When someone comes to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, he is compelled by a desire to serve his new-found God and Saviour. Like many Christians, he will pray and seek the Lord’s leading. However, God’s leading is not always clear. Sometimes the compulsion to serve becomes a question of deciding between Christian vocation and a secular vocation. Does God want me to be a missionary or a carpenter? A pastor or a teacher? The decision becomes muddled when we have gifts that suit Christian ministry. “Teaching” is one of those muddling factors. Like a pastor, teachers spend their time learning and communicating knowledge to students. The teacher’s role is also “pastoral” in that he often counsels students and encourages them in character building and citizenship. Teachers are also generally “people-orientated” and they can be effective administrators.
This has been my struggle. Although I serve in the church doing “lay ministry,” I am a teacher and I wonder if I should be using the gifts God has given me as a pastor.
I have wrestled with this for many years. While a Bible College in Alberta, I was counselled by many profs and students to pursue a ministerial vocation. Yet I was not convinced that is what God would have me do.
Recently, I was encouraged by reading the biography of William Wilberforce (Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce by John Piper). Wilberforce struggled with this same question after his conversion in his 20s. He asked, “Should I leave politics and take up a pastoral ministry?” Amazingly, John Newton, the famous hymn writer, pastor and acquaintance of Wilberforce answered his question with a resounding “No!” Newton encouraged Wilberforce to remain in his secular vocation, noting that God would use him in that capacity. God certainly did, by working through Wilberforce to end the slave trade and abolish slavery in the British Empire. Wilberforce also laboured for many other social and evangelical causes in his lifetime. Most significantly was his successful petition to end the British East India Company’s opposition to evangelizing India, which up to that point had been outlawed. For many years, the famous English missionary, William Carey, had been limited by the Company to minister in India only at a Danish colony near Calcutta, which was outside of the Company’s jurisdiction. Clearly, God had a use for Wilberforce in his secular vocation that had a profound impact on the world.
I was also encouraged by John the Baptist, who, instead of telling Tax Collectors and soldiers to change jobs, told them to do their secular jobs honestly and well (Luke 3:10-14).
A Call for Christian Teachers in Secular Schools
Although I am no Wilberforce, I am a teacher in a secular school. I meet daily with students and colleagues who are lost souls. Like other Christians in a secular environment, I strive to bear witness of Christ by my conduct and my example of integrity. Although I cannot overtly abuse my role as a teacher to proselytize, I am to teach my students to think “rightly” about the world. I actively fight against relativism and "scientism", teaching my students to seek “truth” and understand reality. Christian teachers ought to help their students discern a Christian worldview without necessarily calling it a Christian worldview. C.S. Lewis explains this need when he writes,
“If the intellectual climate is such that, when a man comes to the crisis at which he must either accept or reject Christ, [and if] his reason and imagination are not on the wrong side, then his conflict will be fought out under favourable conditions. Those who help to produce and spread such a climate are therefore doing useful work: and yet no such great matter after all. Their share is a modest one; and it is always possible that nothing---nothing whatever---may come of it. That does not mean we should put down the tools.”
Although I am not another William Carey or Charles Spurgeon, I labour for the kingdom, laying the foundation for Christian thinking, hoping that one day some of my students, when faced with a “crisis at which [they] must either accept or reject Christ,” will come to the right conclusions. If God calls me to another task, then to another task I will go. Until then, I am off to start another school year.