By Milton V. Uecker, EdD
Part 7 of 8 part series (2005)
Every school works to create a disciplined or moral environment through the establishment of behavioral standards or rules. Even though leading the way to kingdom living involves standards, it is not the standards (the law) that transform. In many cases standards that are poorly chosen and implemented will hinder transformation. Once established, if there are too many to enforce or if they are not owned by the faculty, the resulting lack of consistency opens the door to relativism and the belief that all are free to choose their own standards.
Morality and spiritual maturity is dependent upon submission to authority and the willingness to obey. Kingdom living is based on dying to self and a focus on living life the way Jesus would live it. Moral leadership assures that standards are likewise based on a concern for how Jesus would live within the school community. Each standard must be understood in this light. Students must understand why it is so important to live according to a given standards. This is critical when rules are broken. Tripp (1995, 79) believes that it is at this point that behavior must be viewed as a reflection of or window into the “abundance of a child’s heart.” Instead of focusing on a broken rule and punishment, the focus should be on the root of the behavior or the attitude of the heart. Tripp refers to this as entreating, or an “earnest pleading for the child to act in wisdom and faith” (87). It is helping the child to see the selfish intent of his or her heart and receive anew the forgiveness available in Jesus. In doing this the focus is on the student’s heart condition as opposed to the punishment. Herein lies the link between the school’s rules and kingdom living—life lived in light of and in response to Jesus’ love and forgiveness.
A final focus must be on the learners themselves. The role of imitation as a primary learning mode for concrete learners has already been emphasized. Remember that children are immature. Paul referred to the fact that children speak, think, and reason like a child (I Corinthians 13:11). This immature thinking during early childhood means that children have difficulty in taking on the perspective of others. Because of this, self-centered behavior stems not only from the child’s sinful state, but from cognitive limitations as well. Modeling, storytelling, and role play are primary learning strategies. Christian school educators must expect the inconsistencies that result from immaturity and not become discouraged.
Perhaps the most important development stage relative to spiritual formation comes during adolescence. Of particular importance are the junior and senior years of high school. It is during this time that adolescents, through their newly acquired formal thinking abilities, are asking questions about who they are becoming and how they want to live. They are examining their life choices and determining which of the beliefs and values they have picked up along the way are to become their internalized beliefs—beliefs and values that they will live by. They question that validity of biblical living and the Bible itself. They question whether Jesus was truly God’s son and whether His life could truly atone for their sin. They question the concept of sin itself. This questioning must be seen as a normal aspect of the maturing process. They are seeking verification and the deeper level of understanding that accompanies formal thinking. Willard (1998, 328) writes that “dealing honestly with the questions that come up is the only path to a robust and healthy faith.” Bible classes must be centered on discussion and taught by teachers who can provide evidence and arguments. The truth, through the work of the Holy Spirit, must be received, acted on, and then integrated by the adolescents into their personality. Once this occurs, their behavior will reflect their kingdom heart as opposed to a performance that is staged in order to conform and belong.
Additionally, adolescents by their nature do not feel “blessed.” They need to experience the truth that they are gifted and valued by God. With adolescence comes a heightened desire to know what kind of person they must be to be wanted, to be loved, and to have a lasting impact (Huggins 1989). Throughout their life they have developed a foolish plan as a means toward these ends. They have come to believe that it is up to them to do what it takes to receive approval and be valued. They strive for beauty, work at academic success, train to develop athletic ability, or amplify other learned behaviors (compliance, perfectionism) that have worked to gain approval from parents and teachers.