In Tattoos On the Heart, Father Greg Boyle showers his readers with stories of “the power of boundless compassion.” Founder of Homeboy Industries, Boyle demonstrates the power of acceptance and unconditional love over the brokenness of East Los Angeles gang life. What is it like to see the image of God in each person, to see with God’s eyes? Boyle describes it well. The thought “I want my school to be more like that” sunk almost unnoticed into my administrator modus operandi.
“Thanks for meeting with us today, Bart,” they said as they came into my office. This couple—stalwart, heart-and-soul school supporters—asked a hard question. “You know, when I was serving lunch the other day I heard one of the students say, ‘OMG.’ I see the way some students dress: sweat pants, form-fitting jeans. Another time I heard one girl say to another that she looked ‘sexy.’ How should we be addressing these things?”
Homeboy Industries, meet Angel Factory Christian School.
When Mr. Weber, a Bible teacher and student favorite, recently spoke in chapel, he shared the pain of growing up Christian and being subjected to merciless taunting (weight shaming) both in church and in Christian school. Mr. Weber brought it home: “I wish I could tell everyone in Traverse City that TCCS is the safest, most accepting place in town for their kids. But I can’t. Because it’s not.” Ouch!
At TCCS we begin the day, all 250 of us, together in prayer. Before lunch we ALL hear read the same two or three pages from The Story, the Bible in chronological story format. Before we leave for the day, we have classroom devotions before receiving a blessing and sending to mission. We have three different chapel formats each week. Said differently, every day and throughout the week, our truly loving, caring, and godly teachers are proactively seeking to immerse our students in the story and love of God.
Then why (and how) the worldly comments, the course language, the put-downs, the dress code violations, and the painful social media circuses? The couple in my office had it right. Shouldn’t a Christian school be MORE different? (Come on, readers; I’ve taught in too many Christian schools for you to believe I’m only talking about my current one!)
In most cases, what Christian schools are doing is necessary and right, but not sufficient. We are engaged in a cultural war against forces from the world, our own flesh (sinful nature), and Satan himself. We are always dealing with brokenness; our students (and each of us) are all somewhere between homeboy and angel. The couple’s question remains, “How should we be addressing these things?” In addition to the above, I offer these three suggestions.
First, we need to build (or rebuild) the traditional and effective “three-legged stool” of church, home, and school. In my opinion, the key to effective change is a person experiencing the love of God, understanding a biblical worldview, and then applying them to their personal and social life situations. Yes, it does “take a village.” Let’s do what we can to involve both homes and churches in the challenges we face. We cannot go it alone.
Second, the school needs to intentionally integrate a biblical worldview into all subjects throughout all grade levels. There are good tools available and no school needs to walk this journey alone. When students begin to understand how our greater culture is influencing their thinking, and how beautiful an alternative is available, perhaps they will begin to reconsider their culturally influenced course language, put-downs, and objectifying behavior.
Only a genuine change of our hearts toward actually following Jesus will result in any permanent change of moral behavior. N.T. Wright’s distinction between worshiping Jesus and following Jesus is a good one. At my school, we do fine in the former, but struggle with the latter.
So here we all are, stuck somewhere between Angel Factory Christian School and Homeboy Industries. Daily and weekly, let’s continue to be truly loving, caring, and godly people looking for ways to immerse our students in the story and love of God. To the extent possible, let’s use our influence to rebuild that home-church-school partnership and encourage our students to follow Jesus, not just worship him. Finally, let’s get moving on biblical worldview integration!
– Bart Den Boer, worldview specialist