Has the thought ever crossed your mind that you could lose your job for being a Christian? If it has, then you are a pretty normal Christian teacher. We have all heard a story at some point in our careers about a teacher who was fired or at the very least written up for witnessing to a student (or co-worker), talking about God in class, or inviting a student to church. (the most recent, most visible one being the administrator who was involved in the Pensacola revival--his story made it to 20/20!) It happens. It’s probably going to happen more and more. In the face of this possibility, is it feasible to even try to be a witness on the job? This is a question I wrestled with often during my beginning years of teaching. If you’ve asked yourself the same thing, perhaps the following thoughts will help you reach a conclusion.
DO WE HAVE TO?
It took me some time to realize that I even had ANY “duties” as a Christian--afterall, salvation is a free gift. Then it took a while longer to learn that I didn’t have to “do” lots of things--that I couldn't make God love me more than He already does --but that’s another story! Somewhere in the middle lies the healthy definition of heartfelt, mature, responsible service to the Lord, because we are committed to Him--our Christian duty.
For me, the YWAM motto : “To know Christ and make Him known” sums it up quite well. This is our duty. Please don’t neglect the first part, “to know Christ.” You could think of it as evangelizing yourself! There is no way you can make Christ known to others unless you are learning to know Him more and more yourself. “Making Him known” is when we evangelize others, and is the focus of this particular article. The Bible says we are to go into all the world and preach the Gospel and make disciples. Being a witness and a light for Christ is not an option; it is a command. You are where you are, in the classroom, by God’s design, and in obedience you are called to be a witness for Him in that place.
Be aware that there is a spiritual battle being waged in your work place, over “your” kids. The devil wants the souls of those kids you’re teaching. One of the most powerful weapons he uses to keep Christian teachers from having an effect on their students is fearful intimidation. I know teachers who are so afraid of losing their jobs because they brought religion into the classroom, they won’t even say God bless you when someone sneezes!
Well, in the name of Jesus I expose that fear as a lie from hell. Fear not!! Two things you must remember: if God called you to that school, He will keep you there until He’s done with you. On a more practical note: they can’t fire you without warning you!
WHAT THEY NEVER TOLD US IN COLLEGE
One thing that Christian teachers have to understand is how very much influence we have on the students that cross our paths. They will very seriously consider and very often believe without question everything we tell them; unfortunately, they also believe everything MTV tells them. Nonetheless, we can and should use this same power of influence for God. Use it to fight the world’s propaganda, to point out the untruths being presented by advertisers and the entertainment industry. What they never told us in college is this: even though we have to say it is “just my opinion”, what we (adults in authority) say even as opinion is almost as good as fact to many of them. Students trust teachers to tell them the truth. We are some of the last people they have left to trust. So please, give your "opinions" about God and faith and sin and hell. Study to make sure they are in accordance with the Bible; if you lead them wrong you will be held accountable. Scary, isn’t it? You are very powerful in their lives. For this reason the Bible says that not many should presume to be teachers, and that we will be judged very strictly for how we use the mightly power of our influence, because it DOES make a difference. The truth of God's word will not return void--Isaiah 55:11--read that verse, it will inspire you! Cast your bread upon the waters, man!! Read Ecclesiastes 11:1, 4-6.
MAKING HIM KNOWN
Earlier I said that your first priority is to obey God in making Him known. That is true, but one thing I’ve had to struggle with is my paradigm of what it means to make Him known, what it means to spread the Gospel: what it means to live in obedience to Christ. The formula that I’ve learned is that there is no formula. I write the following in hopes that some of you will be set free from preconceived ideas of what it means to make God known to young people.
It is your Christian duty to make Christ known at your job.
Now, after reading all that, some of you are falling into condemnation and thinking you must be preaching every time you stand up in front of your kids. NOT, and again I say, NOT!!
Teacher, you do not have to do preacher or youth leader things to bring Jesus to your students. (I hear that huge sigh of relief!)
In fact, I dare say God does not want you to do preacher/evangelist/youth leader things with your students. He called you to be a school teacher. You must obey the command to make Him known through the channel of being a school teacher. I once walked with a crying young man down the hall, and not knowing what else to do for him, offered to pray. He said yes, please, and stopped right there and bowed his head. So I prayed for him. But God has called on me to do that only once (so far!) in my entire teaching career.
You are personally responsible to have the kind of relationship with God that enables you to find out from Him exactly how, when, where, and to whom He wants you to minister. He has a different strategy for every teacher. Don’t make a bunch of rules about how you are to carry out the Commission! Your job is to listen and obey!
Although God's specific direction on what to do and say will be different for every teacher's situation, there are a few general principles that apply to all of us.
First and foremost, you need to cultivate a deep, sincere love for your students if you’re ever going to be effective in sharing Christ with them. Some days this is really hard--really, really hard!! But as they say--students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I make sure that all of my students know that I am a follower of Christ--and then I love them. I firmly believe that this is part of preparing the ground of their hearts to receive the message of the Gospel. Respect your students, love them, be real and sincere in all your dealings with them. Don’t feel bad if you’re not the touch-y, feel-y type; don’t feel pressure to be every student’s buddy; that isn’t what it’s about. See them as people, individuals, not just students. It’s a whole mind-set you have to get yourself into, and sometimes you have to work at it. But they notice.
Doing my job as an English teacher--teaching them to read and write--was also demonstrating love toward my students. They are going to need what I know and have been hired to give them. I had to stop and think--what good is it to tell them all about God if when they graduate they can’t read and write and blame you for it? Lousy testimony.
Secondly, you must pray for them. Pray as the Lord leads you--long, short, daily, monthly, specifically or generally, but always sincerely. Some days the needs you will see among them are so overwhelming that prayer will be necessary for your own spiritual health.
MAKING HIM KNOWN: SOME METHODS
There are innumerable ways you can bring the good news of Jesus into your classroom. Here are just a few that I could think of. I would love to hear and add your ideas--write me!
HISTORY: God is all over History. Get to talking about the Jews. Be respectful of the other religions (Muslim, Hindu), but don’t fuss over them. Some Christian teachers, wanting to avoid seeming prejudiced, practically teach the kids the basic tenets of Bhuddism or the Aztec religion. That’s not necessary. You can teach even your politically correct text from the Godly perspective. You can bring in outside reading. Be clear on the connections between religion and politics. Bring in the Catholic church. Read actual historical documents that acknowledge God. Examine the causes of wars: sin. You know Christianity is more than a culture thing. Don’t teach your students to view it as such.
When they argue, let them argue, then remind them that you have a college education and many years of experience under your belt, and you still believe the Bible. Be open to differing opinions about most things, and admit it if you err in a detail here and there, but be immovable and unflappable when it comes to your faith in God and His role in your subject; your confidence is powerfully convincing.
SCIENCE: So you have to teach evolution. Just make sure they know it’s the THEORY of evolution. There are tons of materials available to support a creationist view without ever saying the word creation or God or Bible--check out www.family.org and www.breakpoint.org. Teach your students the limitations of science. Teach your students the marvels of science. Show them that the universe is organized, intricate, precise. Lead them to the questions that will lead them to the Creator as the only logical explanation. Pose the questions that lie beyond man’s ability to answer. Don’t put down science; do put it in perspective.
Again: when they argue, let them argue, then remind them that you have a college education and many years of experience under your belt, and you still believe the Bible. Be open to differing opinions about most things, and admit it if you err in a detail here and there, but be immovable and unflappable when it comes to your faith in God and His role in your subject; your confidence is powerfully convincing.
ENGLISH: Teach stories and novels and poetry that contain Biblical allusions. Thus, you are “forced” to tell the Bible story so that the story/novel/poem can be understood. Students often have questions that will open even more doors for you to share the Gospel. Remember, you don’t have to teach everything in the textbook. If there are stories in praise of things that aren’t God honoring, you can skip them, or you can de-emphasize them. And if you are required to teach something that you as a Christian cannot promote, then read it, but don’t promote it. Tell the students you have to teach it but you’re totally in disagreement with what it teaches. It’s legal. You can do that. You have a right to your opinions. Keep in mind as you teach them to analyze literature, to interpret metaphor, to see cause/effect relationships, to understand symbolism and flashback and parallelism--this will help them in understanding the Bible. Keep reading Shakespeare--it makes the KJV less intimidating should they accidently get ahold of one. Post proverbs around your room.
And I'll say it once more: when they argue, let them argue, then remind them that you have a college education and many years of experience under your belt, and you still believe the Bible. Be open to differing opinions about most things, and admit it if you err in a detail here and there, but be immovable and unflappable when it comes to your faith in God and His role in your subject; your confidence is powerfully convincing!
NON-CLASS TIME: Another avenue for witness I have used is simply being available. Stay in your room at lunch time, and leave your door open. (Don’t feel bad if you have to close it and hide some days--we all need a break!) Tell the kids you’re there, or what days you are there. Invite them in, have a bowl of candy you set out at lunch time only. Come to school early. And this I can’t emphasize enough--get prepared while the students aren’t there so you can be “all there” for them when they are there. You are rendered ineffective as an instrument of God if your mind is occupied continually with what you are going to do next class period.
I personally am not one to go to all the games and chaperone the dances and help out with clubs, but this, too, is a great place to develop relationships with kids where you can love them with the love of the Lord.
Don’t forget to support the Christian kids in your class. Don’t favor them--kids are big fakers and if they see talking about God gets them special privileges they can put on a good act, and you will look like a fool ‘cause all the kids will know they’re faking it even as you are being deceived. Just support. Model humility for them. Model a compassion for those who don’t know God. Take them down a notch if they start to thinking they’re better than the unsaved.
And finally--in most schools you won’t get in trouble for leaving a Bible on your desk. Just remember, it’s like putting a fish emblem on the back of your car--if you do it, make sure you “drive right”!
Please, please do not fall into the trap of looking at administrators or even the school board as “the Enemy”. We wrestle not against flesh and blood. There are spiritual forces at work here, and they are working just as hard if not harder to intimidate those in authority over you. Your principal is afraid of losing his/her job, too. The superintendent wants to get reappointed. If a parent or board member or principal begins really giving you a hard time, hear the words of Jesus: “pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you.”
On the legal side of things: many teachers seem to forget that they are American citizens, too, and as such, have the privilege of free speech. Remember, by law, employers cannot discriminate against you because of your religious beliefs. Anything that you state as “this is what I believe” is safe to say. Don’t let the devil intimidate you into silence. The Bible does NOT say "Thou shalt be doormats and just take whatever they throw at you." Check this out for more:
If administration or a parent approaches you to complain about “religion in your classroom”, then, if need be, you can tone it down and seek the Lord for how He wants you to witness. Stay balanced, of course; don’t deliberately set out to break the laws of the land, because they are set up by God Himself. On the other hand, if you’ve never gotten any written or verbal warnings about your witness before, then legally, boldly continue doing and saying whatever the Lord directs you to do and say. Don’t let fear keep you from ministering Jesus’ love to a student who needs it, now. The Lord will keep you.
Although the Lord will keep you in your service to Him, you do have a responsibility to do the right thing to the best of your ability. A Christian should strive to be a model of integrity and professionalism in any job, at all times. If your Christian stand ever becomes a controversial issue in your school, this becomes a real "stay hired/get fired issue. Following are a few practical hints on some things you definitely don’t want to be doing!
--A demanding, argumentative, rebellious and/or self-righteous approach is ALWAYS wrong!
--A disorganized teacher will be eaten alive by anyone who wants to discredit him/her. Be organized before any of this stuff comes up; work on your known weaknesses!
--Don’t even tell them you’re a Christian if you’re constantly pushing the teacher dress code to the limits or missing deadlines or arriving late at meetings, if not skipping them altogether.
--On the other hadn--don't be a fakey apple-polisher with your administrators!
Learn to document, and document well. Your best defense against people who will attack you for “bringing religion into the classroom” is to be an effective teacher. I look to Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family organization as my model in how to behave when standing up for Jesus in the public arena. No other organization I know of is as well-researched, professional and organized as these people when they go up against enemies of the faith. They have acted respectably, and are respected.
Speaking of research, something you MUST do is read the teacher’s manual. You need to know what actions and words are specifically prohibited before you can walk on the edge of legality and not fall off.
Some of you absolutely do NOT need to read this section, because you are convinced that you have a divine call to be a teacher in a public school. Good for you!! Skip this and read the next section. But for those of you who are just killing time in the education professions until the student loans are paid off--read on!
For a long time I approached my job of being a school teacher as a place I had to be stuck in until the Lord made it possible for me to go into full time ministry. I've always felt, and still feel, a call to the mission field. I was fond of telling people, as sort of a justification for why I wasn’t at Bible school or in a jungle in Africa, that being a teacher was the best pastor’s school anyone could go to. This is actually quite true, but my heart was wrong in saying it. My whole focus was on evangelizing the kids, at the expense of teaching them. I was using the school as my outlet for a frustrated desire to be in full time church ministry.
Incidentally, I've since come to realize that God's definition of the "mission field" is considerably broader than that of most Christian churches. Too often we see "go into all the world" as someplace far away-- but our own back yard is part of that "all" as well!
Another thing the Lord convicted me about at this time was my obligation to my employer. They are paying me to be a teacher, not to be a pastor. The Bible says whatever we do, do it as unto the Lord, and that our earthly authorities are ordained by God. When we put ministering to students over our job of teaching them, we are cheating our employers and walking in disobedience to God.
A question for you to consider: are you a school teacher who’s a minister or a minister who’s a school teacher? Don’t analyze yourself into confusion; on the other hand, it is certainly worth your time to examine your motives in becoming an educator.
IF YOU’RE AFRAID...
The Bible says that the righteous are bold as a lion. Righteousness enables you to be bold. If fear and intimidation has you in an unusually strong grip, you may need to re-examine your walk with the Lord. Of course check yourself for the obvious footholds of the enemy--lack of a devotional and prayer life is a common problem. But don't forget to consider these more subtle temptations to sin. Do you REALLY trust God to lead you right? To protect your job or provide for your family if you lose it because of Him? And here's a big one to watch out for: Are you, to the best of your ability, living up to your end of your teaching contract? Repent if you need to, and reclaim the righteousness of Jesus Christ, which covers your imperfections. Receiving and believing His forgiveness will make you bold!
I leave you with a thought that continues to inspire and encourage me when I consider its implications: they called Jesus "Rabbi", which, translated from the Hebrew, means "teacher".
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God bless you as you continue serving Him.
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