It is a tradition at St John’s College, my current school, that the outgoing matriculants, those in their last year, respond to a charge. Last year I was invited to write it and reflected hard on what it should say. In essence, I wanted the charge to reflect the distinctive purpose of a Christian education and the type of person I believe should be formed in it. This was the charge the boys were read and their response:
Men of St. John’s
You have been placed in a continent and a world with deep needs and great hopes.
You have been entrusted with treasures worth much more than gold.
From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
So, will you go from here, with God’s strength, in Christ’s grace, to enrich the lives of those he gives you to serve?
Response: With his help, we will.
‘Disposition’ is another popular word which is used in educational debate. It refers not just to the knowledge that a person has but the way they use it. The Christian faith has always had a word for this: wisdom. The pursuit of knowledge alone is not the goal of Christian learning but wisdom, the understanding of how to live well in God’s world. Wisdom is a treasure to be pursued and prized who offers substantial reward. As Proverbs 4 says:
In a Christian school, wisdom is nurtured as we live conscious of the following truths.
1. God has graciously ordered every detail of our live for our good
When the charge above says, ‘You have been placed’, it reminds us that our lives have not been ordered by us, but by Another. We are not autonomous people seeking purpose for our lives, but we are people who have been given the purpose of loving and serving God in whatever situation he has put us. Wherever we are, we will discover many needs and many hopes which we can be instruments of good in.
2. God has entrusted us with treasure worth much more than gold
The Bible speaks of Jesus as the one in whom are hidden ‘all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’. In knowing him we have the key to explore God’s world with awe and wonder at all that he has made and ordered. The gospel gives us a story with which to understand God’s world in a way which makes sense and which gives our lives meaning, purpose and integrity. The gospel is a treasure which gives us the means to live confidently in a confusing world with hope and certainty.
3. We are stewards of the treasure God has given us
God never gives for us to hoard, but he gives expecting a harvest. This doesn’t mean that we don’t enjoy the gifts God has given us, whether he has made us fast, gregarious, strategic, tenacious or any number of other gifts, but it means we see these gifts as something to enjoy and use in his service while not making them the basis of our identity. Whatever gifts we develop are to be harnessed and used to make a difference in the lives of others to give glory to the one who gave them to us in the first place.
4. God uses those who continue to depend on Him
In a school, one of our goals is to develop self-efficacy, the ability to step out and try things with confidence without fear of failure. But isn’t that contrary to Christian humility that says without God we can do nothing? I don’t think so. As my article on ‘The Roots of Confident Learning’ indicates, dependence on God’s grace, to step out and fail, and learn and grow through our experiences, is the context in which we develop confidence. But as confidence grows and we continue to depend on God’s love which drives out fear, humility offers the gifts God has developed to be used by him as He chooses in His timing.
Part of my vision for Emmanuel is that we nurture young people who are contributors, not just consumers. There are many ways in which we already do this. We have a staff who are committed to the charge to ‘make a difference in the lives of those God has given them to serve’; we encourage students to harness their gifts, not hoard them; we celebrate individuality, recognising the unique gifts God has given each child; and we model a spirit of humility, recognising God’s strength in our weakness and his ability to use our strengths as we use them sacrificially to serve others. In this way, I believe we offer learning to the full, learning which does not just fill the child, but enables each child to use their learning in a way which makes a difference in the world in which they have been placed.