Christian Students Making a Difference…

Life Isn't a GameIt may seem that the average Christian student doesn’t make a difference in their school to influence others for Christ. I have often wondered that perhaps the reason it seems that way is because most students aren’t challenged to make a difference in their schools. Over the past 5 years I have started growing in my vision of what the Lord can do through a true student lead movement in the realm of schools, church, and local communities.

Something Needed to Change!

Last year (2014) I saw the Lord begin doing a work in my own heart in challenging the teens of our church to be a godly witness in their schools and with their friends. Most of the teens I teach are in public school, a few are taught in Christian School and home schooled. I put away the Sunday School curriculum, put away the student booklets, and decided instead of giving them a pre-made template of “Biblical advice”, that I needed to have a more personal and engaging time of teaching with them. I am not saying there is anything wrong with these books, in fact I think that much of the material is great, but a light bulb went off in my head when I saw that my students weren’t interacting, weren’t engaged, and after a few weeks of expounding on the same subject matter weren’t interested. You can only teach “How to find the will of God” for so many weeks before you lose a teenager’s interest. Something needed to change!
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When Opportunity Knocks

Wow after 9 months of no activity, people probably thought I dropped off the face of the earth! But I am back ready to write another article at least for now. I know they have been few and far between lately, but what can I say I am a busy man!

Have you ever had a great opportunity just all the sudden pop into your life. An opportunity so beneficial to you and others that you just can’t pass it up? I have had several of those opportunities come into my life the past two years, but before I share what those opportunities are I first want to make a few points.
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Why I Have a Passion for Public Schools

I know it has been a few weeks since I have posted. I thought that I was going to be able to spend some extra time during Fall Break to write future articles, but that didn’t happen. Then I started writing this article last week, had completely typed out what I thought I wanted to say, only to realize it really wasn’t what God wanted me to say or how He wanted me to say it. So, now, here are my thought on the passion I have gained for public schools.

At a very early age I felt like God had set me apart to do some kind of work in the realm of missions. In fact you may or may not know that my wife and I had planned on being missionaries in Newfoundland, Canada. We were trying to raise funds for nearly a year, before the Lord gave us a sudden change of direction. When the Lord brought that change it was a good thing. It was a time that God needed to teach us some very important lessons. I became the youth pastor of a church in South Carolina and it was there that I first began to have some real interaction with Public School students. The youth group I started to lead was largely made up of students who went to the public schools, the breakdown was something like 30/10 public to Christian school teens. Most of these teens were in homes of families who came to church with them, with a few who came with friends. But this youth group was a lot different that any of the youth groups in which I attended as a teen. The youth groups I had been in had always been the opposite, 90% of the kids I grew up with were in some sort of Christian education. While the breakdown was a lot different from what I knew, the teens weren’t any different than what I had seen in my own youth groups. They were teens who were seeking direction, seeking identity, and seeking for God.

Those were the starting years of my life in ministry. Even though it has been almost 4 years since I have left that ministry, I still keep up with many of the youth who were in that group. I am proud to see many of them going on to serve the Lord, some are pursuing ministry, others are looking at the medical field or other careers, and others still may not be sure what God wants them to do, but it thrills my heart to see many of them still serving the Lord with their whole heart. My heart for public schools started with this youth group and has continued since. Now just so you don’t get the wrong picture,  this doesn’t mean that I like public school kids any more than the Christian/ Home School kids, I just have gained a heartbeat for helping those in the public schools.

Since leaving South Carolina and moving to Georgia, the Lord has really multiplied that burden more for the public schools. When coming to the church we currently serve at, I knew that I would have to become a bi-vocational youth pastor. I didn’t know what kind of job I would be able to get. I applied at a bunch of different places, but made it clear that I wouldn’t be available most weekends or on Wednesday nights, after all a youth pastors busiest times is on the weekends, and I certainly didn’t want to miss teaching the teens on Wednesdays. This didn’t make for a lot of job opportunities. Then someone mentioned I ought to consider substitute teaching for the local public schools. So I took the class, had my background check run, and got onto the substitute list. Once my name was approved and teachers knew I would be available to teach, the phone started ringing and I started substituting a few days every week. Now I have been substituting for 3 years.

My heart for missions work has never died. I didn’t know exactly why the Lord gave me such a heart for missions if He wasn’t going to let us go to a foreign mission field, but after 3 years of substitute teaching, I have finally found the mission field God has been preparing for me. The Lord can do amazing things in the public schools and to many times Christians distance themselves from this establishment. No doubt this education system is not right for every Christian child. Some would say it isn’t fit for any Christian, period, but is a school any worse than the rest of the world system children are exposed to through living life every day?

It takes special people, both teachers and children, to be called into this vast mission field, just as it takes a special calling for someone to board a plane and fly half way around the world to reach a people whose language they don’t speak, and whose culture is completely foreign to them. But God still calls them. Is there dangers within the walls of a public school? Yes, no doubt there is, just as there are dangers that lurk on every corner of life. This is the reason why we must seek God’s face for grace and guidance every day. Just because a Christian child is raised in a Christian home, doing Christian schooling, and attending a Christian church does not mean that they are exempt from falling away from the principles taught in your home. Just because a Christian child is taught in a public school, is faced with the difficulties there, and will have their faith challenged does not make them a sure candidate to fail as a child of God. This issue is not as black and white as some would like to make it seem. In a perfect world all Christian children would never stray, especially those who were brought up with all things “Christian”, but we live in a fallen world, a world where good families see their children choose by their own free will to reject God. These were homes that tried to give direction, cared about the discipline of their children, and cared about the spiritual well-being of their children.

Imagine the millions of children who face life with no direction, with no one who cares about their discipline, about their spiritual well-being. This is a large majority of children who attend the public school. No one to love them, screaming for attention, yet Christians want to stay away from them. Let them rot, let them die, let them spend a Christ-less eternity in Hell, because of how wicked the school system is. Do we tell missionaries not to go to dangerous countries? Do we stop missionaries and say, “Don’t you know how wicked that country is? Don’t go to that country because their government is evil! Don’t go to this country because your children will be exposed to things that aren’t Biblical! They might be influenced by that country and those people!”? NO! But we will tell a Christian they are in sin for sending their child to a public school. We might even tell an adult that they are in sin for teaching in one of those “God forsaken” schools. But the only reason they are “God forsaken” is because Christians have abandoned them, Christians have shunned them, Christians have put them on the “leprosy” list and cry “DON’T TOUCH THEM! DON’T GO NEAR THEM! UNCLEAN, UNCLEAN!”. But last I checked in my Bible, Christ came to heal the lepers, and He called us to be like Him.

Some would say the best way to reach those in the public schools is by driving church buses and picking them up from their homes, finding them on visitation, and inviting them to church. These are great methods! But how many millions fall through the cracks of this strategy? Who will invite them if no Christians are called to reach them in the school halls? Who will be the Light to them, if we snub every Christian child and teacher out of the system? No one! But thank the Lord not every Christian has bought into the lie that Christians do not have a place in the public schools. Thank God that there are Christian students and teachers who still have an open door to win others to Christ and who have answered the call to be missionaries to this great mission field. Thank the Lord that he still gives youth pastors, like myself, the opportunity to not only substitute teach in the school, but to also be able to teach Bible classes in the school on a regular basis. Thank the Lord that He still has people preaching His Word and the free gift of salvation through programs like the FCA and Children’s Bible Clubs. God said, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14). Praise God for his love for these children, and for those who He has and who He will raise up to continue to be that shining Light into the Public schools.

The doors of opportunity are closing quickly on being able to get the Gospel in the public school systems. Christians should flood those doors as much as possible before the doors completely shut.

Pieces from the Pickup Lines #6

I recently picked up a book called How to Stay Christian in High School by Steven P Gerali a book written to encourage teens that they do not have to give into the pressures from the world. He takes several “Teen” Bible characters to give examples of how they can stand for Christ. Here is our “Pieces from the Pickup Line”  from my reading on September 11, 2013.

Pieces from the Pickup Line #5

I recently picked up a book called How to Stay Christian in High School by Steven P Gerali a book written to encourage teens that they do not have to give into the pressures from the world. He takes several “Teen” Bible characters to give examples of how they can stand for Christ. Here is our “Pieces from the Pickup Line”  from my reading today on September 10, 2013.

An Honest Review of the Book: Christian Teachers in Public Schools

9780834128644_p0_v1_s260x420Just this week I finished the book: Christian Teachers in Public Schools: 13 Essentials for the Classroom. While the focus of this book is for teachers, as a parent of a public school child, I appreciated the insight into what challenges a Christian Public School teacher faces and what opportunities there are to shine for Christ.

The author was very honest with the struggles that she faces as a teacher and finding way to witness for Christ. She doesn’t try to make you believe that being a Christian in a Public School is easy, but make you realize it isn’t as impossible as some people make it out to be. The author included a lot of personal material in there: letters from students, writing prompts from students, personally stories, and lessons learned from the classroom.

So just to highlight what I got from the book, here are some things that really stuck out to me.

1) Materials from students

If the author had tried to make it seem like an easy task to be a Christian teaching in the Public School then she would have included all the heart touching perfect stories that come from some of her students. Instead she wanted you to see the reality of why there needs to be Christians both teaching and learning in the public school by including letters and paper from some of her students. Some of the papers were written by students who came from homes filled with drug and violence and the influence that a Christian teacher had on their lives. One story that stuck out in my mind was about a student who had no desire to do any work whatsoever and what she was able to do to convince him to actually get engaged in doing his school work.

2) Personal stories and stuggles

While not everyone will always be interested in knowing someones personal stories or struggles, I believe the author did a good job connecting with the reader with her personal tidbits. At one point she gave a personal story about how she was ready to just give up and quit at one particular school, but God sent a student into her class who really didn’t even belong in her class to answer a writing prompt “The worst thing a teacher could do”. A lot of students gave answers like these: Give homework on the weekend, make us do school work, give to many assignments, ECT. But when this student raised his hand he said, “The worst thing a teacher could do is quit.” The author acknowledged that that one boys answer completely changed her attitude and she decided she could not quit.

3) Little short devotions in every chapter

A unique aspect of this book was the author included a little devotional from a fellow teacher at the end of each chapter that helped re-enforce the purpose of the chapter. Sometimes the devotions really hit home for me, making those chapters stand out above others in my mind.

This book was a blessing to me, I was actually kind of sad to see it end as I am sure there are probably more than 13 life lessons that she has learned from teaching, but the 13 essentials she gave were excellent and very insightful to the ministry of being a Christian Public School Teacher. No matter if you are a parent of public school children, a teacher, or even a substitute (like myself), this book would be a great read for you.

Conversation with a Friend

Friendships are a special part of everyone’s life. At church recently we had a good friend, who is a missionary to Mongolia, visit and present his ministry to our church. He and I talk often on the phone, but this was the first time in about 2 years that he and I had gotten to see each other face to face.  While I wish that he and I could have had more time to talk, the time we did have was very refreshing.  I could babble on about everything that we talked about, but since I like to keep this blog as an encouragement to those of us who have children in public school I will only mention the encouragement that I had gotten from him concerning my children attending public school.

We first talked about how Christians have missed out on a great opportunity to reach people within the public school system. Back in the early 60’s there was a huge push for Christians to exit the public school system because of the removal of School Prayer (That was prayer over the intercom before the start of the school day). Their cry was that the public schools were a lost cause because of that removal and that the only way that America would be saved was the establishment of Christian Schools and homeschooling. Looking now at 51 years since this has happened we could honestly say to one another, that the establishment of freedoms to have Christian Schools and Homeschooling has done very little to win our country to Christ. We see America becoming less and less Christian every day. Am I saying to abandon Christian schools and homeschooling and put all Christian children back into the Public School? No, not every Christian is called into a public school setting. During the course of this discussion we came to realize a few things.

1) Public School Isn’t for Every Family

I appreciated this friends support for me and the direction the Lord had given us. While he himself said he wouldn’t feel comfortable sending his child to public school (and being a missionary on deputation anyways it wouldn’t be practical), he did not criticize me for the choice we had made as a family. In fact he praised the Lord to know that there would be yet another Christian influence in our public schools reaching out to people who may other wise never have a Christian to influence their lives.

2) No Schooling Choice is Perfect

He and I both were part of the same homeschooling group as teenagers. We had gone through much of our middle school and high school years together. My friend is 3 years younger than me, but we still had developed a friendship that has lasted for many years. But looking back at our homeschooling group, there were very few people that we could find that continued loving and serving God when they entered adulthood (that is not to puff us up or make us look like saintly figures, but to give reality that just because you’re homeschooled doesn’t give you a better chance to turn out for God). In fact a startling statistic I shared with him, is that in the last 6 years of  being a youth pastor I have seen very little no difference between the percentage of teenagers who go to Public School vs. Christian School/Homeschool that continue serving the Lord after they finish high school. In fact if anything the percentage would lean a little higher on the side of public school students.

3) The Problem Isn’t the Schools, It’s the Parents

In the end the responsibility of children falls squarely on the shoulders of the parents. Now this isn’t to say that the schools could have a possible influence on a child, but I strongly believe if parents would be more involved with their children’s lives and schools, that the possibility of that influence will diminish greatly.

I can remember my dad approaching me one time before the school year started, he warned me to stay away from certain people who went to the same school that I went to, he said “Aaron these people are people who I do not want to be your friends because they will hurt you spiritually. But Aaron here are some people who you really should try to have as friends”. When my dad told me that it was in an environment that was completely “Christian”, a Christian School, a school with only students from one church. My mom and dad stayed engaged with me as a student growing up, even in a Christian school.

The major reason many Christians will fail to continue serving God both while they are in school and after they graduate is because after they started school parents completely let go of their children and will not get  involved in the education of their children. Before you say, “well homeschooling fixes that problem because parents have to be involved then”, I can attest to the fact that many of those who homeschool their children, do just as little in the way of educating them in the ways of the Lord as parents who send their children to public schools and Christian schools. If you didn’t get it before, I will state it again, as a youth pastor I have seen that there is little to no difference between the percentage of teenagers who go to Public School vs. Christian School/Homeschool that continue serving the Lord after they finish high school. In fact if anything the percentage would lean a little higher on the side of public school students.

The Blessing of Public Schools

Okay I know that people probably think that I talk to much about the negative views that many Christians have of the public schools, but I like to take those negative outlooks and try to let people see that not everything about Public Schooling is negative. Just the other day I saw someone put this negative ideal on Facebook using the words “failing public school system”. Is it true that some children come out of public schools unprepared? Sure it’s true. But the same can be said of Christian schools and Homeschooling as well. People will make statements like “Well 75% of people who are homeschooled go on to further their education, while only 49% from public schools go to college”. Well it’s a nice stat to state, but considering that there are about 49 million more people in the Public school than there are homeschooled those statistics really aren’t that impressive. Now if there were just as many people homeschooling as there were in public schools and the percentage came out like that, then I would say, “maybe homeschooling is a better option for us”. (NOTICE: I said a better option for us. I am in no way saying that the option of public school is for every Christian family.) The other statistic that many people like to point out is that when compared to other countries, the US doesn’t score as high on standardized testing, but I will answer this stat in one of my points of the blessings of public schools.

Blessing #1: EVERY Child is given a chance to be educated

Some children, if it were not for Public Schools, would never be educated at all. When the US is tested each year, many people criticize that our test scores compared to other countries are very poor, but the difference is, in most other countries children who are poor or have disabilities are not given a chance to even go to school. In the US, however, children with disabilities are given a chance to get an education, children who are poor are given a chance to receive an education, so of course scores will be lower in standardized testing. Perhaps if all we did was test the elite of our education system the statistics would measure closely to the rest of the smartest countries in the world, but in the United States every child is given a chance to receive an education.

Blessing #2: Low income children are given a chance to be healthy

I know some people would say that part of the problem with our country is the amount of people who receive food stamps and free housing. Do I believe that is part of the problem with our economy? Yes, I believe it is so. I think many of those people could do better for themselves but have gotten lazy and leach off the government and our taxes. While all this is true, should we punish the children for the sins of their families and say no to giving them the nutritional food they need? No we should not. Many children who eat their breakfast and lunch served by their schools will receive no other food from their homes. This does not negate the responsiblity of the parents, but for that child who is going hungery because of the neglect of his family the provision of food at his local school is a huge blessing.

Blessing #3: Public Schools provide jobs for many Christians

When my wife and I moved to Northeastern, GA in 2011 I had no ideal how I would provide for our family. We were stepping into a new ministry and while they were able to provide us with housing, we still had to make enough income to pay for the rest of our bills. I had put an application in at several businesses, but to no avail. Then I found out how to become a substitute teacher in our local public schools. I took the course, had my background test done, and was able to get on the Substitute list. The first year I was here I was able to sub an average of 3 days a week. This job provided me with enough income to make it through each month. If I had decided that the Public Schools were a “Godless place not fit for any Christian” than I would have failed to provide for my family like the Bible commands me to as a father and would have been “worse than an infidel” (I Timothy 5:8). So I count the public schools as a huge blessing to me and my family.

Blessing #4: Public Schools provide education in areas of knowledge that parents are lacking

Let’s face it, not all parents are experts at Math, English, Science, History…. and the list could go on and on. I can tell you that personally I like History, if I were to homeschool my children they probably would learn more about history than any other subject. I was pretty good at math up to a certain point. While I could help them with basic math, when they get to more advanced math, I am helpless. You probably can also tell that English is not a strong suite for me. I probably put punctuation in wrong places and repeat words a whole lot in my writing. Science, I can get that pretty good to a certain point but when it comes to chemistry and biology “forget it”.

While I know there is some “junk” that is taught in many of the subjects, I understand enough as a parent that I need to carefully explain and teach my child at home the truths from God’s Word relating to Creation, historic events, life styles, and godly living. I need to teach my children how to tell the difference between the facts from God’s Word and the fiction of the world. But in the end I also realize that the school my children attend is able to offer them some very good skills and knowledge. Do I have issues with some of the things my child may learn about in a public school setting? Yes, just as I take issue with some of the things that don’t line up with God’s Word in Christian Curriculum.

I am sure there are other blessings that could be added to this list. What blessings have you found from the public schools?

An Honest Review of the Movie: Already Gone

Already GoneI have owned the film “Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do to Stop It” for several years now. I have also shown this film several times to various groups and have watched it several times my self. I know that some feel that I gave the film “IndoctriNation” a very hard review, but I also gave that film a very honest review from my stand point. I also will give a very honest review of this film. So here are several observations from this film:

1. The percentage of “Christians” in public schools

I appreciate that when they had presented their research and found that 95% of Christian families that they polled said that their children are in public schools, that they did not say that it was 95% of Christians as a whole. They never made the assumption that just because of the thousands of Christians that the polled, that it would indicate that 95% of all the Christians in the nation send their children to the public schools. They know that in order to find a true and accurate percentage you would then need to poll the majority of the 75% of people who claim to be Christians. In their research they also did a good job of narrowing it down to a select group of conservative churches.

2. The presenting of the problem

I also appreciate greatly how Ken Ham goes to present the problem of why we are losing our children. He builds a very strong case, and he tells us plainly what errors are taught in the realm of education. However, when he presents the problem, he doesn’t just assume it is in the public schools that the problem exists. He shows how the problem also exists in youth groups, churches, Sunday school classes, Christian schools, and at home. He understands that there is a deeper problem than just blaming it all on a select group of educators.

3. The answer to the problem

Ken Ham in this film does an excellent job presenting the case that Churches, families, Sunday school teachers, and Pastors need to be teaching the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. They need to do more than just preach about salvation, but also need to teach how Genesis 1-11 is foundational to the rest of the Bible and how we find all the principles that pertain to the Christian life in those first 11 chapters of the Bible. He shows that if we fail to teach Creation as the Bible teaches it, then it under minds the rest of the Bible, and that is a “BIG” reason why we are losing so many from our churches today. He doesn’t try to pit the blame on the public schools, but encourages Churches and Families, that no matter what school a child goes to, that THEY are ultimately responsible for teaching their children what the Bible says about creation, death and suffering, sin, ECT. THEY are responsible for teaching children how to give an answer to the science teacher, be it in a Christian School or Public School, that teaches contrary to the Word of God.

4. The acknowledgment of Christian influence in Public Schools

One of the biggest things that I appreciate about this film is the acknowledgement that Ken Ham makes that there are Christian Teachers and Christian Students who are serving as missionaries to those in the Public School. Some people will throw out the “Salt and Light” argument, and say that Christians need to make a mass exodus from the Public School system as a whole, but this film while it does not urge more Christians to go into the public schools as missionaries, it also does not attack those who have been placed in the Public schools by the leading of God.

Conclusion:

I feel like this film, while it focuses on a very negative topic, does a good job of pointing our eyes to a brighter tomorrow if we get back to the foundation of the Bible. Many families and churches have gotten so off based. The blame can not be put on the public school as a whole, because the truth is, if Churches had been doing their job teaching the Bible as true History, true Science, true biology, and as the true directive for life, rather than constantly under minding it, then we would not find Christianity in the state it is in today.

While over all I think this film gives a lot of great tools for being a testimony, there are still some things that I wish the film would have given more insight to. 1) While it does a good job of telling students that they can get the answers from God’s Word, I still would like to see a film that gives instruction to students on ways they can be able to present those answers in the school. 2) As a former public school teacher himself, I wish Ken Ham would have also address the way that Christian teachers in Public Schools can present a Biblical worldview while still abiding by the set rules.