Faith integration for schools amid COVID-19

The coronavirus has changed the way most educators teach.  Instead of in-person interaction, content is delivered digitally.  But how does a teacher integrate the Christian faith in an on-line setting?  Is there a way to nurture spiritual growth while we network?  As Lutherans we ask, “What does this mean?”  To answer this, let me offer some basics: the who, what, when, where, why, and how of faith integration. 

Who?  Obviously, the answer is you.  Even though Deuteronomy 6:6-7a is written to parents, apply it to yourself as an instructor: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children.”  The Hebrew word for “teach diligently” literally means to “whet or sharpen.”  In other words, God’s Word is to pierce their hearts.  As you relate this verse to your role as educator, you are commanded to impress the inspired and inerrant Word of God on your students in an earnest and frequent way.

What?  Faith integration means making connections between Christian faith and the world in which we live.  Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein.”  If everything is God’s, then what does He say in His Word about His created world?  After the focus on our sin and the solution in Christ, the Bible has a great deal to say about many topics: life, death, families, work, justice, and government, just to name a few.  A great website on Christian teaching is “What If Learning” (http://www.whatiflearning.com/).  At the site, there are three ways to connect Christian faith and teaching: Seeing Anew, Choosing Engagement, and Reshaping Practice.  “Seeing Anew” refers to seeing the world biblically to inform what we do.  “Choosing Engagement” explores ways we interact with one another, our curriculum, and the world outside our classrooms. “Reshaping Practice” focuses on what teachers do to reflect their new way of seeing.  This means changing habits and practices of teaching to work with a biblical perspective.  Check out the website for ideas on how to integrate the faith in various subjects.

When?  Let’s return to Deuteronomy 6:6-7.  It says, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”  Notice that parents (or teachers as we apply this to our profession) are commanded to discuss God’s Word all the time.  Every lesson and content area can be an opportunity to instill a biblical perspective of God, truth, and His laws in young minds.

Where?  There are three areas in which to integrate the faith: your life, day, and instruction.  First, your life has many opportunities to incorporate your Christian convictions.  This means organizing your classroom/online setting, policies, and interactions so your faith is evident.  Your words, actions, and attitudes show Christ in you with or without students present.  Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  Whatever you do in your life, do it for the glory of God and the service of others.

Second, your day provides many occasions to talk about your walk with the Lord.  Because unexpected events (such as a global pandemic) arise in our lives, how do you as a Christian react to them?  The Latin expression carpe diem literally means “seize the day.”  Can you seize the day and make the most of the present situation to discuss a biblical approach to it?  Take advantage of unexpected circumstances to explore faith-related issues.  Since these “teachable moments” are not rehearsed, students see that your faith helps you make sense of the world and respond it.  Ephesians 5:15-16 says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”  Make the most of every opportunity to share a biblical perspective.

Third, your instruction is purposefully designed to deliver content from a Christian worldview.  This integration is prepared ahead of time so students see intersections between God and your subject matter.  Although the number of opportunities to make connections varies from one subject to another, students should come to see that there are connections.  Colossians 1:28-29 says, “Him (Jesus) we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.  For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”  Notice the apostle Paul instructs with wisdom, not haphazardly, so his listeners can grow spiritually.

Why?  We integrate the faith because we acknowledge that God works through the Bible.  While our planning, instruction, and assessments are critical to education, they do not provide spiritual growth.  Jesus acknowledged from Whom faith development arises.  John 6:63 says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.  The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”  God the Holy Spirit creates faith and nurtures it through the Word.  We have the privilege of sharing in this work, but God alone can give spiritual life.

How?  To integrate the faith, we need to do two things: be in the Word and share the Word.  First, we need to read the Bible, because we cannot give what we do not have.  When we spend time with Jesus, we can share more easily the insights we have gained.  We can be like Ezra in the Old Testament.  Ezra 7:10 describes him this way: “Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”  Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, churches offer online services, devotionals, and Bible studies.  But the increased time at home provides an even greater opportunity for us to read our own Bibles.

Second, we need to share what God has shown us in His Word.  Even though Paul was addressing a young church leader in Ephesus, let’s apply 2 Timothy 4:2 to ourselves.  It says, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”  We can take what the Holy Spirit has revealed and teach it, whether in our classrooms or online.  David Smith, author of On Christian Teaching: Practicing Faith in the Classroom, described Christian teaching as this: “More than one thing is happening when we teach, and it all happens at once, and although we have focal learning goals, faith frames our approach (emphasis mine).”

I have been the professor for “Teaching the Faith” (ED 306) in the School of Education at Concordia University Wisconsin for the past seven years.  One of our assignments is to develop 25 lessons for faith integration in any five content areas.  If you would like specific ideas, I would love to help you.  Please email me through this website or at brad.alles@cuw.edu. God bless you as faith integration becomes a normal aspect of your life.

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April 07, 2020

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