In his thought-provoking (and very often insightful!) book You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, author James K.A. Smith reminds us that Christian discipleship isn't only about what you know; it's also about what you love. (That right there is a statement we should marinate in and meditate on, by the way.) The book teases out what this can mean for the Christian and in the life of the local church. Is desire really that big of a deal? How are our loves shaped? What role does the local church play in this?
Smith then goes on towards the end of his book to apply the concepts he's developed to other specific contexts (family, education, vocation). I want to BRIEFLY highlight a small slice of what Smith says about Christian education, since it overlaps with so much of what we want to be about at the Brookside Institute.
This following quote seems to articulate Smith's overall vision of Christian education:
A holistic Christian education...aims to habituate students in the faith, seeing the school as an extended opportunity to create a learning environment that is not just informative but formative. A holistic Christian learning environment doesn't just fill the intellect; it fuels the imagination" (p. 155, bold emphasis added).
Right on, Dr. Smith.
The chapter then goes on to make the claim (maybe it should be obvious...) that if our goal is the formation of students, we need to be formed as teachers. Here's what Smith says:
...I came to see that this way of educating for formation points to the higher calling of the teacher - nothing less than forming students as people of virtue. Since education is a formative project, aimed at the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, then the teacher is a steward of transcendence who needs not only to know the Good but also to teach from that conviction. The teacher of virtue will not apologize for seeking to apprentice students to the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. But she will also run up against the scariest aspect of this: that virtue is often absorbed from exemplars (p. 159).
A little further down Smith continues:
So if education is going to be formative - and more specifically, form students in the Christian faith - we first need to reform the formers. If we, as educators, are going to part of a classical project of education that seeks to form the whole person, to apprentice students to a love for the Good, the True, and the Beautiful as revealed to us in Christ, then we need to be reformed and transformed. Educational reform, you might say, begins with us (p. 160).
Smith then includes three practices that help Christian educators get (or stay) on course (see pp. 161-63). Here's my own paraphrase of and take on Smith's points.
1. TEachers should be personally involved in the rhythms of formative worship themselves.
If teaching is a formative project and worship is a (the?) key formative practice, teachers need to be personally engaged in this themselves. This means being a part of a healthy local church, and "submitting ourselves to the disciplines of Christian worship" (161), as Smith says.
2. Teachers should practice community with other teachers.
This doesn't mean teachers should only be part of small groups with other teachers. Not at all. Instead, Smith is simply (and importantly) exhorting teachers to intentionally interact in a "life-on-life" sort of way with other teachers. Teaching can be fairly isolating; teachers spend their times prepping and with students. The consequence is that teachers often don't interact with other teachers in such a way that they encourage each other, learn together, and keep each other pointed in the right direction.
3. Teachers need to remember that they should serve and care for their students as people.
The goal of teaching isn't the recognition of the teacher - that more people are impressed with how much he or she knows. The goal of teaching isn't to talk at students and get them through the next turnstile, all while avoiding personal interaction as much as possible. No, the goal of teaching is formation. And if that's the case, teachers need to serve and care for their students. In large classes this can be more difficult, but I'm confident that in ANY size of class things can be done intentionally to show care - that teachers aren't just thinking about their own needs as teachers, but are humbly considering the needs of their students (Philippians 2:3-4).
There are all sorts of ways this vision of Christian education and these practices for the formation of teachers apply not just to schools, but also to local churches. And, most specifically, there are important ways they translate to how I want to be leading the Brookside Institute.
Whatever your context, let's pursue this vision of Christian formation - both for our congregations or students, and for ourselves!
Christian. Husband. Father. Pastor. Learner. Contributor. Reader.