When I was a youth minister in college, I had a youth group of 12. I absolutely loved those kids. Still do! (even though the youngest of them is now 26, married, and has a daughter!).
I would visit those kids at their schools, eat lunch with them, go to their football and basketball games, help them study for their exams, and otherwise celebrate and try to positively influence their lives as students…
For 10 years after college, I got to work with one of the greatest para-church youth ministries in the whole wide world, and our entire program revolved around kids’ schools: we led peer-mentoring programs and Bible-based character education presentations at every middle and high school that would welcome us (which was almost all of them!).
I cherished these jobs, and I had the privilege to be a part of some amazing, transformative ministry in kids’ lives throughout those years.
But the reality is, kids aren’t required to go to church and be in youth groups. Kids are not required to join Christian clubs where their spirits can be nurtured and their identities can be formulated with truth and love.
But every kid in America is required by law to get an education. Every kid has to go to school. And be taught. By a teacher.
- 49.8 million (88%) attend public schools
- 5.3 million (9.4%) attend private schools
- 1.5 million (2.6%) are homeschooled
Now, I don’t want to discredit the invaluable work of private school teachers and homeschooling parents in the least bit (our family has benefited greatly from both!), but just look at those statistics for public schools:
88% of the 4-18 year-olds in the U.S. – 49.5 million kids – attend public schools!
In my view, that puts public schools among the greatest mission fields in America!
Our country has a total population of more than 315 million people2. 49.5 million of them spend 8-10 hours each day in the care of public school teachers. That’s 15.7% – almost 1 out of every 6 Americans – that is spending 40-50 hours each week in direct contact with and under the direct influence of America’s public school teachers.
Do you feel a potential call on your life to missions work, but maybe not to foreign missions? Do you have a heart for kids? Any interest in education? Maybe God’s call on your life is to faithfully serve the kids or teens in your hometown by teaching in the local public school system.
A quick personal story: when I recommitted my life to Christ at age 17 – when I really asked Jesus to be the Lord of every part of my life – one of the first people I told was my 12th-grade English teacher. The very next day, she brought me a book that became one of my first significant Bible study resources. She wrote a prayer of blessing on the inside flap and prayed for me. This woman had been ministering to me for the past 3 years of high school – not evangelizing, not proselytizing – but living out her Christian life before me and my classmates in a non-intrusive, non-invasive way – but also in a non-ignorable way.
Her love for Jesus was obvious, and the way she taught us was saturated with a love that was far deeper than mere books or information or personal betterment. Her classroom was her mission field, and her life lived before us and her love for her students were her ministry tools.
I understand the separation of church and state. I get that you can’t pray with kids and talk about Jesus and recommend the Bible in public school.
But you can surrender your career as a teacher (and as a coach, if you add that to your teaching duties!) to the Spirit of Christ living within you. And when you start to teach and lead and influence and love your students the way Jesus does, you will transform their present and their future, forever.
1/6th of America is sitting in a public school classroom right now. If God is calling you to missions in America, there is a 15.7% chance that He may be calling you to teach (and maybe coach?) at a public school near you.
2 United States Census Bureau, “US and World Population Clock”, accessed online at http://www.census.gov/popclock/ on August 13, 2013.