Freeman Academy seeks to encourage students to practice their faith through worship, service, discussions and relationships. Regular chapel services provide opportunities for participation in worship. Bible classes give intentional instruction in Bible knowledge and faith topics. All teachers have the opportunity to include spiritual dimensions into class discussions topics. A scheduled community service day and spring service trip gives students experience in ministering to the practical needs of persons. In addition, there are numerous informal spiritual growth experiences available to the student. For example:
- Students have initiated a morning prayer/Bible study group.
- Chapel hour with speakers and worship twice a week.
- Athletic teams frequently share devotions and prayer before contests.
- Teachers may include prayer at any time in the classroom.
- Bible classes include Bible memory assignments.
- Some students participate in a worship band to lead chapel singing.
- Students serve the school during the spring Schmeckfest.
- Music groups often give programs at local nursing homes and senior care facilities.
- Teachers have opportunities to discuss spirituality with students in informal settings.
Growing up in the 21st century is no easier than it’s ever been; it’s equally true to say that raising children to be followers of Jesus Christ is no easier than it’s ever been. It’s not that growing up/raising children today is harder than ever; that would be difficult to substantiate. But perhaps, we can readily agree that growing up/raising children today is a challenge.
As we know, the Old Testament often urges the Israelites to “have no other gods before Yahweh.” And so often the prophets call on the children of Israel to leave “other gods” and follow Yahweh alone. In our time and place, what are those “other gods?”
Some years ago during the Mennonite World Conference in Asuncion, Paraguay, about a hundred Anabaptist-Mennonite educators from many parts of the world gathered to talk about the challenges of Christian education in their individual contexts. One statement particularly caught my attention. Jakob Warkentin, a wise elder statesman in education from the Chaco, reflected on the growing secularization among Mennonites in Paraguay – growing individualism, increasing engagement in politics, preoccupation with getting ahead financially and so on – all of which represent, he said, a huge challenge for Mennonite church schools in Paraguay.
Not long ago, in an article in The Mennonite on Mennonite Pre-K-12 schools here in the US, Preston Bush, then Bible and social studies teacher at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School in eastern Pennsylvania, said “Many of my Mennonite students are not much different than students from other backgrounds. The culture of our society is seeping into our own faith communities. And that’s made me more intentional about presenting an unapologetic biblical narrative, complete with its historical Anabaptist dimensions.”
I’m guessing we could all agree that acculturation is as much a challenge here in the US as in Paraguay. For young people to reach the point of owning their faith is not a given. One really clear piece of evidence is the unarguable fact that many young people who have grown up in Christian families are choosing to leave the church – some do switch to other denominations but the majority simply leave the church, thinking that it is not relevant for them.
How should we as people of faith, as parents and the church, respond? If we believe that Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life,” what can we or what should we do?
The following biblical text clearly calls us to place a priority on teaching our children our faith convictions by expressing them in words and actions – from morning until night. Notice that the Deuteronomist does not say, from 9 ‘till 11 on Sunday morning!
(4) Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. (5) Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (6) These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. (7) Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (8) Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. (9) Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NIV
For those of us with children in our homes, the passage lays clear responsibility on us parents: to live out our faith so our children can see it, to talk about it with them openly, and to urge them to own faith for themselves. Over the past few months, my wife Laura Sue and I have had the privilege of participating in a Bible study group at Hutterthal. In a recent Bible study meeting, the question came up: how comfortable are we as parents to talk openly and passionately with our children about our faith convictions? No doubt, many of us parents could grow in this regard.
I think all of us would readily agree that, along with the home, the church shares responsibility for helping to nurture our children in the faith. In this regard, I affirm the work of Sunday school teachers, youth group leaders, and pastors. As congregations we can touch our young people in so many other ways too. I think of the choir director at Altona Mennonite Church who significantly influenced our own three children’s faith development. Church camps and youth and intergenerational service/mission trips can do a great deal to help young people find their way to faith. And, I strongly affirm mentor-mentee relationships in congregational settings. I’ve observed a number of situations where an adult mentor from the congregation becomes a key influence in a young person’s growing understanding of, and commitment to, following Christ.
In that vein, let me highlight the importance of church schooling for many young people. In a church school such as Freeman Academy, students get to know adults other than their parents or congregational mentors – adults who hold similar biblically-based values as do their parents. Our church schools offer explicit faith-based instruction and nurture in Bible classes and chapels. But such instruction and nurture also happen in choir rehearsals, in the math and English classrooms, on the basketball team, and in teachers’ personal conversations with students.
In today’s secular world, the mere fact that for students in church schools, faith is a real part of everyday interaction and makes a huge difference. Church schools can do a great deal to find a Christ-centered approach to addressing questions of integrity in the workplace, the responsible use of the earth’s resources, the treatment of people on the edge of social groups, and the best way to resolve conflict. In drawing on the example and teachings of Jesus to speak to such matters, the church school reinforces what the Christian family and the church are teaching children.
At Freeman Academy, we see ourselves as being in partnership with the home and church in equipping young people to choose the way of Christ for themselves and grow as his followers. Home-church-and-school in partnership: that is a dynamic way to carry out the mandate of Deuteronomy 6. Freeman Academy teachers and staff consider it a privilege to participate in this partnership providing “faith-inspired learning for life.”