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CHRISTIAN FAITH IN A LEARNING COMMUNITY

Earlier this year, I conducted a survey to find out what Christians working in education thought about a range of issues. Here are the results from the 59 respondents.

The first two statements considered the purpose of work. Work is part of God’s design for me drew a positive response (strongly/agree) from 94.5%. Just 2% disagreed, with 3.5% not sure. I’m fulfilling God’s purpose for my life through my work drew 90% strongly/agree, with 10% not sure.

Some people, however, saw a distinction between paid employment and the work which they do for God, as if the former is necessary to provide an income but the latter is what we are really all about as Christians. Well, God doesn’t see a sacred/secular division in our work – that’s a false dualism created by human thinking. Genesis 1:1 tells us that ‘In the beginning, God created’ and Jesus said that this wasn’t a one-off work activity: ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day and I, too, am working.’ (John 5:17). ]

It follows that if we are created in, and bear the image of a God who works, then all our work is designed and valued by God, whether it’s paid employment or voluntary church work. ‘First and foremost’, writes Tom Nelson, ‘work is not about economic exchange … but about God-honouring human creativity and contribution’ (Work Matters). We’re all in full time work.

The next two statements were concerned with the effect of work: Work-based stress is affecting my faith and Demands of work reduce the time I can spend on church activities. 23% felt that their faith was affected by work-based stress (12% not sure: 55% strongly/disagreed). 87% said that the demands of teaching affected the time they spent on church activities, and some commented that it also impacted adversely on the time they had to spend with their families.

So for anyone who has chosen to teach, in the knowledge that it’s a lifestyle choice not just a job, here’s a thought. The Hebrew work for work is avodah. The Hebrew word for worship is avodah. The Hebrew word for service is also avodah. So, your work is your worship is your service: your contribution to nurturing the world that God created for us and your means of glorifying God. Don’t worry about the church work that you don’t have time to do – you’re glorifying God right where you are all day.

The place of faith in workplace relationships came next: I don’t talk about my faith at work and My faith informs how I interact with others. 86% do talk about their faith at work, although with the proviso from some that they include other faiths in their conversation. One person also commented that he would love to talk about his faith more, but nobody is particularly interested.

However, when it came to walking the talk, there was 100% agreement that faith affects the way they interact with others. Is being a Christian teacher, though, only about smiling a lot, taking assemblies and being the best behaved person in the building? The next three statements tried to establish the place of faith in what is taught.

I think about the spiritual and moral dimensions of what I teach (96% strongly/agree: 4% disagree), It’s important for biblical truths to be connected to overall learning (78% strongly/agree: 15% not sure: 7% strongly/disagree) and I understand the impact of secularism on contemporary culture (85% strongly agree: 12% not sure: 3% disagree). So while nearly all Christian teachers think about the spiritual and moral dimensions of what they teach, less think that biblical truth should be connected to learning – another dichotomy.

Yet, if the Bible is, as John Shortt describes it, ‘the place in which we live, move and have our being’ (Bible-shaped Teaching), then surely biblical principles must underpin all that we teach? What other way is there to counter the secular creep in the curriculum of which the vast majority of Christian teachers are clearly aware? Reading John’s book Bible-shaped Teaching is a good starting place to explore the issue. Look, too, at What If Learning – a new way of teaching by embedding Christian virtues in the curriculum.

Finally, the survey sought views on how supportive churches are of their teachers and of education: I am well supported by my church. 77% strongly/agreed, with one person commenting that they would value being able to spend time with other Christian teachers. That means 23% don’t feel supported – clearly churches have some way to go on this. If you are in such a church, introduce your leaders to Supporting Christians in Education – a book packed full of practical advice for church leaders.

Thank you to all those who took time to answer the survey. I’ll be writing more about the issues that were raised in future blogs, particularly regarding the work of churches. Meanwhile, as you take Christ into your teaching and learning community this week ‘May the God of peace … equip you with everything good for doing his will and may he work in us what is pleasing to him’ (Hebrews 13:20-21).