July 29, 2011
Al Boerema introduces the topic for discussion:
One of the goal of schools is the development of our students, and in Christian schools, faith development is of prime importance. Let’s talk about this. How can Christian schools encourage faith development in their students, and what are the barriers?
August 2, 2011
Rebecca De Smith responds with:
If Christian schools live out their mission—to recognize and teach Christ’s lordship over every sphere of life—then our classrooms will be places where students are shaped, encouraged, and nurtured to grow in faith. But in this crucial area of Christian education, it is not as easy as coming up with appropriate standards and benchmarks, finding effective materials to teach, and evaluating whether or not our students are meeting the objectives.
Faith is a mystery. Its development is not linear or automatic, but rather varies from individual to individual, progressing through different and difficult stages, flourishing at uneven rates, often taking a lifetime to mature. Faith is the continual work of the Holy Spirit. Christian schools do play a role in the faith development of children, sharing the task with parents and family, the church, friends, and the culture we live in. Therefore, as Christian educators, we must take our work seriously as we lead our students into the presence of the God who can change their hearts and lives for eternity.
A friend once said that in order to be effective Christian school teachers, we must “love the Lord and love the kids!” He was right—that’s where we must begin. The way we model our own faith in front of our students speaks louder than any devotion or Bible lesson. As Christian educators who represent Christ in our classrooms, we need to ask ourselves: Does the fruit of the Spirit flourish in our lives and in our classrooms? Do we demonstrate humility, respect, honesty, acceptance, forgiveness, and grace with our students and colleagues? The combination of who we are, how we live, and how we respond to our students shapes their faith life more than any formal curriculum does. With boldness, we must share our faith genuinely with students, encouraging and challenging them to be open and honest about their faith development—beyond just saying the right words or letting emotions guide them—so they can grow and live out their faith with courage and integrity.
In the faith development of our students, there are so many aspects that we cannot control—their family situation, their friends and peers, the influence of culture and media, their church experience, the leading of the Holy Spirit. What we can share with students is our genuine faith, providing space in our classrooms for students to ask tough questions, to struggle with the answers, to experience grace, and to live out their developing faith, trusting in the love and guidance of Jesus Christ.
Blessings in your school year!
August 17, 2011
Christian Altena continues:
I would like to echo Rebecca’s points. Our roles as “co-developers” of faith along with the church and home is a very important part of what we do from day to day—the not-so-hidden curriculum of our Christian schools.
Of course, it is very important to emphasize that faith development is highly individualized. Students develop reasoning and reading skills at different rates, even more so with faith. The Bible speaks very directly to this issue (Can I eat meat sacrificed to idols? Should I read Harry Potter books? Can I vote for the Democratic candidate?) and, accordingly, implores us to live our lives amongst each other with grace and patience. Scripture also speaks forcefully and soberly to we who teach by reminding us of the potential consequences of not being authentic in our modeling of faith. I can think of nothing quite as potentially corrosive as the realization by a student that her teacher is all smoke and no fire.
While our faith is very much ours alone, we also know that we believe together. As Rebecca mentioned, we teachers need to show our faith to our students authentically. But let’s not forget that we can be also be taught by our students. ]Each year there are many students that sit before me demonstrating a faith that inspires and encourages me. Because of their experiences with divorce, death, and disease many of these students are “older” than I am in the sense that their faith has truly been tested and made more sure. I can look to them as models when my testing inevitably comes.
Finally, we need to account for the absolute messiness of it all. We should straight-up acknowledge and discuss the challenges to faith. Our culture certainly provides many opportunities to question our faith. If discussing our faith is important, what about interacting together with our doubts?
Gettin’ ready for another go ’round!
August 17, 2011
Tim Leugs adds:
I hope that your summers went well. Getting into the process of thinking about faith development is a good way of gearing up for students again!
While considering this question, I found my thoughts drawn to how Jesus himself conducted his ministry—as a teacher intimately involved with all parts of his students’ lives, using the stories, settings, and situations around him to advance their understanding of God and the kingdom.
With this in mind, I think of the methodology of Christ’s teaching. We don’t have Jesus’ lesson plans written down like we need to do in our education programs, but I believe we can see that the methods Jesus used were addressed to groups of his disciples rather than to individualized instruction and focused not only on faith, but also on living out faith. Although I agree with your points that each student’s faith walk is unique to the individual, I believe the importance of learning about faith and engaging in faith-building experiences should not be limited to only a few students. Taking time to see God at work within the lives of the larger group of classroom students is a vital part of Christian education, and taking part in living out faith is a way in which our students hopefully will learn to own their faith.
September 6, 2011
Mary Ashun jumps in:
I think the topic is timely, especially since I heard a comment today regarding a large study that has been done to track the growth of students who attend and graduate from Christian schools. Academics was mentioned, but I also heard something along the lines of spiritual success. My first thought was wondering how they would track that, and I’m going to search for the article because I’m intrigued. Christian mentioned that faith development, much like physical and emotional development, is highly individualized, and I agree that mentoring, modeling, and giving opportunities for students to learn and practice their faith is key to faith development. The immediate barrier I can see to this is among those who would mentor or model (administration, teachers, other staff), there would still be differences in why and how they believe, even if they all believe. School leaders thus have the task of finding a starting point, one that everyone can agree on and that they have experienced, and then move from there to find actionable ways of demonstrating this (e.g., How will we know we have achieved this?).
All the best for a blessed new school year!
September 22, 2011
Bruce Wergeland adds:
This is my twentieth year teaching, and it will be one of the most memorable and important years of my teaching career because I am teaching my oldest daughter. Suddenly, home, work, and school are merging into one giant adventure for a father and daughter. Out of my mouth, she will hear numerous accounts of my life—our family, my childhood, my job—that she has never heard before or never heard in a learning context. Each of these personal stories is saturated with faith lessons. Very quickly, I am becoming hypersensitive about the congruity between what I “preach” at home, what I “teach” in the classroom, and what I “experience” at church.
For my daughter (and all of my students) faith development is a fluid experience that is nurtured through the rituals (meaningful activities that use the same language, symbols, and behaviors every time) of familiar places: the church, the home, and the school. Repetition of ritual is probably the most practical way in which our students develop a sensory understanding of their faith. For example, a collective prayer or song teaches both a spiritual act of worship and an understanding of communal participation; furthermore, this repeated action also shapes their actions and speech while formulating a strong mental image of this ritual. The familiarity that is created by the repetition of ritual at the places of genuine relationship develops faithfulness to a godly lifestyle.
Faith development cannot be simply an academic pursuit, or even a modeled behavior. My students, and my own daughter, must participate in the various rituals of their Christian community. Although knowledge is a significant component of ritual, it limits the development of faith by exercising only the mind, but not the heart. I want to teach my daughter to be faithful to Christ by participating in the rituals of our Christian community—Bible study, service projects, church service, school sports, prayer before meals—so that her faith develops through her experience of ritual and not my description of ritual. Ultimately, my role as a teacher (and parent) in the classroom must allow my students to practice faithfulness as they develop their faith in Christ.
The panel consists of:
- Christian Altena, who teaches at Chicago Christian High School in Palos Heights, Illinois.
- Mary Ashun, who teaches in the education department at Redeemer University College.
- Al Boerema, who teaches in the education department at Calvin College.
- Rebecca De Smith, who is the Discovery Room coordinator and the curriculum coordinator at Sioux Center Christian School in Sioux Center, Iowa.
- Tim Leugs, who teaches at Legacy Christian Middle School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
- Bruce Wergeland, who teaches at Langley Christian Middle School in Langley, British Columbia.