Enjoying Your Calling: Biblical Integration

Christian school teachers are on a mission — a beautiful, powerful mission. We don’t just make lesson plans, grade homework, or engage with challenging students. Yes, we do those things, but they are all part of something bigger: academic discipleship. 

When we are involved in our work, we are also involved in God’s work. We are pointing students toward truth and wisdom. We are teaching them to see and stand in awe of the God who made and ordered this world, designed us with all of our unique gifts and talents, and who has given us the ability to learn and love Him. This is hard work. But we must not forget that it is also wonderful, meaningful work. As Solomon said, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings,’ (Prov 25:2). 

I wanted to share this message with you in the middle of summer because good work can still be draining. The job that we do is hard. I was tired after the past school year. But after stepping back from school work during June, my excitement for next year is budding and blooming. Breaks are good. They can let us catch our breath. And they can help us take a moment to remember why we really do what we do.

So let me remind you of something obvious and essential: You are not involved in Christian schooling for the paycheck. You are not invested in Christian schooling because you want to stay busy. You are not engaged with Christian schooling because no other options panned out. Yes, you likely need to get paid, want to stay busy, and want to make the best use of your gifts. But the core reason that you are teaching, administrating, organizing, or supporting educational ministry is because 1) God has made his glory known in the universe that He has made, and 2) Every person is made to be satisfied by God alone. The ministry of academic discipleship — your job — brings these two things together. This means that you are not employed in a boring, 180-day-long work of rote teaching. Instead, you are deployed on an exciting, 180-day-short mission of life-giving exploration and discovery. 

So take a little time to remember the truth about your work. God has called you. Your effort matters. You are a tool in the hand of the Almighty. You have been given the gift of walking with students and pointing out the glory of God at every turn. Remember those things, rejoice and enjoy. God is with you. God will use you. Smile because He has called you to highlight his glory amongst eternal souls made in his image. 

And as you begin to open your syllabus, unit plans, and other materials for the upcoming year, plan to enjoy that you are not just teaching math, English, art, or gym —- you are teaching Him. What a gift!

Times of Trouble: Showing Biblical Integration

The end of the school year can be full of challenges — full schedules, important ceremonies, time-crunched grading, performances, meetings, testing, and more are happening throughout time. This is an important and good part of the year, but it also comes with particular hurdles and stresses. However, discussions about these times of trouble are not missing from God’s Word. Psalm 46:1-3 says:

God is our refuge and strength,
   an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
   and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
   and the mountains quake with their surging.

And the end-of-year teacher’s psalm might go like this:

God is our refuge and strength,
   an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the classes misbehave
   and the piles of grading are as deep as the sea,
though the emails roar and fill our inboxes wave-after-wave
and our schedules quake with their surging.

The end of the year is not the ultimate rough season. It cannot be compared to family struggle, cancer diagnosis, personal failure, loss of a friend, or many other immense pains. But it is a real time of trouble — not a Category 5 hurricane; perhaps a Category 2. But it is a storm nonetheless. And this time of trouble opens a wonderful door for us to model biblical reliance, trust, prayer, and seeking for our students.

You see, each of them experiences times of trouble too. And they need to see how to weather those storms through the power of God. They need to know that they can run to God, our Fortress, when the overwhelming armies of busyness and inadequacy are laying siege. They need to see that they can run to God, our Refuge, when life’s winds blow hard. And they get the opportunity to see that in us.

The end of year is a season that comes with inherent challenges. Show your students what it looks like to turn to God in these times. Times of trouble = opportunities to trust God.

The Sons of Korah penned Psalm 46 to show the people how they ran to God. We can trust that the Lord is our help too. Beyond that, we can show that awesome truth to our students. This is a chance for us to show and tell. And we can help them clearly see that the Sons of Korah spoke truth for all God’s people in verse eleven:

The Lord Almighty is with us;
   the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Biblical Integration at the End of the Year: 3 Keys

The school year for most of us is coming to an end within the next few weeks. That statement might stress you out or invite your soul to shout with joy. But, in any case, the end is near. And, as is the case with most things, the end is just as important as the beginning or middle. So how can you finish your year of biblical integration with a bang? Here are three keys:

1) When you review your content, remember to review your biblical integration too.

If you highlight academic content apart from integration, you are dis-integrating the material and undermining yourself and your students. The end of the year is an inflection point. Students can see if you were serious about what you said all year by seeing what you prioritize at the end. Show them that you prioritize their relationship with, understanding of, and love for Jesus.

2) Include key integration on your end-of-year assessments.

What are the big takeaways about God, self, the world, and following Jesus that you want your students to walk away knowing? Think back on the big ideas of your integration and prioritize the most important truths, questions, processes, etc. Then, put those in your final exams, projects, or activities. This is how you can signal that these are keys. This is how you can ensure that your students understood these ideas. And this is how you can see how well they learned the year’s integration objectives(which will allow you to improve your integration next year).

3) Encourage, personalize, challenge, and tease.

Let your students know that their pursuit of God and godliness does not end at the end of the year. Thank them for growing and learning with you. Share how you were challenged personally. Ask them to keep growing with you over the summer. Point them to a good resource or two that they can follow up with (a website, an article, a conference, a church event, a video, etc.). And then, engage their curiosity with a tease. Offer them a trailer that makes them excited for sequels like American History: A New Democracy or Third Grade: Multiplication Strikes Back or English 103: Return of the Essay. Obviously, those titles are silly, but the point is that their journey doesn’t end at the end of this year. Try to keep your students excited about learning God’s world and God’s Word as they move ahead.

Finish your year with intentionality. It will go a long way in the discipleship and growth of the students you have cared for all year long.

WRONG WAYS TO THINK ABOUT BIBLICAL INTEGRATION: PART TWO

This is the second post in a short series about some of the mistakes that we can make concerning biblical integration. The goal is not to point the finger at those who struggle in these areas, but to address some real struggles so that we can serve God and our students more effectively. False dichotomies are at the root of these issues—we think that we must be this or that. However, as you will see, that is not always the case. (Note: this list starts at #3 because it is a continuation what was started in the previous post.)

Wrong Way # 3: Biblical Integration requires the teacher to be a Bible-expert.

The false choice here is between knowing something and knowing many things. A teacher does not need to be an expert in order to be an excellent teacher. Parents don’t have to be world-class cyclists to help their kids learn to ride bikes. Math teachers do not need to understand the deepest, most intense new ideas and theories in the field to help students thrive in geometry class. Likewise, you do not need to be a Bible expert in order to be effective in helping your students to know and follow God more. Conclusion: Yes, we should all keep learning, but we do not need to know everything in order to successfully teach something.

Wrong Way # 4: The point of biblical integration is Bible knowledge.

Knowledge is important in education, but it is far from the only important thing. Art and music classes are excellent examples of courses that often prioritize application and understanding over information. A student may learn a certain musical technique in ten seconds, but spend the next ten weeks perfecting it. In the same way, biblical integrators in all subjects can feel free to focus on how their material illuminates, expresses, or applies worldview issues. In your class, teach the knowledge that the students need for your subject area. This will mean that a specific set of biblical truths and ideas will be discussed. However, the scope of the biblical knowledge you teach  should not outdistance the academic content that is being integrated. Science class must remain science class, and music class must remain music class. The biblical knowledge/principles/foundations should support the class-material so that students can understand God’s world better through God’s Word. Conclusion: The point is not Bible knowledge, but biblical understanding that leads to biblical thinking and living.

Wrong Way # 5: The teacher needs to do all the integrating.

We can fall into the trap of an unnecessary dichotomy here when we think that, in integration, the instructor must always tell the students how to integrate. As you know, the point of a class is not for a teacher to teach, but for students to learn. We don’t celebrate the moments where we taught well unless we recognize that the students are learning well. Therefore, as you approach biblical integration, your goal is to help the students become integrators themselves. You won’t be there to do it for them over the long-term. They need to see how things fit together in God’s world—and you can show them that at times—but that is not the end goal. The ultimate goal is that they would learn to see and understand the world, their own lives, and everything else in light of who God is and what He has said. Therefore, it is appropriate to ask questions that make them become integrators. You can  require them to explore the Scriptures and seek truth. Conclusion You don’t need to approach biblical integration ready to teach all the good answers. Instead, you can come armed with good questions and wrestle alongside your students.  

Wrong Ways to Think About Biblical Integration: Part One

In their introduction to Teaching and Christian Practices, David I. Smith and James K. A. Smith make an important statement:

“When conversations about pedagogy do occur among Christian faculty, it’s all too common to find them uncritically reflecting tired dichotomies (such as lecturing versus group work) or currently fashionable slogans (such as brain-based or student-centered learning) rather than being informed by explicitly Christian reflection,” (5).

Biblical integration, though a good and necessary practice, can likewise be uncritically considered and practiced. Therefore, the aim of this post is to lead to some critical reflection on some incorrect ideas about biblical integration that stem from unhelpful dichotomies. This list is not exhaustive, but here are a few wrong ways of thinking about integration that stem from unnecessary, false choices.

Wrong Way #1: Biblical Integration requires that I take class-time away from the subject and replace it with Bible study.

The unhelpful dichotomy here would sound something like this, “I only have so much time in my classes. Therefore, the more we integrate the less we interact with our math/history/science/etc.” The problem here is simple: if we think that our biblical integration is something other than our class content, or if we believe that it is in a separate category, we are missing the point of integration. Our biblical integration should never subtract from meaningful, helpful academic class-time. Instead, it should engage our students as they explore, create, analyze, or solve. It provides needed context and content for every legitimate course of study. For example, try to study slavery or the Holocaust without wrestling with the ideas of human dignity and worth, ethical foundations, or power. Conclusion: It’s not academics or integration, but academics through integration.

Wrong Way #2: Biblical Integration requires me to whitewash over the challenging, confusing, or controversial elements that might arise in class content.

The artificial conflict here sounds like, “This is a Christian school, so we can’t talk about bad/evil things. We have to protect our kids from hearing about all of that.” Now, we do have a responsibility to protect our children. We are responsible for their safety and well-being—including their spiritual well-being. However, often their well-being might depend on us preparing them for things that they’ll need to wrestle with in the long-term.

For example, I would not speak to a 3rd grader and a 10th grader in the same way about gender dysphoria and transgenderism in science, history, ethics, current events, or other classes where that might rightly come up as a topic of instruction. I might speak to my 3rd grade student and say,

“We live in a world where some people are confused about being a boy or a girl. When sin came into the world, it affected everything and caused lots of problems and pain. As Christians, we need to love everyone, especially those who are hurting, struggling, or confused. We want to help them understand the truth about who God made them to be. Can you think of a place in the Bible where God talks to us about what to do when we are struggling or confused? Can you think of a place where God tells us how to treat others who are having a hard time?”

When speaking to a 10th grade student, I might start the discussion by saying something like,

“There is a condition that psychologists call ‘gender dysphoria.’ This means that some people are feeling tension between who they are on the inside and who they are on the outside, and this causes distress. As Christians, we know that the Fall affected the world so that it is now disordered. All humans are disordered in serious ways—you and me too. And this is a particularly difficult and contentious area because it is a hot-button issue and a real struggle for real people today. Can you relate to, or empathize with, feeling distress about who you are and how others see you? Can you think of how the Bible might speak to issues related to disorder, the results of sin on the world, and how we can love people well while holding to the truth?”

Instead of glossing over this challenging issue, biblical integration helps the students engage with it in appropriate, biblical ways. Conclusion: The best way to protect our kids is to help them think biblically. The world is more than ready to have the hard conversations with our students, but it is our responsibility to prepare them, engage them, and correct them so that they can succeed in the long-term.

In my next post, I’ll address other wrong ways to think about integration like:  “Biblical Integration requires the teacher to be a Bible-expert,” “The point of biblical integration is Bible knowledge,” and “The teacher needs to do all the integrating.”

Biblical Integration in Real Life: Part Three

Recently, I sent out a short, anonymous survey to the some educators. My goal was to collect information on how real teachers and administrators are perceiving their growth and struggles—What’s working? What continues to be a burden or weight? This post is part three of a short series that interacts with a few of the successes and struggles that came through in the results.

I was encouraged to see responses that shared the value of well-planned integration. These comments sounded like, “Integrating my syllabus and the design of my course really helped me as a teacher.”

We all know that excellent planning makes our courses easier and better. We are accustomed to mapping our curriculum, carefully selecting our books and assignments, meticulously designing our assessments, and thoughtfully reviewing key ideas and points. Your biblical integration should play a role in all of these areas. And when it does, you will find your work of academic discipleship easier and better. Biblical integration makes your work more fulfilling and meaningful. Therefore, thoughtfully planning your integration will serve you, your students, your school, and your God well.

A few teachers asked a question like this one: “How do I deal with the unbiblical ideas or conflicts that arise from time to time in our worldview discussions?”

I know that teachers are already capable of correcting and redirecting students so that they can grow. This is a core part of the teaching job so I am not going to dig deeply into the classroom management side of this. You know when to pull a student aside, or have a class discussion, or to let something go. However, I do want to point out some specific unbiblical ideas or trends that you need to be aware of. These ideas permeate much of our Christian culture. Be alert so that you can notice these as they come up because they are harming many of the kids that we are serving. These four key areas are worth engaging with directly and preemptively. Don’t be afraid to speak about them as they arise naturally in your classes. If one student is struggling a particular area, it is likely that many others are as well.

  1. (An Uninformed) View of God. One teacher shared a story about how a student responded to being corrected for doing something wrong. The student said, “It’s not my fault; God made my hand do that!” It seems that this student was sure that God was powerful enough to control his hand (which, of course, God is), but the student was missing something about the moral goodness of God. We live in a culture that often pits God’s attributes against one another. As we work to share how our students understand themselves and the world, the best thing that we can do is to help them see God for who He really is.

**One cultural culprit here is selective teaching of the Bible. Instead of teaching the whole counsel of God, many schools, Sunday Schools, parents, and even churches only teach selections of the Word of God. This, naturally, leads to incomplete, incoherent, and incorrect views of who God really is. In your class, try to engage with the character and characteristics of God as they are described throughout the sixty-six books. 

  1. The (In)Sufficiency of Scripture. I talk to many young people who want to hear God speak to them. They want to know God’s will for their lives. However, they are not willing to commit to hearing the Scriptures even though they tell us God’s will (1 Thess 5:18) and make us ready for every good work (2 Tim 3:17). The Bible gives life, points us in the right way, gives us wisdom, keeps us from sin, and more (Ps 119). God has spoken through the Bible. And He still speaks through the Bible. His Holy Spirit has perfectly put together his words, and when we read them, He is ready to apply them to our minds. But we must teach our students to open up that Bible in order to hear God’s voice. The Bible is the one and only place where you always know that you are hearing God speak. Our consciences can be wrong. Our inclinations can be misinterpreted. Visions or dreams may be from God, or they may not. But the Bible is right—always. And the Bible is 100% from God.

**A representative cultural culprit here is the Jesus Calling material that has been so popular. This series has exacerbated the belief that God’s Word is not enough for his people. Here is a good article by Tim Challies about some of the major problems with Jesus Calling. But in essence, Sarah Young, writes personal messages on the behalf of God because the Bible left her wanting more. Her book (and its spin-offs) are best-selling. We can see that she hit a nerve with this feeling, and it is important that we address that feeling for our students.

  1. (Self-Focused) Prayer and Prosperity Gospel. God loves his people. God loves to listen to his people. However, God is not in the business of giving us what we ask for unless it specifically aligns with his will. 1 John 5:14 is key here: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” And we must remember Jesus in the garden pleading, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done,” (Luke 22:42). The Father, in love and in perfect wisdom, did not give Jesus the first part of what He asked for—the Father still sent the Son to drink the cup. However, the Father did this out of love since it resulted in worship (Phil 2) and joy (Heb 12) for the Son. God loves us enough to say, “No.” He loves us enough to give us suffering, pain, frustration, and heart-ache for our good.

**One big cultural culprit in this area is the Christian movie, fiction, and music industry. Many, many Christian movies have been infamously off the mark. For example,  Facing the Giants is a feel-good movie, but teaches a bad theology on prayer and suffering. Of course, God can provide free vehicles, state-championships, and children for his people. However, our trials in this broken world are often the things God uses to make us like Him (Jas 1, Rom 5). And we must remember that we aren’t meant to be satisfied and at home in this life. We are aliens. We are called to deny ourselves. We are to pick up crosses, lay down or lives, and follow Jesus into suffering. Don’t Waste Your Cancer by John Piper is a great corrective to our unbiblical understanding of struggles and pain in this life. (Also, there are some good, Christian movies. I really like Chariots of Fire myself.)

  1. (Dangerous) Cool People. I love listening to messages from Christian teachers from around the world on my phone or computer. I love worship music. However, access to these two things has been a mixed blessing for the church. The people writing the most popular songs are not always the ones who have accurate theology. The ones with the most downloaded podcasts are not always the ones who teach with biblical fidelity. We live in a celebrity culture. And young people are generally more affected by celebrity influence than older people. Satan loves un-truths that are mixed with truth because they are more believable. Likewise, he is pleased when we share messages and songs that are sub-gospel rather than anti-gospel. Believing something less than the truth is just as dangerous as believing something against the truth. This means that we need to have a constant awareness of what is being taught by those who are popular. My church says it like this, “Have our feet planted on the Word of God, and our finger on the pulse of the culture.”

**Cultural culprits here fall into many categories, but some of the most influential are churches that have a wide reach with teaching, music, and style, but are off-track or unhelpful when it comes to the gospel. Bethel Church is an example of a ministry that is concerning in this area. They use their influence in many good ways (some of their songs are excellent), but they also lead people astray in reading and understanding the Bible, their teaching about Jesus, their understanding of discipleship, their elevation of experience, and in many other practical ways. We need help our students follow God and listen to his Word regardless of what the cool people are saying, singing, or teaching. And when the cool people are invested in  unbiblical things, we need to help our students identify what is wrong so that they are not taken in by subtle lies and errors.

Conclusion: I know that I stepped on some toes in this article by pointing to specific books, movies, and ministries. The idea is not to stir up trouble or conflict. And I am not trying to say that these particular books, movies, or ministries are the worst. However, they are representative of a wide scope of cultural culprits that lead many off-track. We need to be able to point to error when it is being taught as beneficial. To that end, in this article, I am hoping to live out (and help you to live out) the charge that Paul gave in 2 Timothy 4:2-5:

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.  But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist,discharge all the duties of your ministry.

If you have questions, concerns, or ideas about any of this, please feel free to reach out to me. I am happy to discuss.

Biblical Integration in Real Life: Part Two

Recently, I sent out a short, anonymous survey to the some educators. My goal was to collect information on how real teachers and administrators are perceiving their growth and struggles—What’s working? What continues to be a burden or weight? This post is part two of a short series that interacts with a few of the successes and struggles that came through in the results.

Some teachers shared joy in their biblical-integration experiences, saying things like, “I love hearing and interacting with what the students think and feel about God.”

These responses encouraged me because they demonstrate that these teachers are listening to their students. Teachers must be good at delivering information, but we must also excel at receiving it. Our students feel loved, noticed, and cared for when we hear what they have to say. Essential questions are powerful because they open the door for student engagement and response. In the same way, biblical integration that gets students thinking and speaking is powerful because it allows them to be full participants in the conversation. We must allow students to be heard. Then we must, thoughtfully, respond to what they share.

Another survey response related to the question, “How can I make integration feel more natural?”

This is an important question. If biblical integration feels tacked on or supplemental, students will recognize it for what it is — extra. Therefore, the best way to make biblical integration feel natural is to build it into the DNA of your course. It is not ideal to plan all of your units, lessons, assignments, etc. and then try to add biblical content. When we do that, we are doing something unnatural. If that is where you are, don’t be discouraged. But do recognize that there is room to grow.

Instead of adding integration to our material, we should show how the biblical worldview informs and directs our work. Ask questions like:  Where did our subject come from? Why do we study it? What does this unit demonstrate about our world, humanity, God, the church, etc.? How can we use these skills be used to honor God? Where might our subject be affected by sin? Once you have identified some important questions and ideas, consider how you can best get your students to engage them as a part of the course material. Strategizing in this area can make it feel more natural. A few ideas would be:

1) Engage in a worldview-driven introduction at the start of each unit. When you begin the conversation on Lincoln, help the students connect some biblical dots related to his life, beliefs, work, etc. When you start to talk about the design of the eyeball, speak about the qualities of the Designer. Or speak to how we can wisely use our eyes.

2) Include worldview-reflection at the end of each unit. This can be as simple as asking the students to write (or speak) about what they have learned about God’s power, presence, kindness, brilliance, etc. from that particular unit. This kind of work invites them into a natural reflective type of integration.

3) Write the rubrics for your assignments that invite/require the students to integrate. If they create a paper, presentation, project, report, etc., they can show how it relates God’s Word and God’s world. This helps the students start to explore the reality that all things are God’s things. Integration will seem more natural to students when it is more usual for them to be integrators themselves.

4) Have your key integration ideas planned in your unit so that you can assess them. Teach them just like you teach the rest of the content. Biblical integration will seem natural when it is included (and tested) in a way that is congruent with the rest of the material.

Part three of this series will interact with survey responses like, “Integrating my syllabus and the design of my course really helped me as a teacher,” and “How do I deal with the unbiblical ideas or conflicts that arise from time to time in our worldview discussions?”