One of the simplest ways to love a city is to serve its schools. Education, among other structures, is one of the main components on which a city thrives, creates culture and builds the wellbeing of the population. We are called to seek the welfare of a city (Jer. 29:7), and you can do no better than to invest your time and energy into a local school. The school that my wife and I serve needs a fair amount of help. We have been serving there for the last seven years. We enjoy serving there, because of the relationships we get to build with normal everyday people, and the opportunities we get to bless them.
More than just the socially practical reasons, though, are the theological reasons. We get to serve there, because we have a great Lord and Savior who served us perfectly, laying down his life and dying for us while we were still sinful and rebellious. We would confess, however, that often our reasons for serving the school do not always fall in line with this truth. Sure we want to see the people of the school come to know Jesus; sure we want to see people’s lives changed, and we want God to be glorified through us – all good evangelical notions. Sometimes we might have other practical or quasi-selfish reasons for serving the school, such as for the betterment of the school, or that our kids will benefit from our time there. Those are not bad reasons. However, in the gospel we need to remember that all our motivation, strength and resource we need to serve, comes from how Jesus served us. This is the truth by which we are often convicted and what causes us to repent and seek the right reasons.
With the gospel in mind, then, here are four ways to serve and bless a school. These simple methods are transferable for any school context in any city.
We share this first, because it is the most important. Prayer works, because God works. It is not a magic formula, but a command and reality that God has called us to. Our family does not have a systematic way of doing this; mostly we pray when the Holy Spirit reminds us. When we take my kids and our neighborhood friends to school, we pray for them, their teachers and the school as whole. It is an encouragement for us to just pray, because we are being reminded of how much we need his power and grace to work in and through us at the school.
2. Ask how to help and show up
We began to realize the significance of this when we first moved to our city and began serving. Derek had called around to a few schools asking how we could help. One of them had a laundry list of ways that we could serve, so we decided to show up and help there. At the time they were doing these monthly ‘Family Fun Night’ events, so we showed up to serve the meal and clean up afterward. This was a good tangible way to serve and meet people. As well, it came with the by-product of giving us and our kids a context and familiarity for where they would eventually attend school.
Another way is to show up and serve at extracurricular clubs and organizations. Our school has a unicycling club led by a family of the school. We decided to team up with the family, and try it out. Initially, we knew nothing about unicycling except that you sit on one wheel and try to stay on the thing. Our oldest daughter picked it up quickly, and our other two younger kids are still learning. These kinds of clubs and activities are such great ways to serve and build relationships with people. Being a part of the unicycle club as a family has been so good for us to share in outreach together (Plus, if everything else in life falls through, we can always run off and join the circus!)
A good way to show up and help is to serve in a classroom. Colleen makes time once a week, outside of her work schedule, to serve in one of our kids’ classes. Derek has been able to come a few times to serve, and it has been a great way to connect with some of the boys. Colleen has served on the PTA board in the past. Derek currently serve on the Site Council. There are so many ways that you can show up and serve – in the classroom, extracurricular events, committees, fundraisers. Schools have so many needs and just showing up and asking, “How can I help?” will be your first step in real palpable service.
3. Give generously of your time and resources
Another way to serve a school is to give generously. Generosity is part of the definition of grace – giving extravagantly to someone who doesn’t deserve or expect it. You might bring high-quality and generous portions of food or other items to bless the students and staff. If you have kids at the school, you can send them with the best snacks or cupcakes on their birthday, or send extra money with your kids to give to other kids to enjoy using during PTA fundraisers. Bless the teachers and staff with donuts and coffee. Give them coffee gift-cards as an expression of thanks for their hard work. Or, instead of just giving material items, you can give generously of your time and energy. Spend a whole day at the school, and get to know the life of the school. Eat lunch some of the kids. Hang out at recess, and help monitor the activities there. Often it seems we give according to cultural standards of what is assumed to be expected and appropriate, which often can translate to just giving the bare minimum. However, to bless someone is to go above and beyond the normal expectation. Honestly, this is something we are still growing in. Practicing generosity is difficult, because our default mode is to give minimally, not extravagantly. We need to remember how much we’ve been in Christ, so that we might be convicted to give generously.
4. Practice hospitality
Finally, a good way to serve a school is to practice hospitality outside of the school. Besides being a practical tool to reach out to people, it is also a command from Scripture (Heb. 13:2). You can invite kids and families into your home for the purpose of building community, shared life and celebration together. You might plan a fun event centered around a season, or a rhythm in the calendar year like the beginning or end of school. Our kids’ school celebrates “100 days of school”, which would be a great time for us to celebrate with a party. At the beginning of the school year, we hosted a “Back to School Bash” party for some of our kids’ friends. It was awesome! It gave us the opportunity to meet some of the kids’ parents, and it was a great way to help bring momentum to the school year. We hope to continue with more fun events throughout the year.
In reality, our ministry at the school can feel long and slow. We often don’t get to see the fruit that Jesus is creating in people’s lives. There are some things we’ve done in the past that haven’t worked as well, but there are things we are doing now that seem to work. Either way we get to enjoy the goodness and grace of Jesus poured out for us generously. Therefore, we get to funnel some of that grace to others at the school, in order that the school might enjoy the grace and presence of Jesus.
Derek, Colleen and their family live in Parkland WA. Derek works as the Director of the Western Seminary Seattle Teaching Site, while Colleen works part-time as a nurse. They both serve bi-vocationally with Soma as missional leaders, and take pride in their kids’ public schools. Follow Derek on Twitter: @derekhiebert