Approaches to Integration: Contributor

Biblical integration is a teaching task. That means that approaches to integration can be as unique and varied as teachers themselves. There are some best-practices of biblical integration, but there is no one-ultimate-way to integrate. Different teachers think differently. Different subjects might emphasize different things. For the next several weeks, I will be highlighting different approaches so that educators can explore their options. This will only be introductory (rather than a deep-dive), but I hope that you will try out some new ideas and see if you can make improvements. 

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The Contributor Approach to biblical integration is significantly different from the approaches discussed previously. The biblical-theology and worldview approaches hinge on the teacher using a grid of questions to structure well-organized lessons that lead toward specific truths. However, the contributor approach is different; instead of leading directly to truths, it leads to questions. 

You see, throughout life, students will not always have their teachers to guide them in biblical thinking. Therefore, it is important to teach young people to ask the right questions so that they can teach themselves. In other words, the aim of this approach is to help students learn to learn. 

So how can we do this? What does the contributor approach look like? 

The idea is to lead students in a form of directed freedom. Think of directed freedom as giving students an overarching task, but allowing them to have freedom in how they go about it. This allows them to explore, try things, make adjustments, and be creative. Here are a few ideas:

1) Academic Content Creation: Asking students to include biblical-integration as part of an assignment. For example, if your students write a book review or paper, create a project, or develop a presentation, you can ask them to include biblical integration in that work. Tell them what you are looking for and include the integration in your grading rubric. They could be asked to search the Bible for connections, develop a biblically-formed analysis, or demonstrate the truths about God that they learned. 

2) Class Discussion: After introducing a new topic in class, ask the students leading questions about how this content points to God, discipleship, brokenness, etc. For example, if a PE teacher introduces a game that requires teamwork to the class, that PE teacher could then ask, “This game requires teamwork to succeed. Can you think of any other areas of life in which teamwork is needed in or to succeed?” This could lead in many directions: family/relationships, the church, communities, etc. Or the PE teacher could ask, “We can tell who is on our team in this game by looking at the uniforms. How can we tell who is on our team in life?” This could lead students to talk about beliefs/convictions, willingness to sacrifice, and more. Another idea would be for the PE teacher to ask, “There is a difference between a good and a bad teammate. If someone is distracted or unwilling to work, that causes a problem in our game. What makes a good teammate in life? Do you think you are a good teammate? Why?” And the discussion would move ahead from there.

3) Practical/Real-Life Engagement: Different classes are passionate and equipped in different areas. Some course material opens doors for moving outside of the class environment. One class, upon learning how to address envelopes, might be asked to send a letter of encouragement to someone in their life. This gives them freedom to choose whether to write to a parent, sibling, friend or pastor. They are contributing. Another class, upon learning about the justice system, could choose to pray for those who are incarcerated by using the tools provided by Prison Fellowship. As you can see, these activities are teacher directed, but students have varying levels of freedom to engage as they think is best. They can use their own will and choice to make an impact.

There are many other ideas that we could discuss, but the main idea of the contributor approach is to give students the opportunity (and expectation) of participating in the process of biblical integration. Many of these ideas are low-stakes and variable which generally sets them up as formative assessments. This approach might not be sufficient on its own, but it can supplement other approaches and help your classroom come to life. In addition, it helps the students learn to take responsibility for their own biblical thinking… and that is worth working toward. 

Key ResourceFormative vs. Summative Assessment from Carnegie-Mellon University

Do you think that this framework would work well in your class? Why or why not? Have you used it in the past? How did it go?

Next time, we’ll look at the Perspectives Approach to Biblical Integration.

Tell Your Story: Biblical Integration and Your Life

You are not a teaching robot. You cannot be replaced by an instructional video on YouTube. You are more than the information you know. You have more to offer than learning strategies, rubrics, and assorted dry-erase markers. You are not just a disciplinarian. You are not just a lesson-planner. No. You are more than all of that. 

You are a person made in God’s image. You are a child adopted into God’s family. You are a soldier in God’s army. You are a missionary sent into a needy mission field. 

Do your students really know you?

Do they know how you got where you are? How you’ve grown? Do they know what you are learning today? Do they know why you are passionate about teaching? Do they know the areas of your teaching that excite you about God? 

In 1 Thessalonians 2:8, Paul said to the church there, “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” Paul was not willing to be a mere preaching robot. He was more than a content delivery system. He loved the church in Thessalonica so much that he shared the gospel (yes, yes, yes!) and his life. 

I know that you love your students. I know you want them to have the gospel. So if you hope to share life with them eternally, start sharing your life with them now. Of course, you need to do this in an age-appropriate and thoughtful way. 

If you want to be a great academic disciple-maker, show your life. Biblical integration is a teaching action that rightly unites biblical truth and academic content in your class. Your life is one of the vehicles through which this can happen. The instructor is part of the instruction. So don’t be afraid to show your integrated life. It will make your material come alive. It will grow relationships. It will impact your students’ lives through the power of God and for the glory of God.  

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 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.

5 Strategies for the Middle-of-the-Year Struggles

As schools enter the middle of the third quarter, things can seem to slow down. We are nowhere near the start of the year, but we aren’t near the finish either. Paperwork, grading, meetings, and other time-consuming tasks keep piling up. In times like this, it can be easy to become frustrated, worn down, or disenchanted. However, the middle of the race is just as important as the start or finish. Here are five steps to take to fight well in the long middle:

1) Remember your purpose. You are serving in a Christian school to point students to Christ. The students have just as many needs in now as they did in September. The newness of the year is gone, but the needs are the same. You are here to love them, point them to Jesus, and show them an example. Don’t get tired of doing good (Gal 6:9).

2) Wait on the Lord. You may have had big plans for the year. And many of those plans may have never gotten off the ground. Others may have not worked the way you wanted. But remember, God does not operate according to our schedules. While teachers love to manage our time well—with bells, quarters, periods, etc.—we must remember that, ultimately, time is not ours; it belongs to God. And He is not messing things up. He is not wasting this year. So be patient. Wait on the Lord (Ps 27:14).  

3) Seek his face (Ps 27:8). Prayer and Bible reading are keys to a vibrant relationship with God. Have you let these essentials slip as the year has continued on. Find a colleague to pray with. Lock into a meaningful Bible-reading plan. You can’t give the students something that you don’t have. We all need to be filled so that we can fill others.

4) Reflect on God’s grace. We are not successful because of our ingenuity or systems or effort. We are successful in ministry when God moves. Revival is when God uses ordinary means to bring about extraordinary results. Salvation is when God uses his gospel to bring dead hearts to life. Transformation is God applying his perfect power to our imperfect lives. Do you notice the theme of all these things? They are all the gracious work of God. Remember that.

Remember. Wait. Seek. Reflect. And finally, expect.

5) Expect that God will do a mighty work for his name and for his glory. As Asaph prayed in Psalm 79:9:

Help us, God our Savior
  for the glory of your name.

Sin, Satan, and Biblical Integration: Our Arguments Matter

Here is a very small sampling of the messages that our students hear regularly:

“Follow your heart!”
“You just do you.”
“Struggle is bad.”
“You’ll never be any good. There is just no point.”
“More is better than less.”
“You are the captain of your fate.”
“The most important thing about you is what others think.”
“You would be happy… if only you were taller/smarter/better/etc.”
“Just do it. No one is watching. No one will know.”
“The only person you have to please is yourself.”
“The most important thing about you is your grades/happiness/sports/popularity/mentions.”
“Things will just work themselves out in the end.”
“You are on your own.”
“Only you can give your life meaning.”
“You’ll have time later. Put it off.”
“If you have less than me, you are less than me.”
“Whiter teeth, newer cars, trendier clothes… these are the building blocks of happiness.”

Satan and the world argue that these things are true. And they argue ferociously. There is no better advertiser than the devil. He pretends to be an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). Satan pretends to be something that he is not to sell something he doesn’t have. Couple his work with the what the world uses — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16) — and we have an even more difficult situation. The sinful nature uses the power of love to lead us astray by aiming hearts designed for pleasure in God toward pleasure in the flesh, the eyes, and in this life (1 John 2:15). Satan and sinfulness are always arguing to convince our students to buy into a lie. They are making their cases without rest. And their cases lead to destruction. This is why the teacher must enter the fray too. We have been tapped to represent God, his ways, and his truth. We have been chosen to combat the lies of the enemy with better arguments.

Thankfully, our Lord has not left us here to fight for Him on our own. He has given us his Spirit. He is working through us. John didn’t just describe the power of worldliness, but also of God in us, saying, “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world,” (1 John 4:4). And God is not interested in fighting to a draw. Our God never ties a match; much less loses. He cannot be stopped. And He chose us to accomplish his unstoppable plan. We were chosen for his work, “having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,” (Eph 1:11) we know that He will do it.

So, make his case. Argue, argue, argue with your students on behalf of God. (Remember that arguing is not about an ugly exchange, but making a logical case.) Lovingly argue. Compellingly argue. Consistently argue. Biblically argue. That is what integration is all about. You are arguing from math, science, English, and art that God is God. You are using the evidence of your subject to show your students the truth. Truth. The world doesn’t have that. Satan doesn’t have that either. But you do. You do. The enemies of God are making their case. Are you giving your life to making God’s case? Does your classroom reflect that?

 

Thanksgiving and Biblical Integration

In Every Bush is Burning, I make the case that Christian teachers, among other things, should be incarnational. Simply stated, being incarnational means putting flesh and bones on the gospel for your students. Jesus, God incarnate, brought the perfections of God to earth when He came as a man. We can never do this as effectively as Jesus did, but, as his followers, we want to show the goodness of God in the clearest, best way that we can. We imitate Him.

The Thanksgiving holiday is right around the corner and it should remind us to demonstrate gratitude to our students. Do they see us as thankful people? Christian education can be hard, but 1 Thessalonians 5:18 reminds us to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

No matter how busy we are… No matter how tough a certain student might be… No matter how many other stresses we have going on in our lives… we are called to gratitude. Our piles of grading in no way diminish the reality of the gospel. When we allow our circumstances to dictate the level of our thankfulness, we are implying that our situation shapes our lives more than the gospel does.

It is okay to struggle.  Life is often hard. But let’s struggle while thankful. Show your students the power of the Good News through your attitude of thankfulness. Your integrated lessons will sink in deep when the ground has been saturated by your integrated life.