Back to school amid trauma and division

Unsplash/Kelly Sikkema
Unsplash/Kelly Sikkema

Going back to school looks a lot different in 2021. Your child’s first day of school outfit probably includes a matching mask. That awkward, super-posed photo that we all make our kids take by the front door will likely get posted on social media instead of the refrigerator. And given everything that the world has experienced over the past 18 months, the school environment your children will enter may feel more daunting than it did two years ago.

Though my own kids have grown past their “back to school” years, I understand the weight that this season can hold for parents. Our world is flooded with trauma, injustice, and division, and sending our kids back to school in the midst of this polarized cultural moment can feel a bit like we are sending them to the front lines of war. Will our kids be able to withstand the cultural pressures they face in the classroom? Are they equipped to navigate the conversations about current events that they will inevitably have with their peers? For many parents, these questions provoke an underlying sense of worry. If only setting our kids up for success at school felt as straightforward as the ruler floating around at the bottom of their backpacks!

However, even as we can all acknowledge the very real challenges that our kids may face as they begin the school year, we can also recognize this as an opportunity. That’s right. An opportunity. This is an opportunity for us to teach our children cultural discernment so that they can engage the world from a Kingdom perspective. This is an opportunity for our children to grow into more resilient followers of Jesus. And lastly, it is an opportunity for them to step confidently into their identities as difference-making disciples, carrying the radical and hope-filled message of Jesus into their school hallways, classrooms, and locker rooms.

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In Romans 12:2, we are instructed not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we may understand the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Just because our children are young does not mean that they cannot adopt this kind of mentality. They have the Holy Spirit, after all! The discernment of the Holy Spirit helps us to cut through the cultural noise and understand what is good and holy… and what is empty and divisive.

So much of what our world is trying to do – especially in the post-Christian paradigm – is to create a thriving society without God. Our society is trying to create its own disciples! But true reconciliation and true hope can only be ascertained with the authority of King Jesus.

As their parents, we need to teach our children what it looks like to become difference-making disciples of Jesus. It looks like something. It looks like learning to listen to God’s voice. It looks like participating in the spiritual disciplines and being formed into Jesus’ likeness. It looks like engaging the cultural issues of our day from a Kingdom perspective. It looks like understanding who we are as children of God and walking in authority and radical servanthood so that we can raise up other disciples.

In our current cultural moment, it is far more common to be discipled by a screen than it is to be discipled by Jesus. The ambition for those discipled by the screen in influence, while the aim for those discipled by Jesus is humility and servanthood. Jesus, though he was in the form of God, humbled himself to serve the world by dying on our behalf (Philippians 2:8). While I am not suggesting that the digital world should be demonized or that social media is inherently bad, I am suggesting that we need to help our kids filter the countless voices and cultural devices that are vying for their attention.

Importantly, teaching our children to become difference-making disciples will not prevent them from being exposed to challenging ideas or hardships. And that is okay! The goal of Christianity is not to hide, and the goal of Christianity is not to stay comfortable. Disciples of Jesus need to be resilient. To be “resilient” means to be flexible and to be able to withstand pressure. Just like a rubber band, people who demonstrate resilience are able to be pulled and stretched without breaking. Resilience helps people navigate the unexpected adversity that life brings, and it is a key ingredient for followers of Jesus.

How do we teach our children resilience as they go back to school? Perhaps[1] the most obvious answer is that we equip them with the Word of God, teaching them about Biblical heroes like Daniel who rose to prominence in a godless society while refusing to compromise, even in the face of death. I love the idea of creating a worshipful environment in the mornings before school. Turning on worship music in the living room and creating a space for the entire family to do their private devotions is a great way to encourage your kids to get filled up with the Bible before launching into the day. As they watch you do this consistently, they are more likely to be inclined to participate!

Another way we can teach our children to be resilient disciples is by helping them to process honestly. As they navigate questions and pressures and hardships, we need to be there for them. We need to create a safe space in our homes for intentional conversations around the hardships that they face. One idea I recommend is creating a list of questions to ask around the dinner table that will help your children open up. They can be creative, such as “if your day were a color, which one would it be, and why?” Another one I like is “what was your favorite conversation you had today? Which was your least favorite?” These questions may lead to opportunities to speak into the things your children are processing underneath the surface.

As you send your kids back to school this year, I pray that your heart is full of courage rather than fear. You get to pastor your children into loving Jesus more this year. And as a disciple of Jesus, yourself, you have a model for how to train your children. And if you aren’t parents, I encourage you to pray. Pray for students, pray for teachers and school administrators, and pray for parents. Going back to school may look a lot different this year, but God’s grace is sufficient for us, and we can place our hope in that truth.

might be cool for him to add or you to suggest practical things he did with his kids to do this. or practical things he did when he was a youth pastor.

Miles McPherson is the Senior Pastor of the Rock Church in San Diego. He is also a motivational speaker and author. McPherson's latest book “The Third Option” speaks out about the pervasive racial divisions in today’s culture and argues that we must learn to see people not by the color of their skin, but as God sees them—humans created in the image of God.


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