Back to School

On the Way Home

My six -year-old already sounds like a sixteen-year-old on our drive back from school. Here’s how our conversation went yesterday.

Me: How was school today, buddy?

Sam: Good

Me: What did you do in PE? (thinking he would open up about his favorite thing to do—run)

Sam: Nothin’ much

Me: What did you learn in math? (thinking that maybe I could get a response related to his self-proclaimed favorite subject)

Sam: Nothin’ much

Me: What was your favorite part of the day? (OK, I give up, just tell me anything, anything at all!)

Sam: Nothin’

And so the ride home from school goes. Awesome.

Of course, I’ve read the many blog posts and articles on what to ask my children so we can have a real conversation. Somehow my son seems capable of responding apathetically about anything that has happened at school. And, well, I may just not be that good at asking questions. But, now imagine the parent-child conversation about school between God and his people. Do you think it would go any differently?

Not according to David Kinnaman’s research in the book You Lost Me. His research reveals a similar apathetic behavior the church has toward education. When 18- to 29-year-olds with a Christian background were asked if they experienced any of the following through their church, here’s what they said . . .

11% received helpful input from a pastor or church worker about their education
4% received a scholarship for college through church
4% learned about schools or colleges they might want to attend through their church

We can highlight this apathetic posture by flipping the percentages to show what those who have a Christian background have not experienced in church.

89% have not received helpful input from a pastor or church worker about their education
96% have not received a scholarship for college through church
96% have not learned about schools or colleges they might want to attend through their church

These statistics show a clear disconnect between the church and education, between faith and intellectual life. And this disconnect does not exist because of an attack on the faith from the secular intelligentsia of academia. The disconnect exists because the church has all to happily backed away from investing in the intellectual life of its members. “Essentially,” argues Kinnaman, “we make little effort to help disciples connect the dots between their vocation—whether in medicine, journalism, city planning, music, sales, computer programming, or any other—and their faith.” If the years spent in college are training for the rest of life, then we are training people to keep their faith and work separate for the rest of their lives. This may be why roughly 87% of those surveyed in the same research responded that they had not learned how the Bible applied to their field or area of interest.

It seems that the conversation between God and his people would be very similar to the one between me and my son. Here’s how I imagine it going . . .

God: How was school today?

Us: Good

God: What did you learn in the subject that I created for you to love and gave you a gift for understanding?

Us: Nothin’ much           

God: What joy did you get from the recreation you took part in as an embodied image bearer?

Us: Nothin’ much

Feels a little more weighty, right? So, why is any of this significant? Because God has gathered his people together and renewed our relationship with himself and one another to send us out for so much more. God desires to make all things new, to reconcile all things to himself, to redeem all things

Changing the Conversation

The point is that we aren’t doing what God has called us to do and that must change. His love for his creation and his desire to redeem all things is too great for us to be complacent with 87% of Christians not learning about how the Bible applies to their field or area of interest. God has created them with gifts and desires and loves and passions designed to take them places that God loves and longs to redeem. And here we sit, idle. How can we change the conversation in order to motivate the church for mission with God’s vision for making all things new?

By changing the conversation in our local churches

Local churches need to discuss the implications of God sending students to schools. Local churches are the main place where God gathers his people together to renew us for the mission he has designed for us. If the purpose of church leadership is designed to “equip the saints for ministry” (Ephesians 4:11–16 ), then churches need to be equipping the saints for where God is sending them on mission. For a good portion of our lives, and nearly all our growing up years, this place is school. What if churches regularly provided spaces for open discussions led by students of different fields on how faith forms intellectual pursuit and how their intellectual pursuits form their faith? What if we more regularly explicitly discussed how God delighted in our school work? What if churches decided to grant scholarships to students the same way that they would fund students who needed money to go on a missions trip? I wonder if the conversation would change.

By changing the conversation in campus ministries

Campus ministries must see their calling as integrating faith and education as part of discipleship. I first discovered this great divide between faith and intellectual life while doing campus ministry. I met students with amazing minds and tremendous love for the subjects they studied. Some of these same students also had a great love for Jesus. The problem? Nobody was talking about how these two loves came together. Nobody talked about how God designed these two great loves to come together for their good and his glory. What if campus ministries shaped their weekly gatherings, small groups, and one-on-one discipleship around the reality that only 11% of their students who had a church background(!) had ever had a helpful conversation with a pastor or church worker about their education? What if campus ministries shaped their gatherings not as the end goal, but with the purpose of renewing and sending students out to campus? What if they allowed for innovative thinking and risk taking to articulate the gospel in terms of their major subject? I wonder if the conversation would change.

By changing the conversation on the drive home and at the dinner table

I must begin speaking with my children about God’s desire to redeem all things. This may start small by connecting their loves, joys, fears, hopes, failures, sadness, and pain to God’s love for them. With that foundation, the conversations over the years can grow more complex. I look forward to sitting with my son and not only asking him how his day was, but conversing about what he learned about who God is in math class, about sensing God’s pleasure when he runs (total rip off from Chariots of Fire, but this boy loves to run), about the struggle of friendship. And then to make sure that he knows that in all these areas his heavenly Father sends him there with great joy and eager expectation.

And so do I.



Mark Catlin