The Christian Elephant in the Classroom
School Leader Bible Study
The Christian Elephant in the Classroom
Week of August 26, 2019 by Tom Deighan
Many of you are like me and have struggled to reconcile your faith with your profession, tempted to feel like less of a Christian because we work in a public school. And on the other hand, we feel like outsiders in a system that often seems systematically opposed to people of faith. Many of you remember a distinct moment when you believe God called you to serve in a public school, but because we straddle such different worlds, we struggle making sense of what that means. Before we can adequately understand it all, however, we need to address the Christian elephant in the classroom: should you lead your classroom or faculty meeting like a church service, preaching and praying with your students or staff?
Instead of answering that question, let’s flip that question around: Do we expect people in other professions to have church with their customers?
When I pay someone to work on my car or my central air unit, I am happy to know that they are a Christian. It stops there, however, because I am not paying them to preach to me or pray with me. I just want them to fix my air conditioner. If their preaching or praying interfered with their job, I would not expect them to be employed very long, especially on my dime. Few people could get away with such behavior at work, even if they were working in a church. A church secretary who spent all their time preaching, praying, and studying The Bible would eventually be fired, certainly not for being a Christian but for being a poor worker. None of these situations involve a captive audience, however, which is the reality for public school educators.
To truly illustrate our situation, just imagine being stuck on an 8-hour airplane flight, and the flight attendants spent all their time preaching to the customers. Or, if instead of occasionally reassuring us about the weather, the pilots droned on and on about their political beliefs. We would all feel trapped and disrespected, even if we shared their views, because we signed up for a flight, not a sermon or political rally. Similarly, students are truly captive audiences, there to learn a curriculum that is publicly available for parents to review. No one should take advantage of that setting to force their own religious or political beliefs on such a captive audience.
I know that many non-educators will not understand what I am saying, but my mission is to encourage and equip you as a Christian serving in public schools. You cannot be effective if you are carrying the burden of unrealistic expectations, torn between your faith and the calling to teach. It is a double-standard to lay that burden on you to run your classroom like a church service when such a practice would get you fired in most professions. The inclination behind this attitude seems very similar to that of the Pharisees: “For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” (Matthew 23:4) Perhaps this is a spiritual tactic used by our enemy to undermine the confidence of Christians in public schools?
In reality, your faith and profession align in profound ways. Your roles as educators and Christians beautifully complement each other. If God has ordained your presence in these schools, who can stop your calling? (Isaiah 14:27) Your faith calls you to love. Your profession calls you to love. Your faith calls you to teach and encourage and affirm the best in people – and so does your profession. As Christians and as professional educators, we may have allowed the enemy to focus our attention on what we cannot do, but just imagine if we focus on those things we can do. In your classrooms, your buses, your cafeterias, and in your faculty meetings – you can model and demonstrate your faith in real ways. That is a tremendously powerful position.
Honestly, no one can run their professional life like a church service, except preachers, but you can still be the light. Scripture reminds us that our behavior is sometimes more important than the words we speak: “even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by (your) conduct.” (I Peter 1:3) This passage is talking about wives witnessing to their husbands without preaching to them, in a God-ordained institution. Is it so crazy to believe the same approach would not also work in a secular setting, in a public school?
Dear leaders, I believe God has strategically placed you to be a light to your community. You cannot run your classrooms or schools like church, but your students and staffs do not need church in the schoolhouse. They need to be taught by professionals doing their jobs with excellence and supernatural love and grace. Outside the school, they know you go to church. They know you are a Christian. They are watching you to decide if you are the person they will turn to when they face a crisis. I assure you that they will remember the love of the Christian educators they know. And maybe, the churches you attend may one day be their refuge. And by God’s grace, like so many of us, they may come to Christ because of the love of their teacher, their coach, their principal, or their bus driver.
The Christian elephant in the classroom has never been whether or not you run your school or class like church. The Christian elephant in the classroom is YOU! By the grace of God, He has made you too big to ignore. His word and grace fill your secular workspace in ways that no one can deny – even if you cannot say a word about it. You are the Christian elephant in the classroom because God’s presence is always conspicuous. You are the loving hands of Christ to a dying generation, even when you cannot be His mouthpiece. Never doubt that your colleagues and your students know who you are and Who you represent. In Matthew 5:14, Jesus says that you are the light of the world and that a city on a hill cannot be hidden. Likewise, the Christian elephant in the classroom cannot be hidden either! Remember, you are the Christian elephant in the classroom, so be big!
I pray you rediscover your calling to serve as His hands and feet in the public school. Please share this with someone who may need the same encouragement.
Visit www.tomdeighan.com to sign up for the weekly devotional. Copyright Tom Deighan