By Eric Buehrer, Gateways to Better Education
August 2003 – For many years, our public schools have been seen as battlefields to fight on. However, nothing much grows on a battlefield. Instead, we can look at our schools as gardens to cultivate. Schools are enriched when Christians appropriately express their faith in word and deed.
Over the years, a vocal minority has intimidated many educators and school officials into thinking that there is very little room for expression of, or teaching about, Christianity. Now is the time for people to restore what the law already allows: freedom of religious expression and appropriate inclusion of religion in the curriculum.
At the same time, we can act on the admonition of Hebrews 10:24, "and let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds."
As a Christian in a public school, you are not alone! The fact is, 80 to 90% of Christians with school-aged children send them to public schools.
There are also many teachers, parents, school officials, and students who –†though they may not attend church regularly –†would support religious freedom on campus. Whether you are a teacher, administrator, or parent you can tend the garden where God has put you. He has prepared the soil and is already working in the lives of those around you.
First, you must identify the people God has placed in your garden. List the names and E-mail addresses of people you come in contact with regularly. This may include teachers, parents, administrators, and school staff. Your list should include both Christians and non-Christians.
Keep a record of cultivation
Over the course of the school year you will have opportunities to cultivate relationships with the people in your garden. Cultivation can be as simple as sending a "get well" card to an ill principal. Seed planting can involve passing along information on religious liberty at school or encouraging a teacher to teach about the birth of Jesus.
Keep a Seed Planting Journal in which you create a page for each person in your sphere of influence. Jot a note of what you did for that person. For example, you might write, "gave information on students’ rights," or, "comforted her regarding her husband’s illness."
Three Steps to Gardening
1. Pray for the people in your garden. In the book of Acts, God used the Apostles to influence 3,000 people in one day! In Acts 1:14 we find that the Apostles were people of prayer. Pray regularly for the people you’ve identified as being in your garden. Ask the Lord for opportunities to cultivate relationships and plant seeds.
Moms In Touch, International has over 20,000 prayer groups and 100,000+ moms praying each week. The moms whose children attend the same school meet to pray for that school, its staff and educators, and the children. To find your school’s group, or to start a prayer group, call 800-949-MOMS or visit www.momsintouch.org.
First-grader Amanda Rawlings wanted to tell her classmates about Jesus, but she ran into a problem – her teacher thought such a discussion in a public school was illegal.
"The teacher told my daughter that it was against the law to talk about God in a public school," explained Amanda’s mother, Sharon Rawlings. "She also stopped a child from reading a book brought from home which mentioned Jesus. Many of the students felt they had no rights to discuss God around school."
Sharon began praying for the teacher and the situation. With a prayerful and loving attitude, Sharon also gave a Gateways Christmas booklet to the teacher. Her gentle efforts brought about a change in the teacher’s attitude by the time her younger daughter, Emily, had the same teacher a couple of years later. Sharon was thrilled when the teacher welcomed the mother and her daughter to share the Christmas story with the class.
2. Prepare to work in your garden. Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 reveals that he was prepared. He quotes heavily from the Old Testament. He had done his homework! To be an effective Christian influence you must be prepared with answers.
Arnie was a sixth-grade teacher who had a problem. He explained to me that as part of his lessons on vocabulary words, he would read to his students from a variety of sources that introduced them to new words. On occasion, he would read from the Bible.
"I have a mom who has complained to my principal," he said. She let the principal know in no uncertain terms that she didn’t want the teacher to ever read from the Bible.
Arnie was frustrated and concerned. Could he defend his actions, or would he have to stop reading the Bible to his students?
Because Arnie is in the California schools, I knew he was doing the right thing. I referred him to the California state standards.
"Not only can you use the Bible for vocabulary words," I explained, "you can read the story of creation, Noah, Joseph, the Exodus, David and Goliath, and more! Plus, you are supposed to teach them about the life of Jesus “as described in the New Testament’!"
Arnie had never heard of this and quickly found a copy of the standards at his school. Now, well prepared, he was able to not only defend his actions, but also be a positive influence in the life of the school principal.
3. Participate in God’s Activity. God is at work in your school. He has used Christians last year in your school and now He wants to use you. In fact, He placed you right where you are for a reason! Are you watching for opportunities?
In all likelihood, there is at least one Christian involved in every classroom in your school (a teacher, student, or parent). Imagine the positive impact of dozens of Christians on your campus participating in God’s activity!
A mom once told me how God opened the door for her to talk about Jesus with her son’s eighth-grade social studies teacher. During an open house at the beginning of the school year, the teacher mentioned to the parents he was going to include a section on world religions. The mom used that as a starting point for conversation, and the teacher indicated that he liked talking about spiritual things.
About a month before Easter, she gave him Gateways’ material on how a public school teacher can legally teach about Jesus’ death and resurrection. This prompted another conversation that ended with the mom giving the teacher a copy of a video on the life of Jesus.
A few days later, the mom’s son reported that the teacher was spending the next four days showing and discussing the video in class! In a subsequent conversation, the teacher shared that his wife had recently returned to her Christian upbringing and he was wrestling with spiritual questions himself. This time, the mom had an opportunity to explain the gospel and how God had changed her life.
Recruit Other Gardeners
You will most likely have some Christians in your garden. Encourage them to begin tending their own garden. Give them copies of this article and regularly encourage them (after all, they are in your garden). Ask them if you can sign them up for the Gateways E-Newsletter. When you do, they will soon begin receiving encouraging stories of many who are already successfully tending to the gardens of their schools.
There are 92,000 public schools in America. Imagine, one day, people just like you on every campus tending to their gardens! Participate in what God is doing on your campus.
Seasonal seed planting tools available at www.gtbe.org
When school year begins: Give people the U.S. Department of Education’s Statement on Students’ Religious Expression (Click on "Articles," then "School Prayer.")
September 11 and November 11: Give our Pledge of Allegiance poster to teachers and students. It explains, in public school-friendly terms, what it means to be one nation "under God."
Halloween: Give a teacher the booklet, Teachers Trick or Treat. It suggests a more wholesome alternative to an occult emphasis.
Thanksgiving: Give a teacher the booklet, Talking Turkey About Thanksgiving. It explains how public school teachers can legally teach about the religious aspects of the holiday and offers lesson plan ideas.
Christmas: Give a teacher the booklet, A Gift for Teacher. This booklet explains how public school teachers can legally teach about the birth of Jesus.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: Give a teacher the article "Martin & Jesus." (Click on "Articles," then "American History.")
Easter: Give a teacher the booklet, Bunny Goes to School. It explains how public school teachers can legally teach about the death and resurrection of Jesus, gives legal documentation, and offers lesson plan ideas.
Anytime: Remember to distribute copies of this article to people who may want to begin gardening.
Also access a growing list of resources at www.gtbe.org and sign up for a free E-mail newsletter. For a free starter packet, call 800-929-1163.