In my last column, “Stepping back from the firehose” (Dec. 8, 2014), I wrote about the different approaches Christians have taken to culture and how those approaches have worked themselves out in Christian education. I ended the column by saying: We need to step back from the firehose a bit – and ask ourselves what the world around us really needs. How can we, as Christians, help our kids to speak to the longings of a broken world that is bathed in bits, drowning in information and struggling to find meaning? If we can find the answer to that question, Christian schools will have found a new educational purpose – and the classrooms will fill up again.
In my last column, “Stepping back from the firehose” (Dec. 8, 2014), I wrote about the different approaches Christians have taken to culture and how those approaches have worked themselves out in Christian education. I ended the column by saying:
We need to step back from the firehose a bit – and ask ourselves what the world around us really needs. How can we, as Christians, help our kids to speak to the longings of a broken world that is bathed in bits, drowning in information and struggling to find meaning? If we can find the answer to that question, Christian schools will have found a new educational purpose – and the classrooms will fill up again.
I thought I could just leave it there, but the column generated a lot of email and discussion. And while I’m not nearly smart enough to answer the question: “what do Christian schools need to do next,” I figure since I asked the question, I should at least take a stab at it.
Asking “what does the world need?” is an important question – because it’s what God himself has done. After all, we read that “God so loved the world that he gave his only son.” The order of that transaction is very important. He loves the whole world – not just parts of it – and he responds by giving something he has that the world needs.
Often, in Christian education, we’ve worked through that transaction backwards. We’ve asked ourselves “what do we have?” or “what are we prepared to give of ourselves?” and then proceeded to deliver it to the world whether they need it or not. At our best, that’s led to Reformed critiques of art and literature and politics – which are nifty and all – but a little dry for public consumption. At our worst, we keep our ideas to ourselves – trying to hide our kids from the world in a safe little nest of Christian fundamentalism until they’re old enough to go out in the world themselves.
But what if we flip the transaction around the way God meant it to be? What if we start by loving the world?
The right questions
When you love someone, you respond to their needs. You don’t simply overlook their faults, or tolerate them – it means much more than that. It means that despite all the things that you don’t like about the other person, you’ve made a decision to care about them anyway, and put them first.
I don’t know about you, but I am terrible at this. For one thing, I’m slow to realize when someone has needs. Second, I’m selfish – so even if I do manage to realize the needs of another person, I’m slow to help. I may want to care, but I don’t always feel capable of it.
Still, this is what God calls us to do. He calls us to love one another. To love our neighbours as ourselves. I guess if it were easy, we wouldn’t need to meet once a week at church to talk about how to do it.
So what does this mean in the context of Christian education? It means that all the efforts to reform the “education” part of Christian education to make it more acceptable, or relevant or popular are completely misguided. What we need to do is reform the “Christian” part of Christian education.
That starts by asking: “If we Christians are called to love the world, what does the world need from us? What do we have that our world needs?”
What the world doesn’t need is a political stand on abortion, same sex marriage or euthanasia. It doesn’t need a seven-day creation model or the ability to proof-text from scripture. If the world wanted and needed those things from us, churches would be bursting at the seams – because that’s the stuff we ALWAYS talk about. Loving someone doesn’t mean judging what’s wrong with them and lecturing them on it – and loving the world shouldn’t either.
What we can give, out of love, are two things that are in short supply: community and rest. And those aren’t just gifts we can give students but – perhaps more importantly – that we can give parents.
People live fractured lives. Divorces are skyrocketing. Commutes are getting longer. Extended families don’t stay in the same place together anymore. The irony is that in a world of social networking, our real-world connections to one another are fraying. Church and school communities, on the other hand, offer an alternative. Participating in the life of a school with other parents means doing something positive together in a way that’s authentic and real. Christian schools offer parents a chance to bond over doing something worthwhile for their kids – and building something that will last. What could be better than that?
On the other hand, we also offer rest. When you’re participating in the life of a community, you’re away from all the distractions of social media and your phone – all the things that keep us busy, distracted and agitated. When you’re using lessons and school activities to comment thoughtfully on the spiritual needs of a generation, you’re helping young people find rest, too. And when you sponsor service projects to reach out to the people in your town or city, you’re showing love.
That notion of providing a place to rest – whether for parents in community events or students in a classroom – could be very attractive for all us folks living hyper-connected yet hyper-fractured lives out in the world, and would bring people into our classrooms. But more importantly, doing all of this out of love for the world would be truly revolutionary Christianity and would bring people into the pews.
Because what the world needs now is love, sweet love.