catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 48, Num 1 :: 2008.10.01 — 2008.12.15


Inside, outside upside down

What is the giant that stomps onto the path of your personal faith journey? What does this colossal beast look like, and how does he act? This question was posed to us recently in our grade 6/7 Bible class as we unwrapped The Dangerous Journey curriculum by PACS (Prairie Association of Christian Schools). Student responses ranged from monsters of apathy, boredom, despair and fear. One boy, who worries a lot, bravely raised his hand and publicly said in front of his peers, “anxiety.” 

Alongside the students, I confessed that the giant of efficiency often storms my course. The need to complete work, to get things done, to finish off details and move onto the next activity or event hinders my faith walk with God Almighty and deters me from modeling to my students a Father who is never in a hurry. This giant stops me from really listening to my students and to God, whose Spirit often calls things up quietly and in a pondering kind of way. This giant says to my students that they are highly valued, but I am too busy to “meaningfully” interact with them.


Faith development

Our discussion of giants, connecting with old-time allegory Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, has helped me pause and reflect on faith development and nurture in middle-school students. As a teacher and mom, I have often wondered and been challenged to think about how faith grows and how it flourishes best. How do we make room for kids of faith to practice becoming adults of faith? How can we as broken parents and teachers be signposts of integrity in the midst of faith flux? 

I was glad when, in recent months, Syd Hielema, chaplain at Redeemer University College, spoke on this very topic at our local PD-day workshop. Not long ago my children’s Christian high school also held an open panel discussion called The Voice. The panel consisted of a teen, a youth pastor, a counselor and a high school teacher. They expressed their thoughts on faith and on the challenges that youth face. At the same time, my home church hosted a youth service that spoke to these issues as well. There appeared to be some common ground as church, home and school communities explored this foggy area called faith nurture.


Slow growth

What is very clear is that fostering faith in youth is a blurry business; it does not lend itself to a quick formula. Those like myself, who can be task-oriented and want to see results, need to be patient. We need to wait   wait for years sometimes. Faith growth can neither be forced nor easily measured. Grading Biblical literacy is simple enough, but assessing a faith life, which is fluid and transforms over time even as times change, is hard.

Christian teachers who teach about God are, nevertheless, mainly concerned about how students experience the love and grace of God in the classroom and school. This faith that we so desire for our kids is not simply outward compliance or obedience to a set of rules, it can also be messy and at times lopsided. The shedding of the old self and putting on of the new is an inside, outside and upside-down business, a business that we as teachers are also engaged in as we pursue our own spiritual walks. Students who are learning to speak and live out the language of the Christian faith closely observe and listen to how others articulate and act out their living faith. Modeling plays a huge role in fostering Christian belief. Students expect teachers to be wise, yet “real.”

Recently, when my students were “doing” memory work, I asked them to testify in writing what the Bible passage meant to them and what it might mean to the greater Christian community. One student piped up and said, “Can’t we just write it out? That would be easier.” The question made me ask myself whether I had been sharing enough of the language of faith through my own personal stories and testimonies, modeling the “inside” goods of my own faith walk.

I have also learned that we as teachers need to create climates in which meaningful discussion takes place. In order to do this well, we, of course, need to understand the world of the pre-adolescent student; we need to create a safe place for discussion; we need curriculum, methodology and technology that is life-connected and dynamic. 

But that is not enough. We need to pray that God, through his Spirit, will breath into us what is important to say and model at just the right time. He will help us teach what is significant and enduring and meaningful and wise if we call on him. According to Robert Koole, professor at Calvin College, God connects the dots in our students’ lives. What we do in the day as teachers, the Lord quietly works with after the last bell rings.


Three strands

Syd Hielema pointed out that there are three general trends within Christian culture we need to be aware of which influence the faith walk of North American youth. One of these trends is embodied in school and church cultures – influences that tend to see God primarily as law giver. This God is a legalistic, disappointed, judging, guilt-mongering God who expects “performance” and uses “should” language. 

A second trend sees God simply as a Best Friend. He is there to make us feel good about ourselves and to feel accepted. Love is only an emotion, and the goal of spirituality is to reach for the “highs.” This emphasis is all about the self and Jesus. 

The third trend sees God as a gracious covenant God. People are invited to discover the laws of God for life, which give freedom, and to receive God’s grace through Jesus. This God calls people to confess sin, to change, to be set free, to rest in him and to live out a life of gratitude. This trend is about individuals in community and their relationship with God the Father, Son and Spirit.


Trustworthy adults

Churches and schools alike reflect these trends and influence how middle school children perceive God and faith from the outside. Discrepancies in the Christian culture may also be giants which confuse and bewilder students who find themselves in the middle of their own faith journey. We do well to appreciate the fact that faith nurture is a blurry business and that youth need adults who can be trusted – adults who are “real” and wise. We as teachers are dependent on the Holy Spirit to create a climate that is safe and meaningful. Helping youth navigate the fog inside and around them during the highs and in the middle of their upside-down times is an overwhelming job.

When one of my students finds her family in the middle of a divorce and uses her persuasive essay as a springboard for hidden emotions, I thank God. When a boy writes a biography in composition class about his brother who died four years ago, saying, “I don’t know how things can ever be normal again,” I praise God for the Spirit’s quiet work. When a child raises his hand and names the ogre of anxiety out loud, I choke up and marvel at God’s giant ways.

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