As a long term schools worker and huge advocate of having more Christians working in schools, I’m very excited to have this opportunity to pass this passion on through these pages!
In this first article, let’s take a step back and consider what is it that we are doing? And why?
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the answer to at least one of those questions is Jesus!
In the great commission of Matt 28 Jesus tells us to go and show everyone you meet this way of life, train them in all I have taught you and I’ll be with you. If you’re like me, you’ve seen the opportunity in schools to go to where the children and young people are rather than waiting for them to come to you.
We need a refresh on our motivations and perhaps also our planned activities. We need to go back to Jesus, to renew our passion for this work and ministry. We need to begin our work with Jesus.
One of the things I have been pondering lately is how Jesus’ ministry was often about ‘being there’, how radical that was in 1st century and how powerful that is in our world of 21st century.
Imagine if every child and young person in the country knew who Jesus was and why he came. Imagine if every child and young person understood that to be a Christian is to imitate Jesus. Imagine if every child and young person could really experience how much Jesus loves them through the actions of his followers. How do we go about making that happen? We’re going to look at the how in more detail in the last section but first, let’s look at what we might need to know, what skills we might bring to this task.
To be followers or imitators of Christ is the prize we are continually reminded of by Paul, and Jesus himself. It is the most important thing we can do, both to know Jesus and to make him known and of course there are many ways to do this.
Classroom based lessons are one key way. In 2010 an Ofsted report on the teaching of RE across the UK was an indictment against the profession, both at primary and secondary levels: too many RE teachers had poor knowledge of Christianity; too many RE lessons were not engaging students in learning about or learning from the teaching about faith in this country. The real kicker though was that these things (among others) were found MOST OFTEN in our Church Schools. Ouch! So the Church of England swung into action and, after much careful planning and preparing, they released an amazing teaching resource that is now available for all schools called Understanding Christianity. This is a scheme of work that tells the whole story of Christianity, encouraging children and young people to engage with key concepts such as forgiveness or prayer as well as gaining knowledge. The vision is that a young person leavings school at 16 years of age will have a thorough knowledge of Christianity as a whole faith rather than knowing only a few stories from the Bible. If you know someone in the RE department of your school, mention it to them and ask to see the curriculum, offer to be involved in the teaching of the programme or encourage them to investigate if they haven’t already. It’s not free and requires training but many local government SACRE’s (Standing Advisory Council for the teaching of Religious Education) across the UK are subsidising the cost for their schools in recognition of the importance of training and resourcing both primary and secondary RE teachers.
Another way to make Jesus known is the concept of ‘being there’ – Jesus was God incarnate, or God with skin on to quote The Message. I’ve heard many ways of describing this: incarnational or hanging out ministry; detached schools work among others. They all involve the same intention of being there for others, of building positive relationships that point to Jesus. Jesus does this so many times: Zacchaeus; the bleeding woman; Mary & Martha; Mary Magdalene; the Samaritan woman to name but a few. What might this look like in our schools work?
The key to this ministry is to play to your own strengths – if you’re good at sports use that, if you love asking questions use that, if you can pick up some card tricks or basic sleight of hand tricks (there are loads of Youtube videos you could learn from), or anything that catches the eye then it’s worth taking the time to learn a new skill! This is aimed at opening conversations and building relationships, something Jesus was good at.
These pages have referred to three spaces of engagement previously and what you choose to do from this article will most likely depend on which space you feel the most comfortable in: formal learning spaces such as RE lessons; informal learning spaces like mentoring or CU; or non-formal spaces like prayer spaces or indeed the playground. I’m going to focus on that last space in recognition that this is likely to be the space you feel most uncomfortable in!
It’s worth noting that I have worked with and listened to some really amazing schools workers over the years and many have contributed to my pool of ideas! I’ll try and remember where I came across an idea but apologies if I miss some people!
First of all you need to have a conversation with your school contact about the idea of you hanging around in the playground/courtyard/corridors/lunch hall during break or at lunchtime and get the OK from them. If you’re already working with the school you might find this is easier than you imagine as lunch times in particular are often difficult times for schools to manage, they might well be very happy to have someone they know offering to help engage the pupils. If you don’t already have a relationship with the school this could be harder but you will get further if you have a specific skill set like sports coaching or are offering to run a specific activity aimed at engaging pupils during break times.
With a plan forming to engage children or young people this way, you’ll need to cover the whole thing in prayer. So the next step is to gather a prayer support team for this project, or ask those who might already be praying for your schools work to include this.
Then have a few ideas of games or activities which could begin conversations or encourage the pupils to engage with you. The idea here is to build relationships, to spend time with pupils without an agenda, acknowledging that our presence in the lives of young people and children needs to be earned.
Some ideas are:
Balloon Modelling – probably best with primary or lower secondary pupils but everyone loves a balloon so you might be surprised!
Circus Skills – juggling is probably the most accessible skill of these. I know a schools worker who took a unicycle into school and taught young people how to ride!
Keepie-Uppies – if you’re any good, challenge the children or young people to beat you. If, like me, you’d be no good then challenge the young people to teach you or to beat each other!
Clicker races – this is an ingenious idea from Paul at Norwich YFC. Two clicker counters (the kind you might use at a youth event to count the numbers of young people at an event) and a stopwatch. The challenge is to see who can get the most clicks in a minute, or two minutes or whatever. This game will create a crowd and chances to interact with them in a flash!
Grab some playing cards from SchoolsworkUK (primary and secondary packs are available from the Youthscape website) and learn a few simple card tricks or ask the young people to teach you. As conversations develop you could ask the questions that are on the cards.
Stick to activities that don’t need large props or too much preparation and be prepared to experiment. If you already know some children or young people well enough than you could ask them for ideas. Then take a deep breath and go stand in the corridor/playground/lunch hall. Tell some of the pupils you already know that you’ll be there and ask them to come say hello! Don’t expect to have an impact straightaway and be prepared for every time to be different.
By imitating Jesus and being prepared to spend time with the children and young people in your school you’ll find that more are interested and want to know why you’re there than you anticipate! You’ll gain the permission to speak into their lives and in doing so, be given the privilege of speaking about Jesus.
Be yourself. Be Jesus. You’ll be amazed.
Jenni Osborn is Head of FE Studies at CYM and passionate about schools work in all its forms.