Each morning going on 10 years, I start the day with juice from a small glass painted with a single white line.
Above the line is the Spanish word “optimista.” Below it, the word “pessimista.”
Which way to see the day? Half empty or half full. It is a prayer, or at least an admonition, to look for gifts and nurture them.
With this current focus on the intersection of congregations and public schools – I see churches in hundreds of communities nurturing kids, believing in God-given potential for each child – engaging in schools with an attitude and commitment that is “optimista,” half full.
Our Christlike ethic guides us, emphasizing that other people’s children are worthy of exceptional gifts of Christian love. In regular order, congregations go into schools and pull up a chair with presence and hope.
One Plus One – First United Methodist Church, Dallas, adopting JJ Rhoades Elementary and wrapping services of support for teachers and kids there. Half full.
Although Calvary Baptist Church in San Angelo averages only 75 members on Sundays, church members stuffed more than 550 shoeboxes with small Christmas gifts for each of the students and faculty at San Angelo’s Bradford Elementary School.
There was excitement about the gifts, but the teachers were moved to tears by the extravagant support from the church that made them feel honored and worth blessing. Half full.
There is power in blessing. It might not seem so at first.
There are no TV cameras, Facetime or video feeds, there is no celebrity, the Dow Jones doesn’t rise and fall based on ministry to neighborhood kids.
The very important work of building good futures for everyday kids is underrated by the powers and principalities of 21st century culture.
The contrasting acts of delighted support from churches is just exactly what brought tears to the eyes of the teachers at Bradford elementary – unexpected validation and recognition.
There is power in blessing. And if the dividends of blessing are not fame or money, then the dividends are for everyone.
As Galatians 5:22-24 says, “But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard – things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way.”
Treating children and teachers with a half-full attitude of blessing is a key to transformation and growth.
Whether a pastor is meeting a superintendent or congregation members are tutoring, buddy reading, celebrating teachers or passing out breakfast bags from carts in the hall, they are bringing gifts to kids who are the future.
When both school leaders and church leaders find it hard to get together, this leaves each in a busy silo. A part of bringing a half-full attitude is meeting leader to leader.
Beyond just the ministering members, when the leaders know each other, there is a special return on investment for both institutions.
Each can experience mutual blessing and benefits and have new encouragement as visible community leaders.
“I had no idea this local church would be a partner to us when we needed something. What I discovered was that I just had to ask,” one principal said. “We had such a small group of active parents at the school, but we wanted to have a school carnival for the neighborhood on a Saturday to bring parents and families on the school property in hopes of building a bigger group of active parents.”
“I was afraid to ask so much of the church, but in my meeting with the pastor I mentioned this need. The response was not just ‘yes,’ but enthusiastic ‘yes,’” the principal said. “‘Oh that’s easy,’ the pastor said. ‘We have done carnivals for years.’ The church had a bunch of game stations and a bouncy house that they use in VBS. The members that tutor are mostly women, but the men of the church mobilized to help build out the carnival stations, dunking booth included. That was good for our kids and families too.”
Four years later, the church’s ministry with the school is stronger, the parent group at the school is bigger, and the two leaders are doing more together more visibly in the community with better recognition and respect. Half full.
I love this example because it echoes the very tone of Matthew 25. The principal thought the ask was monumental, but the response of this pastor that the carnival was no big deal to the church sounds very much like the way the sheep must have responded to Jesus when they were puzzled that they had served the Lord so nobly.
Probably setting up a full carnival was work, lots of work, but it was done “optimista,” with blessing and joy. Half full.
It is important to remember – maybe even measure – the true fruits of relationship in half-full living. Let Galatians 5 be your school ministry report card and our checklist for mission engagement:
Have you volunteered in a school ministry?
Did you find that you increased in:
___ affection for others
___ exuberance about life
Did you develop:
___ a willingness to stick with things
___ a sense of compassion in the heart
___ a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people
Did you find yourself:
___ involved in loyal commitments
___ not needing to force our way in life
___ able to marshal and direct your energies wisely
Half full. I celebrate the steady, reciprocal and beautiful gifts of churches to kids, teachers and community schools.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series for Public Schools Week (March 25-29). Additional resources are available here. The previous article in the series is:
Public School Proud | 5 Ways They Protect Religious Liberty for All by Jennifer Hawks
Suzii Paynter is the current co-director of Pastors for Texas Children, and the former executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. She lives in Austin, Texas.