Grace impels excellence. St. Paul enjoins the Christians in Colossae, “to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God our Father through him” (Col. 3:17). Furthermore, he calls the Corinthian church to engage in even the most mundane of human activities, eating and drinking, “or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
Give God Your Best
As we live out our vocations in the name of Jesus and for God’s glory, there is no room for anything less than our absolute best. The reality of my sinful disposition precluding me from pure excellence is no excuse to ignore Scripture’s call to live an exceptional life. God’s law demands excellence and only His grace in Jesus Christ covers my shortcomings. Conversely, God’s promise of forgiveness does not excuse my shortcomings a priori—rather His grace overwhelms and inspires me to respond to His grace with my utmost. God’s grace impels my continual striving for excellence in all that I do, including my teaching vocation.
However, we must never confuse indifference to excellence with grace. I imagine Christian educators get into the business of teaching our young people out of a great love for youth, as well as a great love for our Lord Jesus Christ. In loving response to the grace that they have received through the cross and resurrection of Jesus, they desire to enact that grace in the lives of their students. Unmerited grace is a blessing from God that cannot be overestimated in the context of our salvation. However, applying grace in the civil realm often can be misconstrued and misused in spite of best intentions. We must make a categorical distinction between grace and ambivalence.
Hold Students to High Standards
For example, a student may struggle with a certain subject matter, and this struggle causes an amount of anxiety and stress on behalf of the students. A teacher, out of concern and being disheartened by the frustration of his distraught student, finds a way to lessen the anxiety by lowering the educational bar. Although on the surface this seems to be an act of grace and love, it actually undermines his vocation to equip the student for every good work God has purposed (Eph. 2:11; 1 Tim. 3:17, etc.). We are doing our young people no favors when we continually lower the bar of education and, rather than holding them to the highest standards of academic excellence, find ways to circumvent the sometimes-difficult development of their thinking process.
I’m not suggesting that we ride roughshod over our students, victimizing them with a barrage of facts and homework in an unrelenting academic flood. What I am suggesting is that we take the time to approach the teaching vocation with excellence. As a teacher, I cannot settle for mediocrity in my students’ academic work and simply call that grace. I can’t assign a superior grade to less-than-superior work because that might make a student feel bad about herself. Likewise, I cannot accept mediocrity from myself and walk into classrooms unprepared, merely because I have the advantage of age and experience, knowing my young charges won't know the difference.
Having said that, we teachers are frail and human. There are times when teachers walk into their classrooms and they’re not quite ready to go. In my admonition for excellence, I’m not talking about those extreme moments when one has been at the hospital all night with a sick child. That’s where God’s grace breaks in and gives our administrators, our students, and their parents an opportunity to be masks for God and by recognizing our needs, build us up in prayer and service. What I’m talking about is an ongoing air of failing to take seriously God’s call to raise up a new generation of Christians who are prepared to interact as solid citizens of our current culture.
Model Excellence for Your Students
So how do we raise students in excellence? Frankly, we start by being excellent ourselves. We are excellent in our craft of educational standards and skills as well as our content areas. We must continue to self-educate; we must continue to grow and explore educational standards. Many of us find ourselves working in arenas of constrained finances, where the opportunity to attend higher education, professional conferences and ongoing official development is not possible, but anyone reading this blog clearly has access to information and thus the ability to continue to learn. There is no excuse for not continuing mastery.
Likewise, as Educators, we must continue the content mastery of our own faith. It's not merely enough to attend church and love Jesus. We have been called into a specific vocation: one in which our solid doctrine and understanding of God's grace has a direct impact on how we live and operate within our classrooms. We cannot be Christian educators, and yet not be people of the Word. We must be engaged in the ongoing development of our own spiritual wellbeing by being active in our congregations, both in worship and in Bible study, as well as in Christian service. I am calling for a high bar of excellence. I understand that. The one who empowers us to overcome obstacles also lifts us up with grace when we fail. That grace, rather than dismissing us in our failure, impels us teachers to excellence.
Interested in Faithful standards for your students? The new Enduring Faith Religion Curriculum has these and more!