In-School Spirituality

Will Penner

Don’t believe the hype! God has not been kicked out of schools. No people, groups, or institutions have that power, even if they had the desire.

From kindergarten through twelfth grade, I attended public school. When I was a full-time youth minister, I ate lunch in schools two or three days a week. I’ve been teaching in public schools for a decade. And believe me: God has been present at every single one of them.

devozine praying circle124820010People are not angry because the Christian faith cannot be practiced, but because it can no longer be a dominant presence at most public schools. Outrage has fueled a lot of homeschooling and private school enrollment. Yet, God is present in both public and private schools.

God is not always active in the ways we expect. Some Christian groups focus on outward displays of religion—bringing Bibles to class, bowing heads for prayer in the lunchroom, wearing religious jewelry or shirts with religious slogans written on them. They also tend to focus on avoiding behaviors such as drinking, drug or tobacco use, premarital sex. While such emphases are not bad, they are not the sum total of what being a Christian means. We would do well to grow in our faith, creating a Christ-like heart.

Some kids in every school feel that other people don’t care about them; they are socially awkward and emotionally vulnerable. They need people to be like Jesus and to reach out to them in genuine friendship. When one kid makes fun of another, a Christ-like response is to intervene in love. When people are being overly negative, a positive influence can change the dynamics of a conversation.

teens telling stories Ftr TSP 123466356Read Galatians 5:22–23 (NRSV): “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Take note of the last line: “There is no law against such things.” When modern-day disciples demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit at school, others are blessed. These are the ways God shows up at school, whether faith is openly discussed or not.

People worry about God’s being removed from public education because students can’t pray or talk about the Bible or their faith and because the curriculum doesn’t include classes on Christian faith and practice. But I have yet to find a school that outlaws the fruit of the Spirit.

Some of the purest forms of spirituality have arisen among people on the margins of society. Early Christians were in the minority, and some were persecuted and killed for their faith. If they could keep their faith through the trials, arenas, and torture chambers, surely we can carry ours through the lunchrooms, locker rooms, and classrooms of middle and high schools.


locker talk FTR TSP 78488647DIG DEEPER

Write on an index card the nine attributes listed in Galatians 5:22–23. Keep the card in your pocket. Then after you get to school each morning, at some point during lunch, and before you leave in the afternoon, look over the list and see how you can practice one or more fruits of the Spirit.

GO FURTHER: Read through the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7. During the week, look for expressions of Jesus’ teachings at your school. Also find ways you can exhibit each of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3–12).

Will Penner is a public school teacher in Fairview, Tennessee, and sees God at work on campus every single day.

—from devozine (November/December 2015). Copyright © 2015 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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