When I went to Indianapolis recently to speak to the Southern Baptist Convention, the participants were considering a difficult proposal: Should Christian families be encouraged to withdraw their children from public schools?
Whether you agree or disagree with the proposal–it was voted down–you can understand the frustration behind it. Year after year, courts and agencies have twisted the First Amendment to ban prayer, mock creation, promote godless lifestyles and purge God from our public schools. As a result, public education has suffered. For many children, homeschooling has become a better alternative.
But for the sake of our commission to “go and make disciples,” I hope Christians will not surrender the public schools. Instead, let’s take them back. Let’s consider them a mission field.
Jesus taught us the difference between being “in” the world and “of” the world: “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (John 17:14-18, NKJV).
Between teachers and students, there are millions of Christians in our public schools. Many of them are already standing up for Jesus in their own ways, by setting good examples, working in charity or inviting friends to church activities. It’s important that we support them with our prayers and give them practical advice on how they can be effective witnesses for Christ.
We know that children are very responsive to the Gospel, but we sometimes underestimate how effective they can be in sharing God’s love. In the coming months, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association will be developing programs especially for children and youth, so that they can help change their schools from the inside out–one heart at a time.
We need to teach our children to memorize Scripture to answer questions, deflect criticism, and share the Gospel. We need to make sure they understand and articulate God’s plan of salvation well enough to share it with friends.
Pray for God’s guidance as we develop evangelistic programs that are appropriate for schools. And pray for Christian students and teachers as they go back to school–back to the mission field–that they will be “sanctified by God’s truth.”