Dear Theophilus: Christian Teachers in Public School

By Todd Forrest and Sara Forrest

Smiling public school teacher leans on table to listen to student ask question when reading her tablet

Dear Faculty,

As a public-school teacher, expressing the Christian faith is discouraged in many ways. How can a Christian public school teacher integrate their faith in their role as a teacher?

- Theophilus

Dear Theophilus,

For too long, the misinterpretation and misapplication of our country’s “separation of church and state” clause has raised questions like this for public school teachers. There are a few considerations that we need to be aware of to assure there is no offense in vocational life and no diluting of personal faith.

To fully understand this in a day-to-day experience, this article is the combined effort of Todd, GCU College of Theology Faculty, and his daughter-in-law, Sara, a GCU graduate who is presently teaching history in a Phoenix high school.

God’s Mandate Given to Me

What is our mandate as a follower of Jesus? Clearly stated in Acts 1:8, when the Holy Spirit regenerates someone’s life through the blood of Jesus, they will be witnesses. There are things in life we cannot unsee, whether positive or negative. We become witnesses as these images and experiences bind to our minds, our lives.

No follower of Christ can “unexperience” the new and transforming presence of salvation. It becomes a part of us as it shapes our thinking, actions, motives and treatment of others. It will also shape our purpose and our calling in life as we develop the God-given skills to do our best in all aspects of life. Sara makes a significant point as she confessed, “A teacher can and should integrate their faith in their role as a teacher daily.”

God’s Love Governing My Approach

It seems that clear (or perceived) pressure from school administrations may cause a Christian public school teacher to dilute personal belief. This may be from silencing or fear or retaliation. However, this has never been the intent of the educational process for religion or any other personal stance on justice, society or person beliefs.

The Bible gives direction in how to approach this lifestyle of faith when stating, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (I Peter 3:15, NIV). If Christ is truly our Lord, he is going to be revered in every facet of life. If we are unsure of our faith, it is easy to hide our faith.

Sara has an inspiring perspective as she feels that students should not be surprised to find out their teacher is a Christian. She believes separation of church and state means a teacher should not force their views on students, but should also not be afraid to share them. There should be something significant besides being a “good teacher” or a “good person.” This verse from Peter shows us that he was not pushy about faith, but he was prepared.

Paul said, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (I Corinthians 9:22, NIV). This is not forcing people. It is a balanced life, always prepared to dialogue with those the Holy Spirit has prepared to answer questions, give insight or ask probing questions to provoke thought.

Sara has taken a similar approach to living this out: "When I hear conversations students have about religion, I jump in. As long as a student starts it, I am in the clear to enter into that discussion. I never say what they should believe, but I am always clear on what I believe.”

God’s Reputation Over My Agenda

Christians who push too far create offense. Christians who say nothing live an ambiguous existence. The point to all our lives is that God is glorified.

Sara’s passion is that, “My actions, love and kindness in the classroom should be evidence of my relationship with Jesus. Some teachers think their relationship with Jesus needs to be kept a secret, but I disagree. I don’t believe we should walk in fear, but in the Holy Spirit’s discernment. I am always actively seeking ways to integrate the declaration of my faith in my classroom.”

She is not ashamed. She is not hiding it. Her agenda is not her own but to glorify God, living out the purpose given to her and developing the skills she has been given to do her best in teaching history. We should also seek to glorify God first, in spite of fear or hesitation on our side.

The end of 1 Peter 3:15 frames this issue as it closes out with, “But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV). Christians are not to be known for their agenda or winning arguments. We are to be known by our love.

Love is the compelling nature that attracted lost and searching people to Jesus as we walked the earth. Our love today will make us attractive to those who see hope in us and inquire about our reasons. The bottom line for Sara and her message to all Christian public school teachers and the rest of us is this, “My job is my ministry. If I am not prioritizing my main mission as a Christian to spread the love and joy of the gospel, I am doing a disservice to the role in which God has placed me.”

Have your own theology questions? Get your questions answered by emailing cotblog@gcu.edu using the subject line “Dear Theophilus.” If you would like to learn more about the College of Theology and our degree programs at Grand Canyon University click on the Request Info button at the top of your screen.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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