You know how you leave work and go home and never think about work again until you get there the next day? Yeah, me neither. I think about the school A LOT. How can we market ourselves better? How can we play better defense in basketball? What can we do to encourage reading? There are lots of topics that randomly stir my focus and attention.
But this year two topics resonate with me repeatedly: how can we better prepare our students spiritually to stay strong in their faith when they enter a chaotic, selfish, “post-God” culture; and how can we remain unified while doing so? As a coach who watches other teams and team cultures on many levels, I see the indicators and benefits of strongly unified teams, and the symptoms and aftermath of me-driven cultures. It seems like even the most unified groups can be easily derailed if even one person steps outside of “team” for a moment and puts their focus on what is best for them. So what elusive secret is there? What popular author holds the key, and where can I buy his book at a discount?
On Easter morning our church had a sunrise service. There was a time of music where we just spent time quietly reflecting on the events of that morning long ago. I spent time reading each Gospel’s account, and I was struck by something new, at least to me. I’m not sure the disciples liked each other. At the very least, they had wildly different personalities and goals. We know James and John (or at least their mom) had some ambitions within the kingdom as they understood it. In Mark 9, after Jesus has miraculously delivered a demon-possessed child, He asks the disciples what they were arguing about on the road…and they kept quiet because they had been arguing about who was the greatest. In John’s Gospel he makes sure to record that: (1) he outran Peter to the tomb, (2) Peter did not jump into the water to go greet Jesus until John had recognized him first, and (3) Jesus’ exchange with Peter about what would happen to Peter and John.
So two men who seemed to be polar opposites in personality, tact, ambition, and approach stayed in close company for several years with Jesus… How did that happen? It seems unlikely, yet there it is. Now the obvious answer here, as you are probably already mentally telling me, is Jesus. And of course it is...but we have Jesus too! Where is our strong bond of unity that overcomes differences in approach, methodology, organization, subject matter, and philosophy?
I’ll just answer for myself: there are days that I begin more focused on my area of expertise and my responsibilities than on my unity of PURPOSE…to teach and disciple and be passionate about what God has done and can still do. And that probably answers the question about how to prepare these students better as well and explains why many times we get the right textbook answer from them and not the right heart attitude; that’s what we’ve modeled. Say the right things, make sure we discreetly champion our methods, and maintain the “Christian school” atmosphere. How absolutely powerless. That’s how every group of nonbelievers functions. If we aren’t driven by God’s purpose and commission for us more powerfully than our “way” of doing it, why should any student accept our words? John Maxwell, noted leadership author, says this: “We teach what we know, but we reproduce what we are.” Uh oh. The truth in that statement terrifies me. It’s no small thing to start the day unfocused on the real mission. I can’t blame it on a lack of coffee or a bad day or “we’re all human”. And its cliché, but frankly, I don’t have it in me. I need that focus from Christ, and you do too.
John records something else though as well: Jesus’ restoration of Peter after his moment of fear and lack of faith. And then He trusted him to lead the church…did He even read Peter’s resume AT ALL? In fact the Mark 9 account of Jesus’ interaction with a father of a demon-possessed boy incites a response from Jesus to the boy’s father that, in turn, makes me chuckle, rebukes me, and encourages me:
Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has this been with him?”
“From childhood,” he said. “It often throws him into the fire or into the water, trying to kill him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
“If You can?” echoed Jesus. “All things are possible to him who believes!”
Immediately the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe; help my unbelief!”
If You can?? And the immediate recognition of the man of where his faith was: I DO believe, but I really could use some more faith. So, of course, God is COMPLETELY able AND willing to equip us to walk in unity, to help make real disciples, to be a true light to this community, to be excellent in our area while championing and celebrating the accomplishments and victories, and to be truly unified even though we aren’t uniform: driven by the Great Commission rather than the job description. We will just have to ask Him to help us overcome our moments of pride and weakness and walk in that unity.