Work In Schools
David Tinkler, Cheshunt, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
It has been said, ‘School was loved or loathed’ and no doubt many reading this article would tend to agree! There will be countless reasons why you either loved it or loathed it. But for all that, the daily morning assembly and the regular RE lessons, were the usual form through which previous generations of schoolchildren recognized the existence of God and were provided with some knowledge of the Scriptures. While many of the teachers were not believers, Bible teaching in schools was of undoubted value.
As we all know, this is far from the case today and many of us believe that the removal of Bible reading and scriptural teaching has contributed to the widespread confusion and indifference to the word of God, which now exists in our country.
At a debate during a recent conference of head teachers on the subject of the statutory requirement for a daily act of worship, it was suggested that there should be introduced, ‘a weekly assembly without a Christian character, but an accent on moral development’. This, it was advocated, would be more in keeping with today’s attitudes in a multi-cultural society. In an article on the debate. The Times newspaper reported, ‘A nation ashamed to defend its Christian character and heritage will soon find much that is worse of which to be ashamed’.
As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we acknowledge His wisdom in causing the writer to pen the words, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go: and, when he is old, he will not depart from it’, Prov. 22. 6. Also, ‘Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee’, Ps 119. 11.
For children’s workers it is sad to hear of assemblies where there are no longer any meetings for children on Lord’s Days, or during the week. Even for those who have such activities, we lament the lack of interest by the local children and parents, and even some believers, in encouraging their young people to attend the meetings that are specially geared for them to hear the gospel and learn the Scriptures.
There is no better way of instilling into the lives of young people the truths of the word of God than with the regular presentation to them of what the Lord wants them to know and the consequences of rejecting it. This is why the activities from our assemblies, among children, are so important, for both the children involved and also for the continuation of the work in the future when older folk are unable to do what they once did.
Over the years, many of our evangelists, whilst conducting campaigns in local gospel halls, have obtained permission to go into the neighbouring schools to speak in lesson time or during the school assembly and invite the children to the meetings. These efforts have resulted in further opportunities to teach the Scriptures and paved the way for ongoing contact for other people to continue to make visits to those schools. In other cases, a single visit is, sadly, the only contact these establishments have had with the gospel.
On the other hand, there are those places where individuals and assemblies have seen and seized the opportunity to visit their local schools with an offer to speak at an assembly. The reaction to the request to assist is varied. Head teachers may give an outright ‘no’. The reasons behind that decision are numerous. Sometimes it is the fear that if one group is allowed into school then how many more will be ‘knocking at the door’. Others might disagree with the principle of a daily, ‘basically’ Christian act of worship. Sometimes, it is pressure exerted by the parents, leaders of other faiths or an edict from the Local Education Authority.
If there are no children’s meetings at the Hall now but there is a desire to reach children, then there are numerous schools and authorities where visits are welcomed and encouraged. The head teachers and members of their staff often prove very supportive of those prepared to become regular contributors to the school’s spiritual responsibilities. The major problem on our part in some cases is the time needed to undertake and prepare for the number of visits that might be offered. Very occasionally, it has been known for school authorities to request some form of accreditation or reference before allowing a visitor into the assembly. These difficulties can soon be overcome with a letter from the elders of the local assembly, or perhaps a contact from a teacher or other professional who knows the applicant. In some schools a ‘disclosure’ may be recommended. If you have a gift with children and are looking to the Lord to open the door for this work locally, then these obstacles are minor in respect to the opportunity this work affords.
In many areas, brethren and sisters arrange with their local schools to make regular or periodic visits to speak to the pupils. These days, the time allocated to the assembly varies not only in length, but also the time of day. The content may vary too, but mostly for the ‘visitor’ or so called ‘religious’ assembly, the whole time is given to a Bible reading and story with perhaps a hymn and a prayer to conclude. Alternatively, at other times there is an opportunity to speak for a short time at the end of an assembly, where staff or children have contributed. Whatever the opening, it is good to know that young people are being exposed to the truth of God’s own word and through it, may come to realize their own great need of the Saviour.
Great care has to be taken in presenting the gospel and prayerful wisdom is needed in bringing the word of God to these children. Any suggestion or apparent attempt, to proselytize or indoctrinate will close the door immediately to further visits. The main effort should be in making clear what the Scriptures teach and relating that as to how it should be seen in everyday life. Sometimes, visitors are given the ‘assembly theme’ for the day of their visit and this can be mentioned in the context and illustrated from the Bible story you take up.
The different ways of ‘delivering’ an assembly story are up to the individual. The one to use is that which is applicable for the age group concerned and with which the worker is comfortable. In front of a class or a hall full of children, is not the place to say the wrong thing or to get flustered on account of a lack of preparation. Throughout the country, diverse methods for bringing the truth to schoolchildren are employed: at lunch time, after school Bible Clubs, using Postal Bible School lessons and other courses, as well as the regular presentation of God’s word during school time in lessons or when the whole school or particular year groups come together.
The visual aids used should be appropriate for the number of children concerned and their ages. Large-scale flannelgraphs or overhead projector slides are ideal for large groups whilst flipcharts and flashcards are excellent when speaking to small groups or in classroom lessons. The visual effect should be of the highest quality and clarity, bearing in mind the calibre of illustrations produced by the media and academic textbooks. The children know when something is second class. Having said all this, the most effective presentation of the gospel is by a believer who wants to convey to others his faith in and enjoyment of the Lord.
The highest regard should be paid to doing exactly what the school has agreed for you to do, and to stick to the time requested to the minute. It can be very easy to wear out your welcome and you will not get another chance. On the other hand, schools are sometimes desperate for someone to do this work for them and to be involved in the life of the school as a ‘friend’ upon whom they can call with confidence.
As your confidence grows and the school has come to trust you there could be wider openings such as using the several excellent Bible Exhibitions that have been developed in recent years. The school may well want to use the Hall for their fulfillment of the RE Curriculum in looking at local sources of Christianity. You will then have chance to explain believers‘ baptism and the Lord’s Supper to the children.
It goes without saying that prayer is vital from the initial approach to the school to actually speaking at the assembly. A humble dependence upon the Lord for His direction and enabling should mark all our service for Him, whether it is to our regular children’s activities or a much larger group in schools. The prayers of the Lord’s people are urgently needed for more to be involved in the great opportunity that exists in our schools and that the door remains open for His servants to be involved.
AUTHOR PROFILE: David Tinkler is a commended full-time worker from the assembly at Cheshunt (Herts) is engaged in a number of children's activities and has an extensive programme of school visits in the local area, to take assemblies and help with some RE lessons.