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Winning Souls, Lighting Fires

“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’ And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’ So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about 3,000 souls.” —Acts 2:38–40 esv

The same Spirit who brought 3,000 souls to faith that day works through us, so we can pass along the tongues of fire to our students. We are heirs of the church that began on Pentecost. The same Spirit who brought 3,000 souls to faith that day works through us, so we can pass along the tongues of fire to our students. We can show them how beautiful it is to live with Jesus.

I was blessed to meet Mr. Kwadwo Gyamfi, the executive director of LEA-Ghana, at the LEA National Administrators Conference in 2016. When he asked me to come to Ghana and present at their convocation in 2017, I never imagined it would actually happen. Honestly, I thought the idea was a bit crazy, but by God’s grace, with the support of the LCMS Michigan District, I made the journey and celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with them. It was an incredible blessing to spend those days with them and to worship together. Though thousands of miles normally separate us, the Spirit, our faith in Christ, and our love for the work of Lutheran schools unite us. This article is based on our workshop from that conference.

We have many academic goals in different subject areas for our students. Ultimately, we want them to be ready for the next step in their schooling, then to be ready for their career. With the push that many schools are making to start, complete, and use curriculum mapping, I think it’s time we begin to look at our faith-formation curriculum through the same lens as professional educators. I would argue that when it comes to faith formation, we have an even more important task than curriculum mapping for subjects like math and English language arts. The stakes are much higher, and the students are not waiting for a career they will work hard to begin. They’re already on the job as heirs of salvation.

Consider that the science that we employ as professional educators should also be applied to faith development.I began my teaching career as Voyages was being published and transitioned very smoothly to using One in Christ when it was published. I never gave it much thought. Concordia Publishing provides great resources for Lutheran schools, and I know there are a handful of people who work hard to develop the scope and sequence of the resources that many of us use in our religion classes. While there are shining examples of Lutheran schools who have very intentionally developed faith-formation curricula to supplant or come alongside CPH materials, I would guess that most people reading this article have not gone through that process and that most of us have not had the opportunity to put into writing what our specific learning goals are for our students when it comes to faith development. I invite you to consider that the science that we employ as professional educators should also be applied to faith development. Curriculum mapping along with standards-based grading and assessment could help our schools focus on our students’ faith development.

Begin with a student profile—a portrait of a graduate and define how we hope he or she could articulate, proclaim, demonstrate, and defend their faith.Let’s begin at the end. What do we want our students to know, think, and do when our time with them is done? What learning outcomes do we want to see? I believe we could begin with a student profile—a portrait of a graduate and define how we hope he or she could articulate, proclaim, demonstrate, and defend their faith. When we know what capabilities we want our graduates to have, we can create a list of standards to meet those goals. Perhaps it begins as a concept map, list, outline, or word cloud. Whatever process your faculty takes to determine the goals, I believe this would be an exercise that could reap an eternal harvest.

How will we know when they’re ready? How will we determine that they have accomplished our intentions? I assert that we should be intentional in our assessment, that we don’t shoot too high or low and that we aim at the right target. If our standard states that our students can defend their faith, but our test questions ask which person in the Bible said which quote, I say we’re shooting at the wrong target and asking the wrong questions. I don’t think that naming the speaker is a bad activity, only that it doesn’t test the stated learning outcome. We should develop assessments that directly test one skill at a time, whatever format that assessment may take.

How can we fit our students with the armor of God so they can stand firm in their faith? What methods, units, themes, and projects can develop the skills we want our students to have? Once we have the tasks we want them to complete for their assessment and the questions they should be able to answer, what do we need to teach them? Which Scripture lessons, characters, and themes do we need to read and study? What activities would help students develop and demonstrate mastery of the skills that we teach? I propose that we need to stay on topic while we’re doing that. Reinforcing other skills should be done intentionally, but we should also focus on one topic at a time as much as we can.

In faith development, I believe we should begin with the end in mind. We should establish standards, design tests, and then design lessons to teach the things that we wish to test. If we do this, we will lead our students in developing the foundational skills of developing faith that they can carry with them their whole lives. Maybe they’ll even write one of these articles one day about how their faith started growing at an early age and how much they now love teaching kids about Jesus.

Jonathan Kamin has served as teacher and principal of Lutheran schools in Illinois, Florida, Kansas, and Michigan over the past 17 years. He is currently teaching 1st and 2nd grade at St. Paul Lutheran School in Flint, Michigan. He is a graduate of Valparaiso University, SLED, and a Van Lunen Fellow. He has presented at local, district, national, and international conferences. Jonathan and his wife Emily have one son, Noah.

Photos © iStock/Steve Debenport, PeopleImages