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“Our kids in youth group from Christian schools are spiritually fat.” These words, uttered by a youth pastor at a recent youth ministry consultation, while not pleasant to hear, gave me pause to reflect. I would rather have heard a comment to the effect of “those Christian school kids really seem well equipped and can be counted on for leadership in our youth group.” To be fair I have heard both statements in the past year. The speaker however was referring to a sort of spiritual apathy because the students had “head knowledge.”
However I began to wonder what the responsibility of the Christian school was related to the “fatness” issue. Is this fatness a problem for our kids, making them lethargic or “easily winded” followers of Christ? Is this fatness perhaps demonstrated in the church setting or in the school setting by an arrogant attitude of “I already know all this stuff and I am therefore superior to the rest of you?”
As with physical fatness, it seems to me that the answer to spiritual fatness is exercise. In this case, we need to allow our kids to practice, to exercise their spiritual muscles. It is also in the process of exercising that one realizes how far one needs to go yet to achieve what is necessary to be “fit.” One effective way I have seen this exercise happen in the setting of the small church my family attends is to have students from grade 7 on up function as assistant teachers with adult mentors in our children’s worship program. Through this they are engaged in a real life setting and articulating what they believe – and at the same time learning and growing in their faith.
So in a school setting what could happen if we paid more attention to some differentiation in the spiritual development realm? I wonder how we could increase the involvement of youth in school settings through the practice of their spiritual gifts in authentic ways? Any new ideas out there that address this issue?
*(We return to examining Faith Enhancing Practices – those practices that can be used effectively in a Christian school to encourage students in their faith development. For an explanation and definition of Faith Enhancing Practices see my post of February 3, 2007 entitled “What’s the difference between teachers?” It might be most helpful to begin reading forward from that point through FEP’s #1-6.)
There is no school better equipped to wrestle with students about the difficult questions of life than a Christian school. Difficult questions occur naturally and spontaneously in the lives of our youth and in our classrooms. When I use the term difficult questions I am referring to these kinds of questions:
Why doesn’t God show himself more clearly?
- If God didn’t create evil, where did it come from?
- How can Christians condemn homosexuals for being the way God made them?
- If people want to die, isn’t it more merciful to let them commit suicide than to allow them to suffer?
- If laws can’t make people good, why do we try to legislate morality?
- How should I measure my success in life?
- What happens to people who die without ever hearing about Christ? It doesn’t seem fair for them to go to hell.
- Why does a good God allow the consequences of evil to continue? Why doesn’t he simply wipe out evil as soon as it appears on the scene?
In a Christian school we see all things cohering in Christ, and through his life, death, and resurrection we have an eternal hope. We have the twin revelations of creation and the Bible with which to guide our thinking. Difficult questions that students pose give us a terrific opportunity to deal with things that should be priorities for us in Christian education – matters of life and death and faith.
Yet many of the questions we get asked don’t have easy answers. It is important for us to demonstrate to students that we don’t have all the answers – we wonder about these things too and acknowledge that our human understanding is limited. When our students raise the problem of pain – why certain people get sick or die – we like Job have to realize that we cannot expect to have the same understanding level as our almighty God. Our questions allow us the avenue into deep and meaningful discussion about things that are engaging our students’ minds and hearts.
Are we, as people who are responsible to nurture faith in our youth, prepared to deal with the difficult questions that are posed to us? Are we addressing these kind of questions in our curriculum? A good exercise is to take Chuck Colson’s book, Answers to Your Kid’s Questions, which contains difficult questions (such as the ones listed above) sent in to his organization by youth and then to see where these questions are addressed in the course of your curriculum.
(Michael Essenburg presented a pre-conference sectional at the annual CSI convention held at Boyne Mountain this past summer. Here are responses his workshop attendees gave regarding the value of measuring student outcomes in the area of Biblical perspective.)
How does measuring student application of Biblical perspective help?
Quick Answer: Measuring student application of a Biblical perspective helps…
- students to know how they are doing, how to improve, and what Christian education is about.
- parents to feel affirmed in their decision to send their children to a Christian school.
- staff to focus on the mission, feel encouraged as they see students applying a Biblical perspective, and enhance unity.
- alumni, donors, and community members to be assured that the school is focusing on the mission.
- the school board to focus on the mission and strengthen the vision.
Question: How would measuring student application of Biblical perspective help your school?
Last time I posted the final draft of the Covenetwork Manifesto – a document stating what we believe about nurturing the faith of our youth. So, now what can be done with the document? Some have wondered about using it in a school setting to stimulate conversation. Perhaps this could be accomplished by inviting pastors and youth workers to a breakfast or lunch (everybody likes a free lunch!) and beginning a dialogue about working and planning together around the faith nurture of the youth you commonly share.
Possible action steps at a church/school meeting:
1. Determine the level of agreement with the content of the Manifesto.
2. Commit to a level of partnership:
Communicating – keeping each other informed of your work with students
Collaborating – working on a project or two over the course of the year
Co – planning – working together closely on a number of projects or initiatives
3. Determine which of these five areas needs the most emphasis at your local level:
Differentiating – How can we attend to spiritual needs of youth at each stage of their development?
Describing – How has God gifted this individual? How can we help them identify their gifts? How can we encourage them to develop their gifts? What fruits do we see emerging? How can we help this individual understand their spiritual pathways?
Discerning – Helping students with worldview development, cultural “maladjustment”, lifestyle choices, and seeing good and evil in social/institutional structures
Developing – How can we help connect head, heart, and hands? How can we help disciple this individual so that they move beyond personal salvation to Lordship issues? How can students articulate faith? How can we help them with cross-cultural and cross faith connections?
4. Sign an agreement to “covenetwork” together between school and church.
Today we begin the Nurturing Faith blog again for this new school year. This blog goes out to all CSI administrators and others on a subscription list, such as church youth workers and organizations connected with student faith nurture. Feel free to forward the information about this blog to teachers, church workers and others whom you think may find it valuable. Please feel free to contact us at CSI if you would like to be put on our regular mailing list. Blessings to you on a new school and church year!
I was very heartened that on a day tailor made for golf and other outdoor activities that a couple hundred administrators and church leaders sat together and discussed what they believed about the faith nurture of youth. I am speaking of the recent July CSI convention held in Michigan at Boyne Mountain and the work done on the Covenetwork Manifesto document. We sat together in table groups of 8-10 and worked on the “Whereas” and “Therefore” statements, suggesting revisions. After a time of discussion, we merged our comments and then 8 groups reported out their suggestions. Taking into account all of the suggestions made by the convention attendees and doing some wordsmithing we present the final document below:
A Covenetwork Manifesto
Covenetwork – relationships that work between home, church,
and school, term coined by Miller in The Millennium Matrix
Manifesto – public declaration of policy and aims, declaration, platform
We value all of our youth as image bearers of God and uniquely designed for Kingdom purposes,
- We desire to nurture a personal faith walk with Jesus Christ in youth,
- We affirm that Scripture mandates nurturing faith in youth,
- We believe that youth is a critical time for faith development,
- We recognize that current realities in culture and institutions (government, business, media, etc. and sometimes in family, school, and church) mitigate against faith development,
- We believe that the family fosters initial faith development and that parents, church, and school each have unique and complementary roles to play in the maturation of that faith,
- We reject the concept that the head (worldview), heart (values, beliefs, attitudes), and hands (decisions, actions, behaviors) of each child can fully develop independent of each other, and we encourage methods that engage youth in a continuous, consistent, and coherent manner,
- We believe that the importance of the kingdom of God requires that home, church, and school work in concert on faith nurture,
- We believe that relationships are foundational to faith nurture,
- We believe that adults who engage with youth over extended periods of time have a significant impact on their spiritual formation,
- We affirm that young people need the desire, ability, and opportunity to articulate what they believe,
- We believe that faith nurture encompasses the individual and all of creation.
- We commit to working together around the faith nurture of our youth in order to complement each other and maximize effectiveness,
- We commit to investing time, attention, and resources toward the faith formation of youth,
- We will strive to maintain healthy dialogue with our faith nurture partners,
- We will seek to explore best ways to communicate, collaborate, or co-plan,
- We will encourage the development of spiritual disciplines in our youth,
- We commit to knowing our youth at a personal level, knowing them at a developmental level, and understanding their changing cultural context through better communication between church and school,
- We will seek the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit for direction and leading as we nurture faith development in our youth,
- We will provide learning experiences that will develop youth engagement in cultural redemption and reconciliation,
- We commit to model and encourage Christian discernment and lifestyle,
- We commit to pray faithfully for our youth.
The intention of this document is to promote dialogue between those responsible for the nurture of the faith of our youth. What are ways you could use this document in your setting to help focus on faith nurture? Please take a moment to report back how you are using this document to engage others in this dialogue – we will report this information in upcoming blog posts along with looking at parts 2 and 3 of the Covenetwork Manifesto.
(Blog post written by Jim DeKorne, Vice President of School Services @ CSI)
Faith appears to be going mainstream. Politically, US presidential candidates have been publicly trumpeting their faith experiences (here and here and here), while in Canada, the upcoming Ontario elections are turning into a referendum on funding faith-based schools (see here and here) —and for a story that includes comments on that topic from a student at OACS and CSI-member Redeemer Christian School in Ottawa, click here.)
Of course, the cynic’s reply to this public touting of personal faith is that faith is simply a cheap ploy to win votes or buy elections.
And that’s what makes the most recent public foray into the topic of faith quite interesting. Mother Teresa has been regarded as an icon of long-suffering love for the poorest of the poor, and certainly a woman of great faith. However, a new book (Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light) reveals Mother Teresa’s own deep crisis of faith. According to her own correspondence, her doubt did not just surface occasionally, but was a constant companion throughout her entire ministry. (The review of the book in the August 23 Time magazine is worth reading. You can find it here.)
To Christopher Hitchens—society’s most vocal atheist du jour—these revelations only confirm that the whole business of faith itself is a fraud. He muses that her admitted mental and spiritual anguish “…is the inevitable result of a dogma that asks people to believe impossible things and then makes them feel abject and guilty when their innate reason rebels.” (You can find his complete statements here.)
But to a believer, doubt is simply the other side of the faith coin. In a world where God is not yet fully King for all to see, the experience of God’s silence is universally shared—by David (Ps 35:13ff et.al), by Jesus himself (Mt 27:46), and surely by you and me. Indeed, what is more instructive about the news of Mother Teresa—that she had deep struggles, or that she continued to minister in spite of those struggles?
We’ve started another year in our “faith-based” schools. What, exactly, is the nature of that faith? Or to put it another way, what is it that we believe but can’t yet see? Start with this: It is a faith that sees not just the external created world around us, but the Creator behind it; it is a faith big enough to see what our students might become in the Lord’s hands; it is a faith broad enough to encompass all students in our Christian community, and bold enough to trust God with our future.
And it is also a faith that can be modeled, celebrated, and nurtured in our schools. What doubts do your students have? Is your school a place where those questions can be expressed appropriately? Some schools need to become much freer with speaking about one’s walk with Christ, and a place where Scripture is routinely woven throughout discussions. Other schools need to eliminate their pious-sounding blather and simply get real.
The world is asking lots of questions about faith. What a privilege to live out and nurture that faith daily in the hallways and classrooms of our schools!
For further reading:
Douglas Wilson debated Christopher Hitchens online a few months ago around the topic “Is Christianity Good for the World?” You can find the text here. The ideas presented are quite accessible to upper level students, and you may find it instructive to wrap some research and dialogue around the debate.
Today we remember the events of 9/11/01. I have been wondering lately how these events have impacted our faith and the faith of our children in North America. How is our faith being tested by the ongoing loss of life and unrest in Iraq, or are most of us happy just living in our newly patched bubbles, or so busy we can’t/won’t spend the energy attending to it? Most of us would admit to very mixed feelings about the use of power by the U.S. government even as we critique our politicians for demonstrating similar uncertainty – the limits of our collective wisdom seem quickly reached.
As I look out of my office window across East Paris Avenue, I see flags flying at half-staff at our governor’s request to honor fallen soldiers from Michigan. Framed by the flagpoles I see trees being cut down and a building site being prepared for our new neighbors – a Muslim temple. What a different world than 6, 10 or 15 years ago – could we have imagined? Whatever else, the events of 9/11/01 pierced the last bubble of insularity and invincibility – we find our world has been forever changed – and in many ways for the better, even as we place less trust in government …or airport security. Yet have these last six years increased our faith or our cynicism and fear?
How have we approached this issue with students? I think that those of us who lived through the Vietnam War are seeing many similarities – great intentions versus questions arising regarding the role of the world’s superpower in the affairs of other countries. How do we balance issues of justice and devastation with allocation of resources away from domestic justice issues? How we handle these difficult issues contributes significantly to the development of a Christian worldview and individual faith development. How have you dealt with these issues with students in a “fair and balanced” manner and toward distinctively Christian understandings?