Updated: Nov 2, 2022
By Keith Wysner
In this article as a primary school headteacher, Keith Wysner encourages his Christian peers, who lead in schools of any type, to continue to respond to the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20.
Across the world, formal education often developed from Christian philanthropy and organised missionary work. In Ireland formal education grew from the “Hedge Schools” and schools formed by the churches prior to the National Schools were established by the British Government in Ireland in 1831.
As a Christian in Northern Ireland, I feel it’s a blessing and privilege to lead my children and staff in bible reading, worship and praise during the school day in an establishment founded on Christian values. Yet as the principal of also a government controlled school; I also recognise that it is every family’s right to have a faith or none and for their children to feel an equally valued and welcome member of our learning community.
Our children can only aspire to what they know exists in the spiritual world as well as the academic, commercial and employment worlds. It’s our role as Christian leaders, I feel, therefore to help inspire and equip our learners with the spiritual and academic armour needed to succeed in the current and future world around them.
Never before has our globe felt so small; with improved transport links we can be almost anywhere within 24 hours and improvements in communication and social media keep us in contact with our friends, family and colleagues on the other side of the world almost more than we talk to our next door neighbours. I listen to church sermons in Christchurch, New Zealand more than I tend to listen to those from churches in Ballymoney where I live. All of this reinforces the feeling that we really do prepare our children to be truly global citizens.
As school leaders it is incumbent upon us therefore to develop our learners and to give them the knowledge, skills and talents that will put before them as many ‘doors of opportunity’ as possible. These opportunities will allow our children to develop their own faith and values; follow the path that God has planned for them and help them to become well rounded and balanced individuals who are a blessing to our society or the future community that they will live and work in. Fundamentally for our children who are, or will become, Christians and make a commitment of faith we hope that they too will answer Jesus’s Great Commission and will go into the world and make disciples of all nations.
As Christians it is a privilege to work in education in Northern Ireland and to be able to live out our faith in a relatively open and meaningful way. Apart from the obvious church and christian sector organisations, Education in Northern Ireland, remains one sector of employment still generally comfortable with employees demonstrating their faith in at least moderate ways. I have friends who work in global finance, retail and local health and they feel overt expressions of faith are often tabooed; or at very least Christian views and practices like prayer need to be covertly expressed or demonstrated for fear of complaint from colleagues, customers or line managers. We as school leaders have consent to read from the bible, to pray with our children and staff, to refer to Christian values and to worship the wonderful God who made us all so perfectly in his image.
The fact that we are Christian leaders in schools is a blessing from God and something we all probably prayed about prior to applying for the post and yet it is not without its challenges. Being so close to God and children with so much potential is a threat to the world and we should anticipate challenge. Challenge from non-Christians, Christians with differing views and even individuals who are being used by evil to weaken Christ’s place in our lives and in our School as the Lamb of God, Saviour of the World and Prince of Peace. Why as servants of God, attempting to fulfil the Great Commission would we not come under threat? Next to our children’s parents we are the most influential adults in their lives with most hope of influencing their life choices including following God’s teaching and asking Christ into their lives.
These challenges will most likely not come as obvious criticisms of our faith under a huge neon sign saying “DEVIL AT WORK”. More often than not they will come from ourselves, Christians and non Christians alike and will come as challenges to our professionalism, character and moral fibre, as these are the bedrocks of our profession and therefore the foundation that evil needs to undermine from beneath us. We therefore need to underpin the bedrocks of our profession with the ultimate bedrock, our love of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ. Do not leave your faith in the glove box of your car each morning. Take Jesus with you into your school. Invite the Holy Spirit to walk the corridors, reside in the classrooms and to bless all the teachings and conversations that will take place each day. Pray for the challenges in school knowing they are not insurmountable to God, pray with an expectant heart and you will be richly blessed.
Keith is Principal of Whiteabbey Primary School, Jordanstown, County Antrim. firstname.lastname@example.org