The last two weeks of August send students back to school and the church back to mission.
Through partnerships in public and private education, churches are uniquely positioned at the intersection of needs, opportunities and open doors in people’s lives.
A renewed church is one engaged in local schools. By adopting a public school, a church can address racism, serve the poor and share the gospel through word and deed.
Scott Waller, Eastern regional director and statewide coordinator of Foster Care Church Engagement for Presbyterian Children’s Homes and Services of Texas and Louisiana, once shared with me that churches need platforms to engage unreached people.
Most people want to share their faith with those who do not regularly participate in a congregation, but most of their friends are believers.
A relationship with a school changes the lives of students and transforms a church.
How can churches engage their local schools effectively?
1. Preach and value the work of educators.
Someone in your church is already working in public education. Through worship and Bible study, share their stories and affirm the calling of these women and men.
2. Begin where your church is located.
Your neighborhood is the best place to map where an underperforming school needs you the most. Ask your superintendent where the greatest needs are and what is needed the most from your church.
3. Commission your educators.
Treat your students, teachers, staff and administrators the way you would someone who travels across the globe to another world. Most public schools today host cross-cultural connections every day.
4. Start small and specific.
Encourage your church to focus on one school and its particular needs. Because people often drive from many neighborhoods to attend worship, church members will naturally want to be involved in their neighborhood school.
A focused, intentional approach rallies a congregation around a common mission point. The lessons learned in this one school can easily grow to other schools.
5. Focus on opportunities that build relationships.
There are plenty of business- and community-minded groups that give free books, food and toys. One of the churches’ best assets is the long-term work of building relationships with teachers and students.
Mentoring and tutoring prove to be the best long-term strategies to educate students and introduce Jesus to individuals. When people trust you with their math scores, they will also trust you with their lives.
6. Assess the partnership.
Form a leadership team whose purpose is to set goals and objectives for each year. Reflect on the process and its effectiveness in light of the congregation’s calling. Build into your work a four- to five-year horizon of responsibility.
Like anything else a local church does, we should evaluate if the project is accomplishing God’s mission for your church.
7. Realize you are not the only church on campus.
God is already present before you arrive. More than likely, other churches are there as well. Partner with other congregations to present a united body of Christ on campus.
8. Prepare for guests.
As you engage relationally, your church will slowly begin to see new faces who attend as a result of your work. The school will be a place of celebration and tragedy.
By committing to stand with your educators in both times, you will be demonstrating the presence of the risen Christ in their lives.
Bill Shiell is president of Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. A version of this article first appeared on Northern Seminary’s blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @williamshiell.