Category Christian School Education
Title Clear Focus on Our Students
Author/s Stephen Reel
Preview When I talk with Christian school teachers and leaders, I often ask them to describe their greatest joy in ministry. Almost without fail, the answer is a who—seeing the life-changing impact of Christ's love in a student or colleague.
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Emily sat quietly in the back of her seventh grade math class. No one seemed to notice she was on the verge of tears. Her parents' recent divorce, combined with her best friend's betrayal on social media, was almost more than she could handle. She felt abandoned by God. Why had He let her go through all of this when she had been trying to live for Him? She wanted to disappear.

Then her teacher, Mrs. Berry, knelt beside her and slipped her a note.

"Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9). Emily, I am praying for you and for your sister. My parents split up when I was in seventh grade too. I'm here for you if you ever need to talk.

For the first time in a long time, Emily did not feel so alone.

The growing demands placed upon teachers are considerable: lesson preparation, grading responsibilities, parent conferences, administrative duties, special education documentation, behavior management, professional development, technological advancements, and more. It is easy for teachers to become distracted from their primary calling and purpose-their students. All these concerns are necessary for effective teaching, but without clear focus, teachers can miss whom they are serving in the process.

How many Emilys are in our classrooms, on our sports teams, or in our fi ne arts programs? How can we possibly meet their needs while keeping pace with all our additional responsibilities? The answer is simpler than we might imagine. When we focus intently on who, we begin to escape the tyranny of what stealing the joy from our lives and service. When we remember whom those lesson plans are actually for, why we meticulously grade their assignments and partner with their parents, and how we work hard to improve our teaching techniques to meet our students' learning needs, our focus becomes even clearer. This is the essence of biblical discipleship- what we have been commissioned by Christ to do.

Understanding Clear Focus

Jesus modeled this perfectly for us; He was always focused on a who. When Jesus took His disciples on a fi eld trip to the other side of the Sea of Galilee after a day of teaching in Mark 4-5, He rescued them from a tumultuous storm; afterward, He redeemed the demon-possessed man, restored the woman with the issue of blood, and resurrected Jairus's daughter! There were many distractions, but Jesus' focus was resolutely centered upon those He came to save.

When I talk with Christian school teachers and leaders, I often ask them to describe their greatest joy in ministry. Almost without fail, the answer is a who—seeing the life-changing impact of Christ's love in a student or colleague.

My next question reveals the cause of blurry focus: "What is your greatest challenge in ministry?" The answer is usually a crushing list of whats—duties, expectations, concerns, and diffi culties that compete for their time and energy. This results in weariness and a focus on self-preservation. I'm reminded of Jesus' words in Matthew 11:28: "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." In this simple admonition, Jesus redirects our focus away from our troubles and back to Himself.

I remember the first time I looked through a microscope as an elementary student to see the slide of an amoeba. My classmates in the line before me had gasped at what they saw, but when I looked through the lens, I only saw a fuzzy blur. Perplexed, I returned to my seat, wondering why everyone was so excited. The girl in line before me wore glasses, so she had adjusted the focusing knob (something I would have known to do had I paid attention to the teacher's instructions). My teacher kindly showed me how to adjust the focusing knob, and with tha t magnifi ed focus, I could explore a whole new world.

The same is true when we make the slightest adjustment to our focus in ministry: we magnify the potential in our students by focusing on them and their needs. I constantly ask myself, "Where are the eyes of Jesus focused right now?" When I follow His eyes, I can be assured that they are focused on a who, and I can follow His lead.

What Can We Do with Clear Focus?

The purpose of our calling and service always comes back to discipleship. Our students have been placed in our care for spiritual formation, academic preparation, and social nurturing. Our role in discipleship exists at the intersection of what God says to us, what God says to our students, and what their circumstances are. There, the Holy Spirit works to accomplish growth and development; our compassion and attentiveness can be tools in God's hands to produce spiritual transformation. Sadly, sometimes we are so busy in ministry that we do not focus on our students-we do not see their circumstances, hear what God is saying to them, or take action on their behalf. We may need to bolster their faith, encourage their commitment, rescue them from the pit of sinful consequences, restore them to full strength, inspire them to renewed hope, or equip them in some specifi c way to be effective disciples of Jesus Christ.

Developing Clear Focus in Our Students

Christian schools are preparing students with the biblical truth necessary to "hold fi rmly to the word of life" (Philippians 2:16) in a generation that is being deceived. Our students are the ones who will inherit the aftermath of our society's moral devastation. They need to be prepared to lead others out of the moral and spiritual wreckage they are destined to experience if they follow the culture. They need to have a clear focus on Jesus and on those He wants to rescue. It is our duty to these students to prepare them for this diffi cult assignment. We must model a clear focus on Jesus, and on every single who in our lives, with enough conviction to inspire our students to imitate us.

Who is in your focus? Is it the ultimate who-Jesus? Is He truly the focal point of your life and ministry? Or has the tyranny of all of the whats replaced Him? Can you see His eyes looking at your students, longing for them to come and sit at His feet to receive His loving mercy and grace? Take a moment right now and adjust the focusing knob of your ministry to have clear focus!


Stephen Reel has served for 27 years in Christian school ministry as a Bible teacher, school administrator, and adjunct professor. He is the senior director of the Southern Division for the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI). He is the author of Clear Focus: Rediscovering the Most Important Aspect of Christian School Ministry (2015). He and his wife, Melanie, have three children.

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