Students as Image Bearers and the Local Church

Instruction at MTR revolves around a set of “maturities,” or skills, attributes, and understandings that MTR expects all of its teachers to demonstrate effectiveness in. The very first maturity, out of the nearly 60, is “Students as Image Bearers”; clearly, it is foundational to what we believe here at MTR. Among many things, seeing students as image bearers of God means viewing them as whole persons, instead of separating their school self from the rest of their life. Each student is inextricably connected to their experiences with their families, communities, and whatever other spheres they have been a part of. As teachers, it is easy for us just to get to know their school side, but there is so much more to them; on top of that, if we fail to see how their experiences outside of school impact them in the classroom, we fail to be compassionate, and are more likely to coldly blame them for baggage that they bring with them into our precious classroom, instead of considering how to love them and show them grace. 

I would say most teachers at MTR understand and buy into the idea of students as image bearers, and this belief is heavily emphasized from the beginning of the residency year, but putting this belief to work is much easier said than done. But it is possible, through deliberate and persistent effort. I believe one of the best (but by no means the only) areas to focus this effort is through local churches, for three reasons:

First, part of understanding students as image bearers involves understanding them in the context of their communities, and what better way to get to know a community than to worship in those neighborhoods with local residents? There is a lot of pride in each individual Memphis neighborhood, and many churches dedicate themselves to serving God in that particular context – in other words, focusing ministry in one neighborhood instead of trying to serve all of Memphis. This means that there are churches just a couple of blocks away from our schools, committed to serving the exact same children that we are. By going to church in the same neighborhood as our schools, we can become better acquainted with the communities that our students are a part of, and can join our church’s work in serving and restoring that community (on top of possibly going to church with our students!). So in school, when a student is upset or angry, we are more likely to understand causes for that attitude or behavior because we might have more of an understanding of their community context, and can use that understanding to be more gentle and compassionate in the classroom.

Second, in addition to gaining a fuller knowledge of our students as whole persons, by investing in churches we also can actually serve them as whole persons too. Tim Johnson, the pastor at The Avenue Community Church in the Heights neighborhood, once said that seeing our students in glory is far greater than anything we will teach them in our classrooms. Obviously in our schools we can’t do much in that regard, but in our churches we can. Most churches also partner with or support other organizations whose mission is to minister to students, and by collaborating with each other, they can reach the same students and provide multiple touchpoints in numerous areas of their lives. Through being part of that network we can point students to after-school programs, mentors, and other events that will serve them in ways that we can’t.

Finally, by investing in local churches we can get to know, among many different people, MTR graduates and alumni who wrestle with and have more wisdom in these things. Through our churches, we are reminded that we’re not alone – not only is God with us, He has also given us a community of other believers, including teachers, to walk alongside us. As the author of Hebrews reminds us after reflecting on the faithfulness of saints in the past, we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) who have gone before us in faith and are available to us. I go to church with a couple from the very first MTR class; what an amazing opportunity to learn from them and see their model of faithfulness and love for their students as whole persons!

-Will Lattner, Class of 2020