"Mom, do you realize that more than 30 kids said hello to you as you walked through the halls in the last few minutes? They must like to see you here at school!"
Cole, B.J. Pennick's eighth-grade son, was proud of the attention his mom received. B.J. was there to volunteer in the office and attend a PTA board meeting of Charles Haskell Middle School in Broken Arrow, Okla., where she and the other moms made important decisions—such as how to spend the $6,000 they raised for the school, whether to have uniforms next year, and what kind of dances and activities to plan for the students.
Haskell, with a student population of 900, isn't a perfect school, but it is a good example of what can happen when parents' involvement and prayers combine. More than 100 volunteers log hundreds of hours serving at the school, taking kids on field trips, tutoring in the classroom, doing vision and hearing screening, chaperoning at dances, serving on curriculum committees and countless other activities.
These parents intercede and put feet to their prayers, and they see positive results. There's a growing camaraderie and spirit of cooperation between principals, teachers and parents as they ask, "How can we work together to improve academics, emphasize good character and build a better school?" Teachers express gratitude about the treats and thoughtful deeds that have blessed them. And parents are seeing more emphasis on academics and a higher standard of discipline in the classroom.
While school prayer is still debated in Congress, Christian students at Haskell as well as schools around the country meet to pray. The Fellowship of Christian Students has more than 70 sixth, seventh and eighth graders who meet after school to hear speakers, to pray, worship and grow in their faith.
As they gather together, the Christian kids in this middle school feel supported in their faith. "I've learned to share the gospel with different types of students," says B.J.'s son Cole, 14, who's a leader in student council. "I like the challenge of being distinctly Christian and have become stronger in the Lord this year.
"Because I'm a Fellowship student and my mom's praying," he adds, "teachers hold me to a higher standard."
At schools such as Haskell, with a high level of parental involvement and a blanket of prayer over the faculty and students, an environment is created where learning is the goal, excellence is the focus, kids feel safe and teachers feel respected. They still face problems, such as the sex education program, which isn't entirely abstinence-based, or the students experimenting with homosexuality. But as more and more Christian parents get involved and pray, rebuilding is taking place in the public schools.
This rebuilding process is reminiscent of the Old Testament prophet Nehemiah. Just as you may have been disturbed and saddened at the headlines about drug problems or violence in youth, problems in schools in your own community or the moral decline in our society, Nehemiah too was grieved at the devastation of his people.
When he found out that the wall of Jerusalem was torn down, the gates burned and his people in great distress, he fasted and prayed for days, calling upon God for help. He not only prayed — he took action. With the king's permission, he went back to Jerusalem to lead the rebuilding of the wall. There he didn't just gather volunteers or work, he prayed every step of the way and encouraged others to turn their hearts to God as their only hope. In Nehemiah's case, the prayer and action resulted in the wall being rebuilt and the city restored against terrible odds and formidable enemies.
As Christian parents and teachers have rallied, worked and prayed, we are seeing signs of hope in public schools as a similar rebuilding is beginning to happen. One of the positive trends is the effort to turn from the values-free philosophy to teaching virtue and moral values in schools. For example, in Raleigh, N.C., Judy Hoffman, a parent and school board chairman, saw the need to put character back into public education.
After months of praying and careful planning with a 32-member task force about how to implement character education, Judy and the people in her community came up with a plan through which character is integrated into every area of the school day at all levels for the district's 90,000 students. The results in their schools are impressive: The academic climate has improved, tests scores are up, pregnancy and dropout rates have decreased, as has violence in the schools. Character education programs like this are being developed at the local level in almost every state, and they offer great opportunities for Christians to get involved.
In addition, "released-time" programs, in which public school students can legally receive 30 minutes of religious instruction once a week, are growing all over the country. Taught mainly by parent volunteers, these programs are giving millions of kids an opportunity to become acquainted with God's Word. In East Cottonwood Elementary School in northern California, for example, more than half of the 670 students in first to fourth grades go to the nearby St. Anne's Catholic Church on Friday afternoons for a lively half-hour of singing, prayer and Bible stories.
Schools still face formidable foes: postmodern secular teaching and liberal agendas, policies that need to change, overly large classes, problems with discipline and the need for higher academic standards. But if, like Nehemiah, we mix prayer with works, if parents are actively and prayerfully involved in their children's education, the evidence shows that public schools can change.
My perspective on college is different from the usual. I think of it not as an intellectual adventure, preparation for a career or a four-year party. I regard it as a trial.
My first two years at college were some of the most stressful of my life, and I thought high school was stressful! But I also know that I have done the most growing emotionally, physically (dorm food = fattening), mentally and, most important, spiritually—through trials, through missing people and through loneliness.
God doesn't send tests because He needs to learn about us; He sends them because we need to learn about us. Trials of faith show our hidden weaknesses, thus giving us opportunities for unexpected growth.
The college trial everyone knows about is simply being on one's own for the first time. As one student wrote to me,
Everything is new. Even the familiar things set my tears a runnin'—alarm clock ringing, highlighter running out, a phone call from the wrong person at the wrong time. I checked my mailbox faithfully at mail time. I was homesick, but not for my family—for my friends, my teachers, my privacy, my bed, my boyfriend.
For most students, the three main "on my own" issues are Change, because they find themselves in a strange, new place; Aloneness,because they lose their support system of friends, family and faithmates, meeting everyone as a stranger; and Responsibility, because, perhaps for the first time, they have to behave like adults. These trials aren't new, they aren't unique to college and they aren't unique to Christians.
The trial everyone has heard about—but most people underrate—is the sheer spiritual disorientation of the modern campus. Secular writer Katie Roiphe describes the disorientation of modern life in general like this:
It's not the absence of rules exactly, the dizzying sense that we can do what we want, but the sudden realization that nothing we do matters.
Of course, what we do does matter, but you wouldn't know it from observing many campuses. Most students, and most teachers too, are deeply confused about at least four things: God, because they cling to the idea that all religions are equal; morality, because they think distinguishing between right and wrong is intolerant; knowledge, because they no longer believe in truth; and education, because they have lost confidence in what they are supposed to teach or learn.
The trial most parents and incoming students don't expect is indoctrination. In a sense all education indoctrinates. We are indoctrinated in the multiplication tables, in working hard, in playing fair. The difference is that the modern university, having lost its moral convictions, has attached itself to relativistic doctrines such as tolerance and diversity, which mean, in practice, tolerance of anything but biblical faith and traditional morality. For example, official indoctrinators consider it "religious discrimination" to hold that the Bible's teachings about God are true, and "affectional discrimination" to hold that homosexual acts are morally wrong or even unhealthy.
[My] Introduction to Public Policy [dealt with] many controversial issues. One young man spoke out in favor of the religious side. Another student turned around and said, "Why don't you just shut up!" There was nervous laughter, which escalated when the teacher said, "Well, I guess she told you!"
Methods of indoctrination are likely to include not only required courses, but also freshman orientation, speech codes, mandatory diversity training, dormitory policies, guidelines for registered student organizations and mental health counseling. Colleges and universities are expert, however, in hiding their indoctrination efforts at from parents and prospective students.
The upside is that God can use this challenging time to teach students how to build upon rock instead of sand. What can students and parents do to prepare?
First, students and parents should start now to build strong and honest family relationships. Though college strains family relationships, most students want to stay close to their families. The time to establish relationships is before Julie and Jason go off to college, not after they get there.
Second, students should develop sound minds. This depends largely on good reading, for how can our minds be transformed if everything we read at college is by relativists? I usually recommend the fiction and nonfiction works of C.S. Lewis. [Editor's note: For online browsing, visit TrueU.org, an online community designed just for Christian college students.]
Third, students who are of the Christian faith should remember that there is no such thing as a solitary Christian. A student who enters college with the attitude "It's just you and me, God," will probably lose his faith; a student who seeks other Christians will probably keep it—and grow. God made us members of a body, the body of Christ, for this reason.
Fourth, students should cultivate common sense. What the Bible calls wisdom is more than just memorizing Bible verses; it is the understanding of God's way with us, and it is thoroughly practical. For example, a student who wants to remain chaste should avoid not only sexual intercourse, but anything that "gets his motor running."
My final advice? Be bold. College wasn't always hostile to faith, and it doesn't have to remain that way. So, students and parents, speak out! The martyrs endured being crucified, mauled by animals, and sawed in half. For so glorious a God, we can endure a few sneers.
As a young man, Tom started a business that grew into a successful enterprise. Tom’s competence and character meshed, resulting in an outstanding reputation in his community. Over several years, he saw employees and customers begin a personal relationship with God and grow in their faith.
One morning Tom’s pastor inquired, “Tom, have you ever considered really giving your life to God—working full time for the Lord?”
Tom felt confused. “Pastor,” he explained, “I feel that what I’m doing now is a form of full-time work for the Lord.”
The pastor smiled. “Tom, there’s no doubt that God has used you in amazing ways; but the work you’re in is secular. I think God is calling you to consider becoming involved in something higher.”
Eventually, Tom sold his business and accepted an administrative role in a mission organization. He was in that role for two years when he became my patient and was displaying an array of physical problems. As I got to know Tom and studied the results of his medical tests, I became convinced that he was suffering from anxiety and depression.
One day I asked, “Tom, do you think you’re doing what God wants you to do?”
His eyes teared up. “Walt, I think God had me right where he wanted me—in my business in California.” He paused and continued, “Do you think there’s a difference between sacred work and secular work?”
The mistaken concept that some people do sacred work for God while the rest of humanity settles by doing secular work is an ancient one. In Western thought, this idea developed from Greek philosophy, which taught that any kind of menial work with physical materials was beneath the gods or men who had the means to choose how they spent their time. Slaves did the menial work, while those with means spent time in pursuits of the mind: religion or philosophy.
Confucius, the father of much of Eastern philosophy, taught virtually the same thing. This mistaken notion has plagued the church with the conclusion that “worldly activities” are viewed as a major distraction to a person’s spiritual development.
Accepting the secular-sacred split invariably leads Christians in the workplace to feel caught between the demands of two worlds. On the one hand, you sense the need to be engaged in your work. On the other, a worldview tells you that you’re wasting your time and should be pursuing God. It is difficult to live successfully if you allow these forces to tug at your heart.
Plus, how can we be serious about God if we devote the largest measure of our time, talent, treasure and energy to a part of life we think God has no interest in? Dorothy Sayers asked the question this way: “How can anyone remain interested in religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life?”
What the Bible teaches The biblical worldview leaves no room for secular-sacred, dualistic thinking. Unlike the aloof gods of ancient thought, the God of the Bible is actively involved in His world. He engaged in creation. Note that the biblical words used to describe God’s work of creation are physical and earthy: “When the Lord God made the earth and the heavens . . . the Lord God formed man and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed” (Genesis 2:4, 7,8 emphasis added).
The apostle Paul reiterates God’s claim over the workplace. In Paul’s day, slaves comprised the bulk of the workforce. Rather than using the terms employee and employer, as we use today, he addressed slaves and masters.
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:22-24).
If you are living with a divided secular-sacred worldview, then you’ll tend to make one of two choices: You will separate yourself as much as possible from “worldly” things; or you will forget God and devote yourself to the pursuit of success as the world defines it. Trying to live in both worlds can be crippling. No matter what your job may be, God can and will use you when you do it with honor and integrity.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” —Colossians 3:23
“We can turn an ordinary job into an extraordinary mission if we realize that God has placed us in our work as an opportunity to influence others for His kingdom. Some call this the 9 to 5 window,” says Ike Reighard, chief people officer of Homebanc Mortgage Corporation in Atlanta. Reighard, who has worked also as a pastor, believes we forget our calling because we mix up the order of God’s design, a concept he became more aware of after reading The Call by Os Guinness.
“No. 1, we’re called to someone: God. No. 2, we’re called to do something, and that is the skill set we have been blessed with. Then No. 3, we are called somewhere. We have a tendency to get that backward. We become more interested in where we’re called than by whom we’re called. If you do that, then you’re going to start thinking, The only place I can do ministry is if I’m working full-time church work. It’s a shame.”
If Christians would keep this straight, then our workplaces would change. We would respect our co-workers, seeing them through God’s eyes. In the long run, Reighard says, we’ll become servant leaders—just as Christ instructed us to be. “Christians must realize that we are all called but not every Christian is given the mantle of ministry.”
For a complimentary copy of the Gospel of John, visit www.pocketpower.org.