Profound Presence

I took my middle child out for lunch today.

We don’t get to do that very often.  Usually, it is our whole family together, so getting time one-on-one with her (or any of the kids for that matter) is a rare treat.

And so we sat in the restaurant, talking about mundane things (the weather, our food, etc.)  All the while, I was thinking to myself, “I need to say something profound.  This is an important moment; we don’t have these!”  I thought and thought.

Continue reading Profound Presence

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Stewardship, part 2

(I am writing monthly about stewardship for our school’s development newsletter.  Part one can be found here.  I have combined my second and third articles into this one blog post.)

Let’s go back and look at Genesis 2:15. Most translations seem to use language found here:

  • The LordGod took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. (NIV)
  • And the LordGod took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. (KJV)

The concepts here are important.

1—To “work” or “dress”

The first reaction to the word “work” is a surprise. In the perfect world, God still gave “work” to Adam and Eve. Thus, to work in and of itself was not a curse—how many of us can say that we agree with that today?

The meaning of this phrase is to provide the right environment to grow. In a very literal sense, we prepare the soil, fertilize, water, weed, and sometimes take even more drastic measures (such as burning the land, pollinating, crop rotation, or thinning crops.)

What does that look like if we apply that concept to other aspects of life? How are we providing the right environment for our physical well-being? Spiritually? Emotionally? Intellectually? What about our relationships with family and friends?

2—To “take care of” or “keep”

The meaning of this phrase is to provide protection for that which is under your care. Again, in a very literal sense, it is the farmer who puts up a fence to keep the cattle out of the crops.

What does that look like if we apply it to other aspects of life? Do we protect our body? Soul? What do we do to strengthen and protect ourselves emotionally and intellectually? What about relationships with family and friends?

The combined effect is to cause that which is under our care to flourish. Notice that as we unpack the terminology of stewardship, there is nothing said of “giving” or “money.”  Instead, we see that “stewardship” connotes “responsibility” and “discipline.” (see Titus 2:11-14)

The first lesson we learn regarding stewardship: Stewardship is about providing the conditions to flourish.

You Have Permission

Lutheran teachers, you have permission.  First, you have permission to not be exceptionally excited about curriculum mapping and other after school activities that administrators place before you.  This is the time of year that schedules get tossed aside and it seems that we “wing it” through the month of December.  Please understand that–as one of my colleagues put it so eloquently–“We aren’t doing this for ourselves; this is for the kids.  It is just like report cards.”  So, as you have done for years, please continue to work faithfully.  Remember that you do this–everything that is part of “this”–for the kids.

Second, you have permission to not be “epic” or “awesome” all of the time.  When I see teachers who think they need to apologize because they are not integrating the latest technology into every lesson, I want to give them a hug and say, “You are doing a GREAT job!”  Not every lesson is going to be something that makes the front-page of Edutopia.  It doesn’t have to be the latest thing you have seen on Pinterest.  You may not get a 1,000 re-Tweets.  And that is just fine.  You know your class and you know what they need.  Sometimes the personal conversation is far more powerful and leaves a deeper impression than the latest app.

Third, you have permission to fail.  Please DO try to incorporate technology when appropriate.  Try to change up an old lesson.  Try new things, and–please–fail.  Let students see how you react when something does not go well.  Let them see how you deal with disappointment.  Let them know that you are not perfect–you are human.  So try new things.  Some will work; some won’t.  And that is okay.

God bless you in your work!  I know that this can be an extremely stressful time as you grade papers, put together report cards, coach basketball, work on Christmas programs, and arrange class Christmas parties.  You are in my prayers.

Tension

I have a lot of books.

I mean… a LOT of books.  As a former classroom teacher (I’m still getting accustomed to saying “former”) I developed a religion curriculum and read somewhere close to 900 books in the process.  Often, I don’t remember the books I have read.  Sometimes I will read a book and get a few hundred pages in before I sit up and say, “Hey, I read this one before!”  It got to the point that I would highlight, underline, and annotate my own books so that I would not forget what I had read.

But other books stay with me.  One in particular that I enjoyed was “Sharpening the Sword” by Stephen Hower.  I read this book sometime around 2003 or 2004 while I just starting to find the wonderful world of leadership books.  One chapter in particular caught my attention; the chapter about tension.

Tension is something that we often avoid.  We do not like the feeling of being pulled in two directions.  Hower writes that tension is necessary in an organization.  Growth cannot happen if a board chairman has a board of yes-men (or women.)  Administrators can lead a school down the wrong path if they have a faculty that never asks questions or thinks critically.  Pastors can find themselves in trouble if church councils or elders sit passively and are not involved in decision-making.

Tension is quite evident in education today.  Consider:

  • National standards v. local control.  This debate has been discussed at length by many people far more intelligent than I, so I will not comment more, other than to say that it is important for people to read the standards before they form opinions.
  • Grading v. no-grades.  This may be a tension that you did not know existed. Grading has been the standard practice in education for… well, for as long as I know, anyway.  Mark Barnes and many others are advocating for teachers to throw out the grade book.  Their argument is–as was summed up at a recent conference I attended–“Grading kills the motivation to learn.”  Students do not actually LEARN material or competencies when they are obsessed with grades.  Instead, the higher-level thinking students quickly learn what they must do to get an “A” while most other students will simply do the bare minimum to pass… all without actually learning the material.  Most that I have run across in the “no grade” movement still believe in assessment, but believe that assessment should be (1) ongoing and informal and/or (2) should be authentic.
  • Similar (in some ways) is the tension between high-stakes assessment and everyone else.  We are all familiar with “high-stakes” tests that became very important in the wake of No Child Left Behind.  State-developed tests and testing agencies point out the importance of data-driven decisions (see below) informing instruction.  However, many different groups–from parent-led groups to teacher organizations–are calling for less assessment (or at least lower-stakes) and more instruction/time on task.

Two final tensions (though there are more out there) that are particularly important for Lutheran schools:

  • Teacher-focus v. student-focus.  In our Lutheran schools, we pride ourselves on having well-trained, expert teachers.  But is teaching about the teacher or about the student?  Is it about what I do–a performance art–or about what the students are doing?  How a person answers that question is foundational to how they view (1) what teachers should be doing in a class period; (2) what students should be doing in a class period; (3) policies and procedures, not only within a classroom but also school-wide; and (4) how assessment, remediation, and the role of extra-curricular activities are a part of student life.  The shift from teacher-focus to student-focus has faced some backlash from parents as well as teachers.

And then we get to our religion/catechesis.  By the very nature of the “subject matter,” Lutheran doctrine and theology must be “top-down.”  This is what we believe, teach, and confess.  There may be questions to explain it, but there is no debate over the primary fundamental articles of faith.  There is no “well, this is what Lutheran means to me…”  No.  And I understand that this may offend people.  We can still have student-centered learning and activities, but we must intentionally and deliberately frame that within the truth and authority of Scripture.

  • And that leads to the final “tension” I see often:  ministry v. data.  Education is increasingly relying on data to inform and guide instruction and administration.  This makes sense:  You want to do what works and you have to make decisions based upon the information you (should) collect.  But students are not just raw data points.  They are not test scores.  And so, there will be times when, for the sake of ministry, we make decisions that go against the data.  Maybe you accept a student into your school because the family needs to hear the Gospel.  Maybe you show grace to a student who recently had a loved one die.

 

Why do we fear tension?  Hopefully the topics I listed above stimulated you to some thoughts on the topics.  That does not happen without tension.

I think the answer is simple:  We fear unguided tension.  Tension with no goal in mind–with no direction–does not lead to growth, but to angst and discord.  If you keep the end in mind, tension is what will get you there.  Embrace it!  Promote it!  Ask for open feedback and have frank discussions!  Always keep the goal in mind so that–in the end–you have unity of vision.

Stewardship, part 1

I write a monthly newsletter that focuses on advancement for our school.  Over the next few months, I will include a series of “articles” on stewardship.  Stewardship is a difficult subject within the church, but I have found that The LCMS Foundation has many great resources on the subject.  If you get a chance and if you are in any type of development position for your Lutheran school/ministry, I suggest taking their courses on development.

What is our ideal vision of Stewardship?

Stewardship is a term that is often used but often misunderstood. As a child, I like the word because I thought the name “Stewart” was a great name. Of course, that is NO understanding of stewardship! What is concerning is that there are many of us that seem to show a similar (lack of) understanding concerning what it means to be a steward.

And maybe that is the term we need to focus on: “steward.” Perhaps adding the suffix “-ship” clouds our understanding a bit. A steward is one who manages and takes care of another’s property. So far so good. In fact, I think we also rightly point to Genesis 1:26-28 and Genesis 2:15 as passages which show us stewardship in action.  (It is also interesting to note that in the perfect society, prior to sin, God gave Adam and Eve “work” to do!  There is a lot that can be said about the GIFT of work and contrasting that with the CURSE of Genesis 3:17-19.  Certainly, one could write volumes about vocation based upon that contrast alone!)

But it is interesting that just as mankind irreversibly fell into sin in Genesis chapter three, so too our understanding of stewardship falls apart almost immediately after it is well-defined.

So… how can we look at stewardship in an open, non-threatening way that does not come from pre-conceived assumptions?  To do so, we need to go back to the Word… and I’ll start digging into that next time.

God bless!