Power and Ministry
In Playing God, Andy Crouch provides a fascinating exploration of power, which he associates with God's creative actions in Genesis 1 and 2 (32-33). God’s power “is for flourishing” and is entrusted to humanity, His image bearers (35). Human beings’ power can be used to further the flourishing of God’s creation (45) or be abused to redefine ourselves apart from God (55-56) and oppressively play the role of god in others’ lives (71).
While reflecting on Crouch, I wondered in what spheres I have power. It is tempting to notice where I lack power. I do not contribute much to the economy. I live in my parents’ home rather than with a family of my own. I remain a student in seminary. As a Christian school teacher, I serve under an administrator and parental expectations. While the classroom is a place where a teacher has authority, during this first year of teaching, I have often felt powerless. I have to work against my personality to be firm with my students when needed and often find myself conforming my teaching to the desires of parents, administrators, and the needs of students. When I am in my classroom, I rarely notice what power I actually have.
However, as I think back on my own teachers, each one of them had tremendous power to influence me. I think of those that passed on their love for studying Scripture. There were others who were encouraging when I doubted my academic abilities. Then there were those that told me Christian faith was about acting a particular way. They said the Bible’s main purpose was to tell us how to live, rather than reveal Christ. There are passages in Scripture, such as Proverbs and Psalm 119, that I struggle to read today because the only message I hear in them is, “Christians live like this,” without hearing alongside them the grace and love of God that invites us into life with Him. Teachers have had the power to shape my life by passing down their love and encouragement, but also their misunderstandings of the Christian faith. Some of them demonstrated how to flourish in God’s good world while others passed on an understanding of faith primarily rooted in anxiety and fear.
When students are in my classroom, I have the power to shape how they understand the Christian faith. Even when our course material is not explicitly about Scripture and other faith issues, how I use my authority in the classroom influences how my students understand God's use of His authority. Part of how I endeavor to reflect God’s character is to use my students’ names as often as possible. I want them to know that they are recognized and valued for who they are. I have seen the faces of new students light up when they realize I already know and remember their name. Using their name shows them they have value to me and they have value to the God who made them.
Yet there are other times I fear I undermine my attempts to show them they are recognized and valued, particularly while teaching Math. I have split classes and usually find myself anxiously endeavoring to teach two different Math lessons over the course of a single period. I find myself rushing past confused expressions in order to cover the material or, when a student raises his or her hand to ask a clarifying question, saying, “Put your hands down. Follow along and pay attention.” Once I have covered the material, I feel more freedom to take time with students and answer questions. Yet for several minutes, I find myself using my power to brush aside their individual learning styles merely to cover the curriculum.
As I look at how I run my classroom, I wonder how it will translate to pastoral ministry. A congregation is larger than a Christian school classroom and will require more time and attention to learn everyone’s name, let alone show them recognition and attention. In the bustle from one meeting to another and finding time for sermon prep, I fear the temptation to brush aside the individual needs and concerns of congregants will only increase. I want to utilize my classroom to prepare me for the temptation, yet I also find myself at a loss for spiritual disciplines that deal with this particular area.