Be a Leader Worth Remembering: Biblical Integration and Example

As a biblical integrator, you are speaking God’s Word to your students. In the classroom, you help them see that Jesus is Lord and that all things are his. Every Christian educator is a leader because we are leading our students to rightly see and savor Christ and his gospel in many different areas of life. And as leaders, our lives are meant to be on display.

Hebrews 13:7-8 calls Christians to notice the lives of their leaders, saying, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

Students should be able to look to your life and remember the ways that you have taught the Word to them. Further, they should be able to see the outcome of the way we live out our faith and want to imitate it because the true Christian life is attractive. This does not mean that they see a cushy, no-problems life when they look to us. The author Hebrews points back to Jesus here to help us see. Just one chapter earlier, he called believers to fix “our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross” (Heb 12:2).

Jesus’ life was hard and painful, but it was aimed at the joy set before Him. We too might experience hard things in this life, but, like our Ultimate Leader, we are aiming for joy. Our students should understand how to follow Jesus because they see us doing it.

In Hebrews 13:6, we read: “So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’” Martin Luther answered that rhetorical question in the closing lines of his most famous hymn with a challenge:

Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill;
God’s truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever.

That is the kind of leader that students will remember and emulate. Why? Because that is a picture of the Christ-like leader. Jesus let goods and closeness with the Father go when He left Heaven to pursue us. He laid his mortal life down and allowed mere mortals to kill Him. He did this knowing the power and truth of God. He was confident that his kingdom is forever. Jesus has accomplished everything for us, and He calls us to follow his example. He is the Leader of leaders.

So how do leaders follow Christ? Verses 15-16 of Hebrews 13 offers part of the answer:

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

We give Him praise continually. We openly profess his name. As a biblical integrator, your course becomes an auditorium of worship as you point students to his greatness, goodness, and presence. And we put these truths into action when we do not forget to do good and share with others.

Students will not quickly forget a teacher who openly professes Jesus with words and follows Christ’s example with action. This is the kind of leader worth remembering. Will you follow Christ by being that teacher this year?

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Teaching Students to Pray

Christian educators have the great privilege of teaching students to pray in the classroom. It is heartbreaking when I hear high-school students who have grown up attending Christian schools tell me, “Ummm… I don’t really know how to pray.” We have around 180 opportunities to explain, model, and encourage our students in prayer during a school-year. Since God is a real Person who hears and loves us, it is imperative that we develop our students’ ability and desire to pray. Here is a simple outline of how to start.

First, offer a strong definition of prayer. Give students a target.

John Bunyan, the famed author of Pilgrim’s Progress, offered one of the best definitions in I Will Pray in the Spirit (1662). He said,

“Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God hath promised, or according to the Word, for the good of the church, with submission, in faith, to the will of God.”

Note that prayer is 1) sincere (you mean it), 2) sensible (you understand it), 3) affectionate/passionate (attached to the emotions), 4) Trinitarian (to God through Christ by the Spirit), 5) scriptural (attached directly to God’s Word as written), 6) for the church (not only self-focused), and 7) submitting (desiring God’s will in all things).

During a 9-week span, it would not be difficult to focus on one of these items for a week at a time and then review them. Many students have been taught that prayer is “simply talking to God,” and, while that is true, we must explain how we should go about talking with God.

Second, model prayer for the students.

It is one thing to talk about something, but another to demonstrate it. Think about the difference between explaining a slam-dunk to a student and having someone demonstrate it. It is important for them to see what prayer looks like in real life.

It might be wise to take a moment to explain one element of Bunyan’s definition and then to show it. For example, you could tell them, “It is important that we don’t pray out of a dead ritual or school tradition. In the Bible, God says that He hates it when we do religious things, but don’t really care about Him. That is why our prayers need to be sincere. So, as I pray, I am going to be real with God and ask Him to help us focus and learn today so that we can understand a little bit more about how great He is through [math/science/reading/etc.]…” At at point, you would model a short and clear prayer to show the students how to do this.

Third, encourage students to pray and encourage them when they pray.

Don’t let your students be spectators only. If they are believers, they are not just students—they are your brothers and sisters in Christ. Give them opportunities to speak to God in your class. Show them that prayer is not an adults-only activity. And when they do pray, make sure to build them up. Thank them. Make biblical connections to what they prayed. Help them develop a scriptural framework. Overall, try to create a pro-prayer culture in your class.

So how does this discussion on prayer relate to biblical integration? Here are a few answers:

  • If we really believe in the God of the Bible, we will pray to Him.
  • If what we learn about God in our classes (that He is involved, present, active, powerful, caring, wise, etc.) is true, we should pray to Him.
  • Christianity is not just knowing about God, but knowing Him personally. So speaking to Him in prayer is important for our relationship.
  • If we never speak to God, it may show that we think He is not listening, not important enough to talk with, or not real.
  • Most importantly, God listens and responds to our prayers. Therefore, biblical integrators should be seeking God regularly in prayer.

Ethics: Biblical Integration and a Better Answer

Reading is a powerful biblical integration tool. Reading widely can give a person wider understanding of the world. It can broaden horizons. For example, I may never live on a whaling ship, but reading Moby Dick can help me understand some of what that was like in the past.

Memoir and autobiography are two related genres of reading that are especially powerful in this way. There is value in reviewing a person’s actions, but even more in getting a window into that person’s mind.

Over the past few days, I have been reading a memoir called Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School. The author, Philip Delves Broughton, offers insight into his experience pursuing an MBA there from 2004 to 2006. Early in the book, he tells of a meeting called by the administration to discuss ethics. His time at Harvard took place immediately following the Enron scandal which was carried out, in large part, through the leadership of a Harvard MBA graduate named Jeff Skilling. The school recognized that they needed to respond to this news and address ethical issues.

Harvard Business School needed to answer the question, “How can we point our students toward ethical decision-making in a world filled with corruption?”

Sadly, HBS, while elite, had an astonishingly weak understanding of ethics. Broughton recalls the school saying, “Ethical lapses… were sometimes necessary to survive… Behaving ethically in business was less about following a set of graven principles than about adapting to changing situations in as decent a way as possible.” Harvard made the case that the problem with being ethical is not that we are selfish and sinful. Instead, the problem is on the outside, and we need to try to survive in this messed up world as best we can.

In the same way that I am unlikely to be a whaler, I am unlikely to set foot into Harvard Business School. However, this window is helpful… and disturbing. The plan to recover from an ethical shortcoming of an alumnus was to tell students that the world is a hard puzzle, so ethics must (at times) be bypassed. Further, they said that ethics were not set in stone, but were situational. There are no real standards of right and wrong. On top of that, the goal of ethics is not to do right, but to try to simply be as decent as possible.

While a Christian school may not hold the elite status of a Harvard in the eyes of the wider culture, it has something better. The Christian school has the even more elite status of teaching in accordance with the Word of God which has been written out for us (some of it literally graven into stone). The Christian school has the gospel. This is the primary difference between the HBS view of ethics and the biblical view–the gospel.

When confronted with the guilt of a graduate, Harvard told its students that the problem is on the outside. It called them to try harder, to do their best, and attempt decency. But they needed to remember that the standard was too high to for them to realistically follow it. When confronted with guilt, the gospel agrees that the Law is impossible for people to follow; we don’t earn God’s pleasure by trying to be good or ethical (Rom 3:10-12). But the gospel does not say “Try harder!” It says to look to Jesus and live.

Jesus told this to Nicodemus in John 3:14. To illustrate his point, Christ brought Moses to mind. Back in the wilderness, the people had turned against God and, as a result, they were attacked by a plague of venomous snakes. When they had been bitten, they did not need to get their life together to be made right. They did not need to work or try harder. No. All they were asked to do was look up in faith at a statue of a bronze snake that Moses had lifted up. The people simply needed to look in order to live. In the same way, Jesus said that He would be lifted up so that everyone who looks to Him in faith would live too (John 3:15).

The Christian school has a strong answer to the question, “How can we point our students toward ethical decision-making in a world filled with corruption?”

First, we understand the corruption: we have all been bitten by the snake of sin and we are all dying because of it. The problem is on the inside. Second, we see the solution: Christ has accomplished righteousness for us on the cross so that if we look to Him we will live. Finally, we see the outworking: the Christian looks to live in ways that please Christ by the power of Christ. God is the One who empowers us to live ethically so that our choices demonstrate the powerful work of God (John 3:21). For the lost person, the law of God shows us how sinful we are (Rom 3:20). For the believer, we consider ourselves dead to sin (Rom 6:11), so we seek to follow God’s ethical standards in order to become more like Him and represent Him with our lives (Rom 6:22). That is a much better answer to the question than the message that Harvard offered its students.  

Biblical Integration: These Classroom Tools Can Help You

Biblical integration is not the task of a teacher trying to artificially make connections from a particular subject to Scripture. Instead, it is “noting, investigating, and celebrating the connections that already exist through Christ.”

As an instructor, you can help your students explore and engage in this type of study themselves. Send them on a mission. Support them as they go. Therefore, it is wise to stock your classroom with resources that can help you partner with your students in the process. (Note: You do not need to go out and buy all of these. They are just some ideas. Some might click with you more than others.) Along with a Bible, here are some of the tools that I suggest:

1) An Illustrated Bible Guide (I suggest The Bible Explorer’s Guide because it is loaded with pictures and bite-sized facts.)

This type of resource will work well in classrooms of all ages and subjects. However, it is especially helpful for younger students so that they can be free to explore and engage their imaginations with biblical truth.

2) A Good Theology Book (Grudem and Frame have good options if you can support students with guidance. They also offer shorter, easier-to-read versions of their work–Christian Beliefs and Salvation Belongs to the Lordthat can be given to inquisitive MS/HS students to interact with on their own.)

When students have questions about a particular biblical topic, you can point them to a resource to help them explore.

3) A Go-To Place for Your Questions (GotQuestions is a good website for this.)

When a student asks a biblical/theological question, it is a good instructional strategy to do some research together. Just search your question (Ex: What is the Trinity?) into the search box and see what comes up. This can help you have an environment of exploration in your classroom.

4) A News/Culture/Politics Resource for MS/HS Students (WorldMagazine is one of my favorites. It has good online content (free), but the paper copies would be good to have physically in your room if possible.)

If students can see the the Christian worldview brought to bear on the pressing issues of the day, it will widen their thinking and strengthen their convictions.

Conclusion: Four Reasons to Look Into These Resources for Your Classroom

  • Having material that you can (generally) trust on hand is very valuable when students have questions.
  • Having this material in view can spark ideas and questions in students who see it.
  • Having this material available can be useful in reading time (for younger students) and research (for older students).
  • Having this material can give you and your students a common point of reference for ongoing discussions.

Cultural Attack on Biblical Truth: Practice for Integrating Teachers

“The Golden Rule is terrible relationship advice… It’s the worst relationship advice, like, ever.” So says Jennifer Furlong at a 2017 TED Talk event held in Florence, SC. [Note: The linked video momentarily displays a Facebook post with a profane word in it from 4:30-4:37.] The Golden Rule is a scriptural mandate (Matt 7:12; Luke 6:31) so there is going to be serious conflict between Mrs. Furlong and the Christian.

What makes the Golden Rule so “terrible” in her eyes? Here are a few elements that she mentions: 1) It is good for kids, but not for complex issues that adults deal with in our relationships, 2) People have different ideas about what it means, and 3) It makes us think about ourselves rather than others.

What does she suggest people use instead? The Platinum Rule: “Treat others the way they want to be treated.”

**Before reading on, take a moment to think about how you would respond to a student who shared this idea in your class. Imagine that some of your students attended the TED Talk on Evans St. and came back with these ideas. How would you deal with this worldview conflict?**

There are myriad ways to respond, but I will offer one basic observation and then five good ideas that might work well with different students:

Observation: This all boils down to a misunderstanding of the Golden Rule. It does not mean, “If I want vanilla ice-cream, then I should make you eat vanilla too.” Instead, the person practicing the Golden Rule would recognize that some people enjoy certain desserts and others do not. The Golden Rule is an attitude that seeks to notice, understand, and serve others. The Platinum Rule can be understood as an application of the Golden Rule. That would resolve any tension. The problem arises when people look to replace clear biblical teaching with a more culturally acceptable version. Now… on to some ideas for responding to students who might come into the classroom with this idea.

1) Biblical Response (Good to use with students who are believers and have a high view of God)

To say that a command in the Word of God is “terrible advice” is dangerous. This is especially true since Jesus says in Matthew 7:12 that the Golden Rule sums up all the Law and Prophets. Therefore, to cut out this teaching is to undermine the whole Bible.
Who are we to say that God made a mistake? If there is conflict between what He says and what we say, we are certainly wrong. It seems unwise to say that the One who knows everything made a mistake.

2) Logical Response (Good to use with students who are critical thinkers and may not be strong in their belief)

Is it really wise to always give people what they want? Sometimes love means not giving a person what they want. Sometimes love says, “No.” A child might be afraid of the dentist and say, “I don’t want to get my teeth cleaned!” But the loving response is not to give in, but to stand with the child, reassure her, and help her learn to handle scary situations.
Beyond that, how do we even know that individuals want to be respected and cared for? Because we want to those things too. In other words, the only leg that the Platinum Rule can stand on is actually the Golden Rule.

3) Practical Response (Good to use with students who are trying to figure out how things work in the real world)

What would it be like if everyone did unto others as they wanted done unto them? Every student wants an A in your class. Should you give it to them? Also, in some situations it might be very difficult to know how a person wants to be treated… that is, unless you use the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule, contrary to what Mrs. Furlong says, actually gives us a reference for how we can treat others well.  

4) Genetic Response (Good to use with students who need to know why people think the way they do)

As often happens, this TED Talk took a reasonable idea and then took it too far–it became something it was never meant to be. Dr. Tony Alessandra, who wrote the book on the Platinum Rule, is complimentary of the Golden Rule. He says he believes in that Golden Rule “110%… when it comes to values, ethics, honesty, consideration, etc.” So if he believes in the Golden Rule, why does he promote the Platinum Rule? Because when he moved from NYC to San Diego, he learned that he need to manage his employees as San Diegans rather than New Yorkers. If he treated everyone as if they were just like him (a New Yorker), he would have problems. His idea of the Platinum Rule was to: “Talk to people in ways that make it easy for them to listen. Manage and lead people in ways that internally motivate them to want want to follow.” That sounds an awful lot like the Golden Rule. He may not think of it this way, but his Platinum Rule idea is just the Golden Rule applied to differences between people. Mrs. Furlong ran with this idea so far that she said the Golden Rule is terrible relationship advice.

5) Identity Response (Good to use with students who need to better understand who they are in Christ)

God created mankind in his own image (Gen 1:26-27). Therefore, when we do unto others as we want them to do unto us, we are pressing into the reality that God made us like Him. In other words, the Golden Rule means that we should treat others with dignity and respect because God made all humans in his image.
In Luke’s account of the Golden Rule, the context is loving one’s enemies. The goal of the teaching is to help those who will listen show kindness to all. Even our enemies are made in his image. In Matthew’s account, the Rule is at the end of a passage about God’s goodness in answering prayer. He is a kind and giving Father. Therefore, we should be kind and giving to one another.

As an integrating teacher, are you ready to handle to worldview conflict that students will bring to your class? They need you to be.

Example is Key in Biblical Integration

We have a monumental responsibility as Christian teachers leading Christian students. Now, I am sensitive to the reality that many of the students that attend Christian schools are not followers of Christ. But some are. And just as we have the responsibility to point the lost to Christ, we have the responsibility to point the believers to an accurate picture of a life of follow-ship. Luke 6:39-42 speaks to this topic:

[Jesus] also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

There are a few principles that must stand out to the biblical integrator here. 1) Who we are influences who our students will be. 2) It is foolish to call students to a life that we are not living. 3) Disciplining ourselves keeps us from hypocrisy. 4) Hypocritical teachers lead students (and themselves) to fall into a pit.

My school’s Policy and Procedure Manual contains a great statement about the high school’s curricular goals. It says, “Training in worship, in righteousness, and in ministry is not considered ‘extra’ curricular… Rather worship, training in righteousness, and ministry are at the core of our academic curriculum and are the very foundation of our purpose.” This is a strong statement and it makes me smile. But it also calls me to a serious inventory of myself as a teacher: Is worship, righteousness, and ministry the “very foundation” of my life? Am I living the life that I am calling my students toward?

Paul called the Corinthian church to follow him just like he followed Christ (1 Cor 11:1). Part of what made him an effective teacher was that he was a living example for those under his care. Let’s not be teachers who will not be taught. It is much easier to help students by removing their specks when our eyes are free of planks. Beyond that, students are much more likely to allow us near their specks when they can see that our eyes are clear. We must be able to say, “Follow me like I follow Christ,” and lead them so that neither they nor we will fall into a pit.

So, take some time to take an inventory. Identify your planks and specks. Renew your worship. Seek righteousness. Serve the Lord. After all, your students’ lives are on the line—“everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.”

Five Steps for Understanding the Bible

The Bible is a book written over thousands of years on multiple continents in several languages by many people. It includes parables, history, prophecy, poetry, letters, and more. There is significant historical and cultural distance between believers today and those who initially heard the Word. These are just a few of the realities that can make understanding the Bible difficult. Since the Bible identifies itself as a sharp sword (Heb 4:12), it is necessary for those who read it to know how to handle it correctly. The following list contains five steps (and some follow up ideas) that can help you read and grasp what God says through his Word.

1) Careful Reading
Ask yourself, “Have I carefully and thoughtfully read through this passage? Can I sum up what the author of the text said in a clear/concise way?”

Tip: When reading, we are striving to understand the author’s intended meaning. When we comprehend what the author meant to say, we are on the right track.

2) Context
Ask, “Do I understand where this fits in the big story of the Bible? And do I grasp what was going on immediately before and after this passage?”

Tip: Never read a Bible verse… always read a paragraph at minimum.

3) Characters
Ask, “Who is involved in this story? Who is speaking? Who is being spoken to?”

Tip: When the Bible uses the words you, we, us, etc., we need to know who is involved. For example, in 2 Tim 4:13, Paul says, “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.” But we know that this is a command to Timothy, not to us today.

4) Consistency
Ask, “Does my understanding of this passage line up with the truths from the rest of the Bible?”

Tip: If our understanding does not align with the character of God, the nature of the gospel, or the greatest commandment/commission, we are off track.

5) Connection
Ask, “How should I act, think, or be in light of what this teaches about God, his world, and my relationship with Him?”

Tip: Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7), so one of the best connections that we should always look to make is to improve our understanding of who God is. We will respond in a life of worship when we see Him for who He really is.

PS: Some people find it helpful to organize this under a three-step inductive approach:

I propose reading in three steps—information, understanding, and action.

1) Information: What does this passage say? Sum it up in your own words.
2) Understanding: What does it mean? Why does it matter? What does it say about God? What universal principles can be found here?
3) Action: What should I think, do, or be in response?

Mark Strauss recommends these four questions: 

(1) Where is this passage in the larger story of Scripture?
(2) What is the author’s purpose in light of the passage’s genre and historical and literary context?
(3) How does this passage inform our understanding of the nature of God and his purpose for the world?
(4) What does this passage teach us about who we ought to be (attitudes and character) and what we ought to do (goals and actions) as those seeking to reflect the nature and purpose of God?

Mark L. Strauss, How to Read the Bible in Changing Times: Understanding and Applying God’s Word Today (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 78-79, Kindle.