Category Archives: Review

CALLED TO TEACH

Called to Teach 1

Another little Grove Book full of big thoughts, Called to Teach: Teaching as a Mission Vocation from Trevor Cooling will prompt you to consider your calling as a teacher. The first chapter defines vocation as it relates to teaching, simultaneously questioning the role of the Church in honouring teaching as a vocation and encouraging the reader to ascertain whether his or her own calling to teach is in line with God’s gifting.

The text then moves on to three chapters which, in turn, define our calling to be distinctive, inclusive and professional. The weight of the argument is centred on the need for Christian teachers to understand that it’s not about working harder or smiling more as part of our Christian witness. Rather it is about understanding the worldview from which we interpret our professional responsibilities and influencing the story which our students are being told by the prevailing worldview. It is about offering a counter-cultural vision to a profession which no longer understands the Christian view of what it means to be human.

Laying out a vision for inclusion, in which we can work alongside those of other faiths and those of none without compromising our belief, Cooling encourages us to be open about our faith, whilst fully realising that what we believe can and will be contested. In fact, as he points out, our Christian worldview overlaps at many points with that of our colleagues. We all want justice and peace in our society – the difference emerges in the way we define those values. We may, as Christians, also uniquely value forgiveness and servanthood, but these are values which should increase our contribution to inclusion, not cause division.

The problem arises, of course, when the prevailing concept in which professionalism equates to neutrality conflicts with our faith. Here Cooling is particularly helpful, demonstrating both from 1 Peter and the story of Daniel, that we can identify, work within and seek to transform a culture in which we are ‘aliens and strangers’ right up to the point at which we are required to abandon our primary loyalty to God.

Thoughts and ideas are liberally supported with case studies and examples from a range of contexts. It is a challenging text to read, however experienced you are as a teacher. That said, it is also an affirming text, pointing the way to a transformative model in which we, as Christians in a profession which is often aggressively secular, can fulfil our calling to mission. It’s tough, it’s costly and if we’re working without the prayerful understanding of our church family, it’s lonely. But if we are to connect our faith with our working lives in any meaningful way, it is vital.

Grove Books 978-1-85174-754-2 28pp softback £3.95 Available post free on 01223 464748, sales@grovesbooks.co.uk or by visiting www.grovebooks.co.uk

THE GOSPEL AND EDUCATIONAL VALUES

The Gospel and Educational Values

John Pritchard, the key author of this book, is the former Chair of the Church of England Board of Education. He retired as Bishop of Oxford in 2014. The core of the text is his talk at the launch of the National Institute for Christian Education Research, in which he examines the contribution that Christians can make to shaping contemporary educational values. Following chapters are written by a range of educational practitioners, all of whom are engaged in the debate, and the chapters are bookended by thoughts from Trevor Cooling, Professor of the Institute.

Common to each writer is the view that education is becoming a narrowed exam-passing activity in which each child is merely, but simultaneously, a trainee economic contributor and also a trained consumer. John Pritchard calls for Christian teachers to adopt a distinctively Christian approach to what they do, focused clearly on the narrative of the life of Jesus. He offers definitions of a human child in a Christian context and of community as seen from a Christian education perspective.

Successive contributors offer insights into how this can work in practice, as well as sounding a clear warning about the fragile position of the Christian faith in a national context which continues to embrace its values whilst systematically divorcing them from the faith in which they should be centred.

John Pritchard ends his chapter by pointing out that as Christians we are fortunate to have both a clear rationale for what we do and also a clear point of reference in Christ. He exhorts us to ‘seek human flourishing for every child of God through holistic educational practice’ knowing that the means of achieving it is through Jesus who said, ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’ (John 10:10 NIV).

Other writers consider the purpose and function that underpin our church schools, making them inclusive and distinctive; the role of church schools in developing character, and the role of Christian educators in creating communities which nurture wellbeing.

Although only 26 pages in length, this book provokes a great deal of thought about what it means to be distinctively Christian teachers and schools in an education service dominated by individualist and materialist ideologies.

Grove Books 978-1-85174-836-5 28pp softback £3.95 Available post free on 01223 464748, sales@grovesbooks.co.uk or by visiting www.grovebooks.co.uk

OUT OF THE ORDINARY

out of the ordinary

How much difference can one person make? How much difference can one church make? The answer is: a very great deal, if that person and that church are willing to live out their love for God missionally,  with a vision to transform the lives of those whom society in general, and the education system in particular, is about to abandon.

Out of the Ordinary, written by Tim Morfin, tells the story of TLG: The Education Charity. Today it either runs, or works in partnership to run, a growing number of Education Centres and Early Intervention Centres around the country. It has an impressive list of partners who support the work, helping it to meet its corporate social responsibility requirements. It encourages the creation of lasting partnerships between schools, churches and the communities which they serve. It offers internships and welcomes volunteer workers. But it wasn’t always that way.

TLG began with one person, one church and one vision to serve the local community. After studying for a business degree, Tim Morfin settled in Bradford and committed himself to youth work with his local church. As a teenager, he’d seen the need for the church to be relevant, to be where people are and to speak their language. Little did he know that this was the beginning of his vocation. Years later, as he questioned where desolate families and disengaged young people could find hope, TLG was born. It all began by offering help with maths and English to just one young person who had dropped out of school.

Tim weaves case histories into the narrative, recounting TLG’s growth from a single student to an award winning, nationally respected education charity. He writes passionately about the needs of the young people they serve, galvanising churches to get involved. He charts how just the right people came along as just the right time, explaining how the team formulates and implements the growth vision and strategy.

As you read the book, you can’t help but be inspired. Like so many great works for God, TLG started simply, with just a few people who saw a great need and who responded with compassion, commitment and a fierce determination to make things better. You can’t help, either, pondering on similarities with other Christian advocates for social justice: Thomas Barnardo, John Wesley, Lord Shaftesbury and William Wilberforce.

There are parallels, too, with John Pounds, the founder of Ragged Schools. He responded  two hundred years ago to the same social desolation and hopelessness to which TLG seeks to respond today. This is a book that every Christian should read – to inform, to inspire, and above all, to prompt action. Anyone can get involved in bringing hope to thousands of young people and their families.

The book closes by bringing the story full circle to Lewis, the young person with whom it all began. He is now a TLG volunteer. He has qualifications and a job in sales. He writes that his biggest achievement is ‘just being the person I am today, rather than the person I used to be’. He knows that God loves him and that he can rely on God.

That’s what can happen when ordinary people do out of the ordinary things with God.