Monthly Archives: May 2008

A word of thanks to those of you who . . .

kept in focus the big picture of nurturing faith in students, despite all the distractions and obstacles during this school year;

kept your cool when working with a student for the umpteenth time on a repeated issue—thanks for remembering that God continues to forgive each of us for repeated sins;

listened well and were fully present even though you knew what a student or colleague was about to say and you had 90 million other things calling to you;

found a way to mediate and bring peace between student and student, student and teacher, teacher and parent, administration and board;

challenged students to connect their beliefs and their actions;

shared your faith even though it felt risky and you weren’t sure how students or parents would receive your testimony;

cared deeply about the hurts and pain of students and staff and demonstrated your concern through seen or unseen acts of kindness;

did the right thing from a Christian perspective even though it was unpopular and you took some heat for your decision;

pointed students and teachers toward prophetic living and expanded their worldview;

attempted to live and model Christ in faithful service;

saw the image of God in each person and tried to see them through the eyes of Christ; or

helped move your school forward in reaching its mission.

Well done, good and faithful servant—enter into a time of renewal and refreshment during the summer months!

Thanks for reading the Nurturing Faith blog this past school year – see you again in September,

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Filed under classroom, community, curriculum, encouraging the heart, stewardship, use of time

Craving coolness – the peril of perpetual adolescence

(Post submitted by Ron Polinder, Executive Director of Rehoboth Christian School, Rehoboth, New Mexico. Thanks, Ron for sharing!)

It was a lazy Saturday afternoon. I was flipping channels, that miserable masculine habit that drives wives out of the room. I settled on C-SPAN, where a Washington reporter, Diana West, was reflecting on her new book, The Death of the Grown-Up.

“Curious title,” I think. “I better tune in to this.” The next half hour has substantially altered how I view modern history, our culture, even my profession. We all have that experience from time to time, when a writer or speaker communicates reality so clearly, so insightfully.

West proceeded to unfold her thesis, that in the past 50 years a monumental reversal has taken place. It was gradual to be sure, seeded in the ’50s, incubated in the ’60s, and epidemic in the ’70s, “leaving a nation of eternal adolescents . . . chucking maturity for perpetual youth.”

Adolescence, a concept not even known to the human condition until 1941, when the term “teenager” first appeared in our lexicon, has now been judged by the National Academy of Sciences “as the period extending from the onset of puberty, around 12, to age 30.” The MacArthur Foundation is even more radical, arguing that the “transition to adulthood” doesn’t end until the age of 34.

West notes that until “this most recent episode of human history, there were children, and there were adults. Children in their teen years aspired to adulthood; significantly, they did not aspire to adolescence. Certainly, adults didn’t aspire to remain teenagers.”

Again, for most of time, even folks of my generation, we looked forward to moving past the awkwardness of the teenage years, and looked up to grown-ups—certain teachers, relatives, even our parents. We wondered if we could be like them.

But now this amazing turnaround, where adults are straining to be like the kids. They try to talk like them, dress like them, act like them. We all know moms well into their 30s, even 40s dressing like “Britney.” Or the middle-aged house guest who quickly dismisses a well-trained child’s greeting—“I’m not old enough to be a ‘mister’; call me Bob.”

The rise of “Adolescence” has reached religious proportions, thus a capital A. And what is more important than being “Cool,” capital C, not unlike capitalizing the Bible or Christianity. Consider how many of our youth will bow their knee to a behavior or habit that will assure their “Coolness.”

And that in turn makes it so very difficult for parents to establish appropriate boundaries for their teenagers, inclined themselves—secretly, or not so secretly—to crave “Coolness.”

If you worship the god of Cool, how can you run the risk of having your kids consider you to be “out of touch,” prudish, boring?

Given that mindset, how can a parent stand up to the foolishness of youth? So parents stick their heads in the sand rather than come to grips with MTV, which was surveyed by the Parent’s Television Council during spring break 2004 for 171 hours, tallying up 1,548 sex scenes, 1,518 unedited foul language, and 3,127 bleeped profanities.

Speaking of spring break, some parents pay for their adolescent’s plane ticket so they can take part in the debauchery and drunkenness of Cancun.

All this has enormous implications for education. Sociologist David Riesman, of Lonely Crowd fame, noted that “the educator in earlier eras might use the child’s language to put across an adult message.” Now it is “no longer thought to be the child’s job to understand the adult world as the adult sees it.”

This contributes much to the dumbing down of the educational enterprise. Teachers must constantly “stand on their heads” to retain a few minutes of adolescent attention. And if they act cool, they think they have a better chance.

Happily, there are still some teachers who understand the boundary between teacher and student, and who earn the everlasting respect of their students because of it. And students who catch on to that reality are fortunate and often more successful in growing up.

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Filed under Biblical worldview, change, discernment

A stimulating summer read

If we are to raise kids in meaningful communities of faith, what must we understand about a world that is “fragmented, remixed, suspicious, and yet full of possibility?” What are the implications of postmodern thinking for our schools and churches? As institutions and individuals how will we need to change? How can we be leaders who move beyond the pragmatic into realms where who we are and what we are trying to do is not as clear as it once was?

A book recommended to me several times, which I likewise recommend to you, is Intuitive Leadership: Embracing a Paradigm of Narrative, Metaphor, and Chaos by Tim Keel. Keel uses story, context, and possibility as ways for leaders to consider their role in and approach to making sense of our world of rapid change. He points to Boomers as the last generation to have their identity shaped by a modern, Christian view of reality (e.g., Willow Creek as “final creative response,” 151), which has tended toward homogenization/standardization: “Our churches are the religious equivalent of strip malls with the same ten massive retailers,” 77). Keel believes that with “the increasing secularization and radical individualism of American culture, combined with the relegation of faith to the realm of personal preference and private expression,” the church is now “moving back into the margins where it began” (143). His thoughts on the impact of church change in our lifetime are very cogent and helpful.

To whet your appetite, here are some quotes that give various points of emphasis in the book:

  • “[W]e no longer live in a society that by default shares the same language, beliefs, values, or structures that we believe ought to shape American identity” (143).
  • “Our post-Enlightenment culture is birthing a language all its own: creative, artistic, intuitive, organic, prophetic, and poetic. . . . The ways in which we process information, make decisions, and interpret our environments are going through profound transitions” (123).
  • “Truth is not just an idea that can be claimed; for it to have any traction in the world today, it must ultimately be a relational reality that is embodied incarnationally in demonstrable ways over time” (116).
  • “If hypocrisy is the cardinal sin in a postmodern context, then authenticity is the cardinal virtue” (117).
  • “We desperately need to discover, recover, learn and live out the ancient Christian practice of hospitality, which is the postmodern means of evangelism” (111).
  • “The missional context of our culture is one that increasingly demands creativity, both because this is the currency of our culture and because in order to respond to an environment that is new to us, we must be creative” (199–200).
  • Keel quoting Alan Roxburgh, “The role of leaders is to cultivate environments that release the missional imagination of the people of God” (209).

What I liked about the book is that Keel encourages leaders to consider our need for an authentic relationship with God and others starting with heart commitment, and then responding to culture in creative ways. He describes the kind of leader and leadership we need for our schools and our churches if we are to nurture communities of authentic Christian faith.

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Filed under change, mission development, staff development

Faith Enhancing Practice* #12 – Pedagogical Practices

I have put off writing about this practice because I have not wanted to discourage teachers through identifying negative pedagogical behavior. However, based on over 27 years of experience in education, I must state that I firmly believe that sometimes teachers fail to make the connection between how they run their classroom and the resulting impact they have on their students’ faith development. I will be the first to admit that, in hindsight, I used pedagogical practices during my teaching career that no doubt discouraged the faith of my young students, and I have sought forgiveness and God’s grace in this regard. Confession is good for the soul but best if it results in positive change. In the hope of building awareness and encouraging teachers toward encouraging student faith, I offer these observations.

Youth are particularly sensitive to issues of justice and have well tuned hypocrisy meters. Teachers who give a wonderful devotion on showing love to one another and then five minutes later publicly call out student test scores obviously fail to see how the inconsistency of their behavior can damage a student’s spirit and render ineffective other good modeling they may have done. One misstep can wipe out weeks of good effort. Student faith development is discouraged and dampened when teachers play favorites, engage in indefensible grading practices, or implement discipline systems that demean and degrade students. When students see other students treated unfairly or even humiliated in some way through words or actions, they have a tough time respecting what the teacher advocates in their teaching, because they have lost trust in the goodness of the teacher. No wonder Jesus advises that teaching is a most serious endeavor (see James 3:1).

Teachers who are careful to live out their Christian faith in every aspect of their pedagogical practice are truly a blessing to their students and their administrators. I appreciate what author Harro Van Brummelen says in this regard: “[Teachers] create space in which students may seek and experience truth, depth of insight, discernment, justice, compassion and integrity” (from monograph- Curriculum: Implementation in Three Christian Schools). Christian teachers encourage faith in their students by demonstrating authenticity and consistency in every aspect of their classroom. They are careful to guard the dignity of each student as made in the image of God and give serious thought to the impact of each pedagogical decision on their students’ faith development. When the best teachers inevitably make mistakes, they have the humility to admit their mistakes to the students and seek forgiveness. By this action they not only restore the trust of their students and refine their craft as professionals, but more importantly they nurture the faith of their students.

*(For an explanation and definition of Faith Enhancing Practices see my post of February 3, 2007 entitled “What’s the difference between teachers?”) If you are interested in seeing all 12 Faith Enhancing Practices modules at once, you can go to the Member Community Center and access them there.

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Filed under classroom, distinctively Christian, encouraging the heart, student outcomes

The joy of spring flowers and nurturing faith

(Post contributed by Glenn Vos of Holland Christian Schools in Holland, Michigan—thanks Glenn for sharing!)

I love to work outside with flowers, and it is something I enjoy doing a great deal. I am sure I was influenced by my mother, who always had beautiful flowers planted around our home. She had a garden full of flowers that frequently were made into arrangements which adorned the front of the pulpit in our church where my parents were the custodians. I find gardening to be therapeutic—it does not require a committee to decide how something should be done nor do the flowers ask much of me other than some watering, fertilizing, and weeding.

TulipsDepending where you live, you have surely noted by now that the spring flowers—daffodils, crocuses, tulips, and many others—are in beautiful bloom right now. They leapt out of the ground here in Michigan after some of our recent warm weather and in a matter of days changed the landscape remarkably. Suddenly, the grays and browns of winter had splashes of color that caught our eyes. You can hardly drive around our community at this time of year and not marvel at the beauty of these new additions to the yards of nearly every home.

What impresses me about spring flowers is that they are very delicate in their structure and design, yet they are some of the hardiest flowers around when it comes to weather conditions. They can handle cold better than heat, and the wind can do more damage than the sun. The warm, almost hot, breezes that we appreciate during the spring are their worst enemy. Many spring flowers are planted as bulbs, biding their time for warmer soil and the passing of winter, and then, independent of any further action by us, they appear, grow, and eventually bloom.

So what does all this have to do with Christian education? Beyond the obvious connections to planting, growing, and nurturing, the very nature of spring flowers provides some great lessons for us in living and learning.

First, the very contrast of the brilliant colors of the flower to the dark soil and gray skies they come out of provides a great picture lesson for each of us. The need to be embedded in the very darkness of the soil and still finish with a bloom filled with great color and splendor is what is at the very core of a Christian education, especially from a Reformed point of view. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24).

Second, it is important to note the impact that winds of “hot air” can have upon the strength of the plant: Have we really prepared our children for the impact of media and culture upon their now sturdy looking stems?

Third, to be delicate yet strong and hardy is really at the center of the true character of a follower of Christ.

Fourth, the variety of colors, even within the blossom itself, should be a reflection of what we want our schools and our churches to look like.

Fifth, there are early varieties and late varieties of spring flowers—students, or adults for that matter, do not all learn at the same rate nor do we all grow and develop at the same time. Differences are not just OK; they are important to keep the whole garden blooming throughout the entire growing season.

Sixth, if you just look at the bulb, you are not able to tell what the blossom will look like. You might know it is a tulip bulb but not the exact color or the variety. You need to see the plant in bloom to fully appreciate the bulb. So it is with children. We can not know by looking at a preschooler or even a high school student how God might want to use the gifts he has given this child, so we need cultivate and nurture each one to his or her full potential.

When you see spring flowers growing in your yard or as you travel about, I hope you will begin to see a whole lot more than just flowers. Seeing them in all their beauty will give you all the more reason to praise God and to bring him honor and glory.

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Filed under early faith, stewardship, student outcomes

The revolution – moving out of the conventional church

How is the church continuing to change and what impact will this have on the faith development of youth? The latest survey coming out of George Barna’s research organization, The Barna Group, puts additional weight behind his contention that people will not be worshipping via the conventional church in the future and that they are moving to alternative means.

A recent random sample phone survey of 1,005 adults taken by The Barna Group in December 2007 reported the following:

Each of six alternatives was deemed by most adults to be “a complete and biblically valid way for someone who does NOT participate in the services or activities of a conventional church to experience and express their faith in God.” Those alternatives include engaging in faith activities at home, with one’s family (considered acceptable by 89% of adults); being active in a house church (75%); watching a religious television program (69%); listening to a religious radio broadcast (68%); attending a special ministry event, such as a concert or community service activity (68%); and participating in a marketplace ministry (54%).

What does this trend mean for postmodern youth? Should we be concerned about this shift away from conventional church gatherings or be encouraged that perhaps kids (and adults) want to express their faith in more action-oriented ways?

Barna has now taken the revolution a step further. In his latest and controversial new book, Pagan Christianity? Exploring the Roots of Our Christian Practices, coauthored with Frank Viola, he suggests that much of our current institutional practice is not biblical but can be traced back to third- and fourth-century pagan roots. Naturally, this is causing a firestorm within the organized church. Yet some are saying this book is potentially the most important book on spirituality written this century. Since I have not read the book, I can only suggest that you check out reader reviews of the book and consider prayerfully reading it.

If we who value the Reformed faith really believe that we are to be “always reforming,” we certainly need to take a good hard look at this book. Hopefully, it will serve to drive us back to the Word, to the study of history, and to the reexamination of our thinking about church. Perhaps this book, like Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 15:1–20, will help people rethink what is truly biblical in the practices of our church life and what is merely man-made tradition.

We should not be afraid to fully discuss these things with the young people in our care. Hopefully, we will be able to demonstrate a spirit of humility—a “seeing through the glass darkly” attitude—to teens who sometimes are turned off by their perception that we have all the answers. Could it be a helpful exercise for us, together with our students, to investigate a particular church tradition and see how it lines up with Scripture as well as how it has been adapted to reach culture? If we love truth more than tradition and believe the Holy Spirit is guiding believers into all the truth, what have we really got to lose by it?

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Filed under change, church partnering, student outcomes, uncategorized, worship