The school where I teach just had their Spiritual Emphasis Week. The week’s purpose is pretty clearly outlined in the title. It is meant to be a week where the entire school attempts to slow down and draw close to God.
As a Bible teacher at a Christian school it is safe to assume that I am a fan of Christian education. If I could afford it, I would want my future children to attend a Christian school. Both my husband and I went to Christian/College Prep high schools, and we were both very blessed by the experience
But after this week I am starting to see some of the limits of Christian education. And the limitation is mainly one of identity.
Our school is not a confessional school, which means you do not have to be a Christian in order to attend. I think this is actually a good thing. It provides a very interesting challenge in my classroom that I believe on the whole has been both very rewarding for the students and for me. My class is unapologetically confessional, but since it is a classroom environment I am able to weave my confession into a conversation. I am able to show my students that even though this is my confession it is okay to disagree with me. My classroom is clearly not the church and there is no possible way to confuse it with one. My classroom, put maybe too simply, is the world.
But the lines between the church and the world start to blur when we go to chapel on Thursday. Chapel consists of the liturgical acts of worship, prayer, and reading scripture. A message is preached and some kind of a response to the homily is expected. This would be a wonderful thing if the school was actually a church.
The church consists of a community of believers who come together once a week to celebrate the same confession: Jesus is king. The church by its very nature crosses boundaries of age, race, and socio-economic status. The church is a sanctuary, a safe place for those who may have taken a beating during the week, and have come to hear God’s word read over their lives. This word acts as both a balm and a fire so that they may then go out and be witnesses to the world once again. This is what my church is to me, and while I love my school where I teach, it will never be able to do this. Because a Christian school is not and can never be a church.
Chapel on Thursdays is structured like a church service. It is structured as a confessional act. But what happens when you bring non-confessors into a confessional environment? Should we really be surprised when they don’t join us in a celebration that they do not even recognize?
This is why Spiritual Emphasis Week is traditionally a very hard week for me. I feel like the worst Bible teacher in all of history because after almost every chapel I don’t feel like I have celebrated with my family. I feel a little beaten up. I look across the aisle and see students sleeping in their chairs or making a bee line for the bathroom. I can handle this for one hour, once a week, but after four chapels my spirit has usually been broken. Again, I’m not saying that I blame the students or that I’m surprised when teenagers act like teenagers. But four consecutive chapels at a Christian school make one thing abundantly clear. We will always become frustrated when we try to force the world to act like the church.