Monday, 31 May 2021

Honesty & Service: What is the relationship between these traits in the Christian classroom?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the role of honesty in encouraging our students towards service and support to one another. In particular, I'm interest in the part it might play in challenging others about behaviour, language and even beliefs.



You may recall that I wrote about "Christian Service" as the third key plank in my pedagogy within my book 'Pedagogy and Education for Life'. I still believe that modelling and encouraging ‘service’ is a critical principle in biblical Christian education. But I particularly want to reflect or ruminate on the place that ‘honesty’ plays in relation to service within a Christian community. Do we give enough much thought to honesty when discussing Christian service? In recent times, I’ve observed again and again, that people of faith seem afraid to offer a contrary view when brothers and sisters say things that they feel are inappropriate to us and perhaps even unbiblical. Do we avoid the awkward conversations? Or simply go quiet when someone says something with which we don’t agree? Perhaps, we simply change the conversation?


I’m sure that we’ve all observed members of the church, staff in schools and or students in classrooms, expressing views that are unbiblical. Unbiblical ideas might be expressed in post-church conversation, within the workplace, or just as a group of friends sharing life and aspects of faith. Within the school, such ideas might be shared in the playground, during informal class activities like group work, or after school chapel. But what do we do when we hear such words? And what do our students do? Do we simply remain silent to keep the peace, or are we courageous enough to speak the truth in love?

In Ephesians 4 Paul teaches how we are to challenge wrong ideas in order to ensure unity and maturity as we live together as a community of believers. In doing so, he urges us to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15a), and to put off “falsehood” and the while as we speak "truthfully" to others (Eph 4:25). Do we seek to do this with our neighbors and Christian friends? Do we encourage our students to do the same? Or, at times is our default to keep quiet, and not challenge wrong and sometimes dangerous ideas. Paul challenges his readers to avoid such passivity, and to speak up, for we are all members of one body (Eph 4:4-6). As such, we must encourage one another and sometimes, even graciously rebuke each other.


I can recall a Christian colleague within a secular university over 30 years ago who had a big impact on my life with some well-chosen honest words. I had been a Christian for just 3 years and was his boss! And yet, after a meeting, in which he and I were the only Christians, he pulled me aside. He said, “Trev, when you said the Vice-chancellor was an idiot in the meeting because of his actions, you weren’t really setting a great example for our colleagues. As Christians, we need to speak the truth at all times, and in particular, we need to be careful how we speak about our boss, and show respect.”


The key illustration here, is not in my words and actions, but in Fred’s honest and wise words which I have never forgotten. His simple response not only strengthened our relationship, but also our combined witness to colleagues. His words set an example for me concerning the need for honesty in Christian community, and I have never forgotten it.  


As teachers, do we sometimes fail to offer wise and honest words to our students at opportune times, words that might encourage them to be different. If we do fail to do this, then we are failing to speak the truth in love as part of our Christian witness and service.


God our Servant King made us to be servants to him, but also to one another. Jesus, of course, is the perfect model of service, having given his life for us (Phil 2:7; Matt 20:25–28). In shepherding and watching over his flock, he was never afraid to speak the truth when it needed to be spoken (1 Pet 5:3).


What might this look like in our classrooms? You might talk to your colleagues about how honest your conversations are with one another, as you serve our God within the school. Do you avoid saying some things for fear that you might upset others? 


Please note, I’m not suggesting that you lecture colleagues about their behavior and lack of godliness, for this could quickly lead to a display of pride and arrogance. Alternatively, we need to ask ourselves, do we often see and hear staff and students saying things that are inappropriate and unhelpful to building communities. Remember, service to one another is a central trait of Christian communities. We need to keep asking ourselves, do I sometimes fail to offer a godly comment when needed with the right motives as Fred did?


As teachers, we need to add ‘honesty’ to community conversations as a key part of our service to one another. This includes both staff and students. If we do grow in our willingness to speak the truth in love, we will collectively continue to become more Christ like. This in turn will strengthen the collective witness of our school communities.

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