The Ministry of Teaching
For many, education is a vital tool, structure or mechanism for a nation’s development, growth and continued existence. This is particularly the case in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like Singapore where there is a diverse mix of individual and societal differences.
It is well known that teachers are not only central in their classrooms but also play a major role in determining what and how students learn. But beyond the hard-nosed practicalities of preparing us to live a life, can education--especially when conducted by Christians--lead to something distinctive; something we might describe as transformative?
I want to suggest that the outcomes made possible in and through education depend on how we put the words, ‘Christian’ and ‘teacher’ together in our minds, hearts and lessons. I believe there is a fundamental and massive divide between a Christian who is a teacher and a teacher who just happens to be a Christian. Let me explain.
Casual or Occasional Christian Educators
For educators who just happen to be Christians, their work and church lives are usually distinct and separate. That is, even though they may be regularly involved in church activities (e.g., attendance at services, prayer meetings and read the Bible), they rarely, if ever, think or talk about Christ to their bosses, colleagues and students on a regular basis. This might make some kind of pragmatic sense, but it wouldn't be unusual for 'casual' or 'occasional' Christian educators to forget they are Christians at all during working hours.
Truly Christian Educators
Christian educators are different. Uniquely, they have a singular (and unitary) preoccupation with God that is unshakable and purposeful. Importantly, they know what God's will is in their lives and use each and every opportunity to live it out whether at home, in school or in the public square.
Christian educators do not need to be eccentric, esoteric, or 'in-your-face' about their faith. Rather, their demeanor should set them apart and people ought to see through their words and actions that their priorities, values and beliefs are not like others. Indeed, for Christian educators, their transformation and the continuing renewal of their minds is evident (is seen) in and through their expanding and deepening attributes. These include: faith, astuteness, confidence, modesty and conviction.
In his book, First Class: The Calling and Impact of a Christian Teacher, Werner Cloete, a science and mathematics teacher in a South African gymnasium (a school that prepares students for university entrance), tells of his God-given calling to follow Jesus and work for Him full-time to advance the establishment of His glory in the classroom. Sensing the importance of God’s purposes in our lives, Cloete writes:
"The exciting news for teachers, is that we are placed in a most favourable and strategic position for experiencing kingdom-work as part of our daily job."
"If this is not our understanding of our vocation, we impoverish the experience of our professional lives and miss out on God’s dream for our lives. It is essential that teachers become deeply aware that they are on a mission from God to establish the living dominion of Jesus. (p. 17)"
What does this mission from God look like and how might we live it out in a purpose-driven way?
A Worthy Calling
The calling into the education service is a high one and requires a careful response from those who receive it. Before you continue, pause here to read and reflect on Romans 12:1-3.
Written around A.D. 57 from Corinth, the apostle Paul's letter to the Christians in Rome (a congregation he had never met) is a detailed exposition of the Christian life and what it means to live in complete submission to Christ. In terms of our behavior, Paul makes it clear that despite our wickedness, God has not forgotten or forsaken us, and that in and through His Grace and Mercy, we have been redeemed irrevocably (Romans 11:29).
There are three points to note as we live out our lives for Christ: (i) A new view of sacrifice, (ii) Kingdom transformation; and (iii) A humble and loving heart.
1. A New View of Sacrifice. In Romans 12, Verse 1, we are to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. In this, we learn that God wants us to continually set aside our natural self-centred desires and follow him with our undivided attention and full trust. As Christian educators we can do this by spending a few quiet moments at the beginning of each work day in prayer where we place ourselves at God's disposal and allow the Holy Spirit to guide our words, thoughts and actions.
2. Kingdom Transformation. Paul says in Romans 12, Verse 2, we are not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. The central application idea here is our rejection of the beliefs and practices that rule, govern and influence the world: for example, greed, selfishness, arrogance, stubbornness and deceit etc.. Through the Holy Spirit, Christian educators can (and should) model a 'Kingdom of God' viewpoint where each and every person we meet (students, colleagues, superiors, parents and members of the general public) is a valued individual who deserves fair, equal and equitable treatment.
3. A Humble and Loving Heart. In Romans 12, Verse 3, we are not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought, but rather to think with sober judgement in accordance with the faith God has given each of us. Clearly, as we serve God and others, we are to do so in humility and with a loving heart. As Christian educators we need to think well of our students and their contributions. We have to know and trust that despite, or even because of, the things people say or think of us and those around, God alone knows everyone’s true value.
In closing, the Christian Educators' response to the calling to teach requires us to understand our work differently from a world that prefers (for whatever reasons) to view employment in non-sacred terms. As as a form of worship to God and ministry to others, teaching is fundamentally sacrificial, transforming and humbling. All of this will be pleasing to God when we offer ourselves unconditionally to trust, obey and serve him as He ordains. And we do all of this because God loved us first (1 John 4:19).
Finally, in terms of discipleship and relationship building, it is worth knowing--especially when times are tough--that as we work in education in Christ-like ways, God will help us do so in ways that bring us closer to him.
Cloete, W. (2013). First class: The calling and impact of a Christian teacher. Belville, South Africa: Salt Publishers.
Guinness, O. (2003). The call: Finding and fulfilling the central purpose of your life. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
Mellichamp, J. McRae (1997). Ministering in the secular university. Carrollton, TX: Lewis and Stanley.
Stevens, R. P. (1999). The other six days: Vocation, work, and ministry in biblical perspective. Grand Rapids, MI: William R. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Towndrow, P. A. (2014). Walking with God as a christian educator: How to live out your faith as you teach. Singapore: Genesis.
Warren, R. (2012). The purpose driven life: What on earth am I here for? (expanded edition) Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan