“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
The day is almost here. We’ve been waiting for it for what seems like ages. It almost seemed like it was never going to arrive. Three more sleeps and we will wake up to all of the energy and excitement of…the first day of school (imagine loud cheers and applause in the background). What? Did you think I was talking about Christmas morning? Well, minus the whole Jesus thing, the first day of school is kind of like Christmas morning for parents. Don’t get me wrong: I love my boys. But the consistency the school schedule brings back to our lives is awfully nice. And, I know we’ll be counting down to the end of school with the same energy and excitement on the other side of the school year, but for now, we’re just going to enjoy this moment to the fullest. The start of school in a couple of days, though, got me thinking this morning. This is one of the times of the year the church can really shine. Let’s talk about why.
The school your children go to and that you once went to exists because of the church. Now, if you or your kids happened to attend a private, Christian school, then of course it exists because of the church. You already knew that. But even if you go to a public school – even if you go to the most ultra-liberal public school whose leadership is aggressively hostile toward even the most benign expressions of the Christian faith – that school exists because of the church.
No, I’m not revealing some long kept secret about the history of your school and how it’s really a cover for a Christian indoctrination program like you might find in some dystopian future story. The proximate cause of your public school is that the local school board determined the district needed a new school to adequately serve the needs of the community. The church almost certainly didn’t play any kind of a meaningful role at any point in that process. So then, how is the church responsible for the existence of your school? It’s responsible because I’m not thinking in terms of the most immediate cause, but rather the ultimate cause.
The reason your school exists is actually because of Sunday school. In the 18th century and before, there was not any kind of a formalized, systematized program for educating children. Before the industrial revolution, boys were expected to learn whatever trade their fathers worked, while girls learned home economics from their mothers so they could take on a similar role when they were married and raising a family of their own. Yes, there were universities (which were invented by the church), but these were mostly for wealthy children or children who were exceptionally intelligent and could demonstrate as much to the tutors who would be taking charge of their higher educational development. But for most children, formal, public education simply didn’t exist. There were, of course, private tutors for the wealthy, but that was it.
Then came the industrial revolution, and children were mostly sent to work in the various factories that developed. And because children were typically viewed as extra mouths to feed who couldn’t meaningfully contribute to the cost of that food, no one really saw this as much of a bad thing. At least, they didn’t until some wealthy Christian businessmen recognized that children being sent to work in factories six days a week meant they were being consigned to a life of illiteracy in which the dehumanizing factory work they were being forced to do now was the best they were ever going to be able to achieve for themselves. The one day they had off was Sunday because of church. Of course, almost none of the children actually went to church. They used it as a day to run wild and get into trouble. It was not a good situation for the kids or the culture in the future.
So, these men began to organize schools that met on Sundays that aimed to teach children how to read and write and some basic math skills. Over time, their work led to some legal reforms and restrictions on how long children could work in factories and at what age they could start. Eventually, the success of the Sunday school revolution at improving a whole number of different cultural challenges was recognized, and the system was expanded and taken over by the state. This was gradually systematized into what we know today as the public school system.
Now, you can say what you want about the current state of public education, but education itself is of vital importance for the proper and healthy functioning of any society. Illiteracy is a cause of all manner of social ills. An organized system of public education has been the ticket to a better life for hundreds of millions of young people across the world. And the ultimate thanks for this lies right at the feet of a handful of followers of Jesus thinking about how to be obedient to Jesus’ command to “teach them to observe everything I have commanded you” in an organized, effective fashion. In other words, yes, the church is the reason your school exists.
That was the first thought I had this morning. The second was this: if you are a follower of Jesus, how can you make this new school year something that brings Him glory? There are a lot of things that could probably go on that list, but can I suggest one that may be the most important of all? Whether you are a student or a parent or a member of the school staff, this one attitude has the potential to make the greatest difference between this being a long, frustrating year, and one rich with possibilities of grace. What is it? Gratitude. If you will take this year and engage with all it brings through a lens of gratitude, I can guarantee you it will be better than it will be without that. In fact, if you allow gratitude to be your primary lens of engagement, many of the problems that might otherwise create chaos throughout the year won’t even be manifest as far as you are concerned.
Here’s why. When you are focused on being grateful for things happening in your life, your attention won’t be directed toward finding things you aren’t happy about and don’t like. You won’t be looking for opportunities to be offended. You’ll be more likely to let personal slights go. Your focus will be on how you can help to make things even better. When a teacher does something you don’t like, you will be looking for the reasons you have to be grateful in the situation. As a student, homework and projects won’t be tools of frustration and misery, but opportunities for learning and growth. For teachers and staff, gratitude will hold at bay the always encroaching cynicism that will make you hard over time. It will allow the process to be exciting and adventurous instead of maddening and tedious. Having gratitude will make you a better team member and keep you from taking advantage of other staff members especially those for whom being overlooked and underappreciated are simply parts of the process. In short: gratitude will make everything better.
A new school year brings unlimited potential for blessing and kingdom advance. That it exists at all is nothing more than the Christian worldview’s being worked out in the world by thoughtful believers. That same thoughtfulness and care will continue to make it a blessing today and into the future. Go with hope. Go with faith. Go with gratitude. And blessings as you do.