I’m sitting in front of a public school classroom teaching the Bible to about 20 students in what Americans would call “fifth grade.” I chat with them about their spring break activities. “How many of you went to church on Easter Sunday,” I ask. One lone hand goes up.
At present many New Zealand schools allow one half hour per week of Christian Religious Education in the first six grades. Teachers come from the various churches in town. In some cases there are no teachers so the school doesn’t run the program. Families who don’t want their children to attend can opt out of the program. Most students, however, stay in the classroom. This is a time to teach Bible stories along with core values such as “loving your neighbour, personal worth, courage, inclusion and forgiveness.”
For many years I avoided teaching what is commonly called, “Bible in Schools.” Teachers aren’t allowed to talk about sin or hell or controversial topics. We aren’t allowed to “proselytize.” We can talk about being sorry for wrong things we have done. We could encourage kids to “pray to God and ask him to forgive you,” but we can’t counsel with them personally and make sure they understand salvation. In the past, given the limitations, I preferred to teach kids in our church setting instead, where I could say whatever I wanted to.
I finally came to realize, however, that though the program has serious limitations, it does give opportunity to introduce children to Christian beliefs. Only a small percentage of New Zealanders attend any church. Many think people who go to church are really strange. You can sense skepticism in the questions the kids ask. “How do we know God is real? How do we know this is true? Where is God? How did He die?” I can be the teacher who helps them answer these heart questions. I can begin to build a foundation for their faith. I can be the warm, loving Christian that they get to know and remember. I can give them a glimpse of Christ and teach them that the Bible is reliable and credible. That’s a great beginning!
New Zealand may not allow the Bible to be taught in public schools for very long, but while we have this opportunity we want to use it to introduce children to Christ.