(Christian Courier, June 2016)
When you’re a teacher, you’re a leader. I once attended a workshop where the presenter asked, “Who’s in charge of your classroom?” After two incorrect responses from the audience, I raised my hand and said, “I am.” That’s the answer he was looking for.
In practical terms, that’s true. The teacher is the de facto administrator, disciplinarian, motivator and strategist of the classroom. A dedicated teacher implements management structures that are intended to promote success for all while building in some flexibility to account for individual student gifts and challenges. For me, anyway, it came down to this: if my classroom wasn’t running well, I needed to change something. It was up to me. I was in charge.
But most importantly, a Christian teacher longs for her students to follow Christ. When I was busy with the daily nitty-gritty of lesson plans, timetables and recess duty, I didn’t spend much time thinking about the pride and joy I’d feel when my students became Christian leaders themselves. But what a retirement perk!
Some were destined for leadership. You could tell. Gifted go-getters, achievement-oriented right from the start. Still, it’s gratifying to see them fulfill their promise. Among my former students are pastors, teachers, engineers, nurses and business leaders who travel the world. Students who went on to study longer and harder than I ever could … attaining their MAs and PhDs. There’s a Dordt College education prof among them who wrote me one of my most cherished thank you notes!
But even more heartwarming are those students who graduated to leadership in ways I never could have foreseen. The class clown, the con artist, the poor reader, the bullied. The students I worried about, cringed at, shed tears over, gave up on.
Take Scott, for example. Scott* was a slippery kid in Grade 8. He was smart, but didn’t care for some of the work I was requiring of him. He claimed he handed in his poetry project. I didn’t have it. We went back and forth. He was convincing. It was year-end; I was exhausted. Maybe I had lost it? Not outside the realm of possibility. I let it go. Years later, he chuckled as he confessed that he had never completed it. Today Scott is a father of five and a solid leader in my church. He’s been a Cadet Counsellor, catechism teacher and deacon several times over. Now he’s an elder. His sincerity and maturity astound me and fill me with thankfulness to God.
Yes, I praise God for all the unanticipated leaders. The unruly and unmotivated who grew into Sunday school teachers and Gems counsellors. The shy and insecure who became loving fathers and strong mothers. The rebellious — now faithful doers of the Word. If I could have peered into the future, perhaps I would have fretted less, laughed more.
But our culture is goal-oriented and results-driven. Leaders are particularly susceptible to this pressure. In a recent blog post (perspectivesjournal.org) RCA pastor Brian Keepers reflects on this, referencing The Radical Pursuit of Rest: Escaping the Productivity Trap by John Koessler. Keepers notes, “Our ‘culture of productivity’ assumes that busier is better and that devotion equals more activity.” He quotes Koessler: “No matter what we are doing now, we should do more. No matter what we have done in the past, it has not been enough.”
As Christians, especially as Christian leaders, we’re invited to turn from this flurry of activity, rest in the Lord and surrender ourselves to his care. And not just ourselves, but, hallelujah, the whole world. This is not to encourage shirking or to condone slacktivism. It’s to inhale the blessed assurance that it’s not all up to us, after all. We’re only temporarily in charge. Keepers frames it, simply, as faith. “We trust that God will take care of us and that the world will go on even without our activity and effort. This makes rest, at its most fundamental level, an exercise of faith.”
As a footnote, Christian leaders, let’s learn to follow. The day comes when the student is the teacher. Let’s relinquish control with supportive grace. Let’s embrace the miracle of God’s Spirit poured out even in these days to raise up and equip new leaders. To quote Jean Paul Richter, the 19th century German writer: “How calmly may we commit ourselves to the hands of him who bears up the world.”
*Thanks, Scott, for permission to share our past and present.