My children went to a Christian school in middle and high school. Overall, it was probably a good experience for them. In their previous school, also a Christian school, they were bullied for being “foreign.” But the school they transferred to was multi-ethnic and multi-national. They fit in quite well.
The school genuinely sought to integrate Christian instruction with more national and international educational objectives. They would have spiritual emphasis week. They would have weekly chapel services and some Bible training as part of the curriculum.
One year, my wife and I and some friends led Spiritual Emphasis week. We THINK it went well (hard to tell, really). On a few occasions I spoke at their weekly chapel services. Again, they went well enough I suppose. Some friends of mine also spoke there and taught there and did chaplaincy work as well.
But one year that stopped. A nearby church took over the spiritual instruction of the school. The church was one that I was familiar with… one that I guess I would describe as theologically “sketchy.”
As was relayed to me by a few students, the year was strange. Here are a few comments…
- Dogmatic and ‘Preachy.’ They were quite committed to pushing a very targeted dogma and did not help students explore issues of faith. One incident was rather interesting. They were explaining how all other religions were wrong. When they got to Buddhism, they said it was from the devil because it was all about how to get rich. It is true that some of the versions of Mahayana Buddhism as it is practiced especially in some predominantly Chinese regions does place of lot of focus on good luck and prosperity. However, “orthodox” Buddhism rejects focus on materialism and on desire. It seemed like they were simply taking a caricature of one form of Buddhism and using it as a strawman. (Strangely, I had always thought that the church in question was a “prosperity gospel” church. I hope I am wrong, rather than them being hypocritical). Since more than half of the students came from places with a large Buddhist population, that particular lesson taught the students that the trainers were not reliable.
- Anger. Students noted some members getting angry at the students in the spiritual training. I am somewhat sympathetic. It is easy to get frustrated and angry at teenagers. However, apparently the anger stemmed from the students not responding to the worship in a way that they liked. Apparently, the students were supposed to groove to the worship kind of like how people do on worship concert videos.
- Blame. Near the end of the year, one of the teachers from that church got angry again at the students and blamed the children for spoiling or destroying THEIR destiny. “Their” in this case meant the trainers. I am hoping the students heard this wrong because it is just to immature for words. Seemingly, they believed they would come in at the begining of the year and train and come out with a school full of students who have been turned onto their beliefs and style. I understandhoping this would happen, but people who pick their own destinies commonly are really picking their own disappointments.
- Not itching where it scratched. The big issue however, was that the trainers “did not itch where it scratched.” They talked about the things that were really important to the trainers, not what was really important to the students.
Most of the students were nominal Christians or immature Christians. They were raised with a globalistic, pluralistic perspective, and this background left many of them confused about what they believe and how they should live their lives. The students needed help, not just another person with limited perspective preaching at them. The spiritual training actually shifted a lot of students from, loosely speaking, Christian, to Agnostic. some even became interested in other religions. (When annoying people say something is bad, that something becomes more appealing.)
Actually, I don’t really blame the church. I don’t expect a church to be competent to train teenagers who have already become rather disillusioned by religion. But the school should have known better. The leadership of the school had no denominational or theological affiliation with that church. They said YES to the church helping simply because it made their own lives easier, not having to develop a spiritual formation curriculum or a set of trainers themselves.
This story is a caution to me. I have seen many a teacher/trainer who has led people astray. Sometimes it is with bad example, but often it is just by making the Gospel so unappealing, that a different ‘gospel’ looks better… or even no gospel at all.
This story also reminds me of two passages of Scripture, and they serve as a caution to me:
And whoever welcomes a little child like this in My name welcomes Me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. -Matthew 18:5-6
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. James 3:1