A Servant Education: The Method and the Call

This is Part II of a collective effort by seven administrators of conservative Anabaptist schools. This group of administrators believes that our schools are poised to aid our churches and homes in the call to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. They offer this essay in hopes of seeding ongoing discussions throughout our communities about how to best mobilize our current opportunities for God’s glory. Read Part I here.

The Method

Now we turn to the question of “How?” What are the methods of a servant education, the process of forming Christ-like servants? If giving oneself to God’s mission out of love for Him is to be the constant reference point for all of our decisions, then we periodically need to re-evaluate and reimagine each aspect of our schooling. We should think carefully about the structure, the classes, the procedures, the methods, the policies, and the activities of our schools, holding each of them up to the light of the great commandments. Do they honestly contribute to the goal or do they actually pull us in a different direction?

Schools that offer a servant education pay careful attention not only to what they teach—the content, but also to the atmosphere in which it is taught—the culture. Culture is the environment in which education happens; it is what students feel when they walk into their schools or classrooms. Schools and homeschools that offer a servant education make it their highest priority to foster a culture of love. This means hiring teachers who model a contagious love and commitment to Jesus and the church. Schools with a culture of love will be places where all students are accepted, places where prejudices of race, ethnicity, class, family, aptitude, and attractiveness are overcome with the love that God has for every human being. Respect for teachers and for fellow students, gratefulness, diligence, courtesy, responsibility are also qualities of a God-centered school culture of love.

A spirit of worship should also characterize the school’s culture and its activities. Singing, prayer, and Scripture reading foster habits of reverence, loyalty, and love for God and His ways and should be part of the daily rhythms of school life. Making connections between the subject matter of math, English, history, and science and God’s character and revelation is critical as well. If we are to effectively proclaim that God is at the center of all, we must never relegate our interaction with Him to a particular corner of the day or building.

We learn best by doing, so a servant education will provide opportunities for students to engage in regular acts of authentic service. Sweeping the classroom floors, sacrificing leisure time to polish an essay, hosting an event for the parents, caroling for neighbors, writing letters to believers in prison become opportunities to practice the grace of turning one’s primary focus away from oneself and toward others and to cultivate the habit of serving others. Service will be a key part of the school’s culture.

The relationship between the teacher and student is another critical component in the process of forming godly servants. This relationship is the soil in which godly education and formation take place—without the nutrients of trust, respect, decorum, and humility in the teacher’s interactions with the student, a servant education cannot take root. The life of the teacher is the moral and spiritual curriculum of the school. No other single factor in the school will have a greater impact on the student. For this reason, priority is placed on the role of the teacher in the Christian school. It is essential that the teacher model the spirit of Christ and continually grow in His likeness. Christian training will be anchored in the engaged presence of godly, wise, and skilled persons.

Textbooks, lectures, writing assignments, tests…these methods too are important. English, math, science, and history hold no less significance in the context of a servant education; in fact, they hold more. Students learn to read, write, speak, compute, experiment, not to build their own little kingdoms of financial security, comfort, and entertainment, but rather to give their lives in Christ-centered service to their churches, homes, workplaces, and communities. Mastering the traditional core of knowledge opens doors into many different fields of service. God calls some people to vocations that require college preparation. A servant education should be rigorous enough to prepare a student for those areas of service.

In addition to the traditional academic core, a servant education would make a special effort to develop knowledge and skills that are uniquely valuable for specific aspects of the church’s mission. Christ-centered business training is one example. Many graduates of our schools will be involved in business as either owners or employees. This class would help prepare a people with business skills (e.g., marketing, financial analysis, management) and a vision for doing business as service for the glory of God. A course in homemaking is another. Creating safe, vibrant, joy-filled, hospitable homes is one of the greatest opportunities for radical service in today’s world. A multi-year curriculum that paints this vision while cultivating essential skills is part of the investment needed to push back on influences that militate against healthy homes. A well-developed church history with a focus on the story of the Anabaptists would be a high school course of study that aims to anchor the identities and commitments of students in the story of God’s continuing work in the church. A servant education should also develop students’ capacity to spread the gospel cross-culturally. This may mean including “tent-making” skills in the curriculum, preparing people to serve abroad with less need for financial support from home. These skills might include computer programming, graphic design, and TESOL. Other classes would train students in skills needed for the advance of the gospel – foreign languages or basic medical skills.

Cultivating servants with the desires and capacities to put God’s mission at the center of their lives is countercultural and hard. Pursuing this dream means pushing back against the soul-sapping materialism and spiritual apathy of our culture and refusing to bow down to the gods of power and pleasure. A lukewarm commitment to these aims on the part of a few will not be enough. Raising an army of servants for God’s work will require entire communities of believers to come together, forge a common vision based on common values, and all share in the responsibility of training each generation.

The challenge of raising Christ-like servants in our day calls for parents to take their God-given responsibility seriously and band together in the context of the church, utilizing the resources and gifts of the brotherhood to educate their children in traditional schools, communities of homeschoolers, or some hybrid of the two. The church body should provide corporate direction and support for families, extending and enriching the resources of individual families with spaces, materials, experiences, and personnel. Godly education draws on the gifts and wisdom of all of those in the community, integrating people of a wide variety of ages and abilities into a young person’s formative experiences.

Effective preparation for participation in God’s mission requires the formation of the whole person. In addition to developing the appropriate knowledge and skills, an effective servant education nurtures the desires, character, values, and commitments of a student. A godly education seeks not simply to impart knowledge about servanthood; rather, it emphasizes being and becoming a servant.

Let us be clear: education cannot transform the heart of a person. God alone can do that. The best education in the world without the resurrection power of God is as useless as the world’s most powerful electric motor during a blackout. Students must experience the cleansing, renewing, and empowering fire of the Holy Spirit in order to become true servants. As parents and teachers, we are “co-laborers with Christ,” avenues of His grace in preparing students to become His co-laborers as well.

The Call

As a people, we are at a moment of opportunity. We have a wealth of resources. We can squander our “talents” on larger homes and more toys for our children. Or we can choose an infinitely wiser route, one that will make an eternal difference in the world: to invest in teaching and training our children to be a powerful force for servanthood in the years to come.

This moment is also one of peril. The cultural forces vying for our children’s allegiances and loves are great. No tepid response will effectively counter the allure of video games, the internet, movies, and the prevailing value system. We must act. Servant education is one way to make an extraordinary sacrificial investment in the character and capacity of our children.

In a world that sacrifices its youth on the altars of convenience and the happiness of parents, we as parents, as school patrons, as school board members, as church leaders, as teachers and administrators have the opportunity to push back hard and work toward:

• Communities dedicating some of their best people, greatest innovation, and focused intention toward developing youth to be compassionate, capable servants poised to do His will on earth as it is in heaven.

• Communities that generate an unyielding resistance to the trivial, the mind-numbing, and the merely amusing.

• Communities of God-loving, Jesus-following, vibrant, globally aware Christians equipped to participate in the creation mandate and the great commission.

In a time when many pursue wealth for selfish ends or play away their lives, young people yearn to make a difference. May our schools be vibrant, inspiring places that equip them to make this difference in fields, shops, kitchens, places of commerce, offices, and hospitals, in places close to home and in new cross-cultural settings. Filling myriad roles across the globe, they will be unified in their love and service of the King. May our school communities enable parents and assist churches to realize a common vision—the vision of a vibrant church serving her Lord and working for the day when the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of His glory

(Ps. 72:19).

How can this be in our schools? Share your thoughts on servant education in the forums.

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