How To Live and Work As An Image Bearer on God’s Team: A Call to Christian Orthopraxy in the Classroom
In the late 1950’s the National Union of Christian Schools (now Christian Schools International) sponsored the publication of Francis D. Breisch Jrs.’ classic text, “The Kingdom of God: A Guide for Old Testament Study.” His book became one of the most popular books used by Bible teachers. In it, Breisch teases out the kingdom of God theme found throughout the ancient text as a gateway to understanding who God is. “To trace the growth of the Kingdom of God,” Breisch explains, “is to keep one’s finger on the pulse of God’s redemptive program.” God longs to renew creation and be “God with us” (Rev 21:3). To hold a finger on the redemptive program of God is to hold a finger on the beating pulse of God’s very own heart.
As educators, most of us however don’t do this and we know it, if we are honest. It isn’t easy to keep a daily finger on God’s pulse and heart when we are immersed in lesson preps, grades, and faculty meetings. We plan, but the job demands that we also react. Pulled in different directions, we talk nominal Christian talk to ourselves and each other and we sign our emails with happy platitudes such as “In His Service,” or as I do, “Joyfully in Him.” Our platitudes are our foothold and because we are Christian we move into the next moment confident in Christ. Swept up and into the micro, as teachers we exist in silos. We teach in classrooms walled off to each other, the metanarrative of God’s unified story and His grand redemptive program. Information is ours to dispense like a deposit to a faceless bank account. We seek relationships with our students and colleagues, but feel disjointed. Confident in ourselves and our mission, we wear security badges around our necks that become necklaces of pride. (Ps. 73) We fight our own battles, whether they be competing attentions, demanding schedules, daily frustrations or employee schisms that rise and fall like winter wheat. We gather strength from our refuge that our students will one day remember us. Everyday we close the day with the same epic refrain, an echo of the opening narration from the movie Troy:
“Will our actions echo across the centuries?
Will strangers hear our names long after we are gone, and wonder who we were,
how bravely we fought, how fiercely we loved?”
This isn’t unique to our own Christian communities. The same thing happened to Israel. Israel’s community was broken. Pointing fingers at each other, they ended up pointing one at God and cried out for a king – and God granted them one. As Christian teachers, we have much to learn from the books of 1 and 2 Samuel and the broken lives of men like Samuel, Saul and David. In these books, God has something to say about how we are to be the Ideal Kingdom Player. God, not our Administrations, speaks best on how to live and work as image bearers because it is God whose image we bear. When we look here in the Bible (or anywhere in the Bible for that matter), we encounter not only the tragic lives of others but we discover an essential question for ourselves as teachers: Do I go to work everyday and practice living like someone in training for God’s kingdom? Because that’s who we are and what we are doing, isn’t it? If we are truly living in God’s story, our own “Inner Ring,” (C.S. Lewis, The Inner Ring) then aren’t we called to work every day in the “Already but Not Yet” waiting for Christ to usher in His kingdom, and sweep us into Glory? Should our orthopraxy look different than secular schools? “It is written that we shall “stand before” Him, shall appear, shall be inspected. The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God.”(Lewis, The Weight of Glory) As teachers, are we choosing to please God? Are we (are you) ready for God’s examination?
Years ago, I used to think I was. Before I was a teacher, I worked as a political appointee in the White House and later a member of a small band of young underdog campaign staffers who slayed the opposition party for the first time in 50 years. The other political party was our enemy champion, our Goliath, and we teamed together with a single mission to regain the House of Representatives. No one expected us to win, except us. Our young fearless female leader trimmed the budget, and fired an inflated staff. Our “inner ring” was a dwindled down staff of less than 30 from a staff of 90. Bonded together in like mind and purpose, we needed only one thing: courage. We muscled together our own “sticks” of wit, smarts, and strengths and became a team that beat the odds. With synced departments, clear lines of communication, a stealth field and research staff who hit the campaign trail in David-like leaps with slingshots ready, we were small but mighty. We were a team. By Patrick Lencioni’s descriptions of the ideal team player in his fable “The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues,” every single one of us was ideal. Each one possessed all three virtues: We were humble, hungry and smart, and we were about to control history. If we had a lyre, we would have played it.
Last week, I may have been hungry and smart, but I wasn’t humble. I got tired. Confident in myself and my background, I saw problems in our Administration. I’d forgotten the things of this earth stand next to him, like a candle to the sun. (Hillsong, Behold Then Sings My Soul) Comfortable in my silo, hidden from the world, I went to work as if I am unknown to him, out of sight, and I cried out for a king. Like Israel, I wanted a king like “all the nations” instead of God. The question of what I wanted compelled me then and now to confront the weight of my own sin as a Christian educator: Do I want a leader to sweep in and fix what’s broken in my organization, or do I work with others to build change from the bottom-up? Do I long for the day people in my department or on my team get along and come to see what I see, or do I recognize the harder truth, the part I play in team dynamics and how I may be part of the issue? Do I think if I only was given a new title or role I could fill gaps and solve problems singlehandedly? Do I cry out for a leader, one who I think is effective, at the top of my organization to sweep in and lift the weight of my burdens or do I keep one finger on the pulse of God’s redemptive program and remember I am not the King, but God is, and find the pulse of God’s own heart?
When Jesus came to usher in the kingdom of God he said, “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right, then you can see God in the outside world.” (Beatitudes, The Message) What I’ve come to learn is that the Ideal Kingdom Player is someone who seeks to please God, first, and works everyday like someone who is training for the Kingdom Draft to be picked up to play on a Kingdom Team. “To please God… to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness… to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a son— it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain.” (Lewis, The Weight of Glory) Is it impossible to please God, to be a teacher and be a real ingredient in the divine happiness? Does God delight in my work as an artist who delights in his work or a son?
On the last day of the school year last year, I watched Jonathan King, our Choral Music Program Director, at our school. King is highly trained, an impressive background with national distinction. The staff gathered in worship before our last day of professional development. As I sat in my seat, I watched as King, along with a group of faculty members, led us in opening worship. As I watched him, he watched the other musicians, all with less expertise and notoriety, and looked to them for their lead. Because he did, together the worship team made more than music, they made a song. It was a moment of pause where I held my finger on God’s redemptive pulse and found His heart. When I did, I thought to myself, “I want to be on a team like that, musicians on a stage who know when and how to let others lead to make not only a song, but a song of praise for our King.”
Joyce Baldwin said, “It is in the stubbornness of human individuality that each man and woman encounters God or ignores Him, responds to or resists Him.” (Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel) It must be hard to be a leader of sinners and fools. You can’t step in and fix things, because then there is no learning and owning. This is how Jesus led. He led us to see ourselves, despite ourselves and to teach us how to play on a Kingdom team, when to move in and lead and when not to, and when to listen, wait and watch for a King. “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight,” he said, “That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.” (Beatitudes, The Message) This is our call to repent as teachers. To be a kingdom player means that our necklaces of pride be removed to make room for Crowns of Glory.
Will our actions echo across the centuries? Yes, but only if we live and work like an Ideal Kingdom Player who traces the growth of the kingdom of God not only in our students, but in ourselves.