October 19, 2017

“Thank You, and I Am Not A Christian.”

graduate.jpgSeveral weeks ago, I removed all specific references to where I work from this web site. Without violating that, I want to tell you a story from yesterday, when our high school had its 104th graduation ceremony.

For the past 30+ years, our school has taken many internationals and children of internationals as students. A fair number of these have not been Christians. Some are from other religious traditions, like Islam, and some are from Atheistic cultures like China.

Several of these internationals graduated yesterday. Now a feature of our graduation is the reading of portions of a “senior essay” written by the student for this day. These essays often express the student’s feelings about their boarding school journey and how the experience has affected them.

Several times in yesterday’s ceremony, essays by students were read and the student said…

1) I am not a Christian.

2) Thank you for all you’ve done for me while I have been here.

3) I now understand Christianity much better (or I now realize Jesus is very important.)

As the primary preacher and Bible teacher in our school, all of this struck me as rather amazing. Here is a Christian school; founded by Christians, funded by Christians; staffed by Christians, supported by Christians. We have an explicitly Christian mission. We actively practice evangelism. We require attendance at daily chapel and weekend worship gatherings for all our students. We require a year of high school Bible to graduate.

God brings non-Christians to us because we are inexpensive and offer the language and science background international students want to get them into American universities. Our school does not have the “nice” things that more expensive schools have, but many of these internationals do not have American ideas of comfort and entitlement. They are open to our school, the hospitality and friendship of our staff and the generosity and compassion we share with them.

We do not mince words about the Gospel. At least I don’t. I point out the difference between Mohammed, Buddah and Jesus all the time. I preach Christ as the exclusive way to eternal life. I preach that hell exists and judgement without Christ is eternal condemnation. I engage atheism as an inadequate answer. I preach, teach and proclaim the Gospel with all my abilities.

But I also watch the Gospel happen as we work with students other schools reject, as we allow students to dress without school uniforms or overly strict dress codes, and as we give students the right to their own worldviews. One does not have to be a Christian to participate in any part of our school’s program.

Even in Bible class, I make it clear that a student’s grade and my evaluation of them does not depend on their attitude toward Christianity, and I welcome their expressions of why they don’t believe in Jesus and why they do believe other faith options.

When we do anything with our students, we tell them that we are doing it because of Jesus Christ. I regularly connect up what we do with what Christ has done for us.

And so, sitting there yesterday, I heard many student essays talk about finding Christ and about renewing commitments to Christ. But I also heard about coming here for one, two or more years and leaving without Christ.

And saying so. “I am not a Christian.” One of my best Bible students said it in her essay. “I am not a Christian.” But she thanked me and others for showing her Christ, and she said she is on the way.

Others said they were not Christians, but now they understood better what Christianity means. Some said they had learned that what they had been told about Christians in their culture was not true.

Of all the things in my life, the privilege to work with unbelievers is the most important and the most humbling. It is a joy to be able to spend two years with an atheistic Chinese boy, and to be his friend at the end of the process.

I often wonder why Christians, in building so much that is for themselves, haven’t stopped and looked at the world as Jesus did. Look at the fields white unto harvest. Look at the sheep without a shepherd. Look at the lost, needing to come home.

We could do so much for them, if we would simply allow them to not believe, but to still be loved. If we could include them, help them, love them…and let them not believe. We could treat them respectfully, like people made in God’s image and loved by Christ Jesus. If we did, they would say “Thank you.”

They are not the enemy, my friends. They are like us in every way. We distort the gospel to exaggerate the differences between ourselves and those that do not confess Christ. We are not God, nor do we sit in God’s place. The cup of cold water is given to the brother or sister in whom Christ dwells, but it is also given to the thirsty.

On this particular graduation day, I was proud to be part of this ministry, and proud that this particular “Christian” school includes, teaches, loves and respects those who are not Christians.

Comments

  1. There’s the whole “angels unaware” thing and “whatever you did for these, the least of my brothers” thing that plays into all this. I give no quarter to those who believe that these only apply to our Christian brothers and sisters. Also, you may never know what seeds you plant that may take decades to ripen.

    Thanks for another thoughtful post.

  2. Hey, I’m a United Methodist who takes very seriously John Wesley’s concept of prevenient grace. By that Wesley taught that the Holy Spirit is always working to woo (Wesley’s use of a good word that we don’t use much anymore) to Jesus Christ. Your work and the responses seem exactly like what Wesley meant. When we trust the Holy Spirit to work in this way, wonderful things happen and people do come to Jesus. It works far better than some of our so-called evangelistic efforts.

  3. Reading this makes me want to teach Bible in a location like yours. It seems like such authentic ministry.

  4. Larry White says:

    Amen! And, of course, “the fields” are not only in our schools, but in our families and workplaces, in the world. Perhaps, more often than not, even ourselves.

  5. Fremen_Warrior66 says:

    That was beautifully written. I don’t know what else to say.

  6. This is exactly what I believe ought to be our approach to evangelism. Preach the Gospel if the opportunity presents itself, but allow your nonbelieving friends the right to not believe and still be loved and respected.

  7. Michael: I have been reading your site for almost a year now and haven enjoyed your transpartent approach to life, especially Christian life, which is the only life worth living. My husband and I are missionaries to a Mu*lim group and we have the priviledge of making friends among the university students. What you wrote today is so true because we do truly love these young people but also so aware they may never believe. One of our misssionary friends said it’s ploughing concrete. So thank you for ploughing breaking down many barriers.

  8. Too often Christian schools tend to have lowest-common-denominator Christianity among the students, where it exists at all; and the introduction of non-Christian students only exacerbates this, to the point where being a Christian or being seen as one is associated with the school authorities and consciously avoided.

    How refreshing to read of a Christian school that positively represents Christ to non-Christian students.

  9. I am a pretty new reader and have been really encouraged/challenged by your blog, but I’ve never commented.

    I came across an interesting article on this topic and thought I would share it:

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/csm/20070510/ts_csm/cbelief_1

  10. I think altering the mindset of non-Christians, especially those from Islamic backgrounds, is in and of itself a boon to the Church. Too often missionaries must first deconstruct false notions of Christianity before the Gospel can be understand. If you have eliminated such a need for deconstruction in even one individual, then your efforts are profitable indeed.

  11. understood*

  12. Thank you for sharing your doing of student ministry. God does not force people to believe in Him. And let us share our faith humbly.

  13. Michael,

    I’m curious. Why did you remove all reference to the school where you work?

  14. I want to keep my job 🙂

    Not everyone finds my writing about our school positive. Even among those who work with our students, there is some ambiguity about saying this is what we do and who we do it for.

    I got a phone call, and removal of all references to the school seemed the appropriate thing to do to see that even wasn’t repeated.

  15. When you started off with the comment about removing references to where you work, I thought it was going to be an essay about something unsettling happening. I was really encouraged by reading it, however. I went to a christian high school and this was not my experience AT ALL. It’s taken years to work on the bitterness left over from that experience – none of this attitude that you are describing was prevelant where I attended school. It makes me happier than I could possibly say to hear this sort of description of Christ-like love in an educational institution. There was a time when I would have dismissed it as impossible. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Loved the essay.

    My biggest problem in trying to reach the non-Christians at the Christian school where I taught was the Christian kids. They were convinced that they could nag their classmates into the Kingdom. I had to keep telling them to lay off.

    One of the better students I had in my bible classes was a non-Christian. At least, that’s what she called herself. I interviewed her halfway through the semester and discovered that, after sitting through enough of my classes, she had come to actually believe in Jesus and had accepted Him as Lord. But she refused accept the title Christian. Why? Because her classmates were “Christians,” and they were all jerks.

    This isn’t the only time Christians behaving badly have got in the way of my trying to proclaim the Gospel. Sad to say, few of my fellow teachers were any help. I’m glad your fellow teachers are on board.