A Season Well Spent
We are called to faithfulness, not effectiveness. This stands out in a field as data driven as urban education. It flies in the face of the Protestant work ethic. And honestly it just makes me feel uneasy. Why would God call faithful servants to ministries that appear fruitless for His kingdom? Isn’t a successful ministry a sign of God being with me? Or the question that inevitably flows from frustration: how can I invest so much of myself in this work and seem to make so little of a difference?
Reality colliding with the world of ideals is an ugly ordeal. That collision is guaranteed in almost any new season of life—going to college, falling in love, or getting your first job. The challenges of the reality behind the neatly packaged title almost always end up punching holes in the idealized version of reality. Urban education has been no different.
The month of October did the honors of punching my romanticized version of urban education in the face. October has earned a name for itself as the most notorious month of the residency year. It seems to be a combination of equal parts dismantled idealism and skills – seeing enough by this point to know that there is no quick fix for the profound problems of the system, yet still developing the resiliency and toolbox of a veteran teacher. It’s a tough tension to live in.
I came in knowing that schools were challenged and many students were not achieving at their grade levels, but seeing with my own eyes the extent to which my high school juniors struggled to construct a coherent paragraph, pronounce words like “rebellion”, or comprehend a cause-and-effect relationship was astounding. The results from my history classes’ first big exam were deeply disheartening–some students did very well on the test, but many of my kids didn’t pass it. I had spent the last two months of my life doing my best to convey the material in an accessible way, but a lot of my students hadn’t engaged with the information in a meaningful way. I began to question my efforts, my effectiveness, and the reason I was even teaching at all if I wasn’t getting the results my students needed.
It was in these feelings of failure and frustration that the Lord began to open my eyes to the types of ministries he gave to his servants in the Bible, ministries that didn’t pay off, at least not right away, in the ways people expected. In a story from Acts, Paul and Silas are miraculously broken out of jail in Phillipi by an earthquake. Oddly, though, they choose to stay in their cell for the good of the jailer, who was about to take his own life because he had failed in his job of keeping the prisoners secure.
If Paul and Silas had been primarily concerned with efficiency and effectiveness in what they understood their mission to be, they would have left that jailer in the dust and boarded the next ship for a new city that needed to hear about Jesus. Instead, they stuck around. They kept a bigger picture in mind and did not begin to worry when their idea of what God’s call should look like in their life no longer matched up with reality. In the process, the jailer and his family were converted before Paul and Silas continued on their way.
Even though Paul and Silas undoubtedly felt the pressure of reaching the largest amount of people possible, they did not appear in a hurry. They valued the people they were with, even if that meant sitting in jail for an extra day or two. They understood their call to make disciples of all the world, yet they were patient in the situations that seemingly delayed them from accomplishing their mission. In Philippi, that patience simply sounded like the melody of a familiar hymn floating through the halls of a jail.
So, even in the moments of teaching that seem so fruitless, on the days where it seems like no child will ever show signs of improvement, and on the days where you wonder if God is still with you, remember the joyful sound of the melody sung by two men in a dark prison cell years ago. Listen closely for the sound that those faithful to God’s call have made throughout the ages. It is a sound of restfulness and peace running directly against the exacting culture of efficiency and results. For our confidence does not lie foremost in our effectiveness as teachers, but in our faithfulness to Christ’s call on our lives. And we can be confident that when following the call of our Father, every season, even seasons where growth is not immediately visible, is a season well spent.