A few days ago—in the interest of shared church—I interviewed the principal and assistant principal of a local elementary school. The edited, five-minute video will be shown during the main congregational meetings of our church. I asked the principal and her assistant:
- How does your administrative work in a public school carry on God’s purposes for life on earth?
- What unique opportunities does your work provide for you as a Christian?
- What challenges do you face in these roles?
- What opportunities exist for retired people to serve as volunteers in your school?
- How can our church pray for you and for your school?
Public School as a Calling
As I listened to the responses of these two school officials, the enthusiasm of both for their work poured out. They do what they do, day in and day out, because they know God has sent them to serve him and others in this context. For example:
- “This work is the mission that I’ve been put on this planet to do.”
- “We are on the front lines fighting for kids every single day.”
- “Pretty much every kid in the country is funneled through public education, and that’s a huge opportunity.”
The assistant told about his earlier transition from working in a Christian school to serving in a public school. During the hiring interview, the prospective new boss wondered whether he understood what he would encounter in the public school environment: “You know,” he said, “there are kids here who do drugs and have sex. Are you really sure you want to be here?” To which the interviewee replied: “Yeah—I think that’s really why I want to be here.”
A Felt Need for Prayer
The interview also made it clear that these two want the prayer-backing of other Christ-followers. But others cannot pray if unaware of needs. This makes practicing shared church all that much more vital. When I asked how the church could pray for them, they responded with more requests than I was able to fit into a five-minute video. A few examples:
- “Knowing that many children will return to homes with major dysfunctions, we both ‘take kids home’ every day.”
- “Pray for the kids. Some of their stories are really normal and some of their stories are heartbreaking.”
- “Pray for the staff. There’s a point where compassion fatigue enters. Sometimes kids show that they’re hurting and struggling by lashing out at the people who care about them the most. That happens—a lot.”
- “It’s a challenge to balance work and family life every day.”
- “We look at each other pretty much daily and say, ‘I don’t know what else to try.’”
UK Teacher Tells of Missing Prayer Support
Too often those called to work in public schools lack the prayer underpinning they need from fellow believers. In his YouTube video, “Sacred-Secular Divide,” UK-based Mark Greene includes a clip from a teacher who tells how she experienced this lack of prayer support:
“I teach Sunday School once a week for 45 minutes, and my church asks me to come up front so they can pray for me. For the rest of the week, I’m a full-time teacher, and yet as far as I can remember, no one has ever offered to pray for the work I do in school. It’s as if they want to support half my profession and not the other half. It’s difficult, because no one would say that teaching Sunday School is more important than the work I do the rest of the week. But that feels like the message that I get. And if you look at it this way, I’ve got 45 minutes once a week with children who are generally open to the gospel with parents who are supportive of the faith—or 45 hours a week with kids who have very little knowledge of Christianity and parents who are either as ignorant or hostile to the faith.”
Where Christians Cross Paths with Non-Christians
In our neighborhoods and workplaces—in this case a school—the paths of Christians intersect most often and most relationally with those who do not know Christ. Only in a shared-church context can a congregation become aware of the opportunities and challenges their fellow believers face in their scattered-church roles.
The two school officials I interviewed lead a team of teachers and staff of 120 who are responsible for the safety of 765 children. They create the environment in which these children learn to read, write, do basic math, and live in community. The principal and her assistant also deal with hundreds of parents. Clearly, the opportunity to shine the light of Christ and live out his love is enormous.
Lesslie Newbigin, in The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, wrote: “It is in the ordinary business of the world that the sacrifices of love and obedience are to be offered to God. It is in the context of secular affairs that the mighty power released into the world through the work of Christ is to be manifested. . . . It is, of course, also true that individual Christians will be weakened in their efforts to live out the gospel in secular engagements if what they are doing does not have the support of the church as a whole.”
Regularly gathering in "audience mode" works against whole-church support. Only in shared-church mode can we get to know what others do during the other six days of the week. Only in shared church can we learn how to pray for the scattered church.