Yet, to school they will go. With their “Ahh, Mom!” cries and their teenage “Ugh!” they will go to school. As a new parent, I wonder what it will be like to send Jude to school on that first day. A couple little girls in our church ran up to me last night so excited that they will be starting preschool next year! They each needed a “High five, dude!” for that prospect.
What I wonder more than anything is if my wife and I will be able to send Jude to school on that first day and every first day to follow with anything more than the emotions going through his little heart. For the Christian parent, there is much we can send with them to school other than a new backpack and some new shoes. We can send them with a new perspective made possible by the One who is making all things new.
With that in mind, I want to share three pieces of gospel-centered advice for the Christian parent to send with their kids as they embark on a new school year. These three pieces of advice are not limited to elementary students. They are for the little girl on her first day of preschool and the stubborn young man on his last first day of high school.
- Respect the God-given authority of your teachers
All authority comes from God. Instead of giving a moralistic order to your child like, “You better be good for your teacher this year!” you could say something much better like, “Remember, your teacher is in charge and God has given her the authority. Obey her because you want to obey God.
But also, help your kids to see how severely they and their classmates rebel against God-given authority. It is impossible for them to follow every single school rule. Remind them it is the same with God. We break his rules and reject his authority. The great hope of the gospel is that Jesus perfectly obeyed his authority in our place. He never broke God’s rules. His righteousness was spotless. And this spotless Lamb went to the slaughter for us. Dying in our place, he was punished for all our rebellion.
- Treat your classmates with the dignity they deserve as divine image-bearers
Don’t offer your child a moralistic motivation for respecting his classmates. Instead, motivate your child to treat his classmates with dignity because they are fellow image-bearers of God. God created all children in the class in his own image. When your child harms another child physically or emotionally, he is attacking the image of God.
But also help your children see that the image of God is broken and distorted. This is why some kids bully others. Even though they are created in God’s image, they (like all of us) have rejected the image of God and are a poor picture of his glory. The good news of the gospel for your child and every child they encounter in the school from bully to best friend is that Jesus Christ came to earth to restore the image of God. He is the perfect divine image-bearer. Where we present a broken image of God, Jesus offers a perfect image of God. Your child’s hope for identity, belonging, and acceptance are found not in belittling others or the approval of others, but in the work of Jesus in their place.
- View every moment as eternally significant
Finally, kids often see school as a total waste of time. The older they get, the worse this problem becomes. It’s as if they gain enough experience in the world of school and realize it is not that important at all, but surely not as important as their teachers and parents claim it is.
But from a Christian worldview, we can safely say every moment in school matters. Because Christ has died and risen from the dead, he is the rightful King, Lord, and future Judge of the entire world. He has authority over every square inch and every millisecond. Christians have the distinct undeserved privilege of being united to this sovereign Lord. Because of this, every moment at school should be lived coram Deo (before the face of God). Jesus demands and empowers our obedience to him at every single moment. He makes every second, frustrating subject, boring Math lesson, and big project count for something huge. Jesus gives eternal significance to every moment of every day, even on the worst day of school.
I am praying for all school systems and schools, including all principals, teachers, staff, students, and parents, as the new school year begins. I pray Christian parents would send their children to school with gospel lenses to rightly view their school life.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.