ACR JournalChristian LivingEvangelismMinistryYouth & Kids

Displaying God’s love daily

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:5-6)

Since the prevailing culture of our society has moved so far away from the Judeo- Christian roots of Western civilisation, it is an exciting – albeit challenging – time to be a Christian. Ministers and gospel workers in each parish are faced with big questions about how to edify the saints and engage non-believers. The same is true of school chaplains. In some re­spects, they are forced to square up to these re­alities in more direct ways, and more frequently, compared to parish workers. School chaplains play a unique role in commending the gospel specifically to younger generations and have an opportunity to reach those who may not have any other connection to a church community. Many children and teenagers have never heard of Jesus, are suspicious of Christianity, and/or are highly influenced by the prevailing cultural norms of the day. Thus, school chaplains, as well as those who are part of their ministry team, work at the interchange of where the gospel meets the world in very real ways. It is a task that comes with its fair share of joys and challenges. But at its heart, school ministry is a daily opportunity to display the grace and truth of God’s love to those who have not previously encountered it.

What follows is a summary of thoughts provided by several school chaplains from across Sydney Diocese. The ACR interviewed both men and women from the South Coast, Eastern Suburbs, Inner West, Northern Suburbs, and the Hills District who are directly involved in gospel ministry either as school chaplains or youth workers.1 The demographics of these schools varies widely from single-sex to co-educational schools, wealthy families to middle-class to lower socio-economic background, and multicultural, multiethnic, and multifaith backgrounds too. We asked each person the same set of questions and have arranged their responses accordingly below. We hope that these are a source of encouragement, and that they also act as a spur to rectors and layfolk to be more proactive in their partner­ship with those involved with school ministry.

Two key practical applications stand out. First, parish churches can be more intentional with their corporate prayer life for those in school ministry. This goes beyond praying for the SRE teachers in local public schools. Sydney Diocese has a golden opportunity to reach the world through the network of Anglican schools. Parents are increasingly choosing to educate their children in private schools, and many deliberately choose Anglican schools because the brand is trusted. It is therefore incumbent on parish churches to support this ministry, and an important part of that support is prayer.

Second, is that school chaplains are asking parish churches to rethink the way they conduct public worship. Do not be alarmed – this is not a call to throw out the Prayer Book, or to rein­vent the wheel. Public worship needs to be centred and grounded in God’s word. However, there is cause for alarm. One school that we spoke to reported that, having taken their students on an edu­cational excursion to a local parish church, the sermon for the evening congre­gation lasted a full 53 minutes. Not only were the students bored stiff, but many negative stereotypes were reinforced such that the returning students swore never to return to a church service. A legitimate question raised from the coalface of chil­dren’s and youth ministry, then, is ‘how outwardly faced is your ordinary Sunday service?’

There is no denying that the cultural moment we are currently in has and con­tinues to undermine the gospel. But we must also ask hard questions of ourselves. To what extent is the cultural gap between the parish boundaries and the rest of society too wide to bridge? In what ways can we continue to show God’s love to the world while loving God’s word? Paul’s words to the Colossians are a good reminder here. Let’s encourage and support those in school ministry to continue to be wise in their actions, with conversations seasoned with salt and full of grace. And let the rest of us consider how we can be wise in the way we act toward outsiders.


1. Identify some of the joys of ministry in a school setting

Respondent 1: There are many joys in our school setting: the majority of students who come to our school have little to no knowledge of Jesus or the Bible, and so we have an incredible opportunity to introduce them through weekly chapel services, biblical studies classes and personal relationships over a matter of years, not sim­ply as a once off. A particular joy is seeing our older Christian students grow as they lead our voluntary Christian group and care for our younger students.

Respondent 2: There are many joys of ministry in a school setting. Those include the opportunity (in a faith-based school such as this) to openly and consistently share the gospel of Jesus with a community who – without a connection to a school such as this – simply might not hear it. I regularly talk to students who before arriving at the college had never had a conversation about God in their lives or known someone who was a Christian. That is a huge opportunity! And it’s a great joy to be able to direct young people – whether they are 8 or 18 – to the hope, peace and purpose that Jesus offers.

Respondent 3: School ministry brings us into contact with thousands of students who would not actively seek out Christian faith or church attendance. It is a priv­ilege to be in their world and share the gospel with them. A joy of ministry in this context is seeing some become Christians, especially when they go on to share their faith with their family. Voluntary lunch time groups, discipleship, Christian Studies classes or even the more formal Chapel services all play their role. My observation is that the students themselves are the most effective evangelists to their peers so watching them invite or share the gospel with one another brings deep joy.

Another joy is seeing students live out their faith in front of their friends. Even in Anglican schools, Christians can feel like ‘exiles scattered’ (1 Pet 1:1) in the world. Observing students gain the courage to signal their faith or articulate an answer to a faith-question is marvellous to see. Schools are also a wonderful context for train­ing in ministry skills as many students are looking for leadership opportunities. Channelling this desire towards ministry settings such as running a small group, giving a talk or sharing a testimony can be a good way to foster students’ desire to lead, while at the same time shaping leadership around Christian service.

Respondent 4: Ministry in a school setting is daily exciting, fast-paced, and a lit­tle unpredictable, but practically it’s a long road of persuasion. I have the privilege of talking to all K-6 students about God several times a week for 40 weeks a year, for 7 years (for some of them!). Schools are unique places where students and staff can consider and discuss God’s word together in the context of long-term relation­ships built on trust and where open-minded inquiry is encouraged. Like all teachers, I love the ‘ah ha’ moments for students: when Kindy students discover Christmas is about a birthday; or when the idea that God has always been there starts to make sense; or seeing students captivated by the details of the Exodus week after week, and then to see them join the dots with the truth that Jesus’ blood protects all those ‘under it’ in God’s greatest rescue. And that’s just a few of the highlights before we even consider learning to pray, singing God’s praises together, and answering questions from the challenging to the quirky!

Respondent 5: Working with students and staff as they learn and grow over a number of years is a great joy. In the school environment you travel with students, experience many of the corporate and collective activities like sports carnivals and camps. Within their spiritual formation, it is a joy to see students grow in their knowledge of Jesus and the Bible and especially the encouragement of faith in our Student Christian groups.

2. Describe the challenges of ministry in this current cultural moment

Respondent 1: Some of our current challenges include breaking down misconcep­tions about Christianity, for example that it is oppressive, sexist and discrimina­tory. On a more positive note – there are also many ministry opportunities that are waiting to be taken, however, lack of time and full schedules mean that we can’t do all that we would like.

Respondent 2: Those opportunities also present their challenges, of course. More and more of our students are largely un-churched. At a practical level, this means that teaching the Bible to those with limited or no biblical literacy is more diffi­cult than it would once have been. There is also the challenge that in a wider cul­tural discussion, faith is increasingly derided on the basis of what are considered to be unnecessary or even unacceptable positions on matters of morality. This can become a ‘bug on the windshield’ of a young person’s view on the world; obstruct­ing students from even seeing the picture of God’s character and grace laid out in Scripture because they cannot see past matters on which Christian teaching stands in great contrast to our accepted cultural positions on those matters.

Respondent 3: While the specifics of this cultural moment create a new look for challenges to the gospel, the underlying condition of human sin, spiritual blind­ness, pride and individualism remain the central challenges to receiving the gospel.

The inherited apologetic approaches of twenty or more years ago, which focus on the historicity of the Bible, appear to be waning in effectiveness. Students’ notion of truth seems more aligned to ‘does this work?’ rather than ‘did this happen?’ And the absolute moral categories that are assumed in many gospel presentations are readily dismissed. For example, in a lesson on morality, I have posed this question many times in recent years: ‘Was the Nazi treatment of Jewish people in World War II evil?’. I can only remember a small handful of students (out of hundreds) who have strongly affirmed that it was. The worldview of this generation pres­ents a challenge only insofar as we need to continue to equip ourselves with fresh tools and lines of discussion that will engage and impact a thoroughly relativ­ist mindset that places self-fulfilment at the centre of ethics. Rather than pres­ent the gospel within this framework as though Jesus is yet another option to make you feel better, the challenge is to articulate both the love and Lordship of Christ in realms that people want to determine for themselves.

Another challenge of ministry in this current cultural moment is the cul­tural gap between local churches and the world. I am not suggesting that churches become more worldly, but that they seriously heed the calls to be aware of the ‘unbeliever or inquirer’ (1 Cor 14:23) in their midst every week. We regularly have students visit churches (in Year 7 and Year 11), many for the first time in their life. Sometimes I’m disheartened by the lack of self-awareness that churches have in how they communicate Jesus to those outside the Christian sub-culture.

In ministry, challenges and opportunities are two sides to the one coin. Though some young people have imbibed the thinking of their parents, many do not carry the baggage of nominalism. Famous Bible stories are unfamiliar so there is an opportunity to open the Scriptures and allow God’s living and active word to

engage the students on its own terms. This generation tend to hold deep respect for other peoples’ views, which often means even Christians are given an honest hearing. Justice, equality and fairness – all Christian principles – are deeply held and can be used to as powerful ways to introduce speaking about the character of God and the gospel of his Son.

In the end, underneath the complex worldview of our students remains a search for identity, belonging and meaning that is unfulfilled in the world.

Respondent 4: This cultural moment is challenging, but it’s not new. Every so often, I’ll be contacted by a parent regarding what has been taught in class or Chapel, but it’s right that parents pay attention to their child’s schooling and often I’m talking to their children about things that parents have had little or no positive exposure to. It’s also true that children don’t always accurately hear what was said, so I wel­come the opportunities for conversation when parents follow up and ask for clar­ification. There are complex questions asked in the classroom and there is a time and place for them to be honestly and openly answered, as appropriate to students’ age and stage. Yet, even when students wholeheartedly disagree with the biblical answers to their questions, they are treated with respect and kindness and intellec­tual integrity. They are free to disagree. Yet under God, over time, we see students engage with the message of Christ and we pray that God might grow these seeds into solid faith. The Lord knows those who are his in every cultural moment; today is no different.

Respondent 5: It is a challenge and an opportunity that many of the students have no Bible knowledge. It means that we have opportunities to explain things in a way that they can understand, but also a challenge in how to make sure we are clear in explanations.

3. What do you think are the key tools we need to provide the next generation with so that they can be an actively faithful witness in their own context?

Respondent 1: Helping them to deepen their love and understanding of who God is and what he has done for us in Jesus is crucial, along with providing tools to help students dismantle so much of the secular individualistic worldview that is prevalent and persuasive. Christian students who are prepared to stand out as dif­ferent at school because they are Christian are well placed to face the challenges that may come in an increasingly hostile world.

Respondent 3: The word of God remains the key ‘tool’ for the next generation to witness faithfully in their context. Philosophical and moral arguments have their place, but the living and active word of God is powerful to save. We ought to equip this generation to interpret God’s word faithfully, to handle God’s word effectively and apply God’s word joyfully to their lives. As they do, they will grow in confi­dence to trust God’s word in our world that contests revealed truth. Two aspects of learning are regularly emphasised in our education system. Students are encour­aged to become ‘life-long learners’ who need to acquire skills and knowledge to prepare them for jobs that may not yet be invented. Following this model, young Christians need to set up to become life-long disciples who are preparing for chal­lenges to their faith and evangelistic opportunities that have not yet materialised.

Respondent 4: They need to know the old, old story, from cover to cover. They need to understand the major threads and themes of God’s story if they are to stand firm in their cultural moment and be able to faithfully contextualise the gos­pel for their time. Like any of us, the next generation need to be captivated by the One who is captivating!

Respondent 5: The next generation have been brought up in a very different world. For many of them, there is no absolute truth. Rather, anyone’s perspective or real­ity is fine, as summed up in the motto ‘You be You’.

Some of the tools that we can give the next generation are not new, but they remain necessary:

How to discuss issues and topics with respect, but also acknowledging echo chambers and that conversations with others are coming from a different par­adigm (or multiple paradigms).

How to read the biblical texts in context. To understand Jesus more and more.

Discipleship of students, so that they are followed up and supported in how to be Christian in the difficulty of the current culture of our society.

4. How can the full breadth of church communities help support your ministry?

Respondent 1: We are so thankful for local church youth ministries who can sup­port and care for our Christian students, teaching them the Bible in extended and deeper ways. Regular prayer in church for school ministries is also incredibly valu­able, as well as the simple recognition of school ministry as a significant ministry which is reaching people who would never walk into a church. Another way to sup­port is by participating in school community life and activities as appropriate, and demonstrating God’s love as you get involved.

Respondent 2: To ensure the continued effectiveness of Christian ministry in education, we need to continue to encourage young people to enter the teaching profession with a missional mindset. Then, to continue to train and equip those teachers with sound biblical theological understanding so that they will be effec­tive in engaging their students across all subject areas with the gospel of Christ.

Respondent 3: Anglican Schools cannot replace the church but exist in partner­ship with local churches. We pursue the same mission and very often disciple the same people. Local churches can support school ministry through praying for chaplains and their teams in the same way they would for link missionaries. At our school, former Christian students return to school for a week of mission each year and each term parents gather to pray for the ministry events of school life. Youth group leaders welcome our students when they attend church as part of two assignments they complete. Together with prayer, the best way church communi­ties can support ministry is to prepare themselves to be the kind of place where non-churched, but spiritually curious young people can belong, learn, hear the gospel and grow in their faith.

Respondent 4: Please pray for all God’s people working in schools; it’s a team effort and we need wisdom to faithfully serve the thousands of students we get to know. Also, encourage faithful Christians to go into – and stay in – teaching. Humanly speaking, the gospel gets good airtime in Christian schools because of the culture established by mature, faithful Christian staff teaching across all departments. When Christians are excellent teachers of STEM, English literature, LOTE, the Creative Arts and Personal Development and live their faith with personal and intellectual integrity in front of their students, then faith in Christ and hope for the future becomes, at least, plausible, if not worth considering! This school-wide cul­ture also promotes a richer conversation in the Christian studies classroom and complements the long-term work of chaplains in a myriad of ways. Who knows how God, who changes hearts, might choose to work in and through the conversa­tions and relationships that students have at school?

Respondent 5: Pray. It would be great to hear the local church praying regularly for schools ministry (and not just SRE). Please work with us. Schools are really busy and we would love to work with churches and youth groups. Teachers are time-poor. Most chaplains and Christian Studies teachers are even more time-poor, with marking and reports as well as the demands of school life. Other para-church organisations like Anglicare and Cru are pretty good at linking with schools. Some churches are good, but not great and many schools would love to have links to a youth group and children’s ministry. It would be helpful to see more Synod rep­resentation for our school chaplains. Similarly, greater support from missional groups, deaneries, and episcopal oversight would further our gospel partnership. Even small things, such as considering when events are held so that school work­ers can attend. Understanding the difference of the schools ministry is important. We have a big outreach to many families that aren’t Christian, not even religious. We teach the Bible in Christian Studies and in chapel; we have a daily ministry of the word. And we also need to understand that not all of our community will hold biblical views on certain topics in our cultural context.