Why I Do It
By Tim Nelson
Pastor and Bible Teacher—Hawaii Mission Academy
Our greatest duty and privilege is to introduce others to Christ and journey with them in developing their understanding and application of his character in their lives. To me, doing that with our children is the most critical aspect of that endeavor. The Adventist church has a unique opportunity for the church and school to walk hand in hand in that development. The two are both essential members of the mission of Christ, but in recent years, I have noticed that the two sides have become increasingly insular from each other, each content to let the other do its own thing. And I understand it, at least from the Pastor's side. When I was offered an opportunity to teach my daughter's Bible class, I was a bit hesitant. I was already pastoring two churches, and being out of the classroom for nearly 20 years, I questioned what if I failed them? Being encounter-trained, I knew I could handle the curriculum, but what if they couldn't handle me? What if I did such a poor job showing Jesus that I was the one to turn them off to school and church? What if I was too conservative for the students, and they saw Jesus as a judgmental ogre? What if I was too liberal for the school, and they saw us as watering down the pillars of the faith? There were a multitude of reasons to say no, to let me focus on the church and let the school focus on the school, but this approach has failed. A recent study showed that 70% of our students stop attending church after graduation, while some return after a decade; most never do. That's why I believe a still, small voice kept whispering amongst my fear and excuses, "My biddings are enabling." He was bidding me; I had to trust that He would enable me to. So, after talking with other teachers and mentors, I agreed to teach the class with one spirit-led condition. The kids had to come before the policies.
When Jesus came the first time, he made it a point to love the people he ministered to over the policies and "handbooks" of his day. He let the disciples eat with ceremonially unclean hands because they were hungry. He ate with sinners because they were lonely. He chose not to condemn the fallen because they needed love. Therefore, I consciously chose to put the students' issues over other policies. For us, that meant understanding that many students had been given the impression that the handbook mattered more than the struggles in their lives. So I chose to look the other way on dress code violations, to allow for phone use outside of instruction time, and to understand that sometimes the best for the growth of a particular student was to allow them a class period to sleep. And while I strove to put them over policies, that did not mean there were no rules. I knew that "no rules" would not work, that students crave boundaries and that proper boundaries give true freedom to learn. Thus, for one of my first projects, I had the students make individual posters of the rules they lived by and share them with the class; once they understood that I valued their rules and they saw the seriousness that others had for their own rules, they were open to accept rules for the class. I had only three: respect God, respect each other, and respect yourself, which became the foundation for the class.
Respecting God meant accepting that while each of us has our desires, goals, and passions, God's desires, goals, and passions for us outweigh any we have for ourselves.
This involved seeking to understand God's character, teachings, and plans in ways that challenged their intellectual and emotional readiness, enabling them to grapple with complex theological questions and grow in their understanding of the divine.
For example, during the unit on brokenness, individuals were given cups containing various candies and cereals and asked to speak on how the variety of broken pieces represented their own lives and how, while there was a type of beauty in the brokenness, so much more could be achieved in the right hands. Then, in groups, they made different mosaics, combining all of their broken pieces into one beautiful picture to show how God plans to take our brokenness and unify it to make a beautiful picture of Him.
Respecting each other meant respecting that each one had their own needs and learning styles; it meant doing my best to make sure each individual had the best chance to learn and be assessed in the manner that that individual had the best opportunity for success.
Sure, giving all tests and papers would be easier for me to administrate a class of 24, but I didn't feel it would be respecting them as individuals. So, we did a lot of projects that utilized as many learning styles as I could for each unit. In the unit covering the four gospels, we broke into four groups and created board games to illustrate the themes and differences of each gospel. We had a board game designer come in and discuss board game design and then come back to play (assess) the games in connection to the gospels they represented. This year, they will be putting together comic books on the gospel of John focused on understanding and presenting the unit themes. Yes, we still do the occasional test, and they have a paper or two to help the traditional learners, but now everyone in the class has an opportunity to feel like they can learn, comprehend, and excel in the subject matter.
Respecting themselves meant that they would accept that they are children of God and that He has designed them for the extraordinary.
Thus, they would accept nothing less than their best efforts in class. Through daily journal writing, they would take directed time to ponder how God made them unique and how that uniqueness could be exhibited in excellence. In respecting themselves selves, they allowed themselves to make mistakes. In fact, failure in class was a mandate. We learned that failure after trying one's best was just a marker for when to continue on the next attempt and that true failure was in disrespecting oneself to the point of shutting down and pulling away.
By the end of the year, my belief that teaching is the most exhausting job on the planet was justified, but so was my belief that teaching was one of the most rewarding jobs on the planet. Every ounce of effort I poured out into the classroom, God gave me back double in my churches. I realized that the true call of the church is not twofold, one in the pulpit and the other in the classroom; instead, they are one and the same. God's bidding is his enabling, and not only that, but the impact you can make for the eternity of a student is priceless.
God's bidding is his enabling, and not only that, but the impact you can make for the eternity of a student is priceless.
By Linda Vigil
Bible Teacher—Maplewood Academy
In 2015, I was fortunate to be a Bible teacher selected to pilot the new Secondary Encounter Bible curriculum. I met Nina Atcheson, creator of the Encounter curriculum, and learned how to be a regional trainer for the curriculum. One of the final training meetings deeply impacted me. Nina shared with us what she faced in writing the Bible lessons.
With tears, she told us how Satan had been attacking her spiritually and how she needed to rely totally on Jesus to complete this curriculum. We circled up, surrounded Nina, and lifted her and the curriculum in prayer. The presence of the Holy Spirit filled that room as we prayed, and I remember thinking that this Encounter curriculum is definitely of God.
Since then, I have used the Secondary Bible Encounter Curriculum in my 9-12 grade classes and witnessed it transform the lives of my students. Jesus is the main focus from the Freshman year, when students share their personal picture of God, to the Senior year when they research, and each teaches a chapter from the Gospel of John themselves. Classes are more innovative and interactive, using various discussion tactics, personal responses, music, drama, and videos. Each year, the students express their understanding and love for God creatively through the multiple projects and assessments they complete. The students learn so much from each other through their assessment presentations. It is inspiring for me to see their spiritual growth and understanding expand.
I asked some students to share their thoughts on their Bible classes and how it impacted them. Here are some of their responses.
Aiyana, a senior, shares that
“having Bible classes as a part of my daily class routine reminds me of my need for Christ. The curriculum focuses on building our knowledge and understanding of Jesus and how He is always longing to get to know us better. Having this class in high school puts a big emphasis on creating a Christ-centered atmosphere not only in just Bible class but in all my classes.”
Nyadheal, another senior, says,
"It is important that we are being taught the tools to study and know the Bible, so we are prepared to spread the word of God and have the ability to defend our faith. Bible class strengthens our foundation with Christ because we are provided with factual information about our religion, people in the Bible, and God.”
Several of my students echo what Annika, a senior, feels,
“It helps me to learn about God in an approachable way and helps me keep God in my thoughts and learning every single day. It keeps our school focused on Jesus and helps students who may not know the Bible as well learn more about the history of the Bible.”
Some other students feel that Bible classes provide a safe place to ask questions that sometimes parents or other church members don't let you ask; it fosters safe spiritual discussions in everyday conversations.
One of my sophomore students, Salome, says,
"It means that every single day no matter what, I get to spend time with the Lord. Having Bible class means so much to me. If my day is going bad, this class brings me joy just talking about Him. Bible class is one of my favorite classes, and I can't imagine not even having it. My parents constantly tell me that it was the main reason they even put me in this school because it revolves around God, and I am always learning about Him. When I have Bible class every day, it helps remind me how much I am loved by Him, but also how much I need Him. Being able to dedicate a whole class period to Him has a huge impact on me. The impact it has on Maplewood is quite huge also. After class, I see so many people wanting to talk about Him to others and just become much happier overall."
The Handbook for Principals of Seventh-day Adventist Schools states, "A primary focus of an Adventist school should be an intentional plan for nurturing students' spiritual development. This spiritual curriculum should be integral to all that happens on campus, both inside and outside the classroom. Beyond offering a Bible class in each grade, a school must create activities that will help students develop a deep relationship with Jesus Christ." (Pg. 46). I believe our schools demonstrate that intentional plan through the Encounter Bible curriculum. Each day, we meet with students in our Bible classes, and they encounter Jesus.
Integration of Faith & Learning Q&A
By Yanina Jimenez
1-4 Teacher—Downers Grove SDA School
WHAT is Integration of Faith & Learning?
Integration of faith and learning is when teachers and students integrate faith in the courses they take at school, in the conversations they have, in their interactions, in lessons, assessments, and in everything else students do at school. Integration of faith and learning should emphasize the "learning" experience, meaning students should have the opportunity to integrate faith into their learning. Students should be provided time and space to have an encounter with Jesus. Often, we teachers integrate faith in our teaching, but we don't give the opportunity to integrate faith from the student's perspective.
WHY Integration of Faith & Learning?
Integration of faith and learning is a way to show students that Jesus can and is in every aspect of their lives. It is an invitation to look for Biblical and spiritual lessons in everything they do, secular or sacred!
WHEN can I apply Integration of Faith & Learning?
Integration of faith and learning can take place from the beginning of the school day to the end of it. Faith can, should, and needs to be added to our instruction, assessment, feedback, conversations, discipline, and interactions throughout the whole school day.
HOW can I integrate faith in learning?