In his book, The De-Valuing of America, former Secretary of Education, Bill Bennett, exposes the mediocre performance of American educational institutions and their inability to produce students who can compete world–wide. The reason he gives for the American educational decline is that many educators have forgotten the purpose for their school’s existence. Statistics show that American people, when asked what they want from their schools, consistently put two tasks on the top of their lists: first, teach our children how to speak, read, write, think and count correctly; and second, help them to develop reliable standards of right and wrong. It is especially in this second goal that American education has failed our children, Mr. Bennett argues.
What if we, who are founders and supporters of Christian schools, were called to self examination and asked ourselves the same basic question, “Why do Christian schools exist? How are we doing at shaping and producing students who can not only read, write, think and count correctly, but who also make their good works so shine that others see and glorify our Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:16; 1 Peter 2:12)?”
I recently read through a 10-year reunion booklet of a Christian high school. The school is a great school with adequate facilities, committed faculty and strong parental and church support. The reunion booklet gave opportunities for former students and faculty to recount the most memorable events, as well as provide current updates in their own lives. It was enjoyable and at times humorous to read some of the stories of former students’ experiences. It sounded like they had a good education and enjoyed it as well. However, as I read through all of the students’ most memorable moments, I noticed that very few spoke of things pertaining to their faith! Most of them spoke of the business of work, children and other activities (some of them church activities). A small percentage of the class did relate current events in their lives with a Christian perspective. One that I won’t forget was a student who wrote, “Still loving Jesus and growing day by day.” My point is not to call into question the faith of the other students or teachers who had no response in the booklet. I simply want to encourage and . help those directly involved with Christian education (teachers and students), to bring enthusiasm for the Lord right up there with reading, writing, math, sports activities and other extracurricular activities associated with Christian education. Let’s ask ourselves, “How are we doing at achieving the purpose for a Christian school?” Surely there is more to a Christian school than just reading, writing, arithmetic and sports. It seems to me that there is a fourth “R,” so to speak, for Christian schools. That “R” is Righteousness.
In a Christian school students have the privilege to learn not just from a teacher, but a righteous teacher, who knows and loves Jesus. Students today need and long for teachers who can give them more than just the 3 R’s of education, more than just morals. They need teachers who speak of their love for Jesus, relate the struggles and hardships of cross-bearing with the love, grace, strength, peace and mercy that our Father gives us day by day. They need teachers who will inspire and encourage them to be strong and courageous in letting the light of Jesus shine ever so brightly in this dark, dark world! So, I present as a means of encouragement and challenge to those who influence children in Christian education, our characteristics of a righteous teacher. Or in other words, back to the basics in describing a righteous teacher.
A RIGHTEOUS TEACHER LOVES JESUS
First, a righteous teacher is one who loves Jesus! In John 21:15 Jesus asks Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” How skillfully Jesus led up to this question. Peter and the disciples had decided to go back to fishing. They were “skunked” as modern day fishermen would say, because they had caught absolutely nothing. Jesus highlights this by calling out to them from the shore, “Haven’t you any fish?” Then He tells them where they can catch the fish. A simple reminder that, apart from the Lord, no matter what their plans and efforts be they can do nothing (John 15:5). Jesus gives them another reminder in the miraculous catch of fish and in the breakfast He provided—so reminiscent of the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus is able and does provide for our needs! For Peter, however, other reminders were painfully clear (vs. 17). The fire of burning coals, together with Jesus’ question repeated three times whether he loved Him, surely brought Peter back to a time when he stood around another fire (John 18:18). Jesus was letting Peter know the Lord’s forgiveness. What great reasons to love Jesus! He guides us, supplies our needs and forgives us all our sins.
Jesus then challenged Peter: “Feed my lambs.” That is the essence of Christian education. Notice He said, “Feed.” Jesus is not calling us to entertain them or let them “feed” wherever they please, but to feed and nourish them with the milk and meat of God’s Word (1 Peter 2:2–3). Students need to be instructed about the variety of subjects concerning God’s world from a Biblical perspective.
Notice also how Jesus describes them: “My lambs.” I know a family that lost a young son. Were it not for the grace and kindness of our Father, and the loving support of the family of God, the grief would have been unbearable. Certain material things that in and of themselves would be of little value, became very precious to them simply because their son loved those things. Jesus loves His lambs! That is why these students are so important to their teachers. Sometimes teachers are challenged by unruly, misbehaving, inconsiderate and difficult students (mine were). What keeps a teacher going, day in and day out, year after year, feeding and instructing students, especially the challenging ones? Why do men and women give up more lucrative careers and job opportunities to spend so much of themselves and their time with these little ones? Simply because righteous teachers know that Jesus loves these little ones and they love Jesus. What is precious to Jesus is precious to them. Righteous teachers know that without the Lord they can do nothing. They know that Jesus is able to provide all that they need in feeding His lambs. They know that they have been forgiven all their sins by Jesus, and challenged to love and feed His lambs.
A RIGHTEOUS TEACHER LIVES A GODLY LIFE
Second, a righteous teacher lives a godly life! I remember listening to a man who was sent out to the west coast to a public school in Oregon. The reason he was sent out was because this school was so overrun with gangs that it could no longer function as a school. The gentleman recalled how he sat in a room with one of the gang leaders who had a pistol in his coat pocket. The gentleman asked him one question, prefacing the question with a request to answer honestly or don’t answer at all. Here was the question. He asked: “What do we have to do to make sure the next generation doesn’t grow up to be just like you?” The gang leader responded: “Basically three things. Number one, parents don’t care about their kids. They don’t spend time with them; they don’t discipline them; they don’t show interest in them; and that’s why they join my gang. Number two, the criminal justice system is a joke.” He went on to say how much kids can make selling drugs in one week, and if they get caught they get penalized with fines and other forms of punishment that don’t deter them. “Number three: God and the Bible, nobody talks about God, the Bible, right and wrong.” So much for “values clarification” that was introduced in the early 1970’s in public education! But what a fascinating, honest answer! This gang leader was echoing the very wisdom of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 12: “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth.” In other words, even a gang leader in a public school recognizes the need for godly men and women if we are going to make a difference for the next generation.
Do you remember how Daniel lived in a day and age when men and women were so proud of themselves and their accomplishments? When people were doing what was right in their own eyes? Daniel lived a consistent godly life! In Daniel 6 we read how some jealous satraps couldn’t find anything to accuse Daniel of unless it pertained to the law of his God. Daniel wasn’t corrupt or lazy. Wouldn’t that be great if that were true of all Christians? What did Daniel do when he learned that a decree had been issued stating that there was to be no prayer for a month unless it was to king Darius? We read that Daniel continued to pray regularly, humbly, thankfully, honestly (aware of danger, he asked God for help [vs.11], but also openly. We read that he had his window open toward Jerusalem. He knew he could be seen. Yet in spite of the danger, he lived his godly life in full view of those around him. We need more Christians like that today! We especially need teachers and leaders who live such godly lives that students can see it clearly!
Barry Taylor used to be the sound engineer for a rock band called AC/ DC. Barry Taylor became a Christian while on tour with the band. A friend of his became a Christian and used to write Barry and tell him about the Lord. Barry bought a Bible to prove his friend wrong and show him that he was mixed up. But God convicted Barry as he read the Bible and other Christian literature such as C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. While on the bus, in between tours, Barry wanted to surrender his life to the Lord. He wanted to pray but didn’t now how! He remembered a prayer that his homeroom teacher would pray at the beginning of each school day. He prayed that prayer asking God to change his life. Today Barry Taylor is active in full-time Christian ministry bringing the good news of Jesus Christ. It was a teacher, who openly prayed, who consistently prayed for God’s blessing on the school day, that God was pleased to use as an instrument in converting Barry Taylor. Who knows what great things God is doing and will do with Christian teachers who not only love Jesus, but who openly live godly lives?
A RIGHTEOUS TEACHER LEANS ON THE LORD
Third, a righteous teacher leans on the Lord. It was 1982, Eastside High School, Patterson, New Jersey. The district attorney called Eastside High a caldron of violence and terror. Enter, Mr. Joe Clark, a new principal with a determination to put an end to the drug dealers, troublemakers and low performance at Eastside High. Mr. Clark was strong on discipline in a school that had very little to begin with. He made a successful effort at knowing the students on a first name basis and took interest in their school work and personal lives. Mr. William Bennett, Secretary of Education at the time, went (Q visit Eastside High. He was surprised to see the difference in the school. He witnessed students who showed respect for country and teachers and even sang spirituals at school assemblies! But it was overwhelmingly noticeable how much admiration the students had for their principal, Joe Clark. One girl was asked, “Is Mr. Clark tough?” She said, “Yes, he’s tough, but he is good lough. He cares about us, and we need him.” A movie was made about Mr. Clark and Eastside High, called, “Lean on Me.”
To lean on someone of course is to look to someone for help and to TRUST them to help. Righteous teachers and Christian schools are not immune to adversity and sorrow. But righteous teachers know they have a Father in heaven who is infinitely wise, perfect in His power and infinite in His love! They know that at times He is tough (Hebrews 12:10–11), but He is “good tough, because He cares and we need Him.” They not only know this themselves, but they labor to pass this on to the children in front of them everyday. They don’t know what these children will face in the future, but they know that these students must lean on the Lord. Blessed is the student who has learned from his or her teacher to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding, but in ALL your ways to acknowledge the Lord, who will make your paths straight” (proverbs 3:5–6).
A RIGHTEOUS TEACHER LEADS CHILDREN IN PRAISE
Fourth, a righteous teacher leads children in the praise of the Lord! Unity Christian High School in Orange City, Iowa has a great story to tell. Their basketball team won the state championship—quite an accomplishment! But that isn‘t really what made their year so great. What makes their story great is the witness the basketball team displayed during a welcome-home rally after the championship game. The team surprised nearly everyone in attendance by announcing that the team wanted to sing! They proceeded to sing the hymn, “Jesus is More Precious Than Silver and Gold.”
What got into those boys? A history teacher told the team before they left for Des Moines to play the championship game, “Win or lose, God is good!” What a powerful lesson especially appropriate from a history teacher! With teachers and students like that, it is not surprising to learn that Unity Christian High also won the sportsmanship trophy chosen by state-wide media. The choice was based on the behavior of the school’s players, cheerleaders and fans during the week of championship play.
In 2 Chronicles 20, a “vast army” was threatening Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah. After seeking the Lord through prayer and fasting, Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah received word from the Lord. They were not to be afraid or discouraged because the battle belonged to the Lord. In other words, they were to lean on the Lord. God commanded them to march out against this vast army, take up their positions, stand finn and watch the deliverance of the Lord. Jehoshaphat appointed singers to go out before the army praising the Lord for the splendor ofHis holiness. We read that they sang, “Praise ye the Lord! His mercy endureth forever.” In other words, praise the Lord; He is always good! The people of Judah did not take a “wait and see” attitude before they praised God; they praised Him on the way, in the midst of danger, as well as after the victory!
Children and young people today need teachers and schools who will lead them in praise of God, win or lose! My neighbor across the street is a high school biology teacher in our local public school He is an active Christian. I will never forget the day I asked him to go with me to our local jail and preach the gospel He agreed to go but was very nervous. On the way, he told me that he was concerned about meeting an inmate who was recently convicted of first degree murder and will be sent to a state prison for the rest of his life without parole. That inmate was a former student of my neighbor. I thought about the possibility of our meeting him and assured my neighbor that he had nothing to worry about. There were too many inmates in that jail for him to come to our worship services. I will never do that again! About 5 minutes into our second service, between two holding cells, came this young man and he sat in the front row! He was literally a handshake away from his former teacher! After the service, my neighbor and this inmate were talking to each other through the bars. What do you as a teacher say to a former student in that kind of a situation? You tell him: win or lose, God is always good; His mercy endures even today! You tell him or her the gospel, because when sinners are awakened to their sin and misery, they are in the position to see the deliverance of the Lord in their own life.
I don’t know how much students will remember 10 years after they graduate from Christian schools, but surely we could be thankful to God if, included in their most memorable moments, were teachers and fellow students who taught them how to love Jesus, live godly lives, lean on Him, and win or lose, praise Him for God is always good! May God bless our Christian school teachers who labor to feed the Lord’s lambs. May God bless our students so that they may want to know Christ, and the power of His resurrection, and His love which surpasses knowledge!
Rev. C.J. den Dulk, pastor of the Sparta CRC in Sparta, MI, delivered this address to an audience of Christian school teachers in Lynden, WA.