youth is a critical time for faith development,
- It is critical that the head (worldview), heart (values, beliefs, attitudes), and hands (decisions, actions, behaviors) of each child develop simultaneously and coherently,
- Current realities in society and family life mitigate against faith development,
- Parents, church, and school each have unique and complimentary roles to play in faith nurture,
- Adults who have extended periods of time and long term relationships have a significant impact on the spiritual formation of youth,
- Recent research advocates for increasing the ability of youths to articulate what they believe,
- We reject a life-style preference, consumeristic view of Christian faith and practice by our youth and wish to encourage a serious, articulate, and confident view of personal and communal faith practice.
What should we add or subtract? Please post your comments.
Next time we will take a look at the “Therefore:” section that follow our “Whereases”. Thanks in advance for your thoughts and consideration!