Religion imposed on students in the public school–as a Baptist Christian that is something I strongly oppose. But, I strongly support authentic, un-coerced Christian faith being lived out by educators and students in the public school, and that is something I see all the time.
I must admit that I take personally much of the rhetoric of evangelical Christians demeaning our public schools. My father was an educator in the Atlanta public school system. He spoke of being called of God to teach while a student at Auburn University, and he remained true to that call throughout his life. My wife taught hearing-impaired children in the public schools until our son was born. My own daughter and son-in-law are both high school teachers. They are committed to serving God through their vocations; they want to make a difference in the lives of the teenagers they teach.
I have been fortunate to serve the Zebulon Baptist Church as pastor since 1981. Our church is filled with teachers, principals, counselors, administrators, assistants and support personnel that work in our public school system. I can not think of a single profession in our congregation that has more persons who work in their profession out of a sense of calling than these educators. They work long hours for relatively low pay with passion and caring. They pray for their students. They want to be used of God to help young people develop their intellect and abilities.
It puzzles me why clergy who serve churches filled with godly educators who work in our public schools remain silent when religious figures in our society demean the secular humanism or godless perspective of our public schools. For too long these loud, misinformed voices have swayed opinion and diminished the support of Christians for our schools. It is time for good people to stand up for our schools, our students and our teachers.
Three years ago our church began a significant tradition to affirm our schools. On the Sunday before our public schools begin a new year, we have a time of prayer and dedication for educators and students.
We call to the front of the sanctuary all of our public school teachers. We then call administrators and other staff to join them. We then include those who are teachers in private and home schools. It is surprising to see how many members of our congregation work in the field of education. It is inspiring to see the quality of Christians who are called to this important vocation.
We then ask all of our students, kindergarten through college, to join the teachers at the front of the sanctuary. The platform, steps and front of the church are filled with persons who spend their days in our schools. I share with the group words of appreciation and affirmation.
Then, we pray a prayer for the new school year and ask God’s blessing for the teachers and students alike. It is common to see teachers placing a hand on the shoulder of a student in front of them or a student reaching out to hold the hand of a teacher as we pray for them.
As we exit the sanctuary, slips of paper fill the tables in the foyer. On each slip of paper there is a name of a student or a teacher. Every member is encouraged to pick up a slip of paper if they are willing to commit to praying for that student or teacher throughout the coming school year.
Some tell their teacher or student they are praying for them. Others pray for that child or teacher without ever disclosing their ministry. But, the blessings we have seen from this ministry of prayer support have been wonderful.
As a final piece of support for our schools on this special Sunday each year, we identify the ways you can serve our local schools as a volunteer with contact information in our bulletin. Our strategy is not to get religion in the public schools, but to get Christians in the public schools, supporting our schools by serving as a volunteer.
Our members find their way to ministries in the schools that include mentoring high-risk middle and high school students, reading to elementary students, listening to special education students read, tutoring struggling students in after school programs and serving as parent leaders in the classroom and school.
The front of the church filled with teachers and students is a strong visual reminder that God’s people work and learn in our public schools. They are not dehumanized institutions to be vilified by Christians. They are a place where persons need our support and prayers for the educating of our young.
The ministry of praying for a teacher or student is responsible Christianity. It warms our hearts and opens our minds to think correctly about our schools. And, the emphasis on encouraging Christians to volunteer in the schools places God’s people on the side of those who work to develop the full potential of students in our schools.
Our church is committed to teaching all of our members about Christian vocation. The best remedy I know for the materialism that plagues our culture is to reacquaint Christians with the idea of calling. At Zebulon Baptist we emphasize that God calls educators just as frequently as we speak of God calling ministers.
The simple act of praying for God’s blessing on our teachers and students has changed greatly our perspective on our public schools. I encourage others to use an idea like this or a creative one of your own to join us in supporting the good and important work of our educators.
Pastor of Zebulon Baptist Church in Zebulon, North Carolina. He is currently serving as the chair of the Good Faith Media governing board.