Green Light for a Christ-centered Education
Proceed with caution!
Recently, the BC Ministry of Education unveiled its Education Plan1. There are exciting elements in this plan, which promises to allow schools more choice and flexibility in program design. The plan endorses parent involvement. Balancing skill development with personalized learning is important. However, this plan requires Christian schools to proceed with caution because it is unabashedly student-centred. “It’s all about putting students at the centre of education.” This does not negate the role of the teacher, but it does emphasize that the learner is the focal point in the process of learning.
Our conviction is that Christian schooling must be Christ-centred rather than subject- or student-centred. 2
It seems easier to think about Christian schooling as being student-oriented, teacher-guided, and community-connected. It is easier to talk about biblical worldview or Christian perspective, to question whether integrating faith and learning is dichotomous, to examine elements of discipleship or biblical through lines in a way that generates excellent dialogue and soul searching than to examine our practices as being Christ-centred. At your school, is there less talk, less attention, less consideration given to what a Christ-centred education means? Perhaps that’s because it is not easy!
Christ-centred education is often defined in terms of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Christ is Lord over every square inch of the earth, and all things hold together in Christ. “He is the creator and the re-Creator. When people sinned, they destroyed their ability to understand the unity of creation” 3. “Students need to learn about Christ’s redemptive work as it applies to all creation. They need to know that he invites them to participate in bringing healing into the brokenness experienced by the world and its people”4. Inevitably, and rightfully, schools design curriculum that focuses on creation and our responsibility for it. Christian schooling calls students (and us) to serve God and others. In other words, there is an emphasis on action, on doing. Could it be that being is under-emphasized? Is this where we need to unpack what it means to be a Christ-centered school?
Let’s revisit this statement – a Christian school must be defined in terms of the life of Christ being lived out in its teachers and students 5.
If anyone had a Christ-centred education, the twelve disciples did. Yes, even Judas Iscariot. The Jews were rather surprised to see fishermen, tax collectors and the like, follow unwaveringly after the Rabbi Jesus, especially since none of them had any formal education in the Hebrew tradition. They likely didn’t have schooling past age twelve. They apprenticed in the family business. In fact, this seems to be true of the Rabbi, too, before he began his public ministry. The Jews knew that the main goal of following a rabbi was not only to think like him, but to be like him.
What is it, to be like Christ?
What is Christ like? Christ was full of love, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end (John 13:1), even while they were still sinners (Rom 5:8). Christ’s work of seeking sinners produces joy as seen in the parable of the good shepherd and prodigal son. Indeed, when Christ sought out the Emmaus travellers they were filled with joy and amazement when they saw the prints of the nails in his hands and feet. Christ brought peace to his kingdom, reconciling sinners to his Father. Didn’t he often say, “Go in peace”?
What about forbearance? Didn’t Jesus put up with his disciples when, on several occasions, they preferred to send people away from his presence? Didn’t Jesus show infinite patience with them, especially when they questioned the purpose of his coming? He was so gentle with them, even when he had to rebuke them for their lack of faith.
Not only was Christ gentle in words, he was gentle in deeds. We only need to remember how he touched the leprous, deaf, lame, blind, yes, even the dead! Kindness and goodness exuded from heart of Christ in abundant measure to those who opposed him, who challenged him, who hated him, and who were alienated from him because of their sin. Yet Christ pressed on. He was faithful to the end, and could say, “It is finished.”
To be like Christ is to have the Holy Spirit put the mind of Christ in us. This is nothing but having the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Christ, upon his ascension, promised that he would give his disciples, yes, all his children, his Spirit. While it is important that the center of the curriculum must be God and how people have responded to him,6 it is not enough.
While it is important that we foster elements of discipleship in our learning activities (stewardship, acting justly, discernment, spirituality, ethics, to name a few), it also is not enough. That is, it is not enough when these do not stem from a heart that is turned towards God. And that is a dilemma we face as Christian educators.
We cannot force spirituality onto our students; it is only salvation through faith that leads to true spirituality. Spirituality is the direct result of the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Only Christ’s Spirit can convict and convince sinners to turn to Christ, not we ourselves. We cannot assume that all children are Christians. But our schools can provide an atmosphere that encourages commitment leading to spirituality, models a spiritual lifestyle and nurtures spiritual maturity. 7 Giving the Word a prominent place in our designs for learning is essential because the Holy Spirit uses the Word to inculcate faith, to have our heart and life centered upon Christ.
Christian teachers are called to live and model the Christian life. “If we tell children one thing and act another, most will do according to how we act, and not according to what we tell. Christ’s life on earth demonstrates the importance of modeling how you go about making day-to-day decisions, how enthusiastic you yourself are about learning, how punctual and thoughtful you are, and, above all, how you demonstrate your commitment to Jesus Christ – all these influence not only the tone of your class but also each student’s life individually.”8 How you shape Biblical group norms for the classroom, how you select activities that enable students to experience what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, how you involve students in the Word – these influence a student’s affinity towards Christian living.
To be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ is more than just following him; it is to be like him. We are to be like Christ in love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When this is being lived out in our life and the life of our students (for out of the heart are the issues of life), then we can say our Christian school is truly Christ-centred.
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! (Rom 11:33)
Would you trade this for a school that is student-centred?
by Joanne den Boer, SCSBC Director of Learning