Teaching in and for the Kingdom
We often think of school as a place where we gain knowledge. For example, students learn things which they can write down in answer to questions in examinations or they learn abilities which allow them to carry out tasks or produce things. These knowledge and skills are often seen as important so they can enter a suitable career. But such an aim is too limited.
Nicholas Wolterstorff, a Christian educator from the USA, believes that one of the most important aims of education should be to develop people who act responsibly. For Christians this responsibility is threefold: towards God, towards other people, and towards the world.
To achieve such an aim a number of outcomes are necessary. To act responsibly students need to develop knowledge — to learn those things that are true about God, people, and the world. They also need to develop abilities — those things that will enable them to do what is required if they are to act responsibly.
However, these are not enough. It is possible for students to know a great deal and to be able to do skillfully many things but never to use this knowledge or these abilities. It is also possible for such people to use these things for evil purposes. A person with great management skills could use these to run very well a charitable organisation or a criminal gang.
To act responsibly, a third outcome, which Wolterstorff calls “tendencies” or “dispositions”, is necessary. These are related to the things people value, and so provide the driving force for them to use their knowledge and abilities for right or wrong purposes.
Tendency learning is related to the development of character and this is one of the most difficult areas of education. In many schools it is neglected because the outcomes are difficult to assess. It is also neglected because the pluralistic nature of our society has led some people to believe that it is not possible to identify tendencies which will not offend someone.
One approach advocated by Christian educators is that of character formation. This is best carried out through modelling by the teachers and the school community. Those values which are identified as most important are shown in how the teacher behaves and should also be discussed in the classroom. Even if tendency learning is not explicitly taught in a school, students will inevitably learn tendencies by how the teachers act.
Another concern for Christian teachers is what they see as their main function. For some, it will be building up God’s people. They will generally be teaching students who already live in a community which values what the Bible says about what is important. They will see themselves as servants of God’s people, equipping them to know the truth about God’s world, to be able to do what is necessary to honour him, and to possess the tendency to glorify God in all that they do.
For others the focus will be in helping people who are not Christians to know Jesus as Saviour and Lord. Such teachers will be involved in teaching people who do not know much about the Bible, and who do not value those knowledge, abilities and tendencies that Christians value. Certainly many of these students or their parents will not have as any sort of priority to glorify God.
This is not to say that these emphases are in any way exclusive. A teacher who teaches God’s people will also be concerned to communicate the gospel to those who do not know it. The teacher whose main focus is evangelism will also be concerned to nurture Christian students in the class.
There are several types of school to send children to or teach in. One of the most rapidly growing areas is that of the Christian school in which a great deal of control is invested in the parents. For many this is seen as an expression of the body of Christ concerned primarily with the nurture of Christian children.
For teachers who see their role in building up Christians this type of school is an excellent context in which to use their teaching gifts. However, one of the dangers is that the school could isolate children (and their teachers) so that students do not learn a great deal about the world in which they will eventually live and work. This is not an inevitable problem but one of which such schools and their teachers and parents should be aware. However, if all Christian teachers saw their calling only fulfilled in Christian schools the mission field of the non-Christian school would be left largely to the mercy of the world.
The fact that education in government schools must be secular — that is, by law, particular religious positions must not be promoted by government-employed teachers — is, for many Christian parents and teachers, a problem. However, Brian Hill, an Australian Christian educator, believes it is important for Christian teachers to serve in government schools. He provides helpful advice for the way they can carry out their task in these circumstances.
The first priority for a Christian teacher, he suggests, should be to centre his or her life on Christ — to obey Jesus’ command to “come” before he or she obeys His commend to “go”. Hill then suggests that the Christian teachers should be conscientious and good colleagues and friends to those with whom they teach.
He also points out the importance of identifying with other Christians in the school (whether they be staff or students) and engaging in fellowship and mutual support. There should be involvement in visible outreach and service in voluntary settings (such as through ISCF groups) within the school. Finally, he encourages Christian teachers to be involved in the development of curriculum documents to ensure that a Christian voice is heard and that non-Christian or anti-Christian perspectives do not dominate.