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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Be True To Your School

In my last post, I wrote about the resolution to "Develop an exit strategy from public schools" that is being proposed to the Southern Baptist Convention. Since we're trying to put together an effective entrance strategy here in Western Europe (doing the opposite of what the resolution calls for), I've decided to put myself in the shoes of someone back in the states and give some suggestions for engaging our communities through the public school system:

They aren't well-paid. They work long hours, and they are "on call" 24 hours a day. Their impact is great, but they receive little recognition. They share their testimonies and beliefs every chance they get, thought they often deal with strict regulations against openly sharing their faith. I'm not talking about missionaries to far-off places, here; this is the life of your average Christian public school teacher. Which brings me to my first point:

1. Local churches need to start treating public school teachers as missionaries. I mean it. A commissioning service, full prayer support, maybe even some financial assistance. They are doing missions by sharing life with people in natural ways. Everything they teach, every opinion they give is heavily influenced by their relationship with Jesus. We see it so clearly in foreign lands- missionaries in China teaching English classes- but for some reason we put teachers in a different category. They go through culture shock. They have to learn a "foreign" language. They have to be creative, patient, and culturally relevant. It's time we recognize that.

What if, instead of pulling out of the public school system, we pushed our way into it? What if the public school system was flooded with Christian students, teachers, and administrators?

2. We need to start sending teachers into the system. Whenever a young person asks me about becoming a missionary, I always encourage them to look for ways outside the professional missionary system. Having the title "Missionary" brings with it more barriers and obstacles than we often realize. What if we started recruiting, training, and sending young people into the public school system as missionaries to their communities? We send short-term semester and summer missionaries to rough, inner-city areas to minister, why not send qualified teachers into those schools that are desperate for teachers anyway?

3. We need to be intentional about training and sending our children to public schools. What if we trained them, even the young ones, to study the culture of their class at school? What if we prepared them to face the dangers of their particular mission field and helped them get spiritually ready to face each day in that context?

4. Parents must get involved. The public school system began it's sex education program in the fourth grade when I was in public school. My mom went and previewed the films and curriculum, and then made me read a James Dobson book to supplement what was being taught. Ok, so I don't recommend giving kids a James Dobson book, but I think she had the right idea. If parents know what's being taught to their kids, they can counter those worldly things with truth. This way, kids know what the world says, and learn to contrast that with what the Bible says.

But parents aren't only limited to reviewing curriculum. They can join the PTA, be a "Class Mom," or a Teacher's Aid. They can get on all those committees, boosters, clubs, and organizations that actually decide what the public school does. At our local school, there was a PTA committee that decided whether or not a church plant could meet on the campus on Sundays. Parents can even substitute teach. This would extend the parent's influence to reach not only their own kids, but other kids in the community as well.

5. To affect change, service is the answer. We have "work days" at church, why don't local churches organize and sponsor work days at the local public schools? The administrators are always looking for ways to save money. What if some Christians came in and raked leaves or repainted the lockers? Schools always need recess monitors and traffic controllers and crossing guards. A Bible Study group could supply refreshments for the School Board meetings. Doing these things, without expecting special favors in return and without any strings attached, would affect the local public schools for the better. What if the school administrators didn't have to see Christians as their enemies? Wouldn't it be something if, when faced with a need, the principal felt he could call the local church for help?

So I guess what I'm proposing here is that we develop an "entry and engagement strategy" for the public schools. Not so we can make them "Christian," but so we can make to most of this great opportunity we have to interact with and serve our communities. Our involvement is what will help our children. It is being salt and light.

In Western Europe, missionaries develop and implement these sorts of strategies in order to engage their communities and plant churches. We would start here and go even further, looking for those existing entry points into the community and making the most of them. What if the churches that send us were doing the same back home?

10 comments:

Kiki Cherry said...

There is a church here in Pittsburgh, Northway Community, that has come up with an incredible plan for partnering churches with schools.

They looked at the needs in our city and community, and recognized that our Pittsburgh school district, especially the inner-city schools, are failing to make the grade.

So they are working with the school board and with other local churches, and asking each church to "adopt" one city school.

The church then pours resources and trained volunteers into their partnership school. They come alongside to encourage, support, pray for and invest in that community.

If every local church gets involved, it could transform our whole city.

Bill said...

Stepchild:

I love the idea but with one caution - this needs to be primarily a strategy based on individual initiative - not an organized, "political" crusade to "take over" the public schools. When we act in that fashion (e.g. "let's take over the school board so we can force evolution from the curriculum") we lose our credibility and play into the stereotypes of the militants on the "other side."

But I am with you 100% on the concept of treating our institutions as mission fields and developing strategies on that basis. Here in Houston a group of us interviewed community leaders to ask how could the church help in making our communities better places to live. They all expressed willingness to partner with us, as long as we didn't come with a political agenda. The community relations person for our school district told us that they would love to have churches involved - but when they organize a program (e.g. tutoring for struggling students) and invite community involvement "the churches never show up." That broke our hearts.

Gerry Milligan said...

Stepchild,

Now, how many of us will slap our forheads and ask, "Why didn't I think of that?"

Great idea!

Bowden McElroy said...

I've longed believed we need to encourage our "best and brightest" young people to enter public school education.

I value the time I teach at our local community college: plenty of opportunities to engage my (mostly non-Christian) students and challenge them to examine what they believe and why they believe it.

If we wanted to do something as a denomination, I would rather come up with some way to use CP money to help new teachers "on mission" in the public schools pay off their school loans. I imagine that would have a greater impact on a lost world than some of the things on which we've spent cooperative dollar.

knnuki said...

This is so practical, so intuitive, so right, so not-rocket-science, it's stunning. I love it.

David Rogers said...

Didn't know where else to ask this question, but...

Are Stepchild and Ernest Goodman somehow related, I mean like Alter Egos, or Twin Sons of Different Mothers, or what?

Steve said...

Yeah, I was wondering the same thing. The site that it links to is kinda wierd. Secret links on it? I don't think Ernest is your real name, either.

Enquiring minds want to know!

steve w said...

Stepchild,
What you are proposing is so needed. We do not need another loony SBC resolution. Jesus said, "Go," not "Retreat." My oldest son just graduated college. He deeply loves Jesus, and graduated from the local high school. My youngest son just finished his sophomore year in college. He too loves Jesus, and graduated from our local public high school. There are always exceptions to the rule, and I do not want to sit in judgment of another parent's decision regarding the education of their child. But a SBC resolution calling for retreat just seems wrong to me. Jesus calls us to faith, not fear.

Anonymous said...

What if we didn´t just stop at teachers? What if everyone who called themself a Christian considered their first vocation as ministry no matter what their actual job title was? What am I doing in Europe that an American Christian in the states can´t do? Not much, but it is easier to sit back and let people with the ministry titles (Pastor, Missionary, Elder, etc.. ) do the work of ministry.

stepchild said...

I've always dreamed of being part of a church that had commissioning services for each member, no matter what their vocation. I think it would go a long way toward supporting our people who are in ministry every day, but have real jobs.

It would be cool to get prayer newsletters and ministry reports from the construction workers and cashiers and insurance salesmen that truly see themselves as being on mission.