Our church service today marks the beginning of Lutheran School’s week, which was always one of my favorite weeks when I taught kindergarten. This week meant fun clothes and extra activities, all designed to help us celebrate the gift of Christian education, and the church service always meant children singing.
As the school and center children gathered at the front of the church, I noticed a young child behind me who could not be coaxed to join the crowd. In her defense, it was a large group, but no manner of encouragement would change her mind. I leaned back and assured her she could sing from her seat, and dad agreed. Perhaps singing in front of a crowd wasn’t his thing either.
Later in the service, I realized to my joy that this timid young girl was singing along with our prayer liturgy and later sang, with abandon, my husband’s song of the Lord’s Prayer, which is a congregation favorite. No one had to nudge her; she simply joined in when she recognized what she heard. It was as if her faith floated on the air along with her singing. It was all I could do to stop myself from turning around and watching.
My heart was full.
So what makes a child afraid of crowds able to sing along with adults? What encourages her to sing during the parts of the service not necessarily designed for her? She did not have to conjure up any courage – she sang from her heart, from her faith. This is the blessing of a Christian education. It produces faith in a child that leaks out in unexpected ways and tender moments.
You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:7
Just last week, I found myself speaking to a mother’s group at a sister church. Regardless of the topic I am asked to address, I always seem to circle round to the teaching of this Deuteronomy verse. I have found many ways of saying that teaching the faith is not a matter of quality lessons, but a quantity of experiences. Faith lessons should be diligently taught while sitting, walking, preparing for bed, and rising in the morning. In other words faith should show up all day and in all things. If children hear about faith in church, but not at home their brains will be less likely to pick up on the significance of this learning. If they hear about faith at home and in church but not any other place, the brain will relegate faith to those locations. A Lutheran education, that provides hearing, learning, practicing and sharing faith all day, is the blessing of Lutheran schools.
Don’t get me wrong. I used to teach in Lutheran schools, and my children attended them. I can assure you that rigorous academics, and the teaching and formation of solid values are essential areas of concern. I often speak for conferences for Lutheran teachers, and I know I have to stay up to speed on what is current to keep up with them. But, as important as a solid academic education is, it is not the most important thing.
I spent a few years learning how humans develop and spent many hours in classes reviewing theory and research on cognition. As I sat in and taught in those secular classrooms, I became even more convinced of the importance of Christian education. You see, we do not learn outside of a culture. Everything a child learns connects to what they see and experience in their family. You cannot put learning into separate boxes as it all connects. God designed us to learn faith through His Word and Sacrament and to make this learning a part of each moment of our lives. Faith learning is about diligence, and the Holy Spirit is the definition of diligence. We do best to work within this design.
My teacher friends in Lutheran schools who will be navigating the excitement of this week are diligent in the work of teaching the faith. They go beyond teaching and show their precious students how to live it. Faith becomes such a natural expression that the words "You hear us calling, You hear us calling, Abba Father." come spilling out of the mouth of a child too afraid to sing with her peers.
Today I am thankful for the many teachers who work so hard for less pay than their public school peers. I am grateful for teachers who put in long hours and willingly serve beyond their classroom duties. I am amazed by teachers who teach from a heart full of a God-given faith. (In addition to my Lutheran teacher friends I also thank God for my daughter and at least one former student who teach in other Christian schools.) I am especially thankful for how they all support parents in their sacred duty to teach the faith and to teach it diligently.
Thank you, Jesus.