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(Seventh in a series that delves deeper into the characteristics of a flourishing student – click here to read the original post on flourishing.)
The global/local news landscape offers up to us almost daily examples of moral and ethical failure. As Christians, we may be more disappointed than shocked because we understand the fallen nature of humanity and the fact that we cannot escape brokenness – the line dividing good and evil runs down the center of each of our hearts. Yet our faith, in the power of a risen Christ redeeming humanity and his creation, inspires us to not stay in despair over this brokenness, but to continue to work toward shalom and restoration. We remind ourselves that each human being is made in God’s likeness, and challenge our students to live lives of obedience and faithfulness, to be like Christ.
It is this challenge to students that I want to focus on. In the process of attempting to teach our students the desire to act morally and ethically we are essentially showing them what goodness looks, acts, and smells like – “a more perfect way” – and asking them to internalize and live out that goodness. It is not just about “being good,” and it is not enough to just not disobey. We need to show them that following Christ is an above and beyond/different way of living and to call them to that “foolishness” Christ asks of us (Matthew 5, I Corinthians 1:21ff).
Many students each day are taught to “be good” in schools around the world, yet only some are given spiritual foundations as to why they should “be good.” Just being “good for goodness sake” or for personal gain as in good grades-good scholarships-good college-good job-good life thinking will only be so effective when push comes to shove in life situations that students will encounter. The tests and trials of life in big and small situations will reveal what they really believe and their actions will reveal their worldview. The latter part of the saying “Time heals wounds and wounds heels” reflects how we so often see careers and reputations undone through moral and ethical failings – research tells us it is hard to end our careers well. Moral and ethical failings are often the result of pride (“It can’t happen to me because I am above it all”) or laziness (“I can cut this corner or treat someone this way and get away with it”) or magical thinking (“It won’t happen to me or I won’t get caught”). Lack of discipline, lack of courage, and lack of character development all contribute to these failings. If I do not really regard others as image-bearers worthy of my love because of my desire to show Christ’s love, it is more likely that I will not see the need for ethical and moral behavior toward them. My best behavior done through my own power, if not directed toward worship, is more likely to simply increase my pride and self-reliance. If we do not encourage our students to see their behavior as connected or disconnected to foundational spiritual belief, it is not as likely that their lives will translate into obedience, humility, kindness, love, and other fruits of the Spirit.
How can we specifically work toward this outcome of a flourishing student? The aspect of adult modeling moral and ethical behavior looms large. We create classroom and school cultures where the desire to live morally and ethically can thrive or be discouraged. We must start with our own hearts, motives and worldview – as adults are we demonstrating spiritual obedience simply out of fear of judgment or out of true love for others and a desire to love God and to do the right thing? Bill Hybels’ book: Who You Are When Nobody’s Looking: Choosing Consistency, Resisting Compromise gives us an immediate challenge just from the title and is a great resource to work through with students or your own children. We need to both share and examine difficulties in this area and encourage good choices by students. It may be helpful with middle and high school students to make use of dilemmas and case studies so that moral and ethical principles can be applied to real life situations. A book such as Rozema and VanderArk’s No Easy Answers – Making Good Decisions in an Anything Goes World or CSI’s Exploring Ethics texts are very helpful tools.
One of the most poignant images from the recent Boston Marathon bombing was 8 year -old Martin Richard’s sign. The bombing was the largest of several stories of hurt in the month of April. People deeply hurt by gun violence were testifying in front of Congress. A video surfaced at Rutgers University showing a coach hurting players by his physical actions and harmful words directed at his players. It struck me that Martin, by his sign, was not only hoping for an absence of pain by his choice of his first four words, but also a pro-active state of peacefulness by his next. If we seek peace, we must not simply embrace it as an abstract concept, but consider how peace may be attained in our daily lives and at what cost.
Mulling over all these events, I found myself wrestling with the situation of the fired coach and what implications it might have for all those who seek to nurture faith in students. I found myself wondering about how we define the line he crossed. I am a sports fan and regularly see coaches display intensity, passion, and anger – how similar are they to the Rutgers coach and where is the line of unacceptability drawn? As I considered this I began to think of not just coaches, but teachers and other adults who work with kids. Where does “helping and discipline” turn into hurting? Does it just have to do with volume or is quiet sarcasm to control and manipulate kids just as deadly? Is sarcasm ever acceptable in working with kids or is it a lazy way for an adult to maintain control, to be cool with the cool kids, to keep the classroom pecking order intact so that equilibrium and order can be maintained – at whatever cost?
I also wondered how some adults who refrain from using any objectionable methods with youth get stellar results year after year. The ones we should be emulating are the best coaches and teachers who demonstrate by word and deed that they truly see the person in front of them as an image-bearer of the God of heaven and earth and therefore worthy of the same respect they would expect to receive! They do not need to shout at or put down a student in front of the peers of the student or later in front of their own peers. They seek to build up students, and in return, the students are secure in the love of the teacher. Students will take and even seek correction and advice from them. Why do some teachers and coaches get not only results but respect and lifelong admiration from those in their charge? And why do we put up with anything less if we are truly serious about emulating Jesus and living out our school missions?
My belief is that in Christian education we should be holding ourselves to a higher standard – we seek to serve the Prince of Peace who says “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9) Our children’s faith is nurtured or discouraged by the words and actions of adults around them – it will take courage for us to confront each other if we see hurting happening by an adult – but it is what we are called to as children of God working with God’s children.
I am excited to share with you an exciting project that I learned about recently. Beaver County Christian High has, for nearly twenty years, been taking the time to help senior students connect the dots via a special three-day unit entitled What Difference Does It Make? Alumni of the school are asked to deliver a case study, a time from their life when their worldview made a difference in the way they lived. They share with students the circumstances of a particular situation and then ask students to ponder what they would do. After a time the adult presenters share what and why they did what they did.
The alumni represent a broad spectrum of fields – for example this year’s group featured the following professions: architecture, homemaking, culinary arts, anti-terror, social services, media, psychology, veterinary school, athletics, mission work, research, Border Patrol, professor, sports medicine, contractor, film sound editing, conference organizing, and nursing. Presenters shared the challenges of working in faith neutral/negative environments, sharing their faith, facing dilemmas in decisions, setting priorities, caring and praying for people, and doing all to the glory of God in every way.
Principal Doug Carson noted that he “was very pleased with the unit” and that it reminded everyone “of the fundamental reason we are in Christian education – we want to help students develop a way to look at all of life from a biblical perspective. We saw our graduates actually doing that! What an encouragement!” Director of Recruitment and Advancement Rose McChesney added: “Our school’s tag line is ‘Biblically Grounded for Life’ and I believe we faithfully strive for this. This unit specifically drew attention to our Christian worldview, and how that impacts everything – including our futures. Our natural tendency is to be very focused on ourselves, our needs, our day, our friends, our projects, our responsibilities, etc. I thought the content was so powerful. And for alumni, products of the same system our students are in, to be able to speak into their lives about the big world out there, and the many ways that Christians are needed, and how they can prepare themselves now, had such potential to impact their lives.”
This year’s special unit for students had I John 3:16-18 which concludes with these words: “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” Kudos to the staff at Beaver County for organizing these meaningful interactions for students to help them connect learning, faith, and life – showing what love in action, in real life looks like!
As I have thought recently about effective leadership at the principal, superintendent, and head of school level in Christian schools, it occurs to me that there are at least three areas that are critical to do the job effectively. I have identified these areas with the acronym PEP – Priorities, Entrepreneurialism, and People Centeredness.
The leader of a school plays a critical role as spiritual leader. I believe that, like a teacher modeling for students, the modeling of the leader is critical for the entire school staff. The leader encourages or discourages spiritual growth and calls the followers to goodness or inadvertently gives permission for poor behavior because of the leader’s poor example. Great leaders must demonstrate consistently implemented values and a transparent worldview. They must determine, and commit to, what is most important for the school – communicating this clearly and often. They help others set priorities that promote and enhance the mission and vision of the school. They are the chief mission and vision carriers, the key person who reminds others what the school stands for, how it is distinctive and true to its mission, and where it hopes to head in the future. They must be “passioneers” with integrity – if they are not the lead cheerleader, who will take on that role? Strong leaders seek to embed the mission and vision of the school in people, policy, processes, and practice.
The leader of the school demonstrates an attitude of continuous learning and improvement, open to and seeking out new ideas. Leaders relish feedback about the school for improvement and search out new opportunities for the school to impact their students, the school community, and the world. They are willing to take risks, encouraging and supporting innovation in teaching and learning. They are purposeful in helping others to embrace a larger vision and commit to a multi-year plan of improvement. They seek excellence by benchmarking results and utilizing research based best practices. They model being the chief learner and work to establish a culture of learning. They are uneasy with the status quo and have a passion for true worship/service, desiring to offer their very best as praise to God.
The focus of the leader should be to genuinely love all the people he/she serves. Leaders must truly seek the best for each person – demonstrating this by seeking to put in place processes and policies that help to develop the capacity of each person. They must see the image of Christ in each person and seek to understand their gifts and potential contribution to the school. Leaders need to put in place professional development processes and leadership structures that encourage and challenge staff members to develop their gifts and to grow as a learning leader. Leaders must be careful to balance grace and truth in their interactions, processes, and accountability structures.
Leadership is not easy – it requires all kinds of “above and beyond” efforts and a heart that is attuned to, and seeks, God’s leading and wisdom. Yet what is sometimes unsaid is that it can be a very rewarding experience to be able to work with, and impact in positive ways, the lives of students, teachers, staff, parents, and community. When leaders are filled with “PEP” they are a huge blessing to all in their school and community.
If one accepts the idea that our main focus in Christian education needs to be nurturing student faith in the educational context, then it is vitally important that we engage students with questions that 1) cause students to stop dead in their tracks with intrigue, and 2) cause the students to deal with a Biblical perspective on issues of life. This is easier said than done! How can we develop such questions?
If I want to drive to a destination, I put into my Google Maps the destination I am hoping to arrive at – beginning with the end in mind. So, we first must ask the question: What kind of students do we seek to produce? My answer to this question is: “A flourishing student!” and that is why I have been trying to spell out what that means in the series of blog posts that I have been writing in this space on the idea of a flourishing student (list of blog post dates).
If we accept Wolterstorff’s definition of flourishing as being in harmony with God, neighbor, creation, and self then we can begin to see how we must shape the questions we ask in our curriculum and what conceptual qualities they must possess. Our curriculum outcomes must deal with God, neighbor, creation, and self. The things we are trying to do in our teaching relate to one of these four areas. I see the connections as follows:
- Creation and wonder – this is where we begin as learners and we should never lose it! We wonder about the micro and macro aspects of creation and the magnificent design behind it all. To whom should we give the praise and glory? We continue to wonder about creation’s mysteries that we learn have not been unlocked and are intrigued by the wonder and beauty of creation as we seek to live in harmony with it and learn how to use it well. Example questions in science class: Why are trees important to God’s creation? How does the structure of a DNA molecule exemplify order and creation?
- God/Christ and knowledge and wisdom – all knowledge and truth exists because Christ brought it into existence and continues to hold it together. This is why we marvel at gravity and 2+2=4 and how our bodies work. So our essential questions can be pretty straightforward and need not be simply “God questions” that are painfully superficial, but should include a discussion of a God-centered starting point and a worship ending point. In non-Christian schools, knowledge is presented as if it can stand on its own, or praise is ascribed to man without any reference to a Divine Creator – this is a huge difference. We need to ask our students to apply knowledge in areas of study toward questions of discernment as informed by Biblical perspectives. Example question in math class: Do you think there is such a thing as ‘chance’? Why or why not? Example question in social studies: Is capitalism in America successful? Why or why not?
- Neighbor and compassion – a Christian school should motivate students toward a desire to serve and make a difference in the world. It should produce true empathy as students understand people and situations in the world, and should inspire a compassionate response out of love for other people God has created. The student understands that each person is loved and cherished by God, having been made in his image. The student understands then that life is not just about themselves, but that they have a global responsibility to respond to the needs of our world. There may not be easy answers to questions that juxtapose two competing interests and Christians may disagree about the best ways to respond. Example question in social studies: As a Christian, what is the difference between needs and wants? Example question in English: Does having a shared experience make a person better able to provide true comfort?
- Self and image-bearing/gifts – how can one be in harmony with one’s self? Harmony with one’s self might mean acceptance of how God has created you – your physical, mental, emotional, spiritual self and an ever increasing understanding through the years of how he has gifted you, wired you, and what makes you “tick.” It also means that you take seriously care of your body as a temple of the Holy Spirit: you eat well, sleep well, exercise well, develop positive habits, virtues, and a generous and gracious spirit. As you grow in Christ, you more and more are able to let the light of Christ shine through you, and to truly bring joy and hope into the world, into the lives of others. Example question in music: Why do we respond to God with music? Example question in art: How can art be used to redeem culture?
This model may help us in our thinking about producing effective “take-away” Essential Questions. As we engage students with questions and help them construct good questions, we may find these categories helpful as a way to balance areas of focus within a classroom setting.
Admittedly, I read a fair amount of books in a year. So, when one sticks in my mind and continues to provoke my thoughts, it moves to my mental list of “exceptional books” and I tend to talk to others about it. Recently I picked up Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s book, Made for Goodness: and Why This Makes All the Difference, written with his daughter, Rev. Mpho Tutu. What a compelling and inspirational book!
I was curious how Tutu might hold this view of goodness in the face of all the evil that he has seen and heard. Yet Tutu argues that, being made by God in his image, we are both attracted to good and outraged by evil. God holds us in life, and we can face evil squarely because we know that evil will not have the last word. We are lovable and capable of good because God has loved us since before eternity. The Tutus encourage us to live into the goodness that God has hardwired into us, as opposed to “doing good” out of fear that we are not doing enough to please God. One of my favorite quotes in the book is the following: “The invitation to Godly perfection, God’s invitation to wholeness, is an invitation to beauty. It is God’s invitation to us to be life artists, to be those who create lives of beauty.” (p. 48) In teaching, we have so many opportunities to be life artists, instruments of God’s goodness, impacting the lives of our students around us.
The Tutus do not deny the power and pervasiveness of evil. They recount personal experiences and the horror stories of other’s suffering. As the leader of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa to investigate apartheid era crimes, Archbishop Tutu heard stories reflecting the worst of human evil, yet is able to affirm that even in suffering, God sees and stands with us in all that we experience and endure in life.
I was struck by, and very appreciative of the Tutus’ description of forgiveness:
“We miseducate ourselves and our children with the trite phrase ‘Forgive and forget.’ Forgiveness is not a form of forgetting. It is, rather, a profound form of remembering. When we forgive, we remember who and whose we are. We remember that we are creative beings modeled on a creative God. When we forgive, we reclaim the power to create.” (p.150)
The authors remind us that we all long for goodness, for a return to Eden. They encourage us in closing to be much in prayer, to be listening for God’s voice: “God can help us choose, from among the plethora of paths that are spread out before us, the one that leads to flourishing.” To begin, we must see ourselves as God sees us, as the crown of his creation, created for his joy and beloved. This has implications for how we view others: “As we allow ourselves to accept God’s acceptance, we can begin to accept our own goodness and beauty. With each glimpse of our own beauty we can begin to see the goodness and beauty in others.” (p.198)
This book caused me to wonder if sometimes we focus too much on the shortcomings of ourselves, our students, our colleagues and allow ourselves to become negative, discouraged, cynical, and even bitter. The hard lessons learned in South Africa would point us in the direction of not ignoring the reality of evil, and certainly not letting it have the last word. We live in the hope of Eden and have daily opportunity to exude the goodness and beauty of our Creator, to image him and to celebrate it in other image-bearers before us.
(Third in a series that delves deeper into the characteristics of a flourishing student – click here to read the original post on flourishing.)
If you were to interview teachers and ask them why they went into education as a profession, a fairly common answer might be “to see the light bulb go on in a student’s mind.” What the teacher is really speaking about is that they live for the moment when understanding occurs. In educational terms, we might say that this is when the student connects the new information to their existing framework of understanding. It is a joyous moment – it is the closest we can come to visibly seeing growth happen in students right before our eyes!
As students mature, we seek to help students ask good questions, to teach them the habits and attitudes that help them to discover the connections between what is known and what is unknown. We want students to increasingly be able to see these connections on their own. I believe that this quality is one of the outcomes that we work toward as we seek to develop flourishing students.
This quality is very important in the big picture of life. People who are able to see connections understand the relationships between things and devise creative solutions. People who are able to see connections between people and situations are people who can effectively make positive change happen. People who see connections between things are able to be effective visionaries because they see the big picture, can anticipate potential problems, and develop effective action steps.
From Colossians we know that in Christ all things cohere. Shouldn’t we try to emulate this coherence and connection in the educational experiences that we provide for our students? When we keep knowledge in separate boxes we make it more challenging for students to build effective schemas, or frameworks of understanding. I am confident that the more we help students see the connectedness that Christ has designed in creation, the more we will make significant gains in helping them become flourishing individuals.
Our opportunities to reveal God’s truth in all creation, to explore Biblical perspectives, and to nurture faith in students are core distinctives of Christian education. Yet, if the truth were told, it cannot be assumed that new graduates or even teachers with some experience have had the kind of background or training to make faith-learning connections or to teach the Bible effectively. This latter concern led Dr. Johanna Campbell, retired British Columbia Teachers’ Association leader and former teacher, to write a book entitled How to Profit From the Word: A Handbook for teachers of Bible in Christian Schools just for that purpose. From her website, she offers the following description of the book: “The first three chapters discuss the basic tenets of our Christian faith, using the Apostles’ Creed as an overall guide. Chapters 4-10 discuss curriculum frameworks, Christian methodology, pedagogy, learning the Bible in community, and what role the Holy Spirit plays in the classroom. There are five helpful appendices which give ideas on how to assess the subject ‘Bible’, how to journal through a Bible book, how to do a passage analysis, sample outlines on how to ‘camp’ around a Bible book, and a page listing some helpful resources for the Bible teacher.” The book is available on her website.
Johanna has also put together another inexpensive booklet called Bible Q & A: From Creation to New Creation. While this booklet is designed for children under 12, it could also be used effectively with new believers, for evangelism purposes, or for ESL students. These are “the basics” – in Johanna’s words – “a benchmark of biblical knowledge for both children and adults.” The booklet is now available in Spanish also and is being used presently by EduDeo in Honduras and Nicaragua. It is available in French as well.
Any Christian schools that teach French or Spanish could use the Bible Q & A for their high school students to give them a basic Christian vocabulary in the language they are studying. Study one Q & A (or a small related section) per lesson–5 minutes.
Kudos, Johanna – thanks for making these excellent resources available for teachers and students and thanks for your heart and passion to do this not for profit, but to advance the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. For more information, please visit her website.
As a educator who began my career in special education, I was trained in the diagnostic-prescriptive approach: identify the problem, find an effective strategy, and try to remediate the deficit. A focus on deficits can become a problem – we are trained as educators to always be on the lookout for deficits, for problems, and not for the larger picture of abundance and possibility. My question then is: is it right for us as Christian teachers to always be focusing on what is wrong, finding flaws, identifying misunderstandings, and critiquing performances? Will we ever be happy anyway? Are we monitoring ourselves so that we keep this in balance with seeing gifts, possibilities, and focusing on the good, the lovely, and the true?
Many of the professions are trained to deal with problems: dentists with cavities in teeth, physicians with disease and malfunction, social workers with emotional scars, and attorneys with sins of omission and commission. Teaching is unique in the amount of time that can be spent in focusing on encouragement and possibilities. As Christian teachers, we need to intentionally point out to students the abundance of God’s great creation, as well as the abundance of his grace and love to us. We will also want them to know the possibility and promise we see in them as image-bearers, and in the lives and opportunities they have been given.
Aristotle – “All men by nature desire to know.” Isn’t that what got Adam and Eve into trouble? They wanted to know what it was like to be God. Didn’t curiosity kill the cat after all?
In reading the work of the most learned people of our day, we discover that the more honest ones admit they know very little about the one aspect that they have spent their lifetimes studying. While our information is doubling at tremendous speeds, we still know very little about our earth and space.
Daniel Boorstin – “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” We know from I Corinthians 8:1b that “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” When we feel inflated about what we know, it not only has idolatrous power, but it also shuts down our desire to continue to be curious, to discover, to wonder, to be the sense makers, the inquirers, the delighters that God intended us to be.
Better to share honest questions as educators with our students and reflect, inquire, and wonder together, than to act as if we have it all figured out. Isn’t this a more truly God-honoring approach?
The inspiration for this blog post was drawn from a wonderful article by Peter Huidekoper, Jr. entitled “The Age of Wonder” that appeared in the October 12, 2011 Education Week.
From time to time I get the question – should we use “Christian” or secular textbooks? I am careful how I answer because there may be a presumed “right” answer by the questioner. Frankly, I have potential issues with both approaches – let me explain further.
I start from the premise that all truth is God’s truth and that we see his truth, design, beauty, goodness, and handiwork in all created things. That said, a text (whether Christian or secular) reveals God’s truth, but in the case of a secular textbook may not point to it explicitly. There is no such thing as sacred and secular truth – all things cohere in Christ – truth is truth whether we acknowledge the source or not. 2+2=4 is what it is, however the difference is whether I point to man as having discovered it or whether this is a fact about how God has put together the universe. The best scientific findings, for example, simply point to the truth that God has embedded in creation. Science will continue to reveal God’s truth, whether it is acknowledged by man as having its origin in God or not. The condition of the human heart as we study it in literature and social studies, the reason for actions and decisions, etc. simply reveals the brokenness of man and his need for a Savior.
A key component, of course, is the teacher who is using the text. I could use a secular text in ways that point kids to God’s truth and also use that opportunity to discuss/critique a non-Christian view that is espoused and commonly held in the world’s thinking. Of course I could do the same with a Christian text. It would depend though on whether the Christian text thoughtfully examined and taught all viewpoints on a subject or was more of a “propaganda” tool. Unfortunately, there are poor quality Christian texts that fall into that category.
Another issue to consider with either scenario is whether you have teachers who are equipped to teach thoughtfully – they may not know how to teach a Christian worldview. They may then just use a poor, “propagandistic” Christian text or use a “secular” text and not be able to lead students in a thoughtful critique in either situation. In either scenario, the desire is that the teacher is well equipped theologically and philosophically to reveal and guide students into God’s truth. If the teacher is well equipped, the secular text may do a more complete job of revealing the secular bias that can then be thoughtfully critiqued through an avenue such as a thoughtful, faith-learning integrated essential question with a follow up assessment asking students to show thoughtful reflection.
Whether we use a “Christian” text or a secular text, two things are paramount to keep in mind:
First we must hire and train teachers who are passionate about their faith and are eager to learn more about how to help kids wrestle with the issues of life. We want teachers to thoughtfully and prayerfully share their own Christian perspective related to the subject matter. This perspective will be demonstrated within their curriculum by the kinds of unit/essential/driving questions that they ask of students and what kinds of things they ask students on assessments. If there is no written evidence of this in in curriculum maps or student assessments, one can rightfully question what worldview is being advanced.
Second, schools are sometimes careless about designing and constructing a quality curriculum that links mission and content and getting it in written form. It is not helpful to invest in teacher and curriculum development if what is developed is not recorded for later use. The assets of a school community, in terms of well developed learning experiences for students, may be walking out the door as experienced and gifted veteran teachers leave an institution without articulating what and how they taught. New teachers need these foundations to stand on and build from as they learn how to interpret the school mission through quality curriculum that demonstrates God’s timeless truth.
One of the experiences from the late 80’s that I wish I could have a “do again” opportunity were the Chicago conferences on Christian education held in 1987, 1988, and 1989 at Trinity Christian College. I was able to attend one of the conferences and it was a time of rich and stimulating discussion about the changes that needed to happen in Christian education to keep pace with a changing world. I say I wish I could do it over because, as I look back at the list of the invitees, the conference organizers were able to bring to the table many of the best thinkers (then and in the future) in Reformed Christian education circles for these discussions and I benefited greatly from that time.
I feel like this time around I might have more to contribute to the greater discussion. I had experienced K-12 education, but had not thought about it from a Christian perspective. The conversations and the work that was produced from these conferences were helpful for not only me but a great number of others through the publication of the book 12 Affirmations: Reformed Christian Schooling for the Twentieth Century, written by Vryhof, Brouwer, VanderArk, and Ulstein and printed by Baker Books (now out of print). I know that many others used the book like I did – for productive conversations with their own building faculties.
For all who loved and used that book, and those who don’t even know it existed, there is now good news! The 1990’s book has been revised: Twelve Affirmations 2.0. We have one of the key organizers of the original conferences to thank – Dr. Steve Vryhof. Steve has collaborated with Elaine Brouwer, Tim Krell, and others to produce a clearer, more up-to-date, set of affirmations about Christian education.
The revised 12 Affirmations are divided into three groups – foundational, educational, and communal affirmations. Like the original book there is a short, concise statement/affirmation and then explanatory paragraphs unpacking the statement. There are also discussion questions listed at the end of each affirmation. Vryhof has formatted the book in such a way that it lends itself to communal reading. He suggests several audiences might benefit from a thoughtful discussion of the material:
- Read and discuss one affirmation per staff/board meeting
- Read and discuss at a staff/board retreat
- Read and discuss at a parent book club
- Read and discuss at a church’s adult education meeting
- Read and discuss with donors/constituents
- Read and discuss with 11th and 12th graders
Through his provocative work, Vryhof encourages us to consider:
- How to better identify and cultivate student gifts
- How to better increase student motivation and learning power
- How each person brings much to the table of community
- How to move toward student flourishing as a chief educational outcome
His ultimate hope is that this book will stimulate others to action in the same ways that the first 12 Affirmations was able to accomplish. We should be grateful as a Christian educational community that this book has been revised and revitalized for the next generation – thanks Steve for your hard work to make this gift available! The book is available for purchase here.
At the end of school years, we spend a lot of time tallying up. Our awards reflect our focus on what kinds of things we are measuring. We give awards for years of service, scholarships for academic performance, and seat time requirements fulfilled. In Christian institutions how can we get closer to measuring the right things?
As we seek Biblical direction on this issue we encounter a different expectation as shown in the ministry of Jesus. Length of service doesn’t seem to matter in the end – Jesus told the thief who repented that he would be with him in Paradise that day. Knowledge and biblical understanding, as demonstrated by the spiritual leaders of Jesus day didn’t cut it – he wanted their hearts. Power and prestige was rejected and broken by Jesus – he made it clear his kingdom was not about such things, even though his disciples expected Jesus to use power to the very end.
So what should we be concerned about, focus on, expect and measure? As we think of students let’s consider the phrases “works of art” and “fruit on the journey.”
Len Stob makes these observations in the draft of his upcoming book:
Whereas most businesses know how to measure the quality of their product or service, the Christian school doesn’t really know what society and culture will look like in fifteen years. No one is sure where God may call the student to serve or what future opportunities may appear for which the student must be prepared. As a result, the actual educational needs for the student may be imprecise. The school strives to prepare students to serve in the unpredictable future.
What should the school measure? When should it conduct its measurements? There is no clear agreement on when the product of the school should be measured and considered complete. The risk is that the board may not understand the long-range contribution the school makes until a significant time after graduation. The effectiveness of programs is not always immediately perceived or understood. Perhaps the relationship is more like a one-of-a-kind piece of art rather than a mass-produced souvenir.
I really resonate with the “one-of-a-kind” piece of art when we think of students and our desired outcomes for them – Len’s last sentence is much more reflective of Ephesians 2:10 than what our current mass production schooling model demonstrates – we are God’s workmanship, his creation, especially and individually designed to do the things he has laid out in advance for us to do.
So what should we be encouraging in our “works of art”? What kinds of growth can and should we be expecting on the way? We must look at students as individuals and expect fruit that is appropriate to how “formed” this student is at a particular time. George Barna, in a recent blog post entitled “Measuring the Fruit of Wholeness” makes this observation:
My research revealed that certain outcomes – behaviors, attitudes, desires – do not emerge until a person reaches a particular level of growth. For instance, those who are struggling with implications of sin and have not yet asked Jesus to forgive them (stop 3) bear overtly different fruit than those who have been broken of sin, self, and society, and have fully surrendered and submitted their life to God (stop 8). Knowing where a person is on the journey helps us to know what fruit to look for or expect. After all, you can’t naturally produce stop 8 fruit if you’re a stop 3 person.
Barna goes on to suggest:
Although I’ve been conducting surveys for 30-plus years, I think the best way to assess one’s transformational standing is through observations borne out of relational engagement… The people who know me best can capably discern whether I’m making progress in my journey to Christ-likeness, and what kind of fruit I’m really producing. Those same people are most likely to address my reality with a bluntness and compassion that I need in order to grow.
Isn’t that our opportunity with students? We have the time in a daily setting to address their reality, to engage with them in the big and small matters of life, and to have honest conversations about the things that really matter.
How can we continue to get closer to measuring the most relevant things – the kind of things that our school missions so idealistically proclaim?
One of the most powerful things we can have students do in a Christian school is to ask them to think deeply about how their faith connects with their life and the real world. It is also one of the most authentic and integrative experiences. I am encouraged by the number of schools who have developed culminating projects and require them as part of either /both the 8th and 12th grade years.
I previously wrote about culminating experiences in this blog back in December 2007. I believe that culminating experiences are one of the best practices to enhance and encourage faith development and that is why I list it as one of my 12 Faith Enhancing Practices. For those of you who may be interested in developing culminating experiences, let me share a source for more details in setting up this kind of assignment.
Teachers and administrators at the Christian Academy of Japan have been developing and refining their process and have posted their information on their website. http://community.caj.or.jp/info/index.php/Senior_Comprehensives They call this assignment “Senior Comprehensives” and list four assessment components of the work:
1. Research portfolio
2. Writing portfolio
3. Hands on project
4. Oral presentation
Examples of each of the elements are on the site, including video examples of student presentations. A timeline of expectations and assessment rubrics are also shown.
I encourage all schools to have these kind of learning experiences in place for students. They are engaging, demanding, and rewarding for students and teachers. Culminating experiences are the kind of teaching and learning that we need to do more of in order to effectively prepare our students and meet our missions.
If your school does this kind of experience, would you please consider sharing a link to your information in the comments below so that we can better learn from each other?
(Thanks to Mark Eckel for giving permission to share this post of March 25, 2011 from his blog, Warp and Woof.)
“I’m not a math person.” For years this had been my response to any question involving numbers, equations, or solutions. But I had wrongly given up responsibility for a crucial characteristic of God’s creation. I began to realize my answer was a wrong approach to math or, for that matter, anything else in life.
In the summer of 2003 I was asked to do a Christian school in-service on biblical integration including three hours on elementary math. I asked for and received the table of contents along with sample lessons from each textbook. As I pondered God’s natural revelation of arithmetic The Spirit began to open my eyes to at least twelve major concepts directly dependent upon Scriptural truth.
I used to believe that math was the most difficult subject for biblical integration. Indeed, it seems immediately plain that math is the essential core of God’s world. As I understand it now, math could well be described as “God’s language.” For instance, John D. Barrow’s book The Constants of Nature: From Alpha to Omega–the Numbers That Encode the Deepest Secrets of the Universe seems to mirror Scriptural injunctions concerning “the works of God’s hands” that endure “from age to age.” The stability of creation is consistently used as the measuring rod for God’s interaction with people. Why? The Creator’s truthful rule over this world and this life marks his dependability for the next world and afterlife (see examples in Psalms 35, 71, 73, 80, 88, 92, 95, 103, 118, 120, 146, and 148). Numerical order is essential for life and central to “the whole truth” of God’s creation.
Here is a sample of biblically integrative lesson plan goals from the first of twelve mathematical concepts entitled “systems and roles.” Each aim is premised upon observations from Genesis one and two. [I have created 12 lesson plans which include goals, objectives, anticipatory sets, readings, discussion, methods, and questions.]
- To prove God’s world is interrelated—each part working within the whole.
- To express how God brought various systems together in complementary equilibrium.
- To state that creation’s organization is based on the plans and decrees of God.
- To explain how something is “unique”—each thing assigned its place, given a role by God.
- To appreciate math as a system by which God runs His world.
After describing God’s numerical ordering of His creation Job cries, “And these are but the outer fringe of his works!” (26:14). Never again will I say, “I’m not a math person.” Since The Personal Eternal Creator binds His world with numbers, I am bound to discover more about math. Discovering more of God’s world helps us to know more of our God.
“They are so close to the Real Truth” is what I have thought on several occasions recently after reading some of the books written by the people I most respect in education today. Let me illustrate what I mean.
One of the best thinkers in education today, David Perkins, in his latest book, Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education (that I recommend to you to read by the way), ponders the question of selecting what is worth learning. He starts by considering Neil Postman’s thoughts from his book, “The End of Education,” where Postman urges that “meaningful education needs to be organized around the right ‘gods’ or ‘grand narratives’ that tie everything together.” Postman sees today’s gods of economic utility, consumerism, or technology as inadequate. Perkins states: “It’s not that these gods fail to offer grand narratives, they just do not provide very rich ones. They don’t tell us enough about who we are, supply strong and fruitful guidance around moral questions, and explain enough about the deep mysteries of the world…” Perkins goes on to suggest that Postman’s grand narrative themes of “Spaceship Earth” or “Fallen Angel” in his book do a better job of providing a narrative that potentially can link things together.
Perkins continues by discussing Howard Gardner’s suggestion of using three overarching themes: the true, the good, and the beautiful. He believes that these overarching concepts could “speak deeply and honestly both to the intricacies of today’s world and to academic disciplines.”
Perkin’s own synthesis and thinking leads him to this conclusion: “Looking across Postman, Gardner, and other sources, I’m struck by how his vision of meaningful education seems to speak to three basic agendas: enlightenment, empowerment, and responsibility.” He continues: “If much of what we taught highlighted understandings of wide scope, with enlightenment, empowerment, and responsibility in the foreground, there is every reason to think that youngsters would retain more, understand more, and use more of what they learned…our most important choice is what we try to teach.”
In Howard Gardner’s book, Five Minds for the Future, (I blogged about this earlier) he suggests that we need to work toward developing minds and hearts that are disciplined, synthesizing, creating, respectful and ethical. When pressed by an interviewer in a podcast, he acknowledged respectful and ethical minds as most important. Hitler after all had a disciplined and creative mind – however it was devoid of respect and ethics!
Learning can be most powerful in Christian schools because we have the best master narrative that we can give to kids to link together the purpose of life and what our purpose is for existence. To Gardner I would ask: How can we know what is good, true and beautiful if we don’t acknowledge a source of authority? Can man alone determine what is good, true and beautiful? To Perkins I ask – Haven’t we been down the enlightenment and empowerment path many times? History is littered with ruinous revolutions using these words as justifications. For his word ‘responsibility,’ we again are left adrift – responsible to whom? Doesn’t this word beg for acknowledgment of a Higher Power, namely God, to whom we are accountable and responsible? Yes, David, I deeply believe youngsters do retain more when there is an undergirding scope and narrative – that is why I am so passionate about Christian education! And that is why our discussions about what our curriculums contain, and what is worth learning, are of such critical and ongoing importance.
I have been contemplating the difference between the word “busy” and what an appropriate substitute for that word might be. I am getting increasingly annoyed when I hear myself and others complain about how busy we are and wonder if this sentiment isn’t sinful at its core. Busyness is a major modern plague of our time, but I am guessing that it has always been around. The idea of busyness relates to our sense of worth and may be a pride issue for many of us. The busier we are, the more important we must be. Not being busy could cause some of us to lose our job or demonstrate a lack of success. Or if we are not busy as a retiree we think that others may believe that we are irrelevant – we are not contributing anything to life, or that life is passing us by – we have nothing to offer and no one is interested in us.
There are many reasons for busyness and we may well be busier than ever before.
- Our consumption has increased and our increased consumption increases our busyness. We have more things we want – which requires purchasing at the best possible price (more research and shopping time), finding a place to store it (no wonder that storage, as an industry, is bigger than Hollywood), managing its maintenance (do you have a monthly schedule of all your items to maintain, oil, clean?), and disposing of it eventually (do you take out an item for every item you take into your house?).
- We have more choices, more options for everything, forcing us to take more time with research and decision-making. We don’t just grab a box of laundry detergent – we get the organic, scent-free, 3x concentrated kind that has special cleaning powers through the time-released elements in the cleaning cycle! Every choice we make now contains several mini-choices – so that even a run to the store for a few items can be taxing. We simply have more options in almost every area – health care, finance, education, church, leisure, etc. Additionally when we make choices, we may be concerned that we are missing out what we have not chosen – economists call this opportunity cost.
- We have more opportunities to communicate with a wider circle of friends than ever before – we are global now! Yet I notice in the Christmas cards we are getting this year that we are getting more pictures than family letters – are people too busy to write, or have too many cards to send out?
- We have more programs, ministries, small groups, mission trips, service opportunities and ways to get involved – a great thing, but one that sets us up for busyness … and guilt if we don’t get involved (maybe because we are trying to be less busy!)
- We are more aware of research on good parenting, being a good friend, being a good spouse, etc. and so work harder at these things – a good thing, but one that may also make us busier.
- Our personal and professional lives are constantly intermixed – with improved communication we are frequently jumping back and forth between our personal and professional worlds. We are more acutely aware every minute of what is going on in the lives of all those around us, whereas we used to know about things on a monthly or yearly basis. Our expectations for instant knowledge have increased in all spheres.
- Our culture winks at workaholism even while the faith formation research states that our children feel ever more abandoned during their growing up years. A deadly cousin I call “sportsaholism” afflicts families who add busyness on their weekends through club sports – in the process not only destroying Sabbath, but impacting family finances and time for worship.
I am not going to suggest that we disengage from life because that is not realistic or helpful. I am going to suggest that we consider the differences between the words busy and engaged. I believe that God has wired us to be creatures who are engaged and that we find satisfaction when we engage with His world and the creatures he has created. We are happiest when we are engaged. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of Flow, has suggested that when we balance anxiety and boredom we achieve a state of “flow” – that wonderful feeling when we are so engaged in our work that time ceases to be a factor. We may even ignore emails and phone calls during this time! When we are in “flow” we experience the joy of creativity, discovery, contemplation, and a sense of rightness – I believe this is a foretaste of heaven and a gift in that there is a temporal suspension that lifts us above our busyness. We find joy in being fruitful, not just busy.
Was Jesus busy or engaged? He was always about his Father’s work, but demonstrated the kind of balance we need. When we think we have a hard time with priorities, we need to consider how Jesus, who certainly was aware of the needs of the crowds and the press of the people, was able to engage deeply and be about what was really important. As one anonymous author suggests, perhaps BUSY is really an acronym for Being Under Satan’s Yoke. Jesus continually resisted the urging to do it all – consider the temptation of Satan at the beginning of his ministry, the passages about the multitudes and their needs for healing, the amounts of time he spent in prayer and solitude, his words to Mary and Martha, and then the questions we might raise of “why only three years of ministry?” and “why did he come when he did and not in today’s era of global communications?”
This busyness issue is really a large struggle in many of our lives and one that we must battle. Maybe some of these things will help a bit:
- Please for starters make Sunday a day of media rest – turn off your computer and leave it off for the day. Please don’t write me on Sunday re: any work thoughts!
- Read this classic poem by Wendell Berry “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” – do things that don’t compute, can’t be measured, and have no immediate value.
- Watch this compelling Youtube by Scott Stratton given at the TEDxOakville entitled Keep Going Until We Stop.
- Rent the movie “Young at Heart” – the documentary movie of a senior singing group that sings an unusual and unexpected repertoire such as Coldplay and Hendrix, but as bodies fail, demonstrate a focus and joy in using their gifts to uplift others.
- Draw distinctions in your life between what is busyness and what is worthy engagement. Use the questions “Will this matter in five years?” and “In a hundred years who will know the difference?” to help you do the sorting.
May the peace of Christ which passes all understanding rule your hearts and minds this wonderful season of celebration – let’s rebel against busyness and embrace being engaged in the right stuff!
(As we consider the issue of integrating faith and learning by teachers – so that students may be equipped to be impact culture in transformational ways – I suggest that the following blog post addresses the kind of thinking we need for, as our author suggests, “the long game of cultural apologetics.” Thanks to Mark Eckel, Dean of Undergraduate Studies and Professor of Old Testament at Crossroads Bible College, Indianapolis, IN for his permission to share this article from his blog Warp and Woof .)
Christians are in a house holding off an incursion of gatecrashers: nudity, sex, profanity, and violence. Shotguns blast away through open windows, a couch is pushed up against the front door, defenders stand in opposition to attackers coming up the drive. While we are focused intently on the crassness of a vulgar society capturing our attention street-side, the back door screen is flapping in the breeze. With little attention or ballyhoo, individualism, materialism, pragmatism, and naturalism assault our unprotected flank. The home invasion metaphor stands as a general portrait of Christian response to culture today. Obsessed by obvious lasciviousness, any focus on the insidious, clandestine plan of our adversary attracts little notice. Why?
We like to categorize problems but do not understand what it means to consider categories of thought. Seeing life as a series of issues is easy. The fight against gambling is clear, for instance. We know what gaming is and, if we do our homework, what casinos may do to a population of people. Fronting a spokesperson, fundraising, formulating an action plan are all employed to defeat any proposition that allows games of chance in our area. We know the effects upon money and morals in our community and we do not want any part of them. Poker addictions and casino lifestyles are objective: I can point to a deck of cards or the latest gaming show on ESPN.
Categories of thought, on the other hand, are not often found on our radar screens. The spirits of our age are nothing new. Since the flashing sword barred the path to Eden, we have encountered all the mindsets present today. From where and at what time, as a case in point, did our insatiable thirst for individualism arise? What ideas fostered the “no one tells me what to do” mentality? How are the schemes of self-centered thinking represented in our culture? Why should we respond Christianly to the “go-it-alone” philosophy? Answers to questions such as these, demand more than the work of organizing a boycott. We must be committed to reading history and philosophy while critiquing the framework of individualism from a biblical worldview perspective.
Addressing cultural concerns as they show themselves through popular culture is also necessary. “Have it your way” or “no rules, just right” are advertising slogans which feed beliefs embedded in our behavior. Perhaps most onerous is the realization that our attitudes and actions must change as we face up to individualism within ourselves. Confronted by the words of prophets and apostles in Holy Writ and the niggling of The Spirit on our conscience, we Christians must first be transformed individuals against individualism before any letters to the editor may be written.
Why is it that we believers are dedicated to closing the local adult bookstore yet ignorant of the debilitating effects of pragmatism as seen through the latest illegal download of our favorite song artist’s CD? I suggest that we are averse to playing the long game of cultural apologetics. Thoughtful engagement takes time. A lawn sign takes one minute to erect. Digestion of ideas may take months…or years. Pickets and protests—which take little time or thought—might be set aside in pursuit of practicing Christian persuasion. In The Church as a whole and Christian schools—kindergarten through graduate—in particular, we must further the hard work of preparation for an enemy which uses more covert than overt tactics. While battles against what we know to be wrong are important at times, a visionary strategy to engage the battle for the Christian mind must be drawn.
A plan to create discerning Christians is important. I might suggest a preliminary five-fold outline which could summarize this competency from a Christian worldview perspective: (1) identification of erroneous powers, premises, and practices; (2) interpretation of pagan belief from a Christian perspective; (3) inductive study of Scripture as a basis for assessment; (4) interaction with current issues and icons; (5) investment in necessary tools for students to make cultural apologetics a lifelong practice.
Becoming a cultural apologist is a pursuit which others have developed in detail. Denis Haack has been critiquing culture with a Christian lens for over two decades. Ransom Fellowship interacts with books, magazines, and movies from a Christian point of view. Denis has focused a keen eye on popular culture through discussion questions that make people think about their beliefs. Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio addresses more of what some would call “high culture.” Interviews with artists, poets, professors, and authors examine how our world has come to think as it does. Direct questions for each guest interview help the listener to formulate a perspective on how and why our civilization has developed. Both Denis and Ken set examples for the process of cultural apologetics.
Understanding that visual images are often the first attack on 21st century minds it is fitting to acknowledge a film every Christian must see to appreciate a Christian approach to the new millennium. From the opening scene, Crash tells the tale of a seeming random intersection of lives. Relationships are crucial to understanding. Consequences of our actions do happen. Rather than a fortuitous accident, life is us. How we act toward others does matter. What we think and believe is worn on our shirt sleeve. Humans bear responsibility for their dealings with others. We do what is “good” and “bad.” Most importantly, Crash more than any other recent movie suggests our rapport with each other matters. Racial profiling is simply a slice of our humanity. Crash insists we look at ourselves in the mirror of humankind, seeing ourselves in the characters, stepping onto the stage of life.
Herein is cultural apologetics. We listen to others who speak in our time and place of history. We hear what they intend for us to hear. We obey the internal compulsion to honestly interact with their ideas and the precepts of the God who made us both. May we not be offended before we understand our own offense. May we not renounce another’s point of view before we announce our own. May we not walk out on a movie before we walk with another who behaves as those on the screen. May we not center only on disapproval before we discover where we can approve another’s perspective. May we not simply assert our position before we assent to what others have said. May we reject not the person but the roots of their belief, in love. And may many believers be found who will defend The Faith not just against the obvious front door attacks of Satan, but bolt the back door infiltration of mindsets that corrupt Christian thought.
We can talk about Christian education all day, but unless we teach in distinctively Christian ways, we might as well close our doors! My work with schools involves helping them bridge the gap from philosophy/mission to classroom teaching practice and it usually is the area of greatest need in all Christian schools. I would like to share with you some very specific examples of teaching that, I believe, make a real difference in shaping the minds, hearts, and hands of students. I have been given permission by two excellent teachers, Mark Kauk and Janie VanDyke, from Unity Christian High School in Orange City, Iowa to share the ways they integrate faith and learning in their classrooms. They exemplify the kind of teachers I described in Part 1 of this series. I am grateful to both of them for allowing their work to be shared in this post and I am hopeful that these examples may also be an inspiration to you!
Mark uses questions to focus on four key concepts associated with the aspect of Creation in his high school science units. He states that these questions “really force students to think and get at ideas about God’s world that they never have really thought about much.”
Here are his belief statements and questions in a unit on waves/sound/light that link general revelation and a Biblical perspective:
Creation. God created everything through the Word. That Word is Jesus Christ, God’s Son, who is the perfect image of the Creator.
Summarize the main thought of each passage:
Purpose In Creation. God created everything with purpose and meaning, ultimately to bring glory to himself.
List five examples from the study of waves, light, and sound. Describe their purposeful function.
Class Discussion: Why are waves, light, and sound important in a world that functions with God created purpose?
Patterns in Creation. We see evidence of design, order, and patterns in all that God created.
Explain five observable examples of the design, order, and patterns found in the study of waves, light, and sound.
Class Discussion: How do these examples of waves, light, and sound show evidence of the wisdom of a grand design?
Providence in Creation. God sustains and upholds his creation by his Word.
List and explain any natural laws that describe the behavior of waves, light, and sound. Include any mathematical descriptions.
What are some of the miracles in the OT and NT of the Bible which are reminders of God’s sustaining power in the physical creation? Must be specific to waves, light, and sound.
Potential in Creation. God created the universe with the potential for man to investigate and develop through scientific study and technological development.
Research the historical timeline for the discovery of the parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Include our understanding of at least 7 different categories of waves.
List ten technological developments associated with the electromagnetic spectrum.
Class Discussion: How have these developments contributed to the benefit or demise of man’s created purpose to glorify God?
Mark mentions that the big picture concepts of Purpose, Pattern, Providence, and Potential work equally well in other units of science that he teaches to assist faith learning integration. In the process I believe he is teaching students a “habit of mind” to consider all four of these aspects as they look at creation. Additionally, and of perhaps even more lasting importance, he has given them a framework for future thinking, so that they can identify Biblical thinking related to conceptual understandings.
Janie VanDyke uses what I would call faith-enhancing practices such as faith stories and reflective writing in her English class to encourage faith development in students. In an assignment for the online Distinctive class that I teach, Mark listed these ways that Janie integrates faith and learning in her class. (Janie was kind enough to allow sharing of these examples – thank you!)
In Freshman English Janie uses the stories, “Things We Couldn’t Say” by Diet Eman with James Schaap and “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom to teach about faith stories. These people lived out their faith in the context of challenging circumstances. One of the themes she discusses is sacrifice, of how people help others even when they are very different from themselves. She also shares her own faith story. The strategies she uses for this unit are reading the books, discussion in class, writing an assignment of their own story, and also journaling. The journaling is interesting because she will ask them to write about various personal things such as a struggle they may have had or a circumstance where their faith affected their actions.
Another project she does is a genealogy research project where each student researches aspects of their ancestors. The faith of many generations is seen and the faithfulness of God is demonstrated. The strategies include discussion, sharing, and assignments involving writing, composing a poem about themselves, creating a dictionary of terms about common phrases used at home, doing an essay, and conducting an interview of a grandparent.
In Communications class, where students give speeches, they first read a book by Quentin Schultze, a professor at Calvin College, who has written a book on public speaking. In it he emphasizes the idea of being a servant speaker, not an ego speaker. One of his chapters also deals with the fruits of the spirit in public speaking. Her strategy is to have students read this and then discuss it before students even begin composing speeches.
In a senior literature class she has the students read “Night” by Elie Wiesel, about a Holocaust experience. She then assigns a paper on injustice where students must write about some global or national injustice. She also uses information from a former student who is a lawyer and has become involved with International Justice Mission.
Resources: She has collected her ideas and curriculum content over the years from books she reads, people she knows, other teachers, articles she has read, and her own interests. One example is how she read an essay once of Lewis Smedes called “How I Found God at Calvin College” and she took that idea and now has students write an essay on where they have found God.
I think these are some helpful ideas and specific examples of how master teachers who are passionate about their faith are revealing truth, unfolding creation, and integrating faith and learning in their classrooms. Any ideas you would like to share?
They found some musty old books, dusted them off, read them, and saved a generation! In the story of Joash, we find the Spirit of the Lord leading him as a young person to read and re-institute the law of the Lord – see 2 Kings 23:2. We are told that the reading of the law led to a spiritual revival among the people and God’s blessing on the land. Even though oral tradition was foremost (writing was more the exception than the rule in those days), we see how God used the written word to preserve and instruct his people.
It is interesting that today in our age of every kind of communication, we still need to make sure that we get written down what it is we are doing in order to integrate teaching and learning. We have moved from oral to print in Christian schools in our attempts to articulate what we know about a Biblically infused curriculum. This has been an important part of our history as Christian schools – I clearly remember saving all those coins for Christian School’s International Foundation Day textbook drives in the 60’s. We now have reached the point where we must move increasingly from print to digital/electronic means for cost containment and for ease of sharing.
My concern is that we articulate in writing what it is we are doing – as I mentioned last month it takes veteran teachers who possess passion and astuteness in order to communicate in engaging ways with students about the unity of all truth through Christ.
- I challenge you, veteran teacher, to share those ideas for integrating faith and learning that you have gained through reading, reflection, and practice and write them down to share with the next generation. Step up to the plate – it is part of your legacy!
- I challenge you, young teacher, to observe, ask questions, press your veteran colleagues to not only orally share, but to record in the context of units of study, how they integrate faith and learning, how they bring biblical truth to bear on their subject matter, and what works most effectively with students. Do not be ashamed of what you don’t know, but have the humility to ask and learn.
- I challenge you, administrator, to make sure your teachers not only write down what they are doing in integrating faith and learning, but to make sure that it is of good quality. Give your teachers time to work together to discuss how the mission and philosophy of your school actually turns into reality in the teaching and assessing of your students. Don’t let the vibrancy and distinctiveness of your school be watered down on your watch! Remember that Christian teaching and learning is the core business of your school, even though there are so many other daily distractions. Be a Joash for your school!
The blank looks are what really scare me. As I conduct workshops across North America, I inquire what my audiences know about how to integrate faith and learning in curriculum. I probably could sort responses into three categories: 1) know what I am talking about and have thought about it and are doing it to some degree, 2) know what I am talking and know they should be doing it, but aren’t or are doing it very superficially, and 3) teachers who have little or no training, and really don’t know how to proceed. The disturbing trend over the last five years is that I am seeing the numbers in the first category decrease and the numbers in categories 2 and 3 increase. One of my next questions is if teachers have received any training in integrating faith and learning in curriculum, and again, I am seeing that teachers in Christian schools are coming from a wider variety of college settings and lack the background and foundational understandings needed.
I don’t mean to sound alarmist, but if we lose our ability to reveal God’s truth effectively through our teaching and learning, we are, as I state in the post below this, “one short generation” away from just becoming good Christian people who bring a pietistic, but not world transforming learning experience to our students. We must continue to articulate the master story of Jesus Christ and his creation in engaging ways that leads to personal transformation of our students’ lives and challenges them to a life of discipleship and engagement with God’s world! What does it take to do this effectively?
As I have observed master Christian teachers who do the best job of integrating faith and learning, I see several “astutenesses” and passions in their thinking and behavior.
- Spiritual passion – they are alive spiritually and their passion for Jesus Christ “oozes” out of them. Their students have no doubts about their commitment.
- Theological understanding – they demonstrate a deep understanding of Scripture and have personally worked through their own big picture understandings of how the master story works in our world.
- A student of their students – they know well the age of the student they are working with, what matters to them, how they think, what they believe, and what motivates them.
- Culturally aware – they understand what is going on in the world, are keen observers of how worldviews are lived out, offer a prophetic voice to challenge students about their passions and idols, and help students to not only interpret and translate culture, but to create alternative culture that reflects Biblical values.
- Masters of their discipline – they know their subject area well, are driven to learn more, know the controversies and issues connected with current thinking in the discipline, have reflected how this subject comes under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and know how to demonstrate and help students connect a Biblical perspective to the field of study.
What are you doing to articulate the master story? What are you doing to challenge others to become this kind of master teacher?
Public education cannot and will not point children to God. Simply put, all education is religious in nature – it is either man centered or God centered. Public education cannot legally acknowledge God as creator and sustainer of life. Who can be thanked in a public school curriculum? Where is praise to be directed?
- Do you believe Sunday School and youth group alone can adequately provide a solid foundation for the faith formation of youth?
- Can kids truly be expected to be effective “salt and light” in public K – 12 education? (see my blog post of 4.28.08)
- When your church recognizes and prays for those adults who are nurturing faith of kids in your church, do you also recognize and pray for those “missionary teachers” in Christian day school and encourage them in their work?
- Kids are having less conversations about faith today according to Barna research. Where can kids best have conversations about faith on a daily basis and begin to understand how faith relates to all of life?
- Our first mission field is our own kids – what good is it to “save the world and lose our own soul”? (our kids as flesh of our flesh)
- A prime strategy in use in world mission outreach is to begin a Christian school right after establishing a church. It works – why do we not believe it to work in North America?
- Why do some of us pledge in our baptismal forms to do all in our power to raise children to love and serve the Lord and then not help provide Christian day school education for all families?
- Ask your pastor if he/she would have been better equipped for their work if he/she had been trained at a “public school” seminary or a Christian seminary and if not, ask them why any different approach should be used for kids and their spiritual training and development.
- Christian education and advocating for missions/evangelism are not antithetical – each of our children is a “mission project.” If faith is more caught than taught, don’t we want kids to have the most contact with adults who are living out their faith and showing how God is revealed through all of learning?
“Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.” Deuteronomy 6:6-7.
During an online discussion in the winter Distinctives class (that I teach) this past winter, one of the students, Brian VanderHaak, Headmaster at Christian Academy of Japan, shared with the rest of the class what he had delivered as a graduation speech about the nature of Christian education. I contemplated editing for length, but think that it needs to stand as a coherent message. Although longer than the usual blog post, it is very worthwhile reading. Brian captures well the kinds of things we should be emphasizing with our students – a distinctively different education!
To the graduation class of 2003:
By now you have figured out that life is more complicated than the pat answers you playfully decided in 10th grade answered every question in life (and in my class): God, Jesus, and the other one I won’t bring up here because I would have to spend a lot of time explaining it to those not in the loop.
As children you eventually reached a point where these simple answers were no longer acceptable for any question. A teacher may have asked: “Who was in the belly of the whale?” and in your excitement you’d wave your hand. The teacher would call on you and you would answer innocently: “God.” “Well yes,” the teacher would say reassuringly, “that is true because God is everywhere… but who else was in the belly of the whale?” “Jesus?” you would venture. “Well yes, Jesus is God and God is everywhere, but who else is in the belly of the whale?” And so on. It didn’t work as well when you got older and the questions became something more like “Who espoused the doctrine of election and what does it mean?”
Now, we at WCA have done a pretty good job of educating you in and about that increasingly complicated world you encountered:
You can do intricate math equations.
You can dissect and identify amphibian innards.
Hopefully (because it’s my fault if you can’t) you can analyze literature and history to identify the text, sub text and find all the beauty and baggage that comes between the lines.
You know the books of the Bible and can discuss the history of the church.
You can do this stuff in a couple of languages and maybe even identify a few Latin phrases: “Hey, that’s a Latin phrase!” you might say some day. “I took Latin at WCA… I don’t have a clue what it says, but that’s Latin all right.”
But I think we may have failed to teach you something. Something very important. Something essential. It wasn’t intentional, but it was, with the clarity of hindsight, a critical mistake. In spite of this though I think, I pray, I see some evidence, that it was neither a fatal nor hopeless omission.
When your parents brought you to the doors at 1820 Franwall Ave, many, probably all, of them were nervous, even scared. They were scared you might get bumps, scrapes, and bruises – and terrified that you might be responsible for someone else’s bumps, scrapes and bruises. They were concerned you might get your feelings hurt – which can leave a bigger scar than any cut. It is very difficult for a parent to endure their baby (at any age) suffering an injustice or slight. We might say tough it out, let it slide, be cool, but inside we relive over and over every emotional trauma we felt at your age. To be a teacher and a covenant parent is to die a thousand deaths while a school full of children, either maliciously or cluelessly tear each other down right in front of us.
And as they dropped you off at WCA’s front door they worried along with us:
That you wouldn’t learn enough to be successful in life, or that you might learn too much about something we didn’t want you to know anything about and you might become successful at that.
That you might not fit in, or that you might fit in too well.
That you might soil your pants or throw up on the teacher’s shoes.
That you might end up in the principal’s office for garnering too much attention or, worse yet, might end up not being noticed at all.
But those fears were misplaced. We worried about the wrong things. When your parents walked hand in hand with you down to that first class, or later drug you out of bed and pushed you out of the car on this end, they should have been scared to death. They should have lain awake nights worried. They should have been terrified that we at WCA, we Christian schoolteachers and covenant parents, would do our job. You see, the most important part of our job, the very essence of why we are here, what we need to be struggling with constantly in addition to how to properly place you in the right math class or what college we can get you into is this: Our calling is to teach you that Christianity is a radical religion. A radical religion. We have prepared you to claim your place in the world – but I’m concerned we haven’t done enough to prepare you not to be of this world.
Now, I apologize for my sin of omission, because the good Lord knows we spent enough time together, so I had plenty of opportunity. And it wasn’t for lack of caring or that I didn’t think it was important. Perhaps it is the term that throws us off. We mistakenly attach the term radical exclusively to liberal extremists or conservative fundamentalists of any religion.
Or perhaps we are thrown by the nature of radicalism – its level of commitment, the counter-cultic nature it implies, and the political and social fanaticism that often accompanies it. But that is wrong.
Mainstream Christianity is the most radical thing in the world!
You think it is radical to put on a vest full of explosives and try to take out as many people as you can? You think it is radical to riot or fly a plane into a building? That’s nothing. That’s expected. That’s human. Return hate with hate? Return injustice with injustice? Be oppressed and lash out? That’s standard operating procedure for fallen man. You want radical?. You want extreme, on the edge, set the world on its ear radicalism? Turn the other cheek.
I am unimpressed and not surprised when someone lashes out. I’m dazzled, awed, mystified (though I shouldn’t be) when someone returns hatred with love. Someone cuts you off in traffic and you shoot at him or her? Kid’s stuff. Someone disses you and you lash out with tongue or fists? Child’s play. You want to play with the truly tough crowd? Those that have what it takes to do the unexpected?
Are you ready for that?
Did we prepare you for that?
I once read about a man whose teenage daughter had been brutally raped and murdered – and God called on him to forgive the monster that did it – which he did – and he then engaged in years of praying for this man’s conversion. Can you imagine? This man had held his baby girl in his arms, like so many fathers here tonight, and whispered to his daughter that he would always be there for her and protect her. He admitted that humanly it wasn’t possible to for him to do, but God had given him the strength. To accept that and act on it? That’s radical.
But those are extreme situations. Perhaps one of the reasons we are so scared of the radical nature of Christianity is that we put it in context of extreme lifestyles or behaviors or situations.
Some of you might indeed be called to some form of radical poverty. To sacrifice all those material things that fascinate and bind you: nice homes, nice clothes, nice cars, really good desserts, etc. And that will be radical, to go in the face of a lifetime of conditioning by the media and the hopes and dreams of those around you. Because I’ll tell you that I hope and pray none of you ever knows want or need, even in the service of the Lord. It’s part of our parental instinct to want you comfortable and cared for. But to give that up? To place yourself at risk financially? That is radical and we all recognize it as such.
And some of you might be called to dangerous professions – that is also radical. Agur Adams, I was told by his mother (through gritted teeth as I remember), considers Navy Seal training to be a calling. As long as there is evil in the world God will call Christians to those dangerous professions. It is certainly radical for a well-educated, capable individual with incredible potential to put their biological life on the line for what they believe.
Yes, there are many obviously radical Christian callings that God may direct at some of you. But most of you will assume your place in the middle class, or better, and at first glance radical will seem as remote and distant and disconnected to your life as the bizarre setting of The Heart of Darkness.
But you want radical with a capital R? You want to know what it is like to be a Christian today? And I submit to you that there is no such thing as a Radical Christian – the phrase is redundant – to live as a Christian as taught in the Bible is to be radical. You want to be that Radical?
Dedicate your life to radical parenting. Raise Godly Christian children in a world intent on controlling their minds, bodies and wallets.
You want to be Radical? Be talking to fellow workers, be talking to your bosses, and make a stand when something unethical is considered.
You want to be Radical? Be hanging out with friends and challenge their lifestyle choices.
You want to be Radical? Intervene when someone you barely know says something racially inappropriate.
You want to be Radical? In a world that claims that he or she with the most toys when they die wins, Radical is accepting that nothing you have is yours – it all belongs to God.
A saying I hate but I hear often is, “On their death bed, no one wishes they had spent more time at work.” How about living a life where you hold every second as belonging to God – a life of purpose and dedication and hard work? Somehow that too has become radical.
You want to be radical? Are you ready to accept the fact that you are required to be Radical? In a world that says that cool is king, that emotion is weakness, live like Christ. Christ showed righteous anger, Christ cried out to God the Father, Christ loves the unlovable, Jesus wept.
When I had many of you in 7th grade you would scramble to participate in class. Your hands would flail around while you called out, “ooh ooh ooh” trying to get my attention. In 8th grade that started to change, but there were still moments of passion. By 10th grade it was slouch and grouch many days. I would glance up and see that vacant stare — not defiant — just the “I’m too cool to look interested” look. This look, by the way, I’m convinced is part of what drives many people out of teaching. This look that I’ve learned from experience has little to do with what is going on inside.
But God has given you each a set of wonderful talents. He has also given you a gift that is unique in creation – the ability to reason. And with these talents comes obligations. Be passionate about your gifts – don’t let cool, or concern about the perceived value of what you have to say, or let others reactions keep you from using those talents. To speak out or act out in spite of your human and fallen desire to do just the opposite: that’s Radical.
It is not radical to live in a convent or behind a wall – that’s the safe route. It is a wonderful calling to be involved in full time ministry like teaching or preaching or mission work. And the sacrifices involved do require a radical commitment. But you want Radical?
Try being a light to the world every day while selling real estate
Try being a light to world on a construction crew
Being an independent businesswoman
Climbing to the top
Going to school
Try keeping that light out from under a bushel while seeking pleasure.
Now, pleasure is not forbidden to us as Christians – but worshiping pleasure is. Radical is ignoring what the world says about fun, pleasure, and fulfillment and, instead, looking to the Bible. You want a Radical lifestyle? Get used to looking there first.
Do you remember this one? A student who is no longer with us (and that we miss) challenged me in class one day while we were talking about our call to evangelize. She said, “ When I’m at the club, getting my freak on, I have no right to get in my friends’ faces and preach to them.” No right? How about obligation?
I have some regrets in my life: like crashing my freshly painted van rummaging around on the floor for a Led Zeppelin 8 track to put in the tape deck. But the biggest regrets I have are lost opportunities to witness. Not that God needed my help, but God desired it, He required it, and I blew it. It is Radical to be ready and willing to step up to the plate anytime, anywhere, every time.
Everything about our post-modern/relativist society (and this is the last time you have to hear me use those terms) screams out to be accepting. You believe what you want to, I do my thing; I’m ok, you’re ok. Radical is to realize that your neighbor might be the nicest person alive, better than you in many regards, generous, a good parent, have a perfect lawn, and might be damned to hell as an unbeliever. It makes us uncomfortable to confront that reality as well as the reality that we have a role to play here. To accept that is radical.
It is also Radical to engage in evangelism without the alienation. What about loving non-believers every day, including the ones that make us uncomfortable – the ones whose lifestyles or personalities make us want to hold them at arms length? Radical is not letting your prejudices get the better of you. We are not called to condemn as much as to be God’s instrument for transformation.
I’m loath to stop – like somehow I can make up for the lost opportunities we had in the classroom to talk about the Radical nature of Christianity. But I’m hopeful that you’ll get there and that you do understand. I see signs that, as a group, you are well on your way:
Some of your senior papers dealt with grappling with issues of lifestyle and commitment.
We had a discussion in class recently about whether racism would diminish and one of you asked: “What can we do?” Not sullenly or hopelessly but – “But what can WE do?” Ready to accept the challenge.
One of you actually said in class last week — in response to a tease from another during a report on capitalism — that there was more to life, and to you, than cars. I see so many hopeful signs.
You see, Radical isn’t a mindset – it’s action – it’s the way you choose to live your life. I’m going to ask you to pray with me in a moment. Know that I, and these other covenant parents and educators have committed ourselves to a lifetime of carrying you in prayer. Of praying for you. But I can’t do this one for you. No one can.
Six years ago our pastor in Washington State, during a series of sermons on prayer, called on us as individuals to pray what he called “the scary prayer.” He could just have well called it “the Radical prayer.” He challenged us to, for once, not call on God to bless our jobs or our families or to let us know if something specific in our lives was a good choice (like what college we chose). But to pray: simply and humbly: God – your will be done in my life. And then stop and listen for the answer.
But I warn you, don’t be naïve. Don’t believe you can control the process. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian, said: “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God… We must not… assume that our schedule is our own to manage – but allow it to be arranged by God.” Not long after he wrote this he was hung by the Nazis in a concentration camp. This was his punishment for resisting their policies and standing up against the persecution of the Jews.
Up to that point, that sermon, I had spent my entire life praying something like:
Lord, if this business is what you want me to do, then bless it.
Lord, if this house is what you want us to build, then make it possible.
Lord, if this is the girl I’m supposed to marry, then make it so she doesn’t hang up on me, again.
Basically, I lived my life as I saw fit, and challenged God to open doors and windows as He saw fit. After this sermon Bette and I prayed this Radical prayer: We had just finished building a new house we had spent years designing and dreaming about. I had just gone back to school to get my teaching credentials, and we had plotted our career course out to teach in the local schools. We were surrounded by friends and family. My mom finally had all of her children return to the area, and we were living within a few miles of her. Bette’s parents had moved from Chicago to be closer to their grandkids, my children. Our lives were well planned and in order.
And we prayed: “God, do what you will with our lives. Amen.” A month later we were on a plane to interview for jobs in Silver Spring, Maryland, at a place we had never heard of, because of an ad in The Banner, our church magazine, that Bette had noticed by chance (or so we thought). An ad I didn’t even want to respond to. After the interview they offered us these jobs, and we said no repeatedly. Then God reminded us of our prayer. Two weeks after that we were in a U-haul driving across country. Two weeks to get ready for our lives to change forever and all because of a one-sentence prayer!
We tell people there are scratch marks all the way across the country on interstate 90. But the reality is that Radical does not mean miserable. This is why I think maybe we worry too much about the Radical thing rather than accepting it. WCA is where God has wanted us and He, in turn, has made our experience here rewarding, deeply textured, a blessing to us personally and spiritually. He did that by giving us you.
If you dare, 2003 graduates of WCA, pray quietly along with me these scary, radical words that are so familiar we do not realize how powerful, how live changing they are. Let’s pray: Here I am Lord. It is I Lord. I have heard you calling in the night. Where you lead me, I will follow. Amen.
I share this post with you for two purposes – for the content that can help us better discuss a Biblical perspective with students and a new piece of technology that pretty easily be used by you or others at your school. You may be more familiar with the content my friend Michael Essenburg is talking about than the web tool he has used to produce it. The tool is Screencast and there are similar tools such as Screenr and ScreenToaster that allow you to do the same thing. Check out this video and the tools – you may find both helpful in your setting.
“What the leader focuses on gets done.” As I go about the continent speaking and doing accreditation site visits, I get to see many schools in action and gain a sense of how leadership happens in each place. Since my job often focuses on helping others with change, I have been thinking about what motivates people to change and the role of leadership, formal or informal, in making change happen and as change relates to what makes Christian education distinctive.
I recently read Dan Pink’s newest book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. He describes management in the last 100 years as a version called Motivation 2.0, that relies heavily on control and extrinsic rewards. Pink contends that this style is out of sync with human nature itself, particularly in jobs of knowledge workers – the kinds of right-brain, creative, complex-thinking jobs that we see today. We are created to be curious and self-directed in our learning, but that somehow this desire gets “controlled” out of us – education being one culprit. Pink cites a Cornell study of 320 small businesses, in which half of the workers were granted autonomy and the other half relied on top-down direction, and states: “Businesses that offered autonomy grew at four times the rate of the control-oriented firms and had one-third the turnover.” Leaders lead out of their assumptions about the nature of human beings. Whether it is kids or teachers, if you assume the worst or the best about them, you will likely have people living up to those expectations. Do you as a leader bring out the best or the worst in your followers?
What Pink says about money and extrinsic motivation resonates with me as a Christian. In his proposed Motivation 3.0 model he sees purpose maximization as a key to long-term job satisfaction. We desire to work for higher purposes in life beyond ourselves. Christian education is, in the end, not about the money, but the highest purpose of helping student to know and live for Jesus Christ.
In a recent survey (Gates Foundation/Scholastic) of more than 40,000 public school teachers, supportive leadership was once again shown to trump financial incentives, such as merit pay. In order to retain good teachers, 68% said supportive leadership was absolutely essential, while 71% said monetary rewards for teacher performance would have moderate or no impact on student achievement. Teachers also highly desired “relevant” professional development, clean and safe working conditions, and time to collaborate with access to high-quality curriculum.
My friend Mark Eckel recently completed his doctoral work on the implementation of faith-learning integration and discovered that the key variable in terms of effect was leadership. He reports that the variable of administrative encouragement around faith learning integration happening in the classroom caused the largest shift in the total score for how teachers were integrating faith and learning! He states: “Learning how one teaches all things from a biblical point of view is the cornerstone of what it means to teach in a Christian school.” Amen!
As a leader (whether you are an administrator or teacher) I leave you with these questions:
- How do you know that faith-learning integration is being practiced in your classroom(s)? What evidence could you show me?
- If teachers/students are dependent on you as a leader to emphasize this area, then what are you doing to strengthen faith-learning integration?
A new word I really like: “Complexipacity – the cognitive skills necessary for dealing with complexity, including systemic thinking, creativity, collaboration, problem solving, contextual learning, and cyber-literacy.” – David Pearce Snyder in Futurist magazine.
“Silo thinking by discipline area doesn’t help kids deal with complex situations.” (author of quote unknown.) Sounds like Christian schools should be leading the way in non-silo thinking since we believe all things cohere in Christ – right?
“What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.” George Bernard Shaw
From the book: The Young and the Digital: What the Migration to Social-Network sites, Games, and Anytime, Anywhere Media Means for Our Future by S. Craig Watkins. Besides winning the longest subtitle award, here are some interesting comments and facts from the book:
- You thought you knew what CPA meant: “An unintended consequence of young kid’s adoption of digital media is that fast entertainment and continual partial attention (CPA) are invading our nation’s schools.”
- Comment on student texting – 42% of the teens in a Harris Interactive online panel indicated they could text blindfolded!
- Countering the idea that technology disengages kids from reality: “…more young voters than older voters reported attending a campaign event…a larger percentage of Americans under the age of thirty voted than at anytime since 1972…turnout was between 52 and 53 percent…the reversal of a near quarter-of-a-century trend…Obama won young voter by 34 points (as opposed to Gore in 2000 by 2 points, Kerry by seven points in 2004.)
Instead of playing “Devil’s Advocate” consider being an “Angel’s Advocate” – list three good ideas about a new idea first, then address your concerns. – Marci Segal in Futurist magazine.
“Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.” – Leo Tolstoy
“For most of us, the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it.” – John Ortberg
Helping students to see how all things in this world cohere through Christ is one of the most important tasks of a Christian teacher. In these three short and helpful videos, my friend Michael Essenburg from the Christian Academy in Japan suggests three practical strategies that all Christian teachers can use. Maybe you could use them to provoke some good discussion at your next faculty meeting that could lead to deeper “truth-revealing” teaching – which in turn could better enable your school to meet its mission!
Help your students connect God’s world, God’s Word, and their lives:
Ask questions to DRAW others out: Your fellow teachers want to help their students better connect what they study and what the Bible teaches. You can help your fellow teachers by asking questions to DRAW them out.
Asking open-ended questions works: Help your students connect what they study and what the Bible teaches. Ask open-ended questions.
“Lord willing” was a commonly heard phrase in my childhood years. Perhaps having parents who had seen war and depression made them more aware of who was really sovereign. Or perhaps it was a phrase reserved for older people, who live more with the realization of shortening years or have experienced the unpredictability of life. James reminds us:
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.’ Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15.
What power or influence does mist have? Can mist control very much or is it subject to other forces such as heat and light? If we are mist, it certainly puts the phrase “Lord willing” in a different light. This year ahead brings uncertainty at an earthly level – we have no guarantees for ourselves or the schools/churches/organizations we serve. We are here at God’s desire and for his purposes – what a delight to rest in that fact. We operate at his will and for his pleasure– let’s acknowledge our temporality and his sovereignty – even in our daily speech. We must trust he has “prepared in advance” the work that he wants us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)
Blessings on the new year ahead!
In this week of Thanksgiving in the U.S., I encourage you to take some time to really slow down, reflect, look, taste, and see the goodness of God. (Canadian friends, you have already had opportunity to do this since your Thanksgiving Day is earlier – however, if you didn’t take the time to reflect well, then do it now!)
Below is a wonderful short video that captures well the joy we feel in being a part of God’s created order. I encourage you to read the next post as well which beautifully articulates the joy of the life given to us and our appropriate response.
(Thanks to my friend Mark Eckel, Director of the Mahseh Center for allowing me to re-post this blog post which originally appeared as “Genesis: ‘The Real World’ (Part 7)” on his Warp and Woof blogspot.)
Bright, shiny copper pots: I have never seen anyone so excited about cooking utensils! Jon was explaining his historical finds that coincide with his love of preparing gourmet foods. One of the cooking pots had actually been “resurrected” from an underwater shipwreck. Jon’s love of cooking is displayed as decoration in his home.
One expedition for book boxes prior to a move found me in a bar. While there, the manager showed me his latest technique for dispensing drinks: a gravity system that worked from the room above. Exact specifications created the beverage ordered by patrons below. I’ll never forget the excitement of the owner. He was so pleased to offer exceptional service. Loving his vocation meant enjoyment of his life within the world.
I received a text from a former student the other day while he was in a tree stand hunting deer. Back and forth electrons flew as I expressed amazement that he could hunt and text at the same time! Guy told me that when you spend 200 days a year in the wild you learn to do many things at the same time. Visiting his website I saw the pure joy in Guy’s eyes as he taught people lessons about life through hunting.
When God created “the heavens and the earth” He had such human enthusiasms in mind. God’s assessment of His work speaks for itself: “And He saw that it was good.” The word means “beautiful” setting the standard for human excitement in creativity and aesthetics. The material world is good. We are not Gnostics, legalistically binding ourselves to human-centered regulations. To enjoy God’s good gifts of life is a sign of gratitude; thankfulness to One outside of ourselves. The Psalmist is blessed by astronomy, agriculture, biology, law codes, wildlife and human life.
Delight in this God-given life is one of the reasons why I disdain certain gospel songs. Growing up, one of the little ditties we sang in church was “This World Is Not My Home, I’m Just A Passin’ Through.” I have been teaching a seminar for some time with the title “This World IS My Home! I’m NOT Just Passin’ Through!” I love the smell of crisp fall air. I love the smell of the air just before it rains. I love the smell of wood fires in the night air. I love the smell of a bakery, sautéed onion-pepper mixture on the stove, and Kentucky Fried Chicken®! And that’s just a few smells! The list is endless of what I enjoy in this life!
So it is with great admiration that I mention a hymn which perfectly explains my joy:
For the beauty of the earth, For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth, Over and around us lies.
Lord of all, to Thee we raise, This our hymn of grateful praise.
For the beauty of each hour, Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower, Sun and moon, and stars of light.
Lord of all, to Thee we raise, This our hymn of grateful praise.
For the joy of ear and eye, For the heart and mind’s delight,
For the mystic harmony, Linking sense to sound and sight.
Lord of all, to Thee we raise, This our hymn of grateful praise.
Satisfaction, Appreciation, and Thankfulness is the most important SAT test we will ever take. To be ungrateful for the gifts given to us is to reject The One Who has given those gifts to us. We ought to give thanks for the reality of this life since He has given everything for us to enjoy.
E. M. Forster would cringe when people would tell him to “face reality.” Turning round in a circle he would ask, “Which way should I face since reality is all around me?” In a similar vein, Cornelius Plantinga rightly takes to task those who think paying bills, going to a 9-5 job, and balancing work with leisure is “the real world.” He says, “Someone who lives in the ‘real world’ lives with an awareness of the whole world, because the whole world is part of the kingdom of God.”
“The whole” compels me to contend “the real world” includes the seen and the unseen. The five senses do not make sense apart from the sixth sense. There is another world to which I must give an account. The supernatural creates the natural. The invisible God made the visible creation. To neglect our responsibility to live under Heaven’s authority creates a disjointed view of life. We succumb to naturalism, materialism, and pragmatism. We begin to think that success is based on production. “The bottom line” becomes our “finish line.”
God draws “a line in the sand.” Unless we are careful, Deuteronomy 4:15-19 declares we are prone to worship, honor, and subscribe to the standards of this world. I would encourage us all to ask ourselves this question: Is our Christian distinctiveness informed by “the real world’s” accountability to Another World? As much as I enjoy this God-given life, I am constantly reminded that the creation has a Creator. I will continue to revel in sights, smells, tastes, and human ingenuity as I remember that earth depends on Heaven.