Be Kind to Yourself and Trust God (Not Yourself)

The end of the school year is coming. This can lead to excitement and anticipation for some. However, it can also lead to feelings of disappointment and frustration for others. Why didn’t we cover everything I wanted to cover? Why wasn’t my class as transformative as it could have been? Why is a particular student struggling so much or for so long? Why haven’t I been able to meet every need?

Academic disciplemakers feel a burden to make a difference. And it can hurt when our best-laid plans end up being less than perfect in practice. When the finish-line is in view, we sometimes realize that the past year wasn’t the best race we’ve ever run. High standards are good, but they sometimes mean that we don’t meet the mark that we have set for ourselves.

If you are the discouraged and disappointed teacher, I want to speak to you for a moment. I want to share specific truths from the Word of God for you:

1) God’s perfect plans are never thwarted by imperfect people.

I am encouraged that “the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations” (Ps 33:11). I may fail, but He will not. He says, “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please’” (Is 46:10). God will do all that He pleases in me, through me, and in spite of me. Thank God for his perfect faithfulness.

2) We don’t see the whole story.

God told Samuel, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7). We see so little. We don’t know how God is working in hearts. We don’t know all the ways that He is drawing people to Himself. But we know that He is. The Author only writes good stories.

3) God will use you. And He will use you well.

Jesus told the Apostles, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This is a multi-layered promise. He promised that they would: a) receive power from the Spirit, b) be witnesses, c) be his witnesses. We are not first-century Apostles, but we are Spirit-filled, Spirit-empowered believers. We are witnesses. We are his. God used normal fishermen and tax-collectors to turn the world upside down in the first-century. And He is using his people today as well. 

So, did things go the way you hoped this year? Maybe not. Have you struggled? Perhaps. Were you frustrated at times? Probably. But know this: God is never frustrated because his good plans cannot be stopped. He is working in and through you. And He is not doing a poor job.

I’d encourage you to meditate on these truths as you listen to “Be Kind to Yourself.” Be reminded of God’s love for you.

Talking to God More and Students Less: Prayer and Integration

In Paul Miller’s The Praying Life, he speaks about prayer and parenting. It took the first seventeen years of parenting for him to really realize that he couldn’t do it on his own and he needed to pray. He summed up that realization saying, “I did my best parenting through prayer. I began to speak less to the kids and more to God. It was actually quite relaxing” (47).  

Teachers are not parenting their students, but I think Miller’s point still applies. Could it be that we do our best teaching and discipling when we speak less to the kids and more to God? I think this is profound. It reminded me of what another Paul said in his letter to the Colossians:

…Since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

– Col 1:9-12

The Apostle Paul was active in the life of the Colossian church. He was writing to them. He didn’t stop speaking. He didn’t stop teaching. But look at all the ways that he described how he prayed for them! Here is a break-down of how he prayed. He asked:

…continually. He didn’t stop. 

…God to fill them with knowledge of his will.

…God to fill them with wisdom and understanding from the Spirit.

…that those things (knowledge and wisdom) would help them live a pleasing, worthy life in the eyes of God.

…that they would break fruit in every good work

…that they would grow.

…that they would be strengthened according to the mighty power of God.

…that they would have endurance and patience.

…for gratitude and joy.

What would our classrooms look like if we prayed for our students that way? Would our integration feel more urgent? Would our academic discipleship be more empowered? 

What if we spoke to our kids less and God more? What if we pressed more deeply into the truth  that He is faithful to finish what He started in them (Phil 1:6)?

Integrating Your Thinking: A Plan for Growth

If you want to teach your students in a biblically integrated fashion, one of the best things you can do is to work on your own thinking. Yes, it is good to think about how you can deliver content. It is right to work on strategies. It is necessary to plan your course and units. However, it is also crucial to work on yourself; the way you think about your subject will affect how you teach your subject. So what are some doable, affordable, excellent things that you can do to better integrate your own thinking? Here are three steps that I would recommend:

1) Purchase and read a book on your subject from the “Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition” series. These short, Christian titles on everything from economics and education to science and psychology will help you understand your topic better. (Vern Poythress has authored books on a number of topics like sociology, history, language, and logic as well. These are a bit more technical.) How much will one of these books cost? Most of these books fall in the $12-25 range. 

2) Read the chapter on your subject area in Understanding the Times. It would be great to read the whole book, but reading one chapter will make a difference. This book examines 10 areas of inquiry including things like biology, law, history, and politics. And this book compares how different groups — like Muslims and Marxists — approach and understand these topics. This book can be purchased for less than $30, but many schools have these books on hand. So you could likely read it for free.

3) Read the Bible. This might sound overly basic, but it is not. The more you read the Bible, the better you will understand your topic from and toward the biblical worldview. I bet this will cost you nothing because you likely already own a Bible.

I am bringing this up now because (at my school) the final quarter of the school year just began. We are nearing the end of this year. This is when I want to start planning to be more equipped, more aware, and more skilled in my thinking for next year. If you are like me, you want to be on a trajectory of growth. I want my teaching to be better each year. And I bet you do too! If you do any of these three things, I bet you will grow as an academic disciple-maker. If you do all three, you will grow even more. Let me encourage you to make that investment in your own thinking because that is an investment in your students as well.

Parables for Language Learners and Integration from the Biblical Text

Recently, I’ve been exploring the idea of organizing biblical integration by starting with Scripture itself. Rather than bringing Scripture into the course concepts, I am intrigued by the possibility of bringing concepts out of the Bible itself. Why? Because the culture that forms many of our students is changing.

Even evangelical culture and church-adjacent culture is becoming more and more detached from the Bible, the biblical worldview, and biblical literacy in general. This means the task of integration must change. We must respond to the needs that are presenting themselves. In the past, it may have been easier to focus on applying Scripture to a topic/subject because students had some exposure to and understanding of Scripture. However, that exposure and understanding seems to be becoming more limited and cursory (in many cases). If this is true, academic disciple-makers will have to engage the Bible differently (perhaps more directly) in order to help the students think more biblically. 

To be clear, I am not suggesting that we should be trying to teach our subjects from the Bible. I am saying that we might consider trying to teach about our subjects from the Bible. The Bible is not a textbook for poetry, pre-calculus, or public speaking. But it does have something to say about humans, appreciation, and art. It does have something to say about order, structure, nature, and reality. It does speak clearly about speaking clearly. 

Just to be extra clear: I can’t teach a student to play guitar from the Bible, but I can use the Bible to teach that student about beauty, hard work, and the role of music amongst the people of God. The Bible doesn’t teach music, but it does teach about music. The Bible can’t make a guitarist. But the Bible can shape a musician.

Let’s consider this with a case study on language learning. A super-star Spanish teacher at my school recently asked some questions about this and I thought it might be good to share with a wider audience. Here is where I would start if I were integrating a Spanish 3 class by starting with a biblical text.

The Bible is not a Spanish book. However, it does teach about culture and communication.

In Acts, there are discussions of cross-cultural communication between Jewish and Greek people and ideas. In the Gospels, the parables are great examples of effective cultural understanding mixed with story-telling. And the Sermon in the Mount shows Jesus’ mastery of understanding where people are coming from (“You have heard it said…”) and then speaking thoughtfully into that context (“But I say…”). Perhaps Luke 15 for Spanish Language Learners or The Sermon on the Mount for Cultural Engagement would work well. 

The teacher could have the students take note of Jesus’ understanding of Jewish cultural things (like receiving an inheritance). This could “translate” to the importance of understanding the cultures of those around us (particularly Spanish speakers). Students could learn the vocabulary of the parable/sermon (and potentially some syntax) as well. Additionally, they could have a project where they read/teach the passage to younger kids in Spanish. 

These activities could be great integration opportunities. They could show how Jesus notices and loves those around Him. And they would naturally (not artificially) get students in the biblical text in Spanish. And it would prepare students for real-world experience (like missions trips to Honduras or other local connections with Spanish speakers).

Basically, a structure like this could help Spanish learners learn to love their neighbors and to speak/read Spanish at the same time. This certainly is not the only way to integrate. But I think it could be effective. And I think it might work in many areas. 

As I have said before, this is just an experiment. But it might be a fruitful one. We shall see.

Mark for Worship Leaders and Luke for Historians: Integration Ideas

I am trying something new: working to try to integrate a class by starting with the Bible rather than with the class material. Instead of trying to show how my class material connects with the Bible, I will try to show how the Bible connects with my class. This is a subtle shift, but it may prove significant. We will see. In this post, I will explain why I chose to interact with Mark’s Gospel for my class. And I will discuss how Luke’s Gospel might work well for history classes. Finally, you can see a draft of the first chapter of Mark for Worship Leaders. It’s still a work in progress, but it might help you to think about how you might apply these principles in your class. 

Finding the Right Book for Me

Mark for Worship Leaders makes sense for many reasons, but my primary reasons for choosing to engage with Mark were: 1) Jesus’ description of leadership and 2) Mark’s descriptions of Jesus’ awesome words and ways. Mark 10:42-45 says,

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Mark’s Gospel naturally, intentionally, and implicitly teaches much about leading like Christ. I want my team to serve like that. We also see Jesus demonstrating his power, wisdom, knowledge, and love. All of these things should press readers toward worship. In other words, it seemed to be a perfect fit for worship leaders. That is why it will likely work well for me and my class. 

Finding the Right Book for You

The Gospel of Mark could certainly be used fruitfully for students of other subjects as well. But in this method of integrating, finding a section of Scripture that is a natural, unforced fit is step one. For example, if I were writing _______ for Historians, Ι would choose Luke. Why? Because Luke was a historian. He spoke with eye-witnesses. He purposefully conveyed particular events and not others. Some scholars make the case that Luke is the preeminent New Testament historian. Walking through his historical account of Jesus would bring important ideas to the front of mind. For example, Luke believes that God is active and involved in history. He believes in the validity, accuracy, and inspiration of the Old Testament scriptures. He carefully and intentionally lays out his presentation of history for the benefit of his readers. And he supports the event of the resurrection with historical details. We also see Jesus’ use of history in Luke. The Lord interacts with Law and Prophets. So, could students in a Christian school benefit from reading through Luke with an eye toward history and historical method? I don’t see how that could be anything but beneficial.

If you teach another subject, what book/section would work well for your subject area? Think about your area in the way that I have thought through worship-leadership and history. What sections of Scripture lead to natural, smooth, unforced engagement with your topic? 

How Does It Look? Here is the first chapter of Mark for Worship Leaders. How does it look to you? Do you think it will work well? Is something missing? Am I approaching something incorrectly? All feedback is helpful. You are investing in my students when you help me make this as good as it can be.

A (Crazy?) Integration Experiment

I am trying something new. I am planning to try to use systematic, careful Bible-reading to accomplish biblical integration in one of my classes next year. Let me explain.

I teach a praise-band class. This is a mix of leadership, music, technology, and theology. I have integrated regularly in a more typical fashion, but I find myself wanting my students to learn how to use the Bible to really think in biblically-integrated ways themselves. I want the Bible to govern all their thinking in every area. So, I am putting together Mark for Worship Leaders to be used in our class. The idea is to walk through the Book of Mark with an eye for specific applications to the work that worship leaders do. I am inclined to think that this could work in any broad area: Exodus for Scientists. Psalms for Writers. Luke for Historians. But I want to try it out for myself in my context. Here are some clarifications as I get started:

  1. I do not believe that the Bible says different things to different people. The Book of Mark is the same Book of Mark for scientists and historians and worship-leaders. But different readers might rightly apply what the Bible says in different ways. 
  2. I do not think that this is how biblical integration must (or even should) always be done. I just want to explore if it can be done well. 
  3. I do think this could be done poorly. Mark for Pet-Store Managers would be too narrow. And Mark for Electric Guitarists would be similarly problematic. It is also possible to force an artificial framework onto the biblical text. Faithful exegesis is still required.
  4. I do not expect this to replace playing music or working on technology, etc. in my class. I want this work in Mark to inform and shape those activities. This will be a tool that I use in class, not as the only part of class.
  5. I do believe that exposing students to the Bible in regular, accessible ways is a good thing in and of itself. And if it illuminates the rest of the class-content in a way that develops biblical understanding, it is a magnificent thing.

So what will this look like here on this site? For the next several weeks, I will be posting sections of my work in Mark for Worship Leaders here. Why? First, I would love to hear feedback from you regarding whether or not you think this is working. And second, I would love to provide you with food for thought so that you might consider, “Hmmm, could I do this in my class?” Could an art teacher put together a systematic reading of Genesis 1-2 about God’s creative work? Could a history teacher look closely at Luke’s historical methods and observations in writing Luke/Acts? Could a math teacher create something for their class from Proverbs’ points about perseverance and doing hard things?

This might broaden the way that teachers and students think about biblical integration. Instead of just trying to integrate courses, lessons, or units (like the American History, solar systems, or Jane Austen), students would be asked to consider subjects in larger/wider ways (like science/discovery as a whole, or storytelling in general).

Or… this might not work at all. That’s why I am calling it an experiment. Look for the first section or Mark for Worship Leaders soon. 

Finding Time for Learning: Integrated IDeas

In the last article, I made the case that teachers must be learners. I encouraged teachers to set goals for making intentional progress. In this article, it is my intention to give some practical advice for how to build habits of learning into a busy life. As a parent, I grasp that school-work isn’t the only kind of busyness that we wrestle with. But many of us have more time to learn than we might think. We just have to know where to look. Below you’ll see a few ideas with some related biblical themes. 

Audio Resources

Audio books, podcasts, and audio Bibles are powerful tools. Why? Because you can learn while you do something else. Do you drive to work? Turn on an intentionally selected audio book. Do you wash dishes or vacuum? Put on some headphones and listen to a podcast on the topic that you’d like to learn more about. Do you walk, run, or do some other form of exercise? You can listen then as well. When our hands and eyes are occupied, we can still learn. I am often able to get between 20 and 40 minutes of Greek study done each workday through listening. I use this time to listen to Bible passages (at a slow speed), to review vocabulary, and to work on other elements of my reading.

Use your time well. Listening might make you a more equipped academic disciple-maker.

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. – Eph 5:15-16

Habit Bunching

If you can attach learning to any regular habit, you can make learning a regular habit. If you eat lunch every day, could you spend the first five minutes of lunch reading a book or watching an educational video? Do you regularly consume media? If so, you could make it a rule that you will not watch a show or log into your social media until you have done ten minutes of intentional learning. Your future self will thank you. (Five minutes per day adds up to over 30 hours in a year. That is three-quarters of a work week.)

Recognize the value of incremental growth over time. 

6 Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!

7 It has no commander, no overseer or ruler,

8 yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. – Prov 6:6-8

Partnership

Some people find most success when they learn in a group. There is no rule that your learning must be done alone. Could you set up a weekly book-club with a colleague? You could read a chapter per week and discuss it for 15 minutes. Many people could fit in 15 minutes per week. Likewise, you might be able to do something similar with your spouse or roommate. Partnership in God-honoring growth can foster healthy accountability and urgency. 

We are not in this alone. Let’s help each other do good and do well.

23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Heb 10:23-25

Classroom

I recently saw one of my legendary fellow-teachers working through a training that she was going to implement and use in her class in the near future. She was learning so that she could teach better. And she had a specific timeline in mind. Her goals weren’t about a fuzzy future; they were about the next week. If you build your lessons so that they require growth and development on your part, you will do what it takes to learn. Building learning into your lesson planning is a great way to ensure progress (just don’t over-do it!). And it is a great way to always be striving to help our students in the best way we can.

When Jesus sent out the Twelve, He told them to go and do what He had taught them to do. They learned from Him and they were not meant to just sit on that knowledge, empowering, or experience. They gave to others what God had given to them. And they gave to advance the kingdom. As we work to advance the kingdom, we want to give our students what God is giving to us.

Use what God gives you to give to others. We grow to help our students grow.

5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. – Matt 10:5-8

Note: It’s okay if you don’t hit your goal. We are aiming for progress over perfection. I mentioned in the last article that I am trying to spend 400 hours on Greek this year. Is it possible (likely?) that I will only hit 350? Yes. Will that still be good? Yes.

Final note: These are all great ways to learn, but the most important thing to learn is the Word. If you do not currently have a personal, regular time of Bible reading and prayer, consider how you might use the ideas listed about to implement that. If we want our students to grow in Christ, we must model that for them. 

Learning Teachers = Learning Students

We all want our students to grow. We want them to learn. So what do we do? We teach. That is good. Explicit, directed instruction is essential. However, I want to suggest that if we want our students to learn, we must be learners. We must model this for them. And the beginning of a new year is a great time to set some specific goals. 

I have many learning-related goals and I am not going to bore you by listing them all here. But I am going to highlight a few. I hope that my goals will be food-for-thought that helps you create your own goals for your context, situation, available time/energy, and personality.

What one thing will I do this year that will make me better as a teacher in general?

One of my ongoing goals during the past few years has been to become a better teacher of reading. Confident, experienced readers are in a powerful position to continue to learn. Teachers understand the axiom that after learning to read, students read to learn. A bulldozer can dig deeper and faster than a spade. I want my students to have bulldozers for reading. I want them to be able to access, understand, and evaluate content. I want them to be excellent readers.

So, I am investigating “Readers’ Workshop” in more detail this year. And I am trying implement elements of it and experiment with what works best. I have long been a fan of the workshop model, but there are specifics about Readers’ Workshop that I need to learn more about. Specifically, as a Bible teacher, I want my students to increase their abilities to read the Word of God for understanding and application. Students who can’t read well can’t read the Bible well.  

What is one thing that you can do this year to help you improve generally as a teacher? Can I suggest that advancing as a biblical integrator can be a great goal? Think about reading a good book on integration or academic discipleship. Consider working with a partner to talk through your syllabus or course design. 

What one thing will I do this year that will make me better as a teacher in a specific subject area?

I am pressing hard to develop greater proficiency with the biblical languages this year. My biggest goal is to increase my reading proficiency in Greek. As a Bible teacher, it has become increasingly important to me to be able to read the Bible better in the original languages. Since this is a skill, I have designed a system for daily practice. My goal is 400 hours of deliberate practice this year (2022). Thankfully, this goal is not isolated to my teaching. I love reading the Bible. And I love learning about how to do it better. So the 66 minutes of required work each day feels fun to me. Yes, learning/practicing a language is work. But hard work can be fun. This is especially true if it is meaningful personally, tied to vocational goals, and leads to worship.

Now, your goal doesn’t need to take you 400 hours. Four deliberate hours might make a big difference in some areas. But regardless of the time-commitment, you should be growing in a specific subject area. And you should be doing it on purpose. 

What’s your goal for growing in a specific subject area? Maybe it’s reading a biography of a person in that field. Perhaps it’s taking an online training or going to a conference. Maybe it’s getting a new certification. The options are endless.

Let me finish this article with a little-known secret: People often like their work better and are more passionate about doing it well when they are good at it. A learning teacher is often a more satisfied teacher. And a learning teacher is modeling growth to students. And a teacher who sees students growing will be an encouraged teacher. Your learning will help you and your students. So plan it. Organize it. And do it. It will make a difference. 

The Teacher as Evidence of God’s Power: Biblical Integration

Teachers strive to set a godly example for students. We want to say, with Paul, “Follow me like I follow Christ!” (1 Cor 11:1). However, we often (always) fall short of the standard. When Jesus teaches, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” we realize that this is a ladder with the lowest rung infinitely out of our reach (Matt 5:48). And this is not an obscure idea that we have misinterpreted, but a central theme that runs throughout the whole text of the Bible. Here it is fleshed out with more detail:

As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Pet 1:14-16).

Be perfect. Be holy. And do it for, and like, the all-perfect God. This standard is too high for us. The ladder is out of reach. But thankfully, it is not out of reach for Christ. His ability to meet this standard and to raise us up to it should motivate us to praise Him:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Eph 1:3-4).

He chose us to be holy. It is his plan. I can’t do it, but He can. And He will:

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil 1:4-6).

How does this work? How can I do this impossible thing (be perfect and holy)? How will God finish this work in us? 

Augustine offers clarity in a prayer which says, “Grant what Thou commandest, and command what Thou dost desire,” or “Father, command what you will and grant what you command.” God tells us to be godly and then, through his power, he gives us the ability to be godly. He grows us. He lifts us up. He polishes us. He refines us. His means, methods, and timing might not always appear linear or logical to us, but they are good and they are for our good.

So what kind of example can we offer our students? Not perfection in ourselves, but someone who is being perfected. We are testimonies of his power in our weakness. We are pictures of progress through his caring might. 

We are evidence. Evidence that He is alive because He is alive in us. Evidence that He is powerful because He is powerful to change us. Evidence that He is kind and forgiving because we celebrate his kindness and forgiveness toward us.

We are saved by grace. It is his work. And we are sanctified by grace. It is his work. 

There are many helpful apologetics for God’s existence, goodness, activity, and power. But we must not neglect this one: our students can see Him working in us. Here are some starting point activities that might help you showing them how He is working in you:

  • Apologize to your students when you have messed up. Humble apologies without self-justification are so rare. Why? Because true humility is a gift from God.
  • Share some of your storyline. Tell students about a struggle (in an appropriate way) and tell them about your journey toward holiness. You can share even if you are not there yet.
  • Ask students to pray for you in the midst of a struggle or challenge. Let them know and see that you need the power of God in your life.
  • Discipline in a way that leads to “seek and trust God,” more than “be good boys and girls.” Growth over laws. Repentance over box-checking. 
  • Share your goals: “I really want to become more gentle and meek so that I can represent Christ better,” or “I am praying that God will help me to listen more,” or “I am actively seeking to be thankful every day.”

Why might activities like this make an impact on our students? Because they teach that He will supply what He commands. And He will get all the glory. As Augustine said:

You he crowns with compassion and mercy; and even if your merits have preceded you, God says to you, “Have a good look at your merits, sort them out carefully, and you will see that they are my gifts” … When you depart from here you will receive according to what you deserve, and you will rise again to receive what you have achieved. Then God will set the crown, not so much on your merits as on his gifts. Whatever he has given you, if you have kept and preserved it, he will recognize.

So we can tell students, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” What we are saying is, “Follow me in growth, in progress, in sanctification. And He gets the glory.”

Academic Discipleship for Greatness: Biblical Integration

What do we want our students to become? Reading the Christmas account in Scripture, I saw a clear answer to that question in a description of John the Baptist. In Luke 1:14-15, an angel tells Zacharias about his future son: “He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.”

This is what we want our students to become: great in the sight of the Lord. Not great in the sight of peers. That would be fine. Not great in the sight of certain institutions. That would be nice. Not great in the sight of the general public. That would be good. But there is a bigger, better, higher goal: great in the sight of the Lord. This means that our schools must be invested in discipleship. 

If this is the goal, we should be able to examine all of our activities, processes, and expectations to see if they assist in helping the students reach the goal. Now, I am not saying that academic elements are unimportant. Schools have an academic responsibility and exist for academic reasons. But Christian schools exist for academic discipleship. This must be our focus, our obsession, our singular aim. Therefore, I think it is wise to ask: Is [this activity/process/expectation] accomplishing a discipleship aim? 

Again, I am not saying our schools must be Sunday Schools. I am saying that our schools must be Christian schools. 

Let’s get back to the angel’s description of John: “He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.” What made John a joy to his parents? What made his birthday a joyous time for many? Well, it wasn’t his style or diet. His prophet-uniform and crunchy proteins were not mainstream. It wasn’t his circle of friends. He seemed to grow up to be somewhat isolated. It wasn’t the fact that he was loved by all. Religious people didn’t like him and a powerful politician jailed and killed him. John was a joy to his parents and to others because he was great in the sight of the Lord. 

What kind of greatness are we teaching? Standardized test scores matter. Social skills matter. Influence can be meaningful. Skills are crucial. And the list could go on and on. But we know what we are after. We want our kids to be great in the sight of God. That is all that really matters. That is the end-all-be-all. And joy flows from that. 

So let’s check our practices. Let’s check our goals. Let’s check our motivations. And let’s adjust, refresh, and retune so that, when we return from Christmas Break, we are even more prepared to help our students grow in informed godliness. We want them to be great in the sight of the Lord.