by Joanne den Boer, SCSBC Director of Learning ◊
“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (III John 1:4). The apostle John wrote this to Gaius1, who walked in the truth, as evidenced by the prospering of his soul, and by his generosity and faithful assistance to the brothers and sisters, and strangers. The Scriptures are silent about the antecedents regarding how Gaius came to know the truth, to walk in it, and to live out of the truth. One can surmise that he had been deeply influenced by the words, teachings, and actions of other disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.
When asked what it means to be a disciple, Christian teachers offer the following. Disciples desire to emulate the master. They need faith in who and what they follow. They are devoted and loyal to their leader. They are in apprenticeship training, learning the skills of the master. It involves being hospitable to others. Being a disciple requires commitment, surrendering self to the cause; it requires humility and being teachable.
Concordances describe a disciple as a scholar, a learner or student, an adherent to the teachings of his master, or as one teacher put it, disciples need to study the leader’s literature. Jesus would concur. In fact, he took it a step further, for he said, “You are my disciples indeed, if you continue in my word, ” (John 8:31), exhorting them to search the Scriptures. Discipleship has a responsive dimension. Jesus also said “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another” (John 13:35). Thus discipleship also has relational and responsible (response-able) dimensions.
The SCSBC has long held the position that “Christian schooling is to help children explore and experience what it means to be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.”2 Christian schools assert the same in their mission statement. Certainly, it can be argued, Christian education is a means of grace3 used by parents to put their child(ren) in the way4, to learn about Christian practices.
In his book, Growing in the Life of Faith, Craig Dykstra writes about Christian practices. Some of the practices include worshiping God together, reading and hearing the Scriptures, praying, confessing sin and forgiving one another. These practices might fall under spirituality; “in Christian schools children are challenged to direct their hearts and lives to God.” 5 If discipleship means emulating the Master, then teachers will help children know what this looks, sounds, and feels like.
Other Christian practices are hospitality and service.6 Discipleship requires involvement in acts of service, in the immediate environment of the classroom or farther away, with individuals or communities. In this way, schools help children experience what Jesus meant when He said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45). Service could come in the form of hospitality.7
Schools need to provide opportunities for children both to discover and develop the gifts and abilities God has given them and how they can be used to explore the vocation God calls them to. Some might be called to be fishers. Others may find their calling in professions similar to those of the disciples mentioned in the gospels, such as doctors, chief rulers of synagogues, or centurions. Some children may find themselves with gifts for the applied skills akin to tent makers, tanners, sellers of purple, or seamstresses. Great or small, engaging culture on a large scale or small scale, having a faithful presence in the community, their gifts are to be used in the service to God, to neighbours and to God’s world. 8
The practice of stewardship can be learned in the Christian school from a very early age. Creation is to be cared for and enjoyed, for all of it belongs to God. The wisdom literature teaches the importance of being stewards of time as well, allowing time for contemplation and for living balanced lives.9
Disciples of Jesus Christ also understand they live as individuals within community. One only needs to read the Acts of the Apostles for a rich insight into this practice. Discernment, seeking justice, and God-honouring communication are other marks of being a follower of Jesus Christ. Hence Christian teachers need to intentionally plan their educational program so that over the course of a year students will have opportunities to experience and explore these Christian practices. “We grow best in these practices when we participate in the activities involved in them with others … these practices become the fundamental habits of life around which identity and character are formed.”10 These practices are timeless for disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, relevant from the beginning of time, through the 21st century, even to Christ’s glorious return.
Christian school curriculum, pedagogy and assessment need to be based on helping children understand what being a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ is all about. The most essential tool a teacher needs to accomplish this is the Word of God. How can children follow a master they do not know? How can children live like the master without knowing what his literature is? When studying a novel, the oceans, government, weights and measures, are students encouraged to check what Scripture might have to say about the topic? In nutrition and textile classes, in the woodworking or automotive shops, in the performing arts classes, is God book-ended, or do His truths influence process and product and purpose? How are we teaching what abiding in God’s Word looks like? How do we help students walk in the truth if the pages of Scripture are closed? If we truly believe that Christian education is to be Christ-centred, God’s Word will have the pre-eminence in all of our programs.
This raises the question, what is the time allotment in the schedule for studying Scripture? Of course, discipleship schooling should not be isolated to a specific class; it is imperative that it is woven into the entire schooling experience of the child. Since Jesus says that his disciples continue in his Word, then dedicating specific time to studying the Scriptures is germane to Christian education. It has been said that “if Christian schools do not consciously develop their programs so that they confront children with the significance of being a disciple of Christ, they quite possibly disciple them into some other way.”11
After fourteen years in a Christian school, a child has had lots of opportunities to explore and experience what it means to be a disciple of the Lord, and to observe the Christian teachers who have discipled them. Yet there is no guarantee “that all who attend Christian schools will naturally become Christ’s disciples. There are many other alluring masters that beckon.”12 Even in Christ’s day, there were many who “followed him for love and learning, while others attended him only for cures”13 and others, sadly, walked away entirely deeming his words too hard for them (John 6:60).
Giving children a steady stream of opportunities with Christian practices “helps them to understand how full-orbed Christian discipleship is”.14 When educators teach and practice abiding in God’s word, “the Lord working with them, and confirming the word” (Mark 16:20), children will see what it means to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Go therefore and make disciples.1 Gaius probably was a companion of the apostle Paul 2 SCSBC. (2003). Educating with Heart and Mind, p. 9 3 Dykstra, C. (2005). Growing in the Life of Faith: Education and Christian Practices. 2nd Edition. Westminster John Knox Press. Louisville, Kentucky. 4 compare to Gen. 24:27 (I, being in the way…) 5 SCSBC (1998). Curriculum Planning. Vision I , p. 11 6 Dykstra, C. (2005). Growing in the Life of Faith: Education and Christian Practices. 2nd Ed. Westminster John Knox Press. Louisville, Kentucky. p 42-43 7 for more examples of elements of discipleship, see SCSBC’s Curriculum Planning. p 11,12 8 SCSBC. (2003). Educating with Heart and Mind, p. 10 9 SCSBC (1998). Curriculum Planning. Vision I , p. 11 10 Dykstra C. (2005). Growing in the Life of Faith: Education and Christian Practices. 2nd Ed. Westminster John Knox Press. Louisville, Kentucky. ibid, p 45 11 SCSBC. (2003). Educating with Heart and Mind, p. 11 12 ibid 13 Church, L.F. (1961). Commentary on the Whole Bible, by Matthew Henry. Zondervan Publishing House. Grand Rapids, MI . p. 1219 14 SCSBC, Educating with Heart and Mind, p. 11