The end of summer means the end of pool parties, water parks, staying up late and sleeping in. But nothing signals the end of summer like the trumpet call of the first day of school. Some kids anticipate it. Some kids dread it. Some kids will be up at 5:00 AM with their backpacks on ready to go. Others will have to be wrestled out of bed by both mom and dad. The start of a new school year means a return to a brutal routine of carpool, practices, and homework. A new school year strikes different parents in different ways. For some, dropping their babies off on the first day of kindergarten is incredibly painful. It’s a stage of maturity they just aren’t ready for. Still others are glad to get back into a consistent routine.
Regardless, the school year is here and off to school the kids will go. With their “Ahh, Mom!” cries and their teenage “Ugh!” they will go to school. My wife and I are young parents. Our son Jude is 15 months-old and our second son is due to be born in September. I wonder what it will be like to send Jude and his brother to school on that first day. What I wonder more than anything is if my wife and I will be able to send them to school on that first day and every first day to follow with anything more than the emotions going through their little hearts. For the Christian parent, there is much we can send with them to school other than a new backpack and some new shoes. We can send them with a new perspective made possible by the One who is making all things new.
With that in mind, I want to share three pieces of gospel-centered advice for the Christian parent to send with their kids as they embark on a new school year. These three pieces of advice are not limited to elementary students. They are for the little girl on her first day of kindergarten and the too-cool-for-school teenager on his last first day.
1. Respect the God-given authority of your teachers
All authority comes from God. Instead of giving a moralistic order to your child like, “You better be good for your teacher this year!” you could say something much better like, “Remember, your teacher is in charge and God has given her the authority. Obey her because you want to obey God.
But also, help your kids to see how severely they and their classmates rebel against God-given authority. It is impossible for them to follow every single school rule. Remind them it is the same with God. We break his rules and reject his authority. The great hope of the gospel is that Jesus perfectly obeyed his authority in our place. He never broke God’s rules. His righteousness was spotless. And this spotless Lamb went to the slaughter for us. Dying in our place, he was punished for all our rebellion.
2. Treat your classmates with the dignity they deserve as divine image-bearers
Don’t offer your child a moralistic motivation for respecting his classmates. Instead, motivate your child to treat his classmates with dignity because they are fellow image-bearers of God. God created all children in the class in his own image. When your child harms another child physically or emotionally, he is attacking the image of God.
But also help your children see that the image of God is broken and distorted. This is why some kids bully others. Even though they are created in God’s image, they (like all of us) have rejected the image of God and are a poor picture of his glory. The good news of the gospel for your child and every child they encounter in the school from bully to best friend is that Jesus Christ came to earth to restore the image of God. He is the perfect divine image-bearer. Where we present a broken image of God, Jesus offers a perfect image of God. Your child’s hope for identity, belonging, and acceptance are found not in belittling others or the approval of others, but in the work of Jesus in their place.
3. View every moment as eternally significant
Finally, kids often see school as a total waste of time. The older they get, the worse this problem becomes. It’s as if they gain enough experience in the world of school and realize it is not that important at all, but surely not as important as their teachers and parents claim it is.
But from a Christian worldview, we can safely say every moment in school matters. Because Christ has died and risen from the dead, he is the rightful King, Lord, and future Judge of the entire world. He has authority over every square inch and every millisecond. Christians have the distinct undeserved privilege of being united to this sovereign Lord. Because of this, every moment at school should be lived coram Deo (before the face of God). Jesus demands and empowers our obedience to him at every single moment. He makes every second, frustrating subject, boring Math lesson, and big project count for something huge. Jesus gives eternal significance to every moment of every day, even on the worst day of school.
I am praying for all school systems and schools, including all principals, teachers, staff, students, and parents, as the new school year begins. I pray Christian parents would send their children to school with gospel lenses to rightly view their school life and leverage their position for the sake of the gospel.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (Westbow Press, 2016). He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.