God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God,’ but hate their brothers and sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. I John 4:16-21, NRSV
A school is a community. It has a specific purpose, the education of children and youth, but wherever people come together, relationships develop, and our lives are changed by the people around us. We like to say, in a Christian school, that we are not like public schools, we’re not in the business of imitating them and we enjoy independence and autonomy in providing instruction, and community, for our students. We bring in principles which provide foundations for our relationships from the Bible, in their historical context, which helps us teach our students not only essential skills and knowledge, but how to live in a way that pleases God.
A Pro-Active Approach to Relationships
When Christians are together in community, there is an atmosphere of acceptance and affirmation that develops as lives are lived by the values and virtues taught in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are teaching our students to love God, understand that his sacrifice of his son, Jesus, is the sacrifice we claim to be free of our sin and his Holy Spirit is the power we are given by which we are able to live a life pleasing to him, exhibiting the virtues and values he taught in the gospel as a testimony to the grace we have received from him.
There is an expectation of acceptance in Christian community, and that is also true for the Christian school. Students here are challenged to reflect the values of the gospel, rather than the values of the world which separate students in school if there’s nothing in place to prevent it. Public schools don’t focus on relationships, they focus on the technical aspects of education and leave students to what they call the freedom of their own pursuits. So there’s no emphasis on relationships and nothing is done to promote values or virtues, especially not those of Jesus. And what happens is that students group themselves into cliques, excluding others based on judgement of their intelligence, appearance or wealth of family. It can be a miserable experience for a 12 or 13 year old to be forced to attend school each day in a community of people whom they feel doesn’t value them as a human being, but ridicules them because they don’t seem to “fit in.”
That can also happen in a Christian school, even if the gospel’s values and virtues are taught and the school’s teachers and leadership exhibit characteristics of Christ-likeness. But it’s a fact that we are attracted to our friends mainly based on worldly observation, not Godly standards. Since we are teaching our students what the Bible says about the practice of our Christian faith in all things, and it has plenty to say about relationships between people, and in particular, between God’s people, we can give our students an opportunity to see how this particular principle about Christian relationships works, and to put it in practice.
Advantages of a Small School
If a student comes to MCA in the lower grades, or Pre-K, and stays for graduation from eighth grade, they will most likely be with the same group of classmates for the whole time they’re here. That’s 180 days a year, 7 hours a day, and is more time than they will spend with anyone else in their life, up to that point, except their own family. These words from John, about love, which is the very nature of God, as he tells us in these verses, is why he provided his human creation with redemption in Jesus. It’s clear that what John says in these verses applies not just generally to students in Christian schools, as it does to members of churches, but specifically to the students of MCA, most of whom are followers of Christ by testimony.
School is a place to learn, and from what we observe, there is a need to learn, by example and practice, how to love in a way that casts out fear. John not only says this is possible, but it should be how Christians love others, which is a testimony to their love for God. Excluding others, ignoring them, or even giving them a hard time, criticizing them or even making fun of them is the source of fear, and reveals a heart that does not love God. “Insomuch has you have done it unto the least of these, my brothers and sisters,” says Jesus, “You have done it unto me.”
So in this time and space of the school year, we are putting some practices into place which will give our students the opportunity to demonstrate perfect love which casts out fear. For the next nine weeks, students in grades 4-8 will be assigned to small groups with their classmates. There will be instructions given as to what these groups are to do, but mainly, they are to get to know each other. We have students who, for whatever reason, are not always included in the social activity of other students and they come to school fearful of possible criticism or exclusion by others. This will, at least, help students get to know each other in a way that goes beyond just the surface, and gets into the heart.
In addition to the group meeting together for specific activity once a week, they are also required to sit with the other group members at the same table during lunch for the entire week that the group is together. They will be put in a different group each week, for nine weeks, until they have been able to be in a group with everyone on their grade level. Fourth and fifth grade will share groups, and Middle School will share groups. The goal will be for students to demonstrate an understanding of this passage of scripture by loving those students with whom they spend such a large amount of time each day in a perfect way that casts out fear. This is made possible and can be achieved, because John tells us, “as He is, so are we in this world.”
The goal will be accomplished by the Holy Spirit, working in us, invited in by prayer. So please pray for this spiritual life development at MCA.