ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–In coming weeks, local schools will be in full swing, teaching about a world of evolution, relative truth and safe sex. Where will you be? Do you look at your local public school as dangerous and unreachable or as a field of young souls straining for the light of the Gospel?
Nothing grows on a battlefield. This may seem like an obvious statement. It may seem even irrelevant when talking about education, because for years the struggle for the minds and hearts of students has been carried out in the legislative and legal systems. It’s still important to voice our opinions and write our representatives about school issues, but on-mission Christians also should work to change the schools from the inside out by making them a harvest field — or a garden.
“We’re not fighting a battle; we’re planting a garden,” says Eric Buehrer, president of Gateways to Better Education, an organization that helps teachers, parents and students bring a Christian influence to their public schools.
How can we change the minds of educators and students if we don’t work to change hearts? Begin by thinking of and praying for some teacher or principal who is influencing your child. Maybe you’ve noticed a teenager in your neighborhood teetering on the decision between atheism and Christ, promiscuity or purity, the absolute truth of the Bible or peer pressure from his classmates.
Restricting school prayer, teaching evolution and banning “under God” from morning recitations of the pledge are all symptoms of a bleak spiritual condition that many parents say has been creeping into public education. It stems from a disregard for the biblical principles prevalent in schools half a century ago. By 1963, morning prayer and Scripture reading had been legislated out of the classroom.
In the last decade or so, talk of Christmas changed to the “winter holidays” and Easter was limited more and more to eggs and bunnies. Last year a federal appeals court ruled in favor of a California man who challenged the words “under God” in the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance, a pledge his daughter recited every morning in school. These attempts to reach “objectivity” on religion in the classroom have become antagonism directed toward Christians. Some educators are willing to talk about every belief except the one in which America and its education system are rooted: Christianity.
The challenge for on-mission Christians is to help teachers, students and parents learn the liberty they have regarding freedom of speech and freedom of religion. The need is great to penetrate the culture in this way. Often even Christian teachers will back away from speaking of a Christian heritage, although the curriculum may warrant it. For example, a lesson on American culture naturally could include the statistics that an estimated 39 percent of Americans claim to be born-again Christians, and 44 percent say they attend church regularly, according to a recent Barna poll. But many educators shy away from teaching such facts, because they fear offending a person or group who is not included in this data.
So, what does this mean for on-mission Christians eager to change the education system for Christ? While one strategy is to work among the policymakers through lobbying and other political activity, the Great Commission calls us to make disciples of educators, administrators and students.
Among the opportunities to share your faith:
— Parents can become involved by volunteering for programs such as Teach One to Lead One, leading Christian groups on campus, facilitating a Bible study or introducing students and parents to the FiSH! strategy. (See Resources, below for details.) It’s also important for parents to educate their children and the educators who teach them on the legal right American students have to pray, share their faith and speak freely about their beliefs.
— Foster a sense of partnership between you and the teacher. While you want your child to be nourished in his or her education, being salt and light to the teacher may influence other children for years to come. There are no laws against sharing Christ with a teacher, but make sure your attitude matches your belief in its measure of grace and patience.
— While educators have more restrictions when it comes to proclaiming Christ, they can still provide an atmosphere of respect for religions, they can sponsor Christian groups on campus, and they can teach about Christianity just as they teach of other religions. “If teachers are instructing on American culture, they will have to talk about its Christian roots,” Buehrer says. “Our American history is inseparable from our Christian heritage and this needs to be reflected in the classrooms.”
While teachers can’t exactly have altar calls or discussions on the Roman Road (some have abused their position and tried), showing up at morning prayer groups or after-school Bible studies can demonstrate support to the student missionaries who are in the lunch lines and locker rooms mixed among the harvest.
— Because students don’t hold positions of authority in public schools, they have the freedom to pray publicly, share their faith and participate in discussions where their faith is challenged. Peer-to-peer sharing is allowed, which is why invocations are permitted at graduation ceremonies if the idea comes from the students. Encourage your children to become involved with campus ministries as well as off-campus Bible studies and to get active in discussing their faith when the opportunity arises in class discussion.
— North American Mission Board resources: The Campus Missionary student handbook and coach’s handbook helps equip and mobilize students to be on mission on their school campuses. FiSH! is a four-week strategy for building teams of students who learn simple ways to share their faith wherever they are. Download FiSH! resources free at www.catchthis.net. Prayer Journey is a prayer strategy to get parents and other adults involved in praying for campus missionaries and their schools. Visit www.studentz.com/prayer and learn more about how you can get involved in praying for local schools and school campuses across the nation. For ideas on how to share Christ at school during the holidays, visit us at www.onmission.com.
— Get Teach One to Lead One in your community and get involved. Visit www.teachonetoleadone.org or call Celebrate Life International at (770) 529-7700.
— For more ideas on reaching educators and students in the local public schools or to order Pledge of Allegiance posters and Holiday Restoration Cards, visit Gateways to Better Education at www.gtbe.org or call 1-800-929-1163.
Reprinted with permission from On Mission magazine, a publication of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board. For more, visit www.onmission.com.