Clay Pot—California, USA
Editor’s note: Learning a new skill has never been easier—there are countless how-to guides and online videos offering guidance on almost any task or endeavor imaginable. However, when it comes to serving God, there is no guide better than God’s inspiration—His word and His Spirit. With God’s guidance, we need not worry, but entering any ministry unfamiliar to us can be daunting. In the Holy Work Series, we look at various ministries, duties, and roles within the church and ask experienced workers to offer practical advice for carrying out these works and, more importantly, to outline the spirit we should have. We hope these guides will benefit both beginner and experienced workers alike.
When we think of a good religious education (RE) teacher, we may have in mind someone who makes ample preparations before class or is filled with love and regularly visits students and communicates with parents. Perhaps we may think of someone who is a prayer warrior, constantly making intercession for the students or someone who diligently searches God’s word before teaching. We may also think of those whose lives are marked by gentleness and humility.
Yet when we look at ourselves as RE teachers, we feel far removed from these descriptions. Instead, we see ourselves as inadequate, insignificant, or powerless, with limited knowledge or confidence to impart God’s word, much less to correct our students’ misbehavior. However, God uses each of us for His good purpose; if He has called us to teach, we should trust that He will also help us do the work properly.
Gideon’s character teaches us many lessons about being called to serve God.
Now the Angel of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth tree which was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon threshed wheat in the winepress, in order to hide it from the Midianites. And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him, and said to him, “The LORD is with you, you mighty man of valor!”
Gideon said to Him, “O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.”
Then the LORD turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?”
So he said to Him, “O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” (Judg 6:11–15)
When God first called Gideon, Gideon’s immediate response was to question His presence, using words such as “if”, “why”, “where”, “but”, “how”, and “forsaken.” He continued to express doubt by saying, “Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” and by asking God for a sign (Judg 6:15, 17). Gideon was not sure if God was with him, and he thought he could not do the job.
GO IN THIS MIGHT OF YOURS. HAVE I NOT SENT YOU?
Thankfully for Gideon and for us, God does not give way to our fears or inadequacies. He reassured Gideon, “The LORD is with you, you mighty man of valor!” (Judg 6:12), “Go in this might of yours. …Have I not sent you?” (Judg 6:14), and “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man” (Judg 6:16). God encouraged Gideon many times, just as He always encourages us.
Whatever strength Gideon had was enough; God would handle the rest. God knew Gideon could do the work because God Himself had sent him, and He would give Gideon the power to do what he needed to do. The same is true for RE teachers.
God never calls someone to serve in the ministry and then leaves that person alone in the dark. If God calls us to serve as an RE teacher, He will be with us. God told Moses, “I will certainly be with you” (Ex 3:12), and promised him, “I will teach you what you shall do” (Ex 4:15). All we have to do is give our best with the strength God has given us. When we prepare a lesson, we do it to the best of our ability. When we teach, we tell the story from our hearts and trust the Holy Spirit to touch our students’ lives. As long as we rely on Him, God will empower us to be effective teachers.
GIDEON—A MIGHTY MAN OF VALOR
When God first called Gideon, He called him a “mighty man of valor.” From Gideon’s responses, we can infer that he did not consider himself a mighty warrior. Gideon was functioning out of fear, insecurity, and doubt. He said that not only was he the least of his family, but his clan was the least of the tribe—he was the least of the least. He saw himself as the worst player on the weakest team, yet the Angel of the Lord bestowed on him the title “mighty man of valor.” Gideon later lived up to that name when he faced the Midianite army with a mere three hundred men at his side. What teachings can we learn from this?
Viewing Ourselves from God’s Perspective
When we lack confidence, it is easy to believe that we cannot do much. However, if God calls us to serve Him, we should learn to see ourselves from His perspective. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” We may be dissatisfied with traits that we cannot change—perhaps we wish we were more eloquent or better able to handle challenging students—but we should remember that God made us the way we are, for His purpose.
How do you see yourself? Do you look at yourself in the mirror and see only your flaws? It is easy to have high expectations of ourselves, but these expectations are often based solely on society’s standards. God sees us differently. He wants us to focus on what He has given us. Maybe He has made us kind, faithful, teachable, or a good listener. Perhaps we are adept at seeing when others are struggling in their faith or at ministering to the needy. Yet, we can easily forget or even overlook these God-given abilities when we focus on our perceived flaws or view ourselves using societal norms.
Whether we are veterans or novices in the RE ministry, we could be hiding in our winepress out of despair or frustration. As RE teachers, we are, in fact, mighty men of valor, and God has seen our potential long before we see it. When we have this newfound understanding, we can go forward with the “might” we already have. This might, or strength, is the promise of God’s presence through the power of the Holy Spirit. In Judges 6:34, we learn that “the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon.” Imagine the power that God has given us, allowing us to do whatever He asks of us!
Furthermore, Jesus Christ told us that we “shall receive power (ability, efficiency, and might) when the Holy Spirit has come upon [us]” (Acts 1:8 AMPC). God is reminding us that we are mighty men of valor, so we can “go in this might of [ours]” (Judg 6:14). God will enable us to accomplish tasks that we cannot do on our own.
Knocking Down Our Baals
After calling Gideon, the first thing God commanded him to do was to destroy the altar dedicated to Baal. This was a test of Gideon’s faith, commitment, and obedience. It is also a reminder that we must first remove the idols from our hearts before serving God. What could be a possible idol in our hearts? Is it pride? Pride can result in disobedience to the church’s authority. Is it lust? Even Christians can be addicted to lustful thoughts and actions. Is it a physical idol? Maybe our minds are filled more with our achievements than with God’s power in our life. Perhaps we value leisure or personal comfort more than our service to God.
To knock down our Baals means that we must be willing to remove idols or sin from within ourselves and fully submit to His calling. If we do so, then God will work with us. Therefore, the first step to serving God is not starting the work itself. It is the tearing down of idols in our lives. Only then can we fulfill the service that God requires of us.
The seven members appointed to oversee the daily distribution in the apostolic church were chosen because they were known to be “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3). Likewise, RE teachers must be of good character and repute. All sin is rebellion against God, and some sins have a serious impact on members’ suitability to be RE teachers. Teachers should set an example for the students and the congregation. What Baals in our lives do we need to destroy?
God Is Gracious—He Will Build Up Our Trust in Him
After God called Gideon, the Midianites and the Amalekites joined forces against Israel. Gideon had to lead the Israelite army to fight. But before he did so, Gideon wanted a sign from God. His heart was full of doubt, both in God’s power and in himself. The Lord graciously confirmed His presence and power to cultivate Gideon’s faith. This way, Gideon would learn to trust and rely on God, despite his fears and worries.
After we have removed the idols from our hearts, the next step is to build up our faith, trust, and reliance on God. God wants us to trust Him. When He first calls us, it is natural to have doubts, fears, or even mistrust, making us hesitant to commit to His work. It is easy to doubt our skills or worry over our assigned tasks. This is because we have yet to develop a relationship with God.
We need to teach our students to trust in God. But how can we do this if we barely trust God ourselves, or if we do not believe His promises, or have endless worries about our future? Albeit challenging, trusting God is a critical component in our relationship with Him. God expects us to depend on Him totally. He desires that we acknowledge His presence in our lives, moment by moment, day by day.
Relying on God’s Power
As if to magnify Gideon’s doubts and fears, God ordered him to reduce his army's size by over thirty thousand soldiers (Judg 7:1–8), leaving him with a mere three hundred men. Meanwhile, the Bible describes the Midianite army as being “as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the seashore in multitude” (Judg 7:12). Can you visualize the difference in numbers between the armies? God wanted to ensure that the Israelites did not claim glory for a victory that belonged to Him. He wanted them to remember His power. This is especially apparent in the way He defeated the enemy.
When the Midianite army heard the horns and the smashing of jars and saw the sudden flare of torch fires, they turned on one another before fleeing in defeat. Because of God’s power, the Israelites did not have to lift a finger to fight. All they had to do was obey Gideon’s orders and stand firm with courage and faith. God did the rest for them.
Serving as an RE teacher is never easy. There are moments when we are stressed by students’ misconduct, classroom conflicts, or spiritual battles at home. Such moments make us confused, overwhelmed, terrified, frustrated, weary, or desperate for relief. During such storms and crises, teachers can become stuck. But it is also in those moments that we can rely on God’s power through prayer, by asking the Holy Spirit to intercede for us with groanings too deep for words (Rom 8:26). We can depend on Him to help us walk that extra mile with our students. By drawing closer to Him, we approach His throne of grace to find mercy in our time of need (Heb 4:16). When we rely on God’s power, His strength is made perfect in our weakness so that the power of Christ may rest on us (2 Cor 12:9–10). In the same way, God forced Gideon to rely on Him by reducing the size of Gideon’s army.
On the other hand, if we are intelligent, talented, or gifted in teaching, we may forget God and rely on ourselves. Depending entirely on our own resources, we may be serving out of pride rather than out of faith. If this is the case, we may not accomplish anything at the end of the day. On the contrary, God promises us that for those who fully depend on Him, He will do “exceedingly and abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph 3:20). God is all-powerful, and His wisdom and understanding are limitless. We need to learn to trust in God’s power and not our own. When we do that, God is willing to help us, and He will accomplish greater things than we could ever do on our own.
RE teachers play a vital role in the church. An RE teacher has to teach future generations about God's existence, His relationship with His people, and how to live by His commandments. Like Gideon, we may feel insignificant, unremarkable, or powerless in the face of such a crucial task. But God uses everyone for His good purpose, and we should trust that if He has called us to serve Him, He will also help us do the job properly.
Let us remember that God is not looking for a perfect servant; instead, He is looking for an obedient servant. To serve Him, all we have to do is destroy the Baals in our lives, serve with the strength that we have, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and trust fully in His power. Then we will be able to become the mighty warriors of God, full of valor and able to defeat even the greatest armies through God’s power in the RE ministry.
We have been unable to conduct our RE ministry during the pandemic as we had before, with regular face-to-face contact with our students and our co-workers. Remote learning and virtual classrooms have enabled us to carry on with our weekly lessons, but our screens are a barrier to showing our unspoken love and concern, making it much harder to build strong spiritual bonds with our students.
During the USGA’s RE coordinators’ workshop in 2020, the workers brainstormed some practical ideas for strengthening teacher-student relationships during periods of remote learning, all of which will still be just as useful when we return to physical classrooms.
Teachers can show love and concern through doorstep or driveway visitations and dropping off care packages for each family, especially those struggling financially during the pandemic. Home-baked treats are also an excellent way to boost the spirits.
We can also nurture a loving heart within the students by asking the younger ones to make care packages for senior students away at college or university and for all students to write letters and cards to the elderly members.
It is vital to set up regular online prayers for all RE teachers, students, and their families. Breakout rooms can be used for each class to share prayer requests before praying as a group in the main room. With technology, the possibilities for online fellowships are endless: monthly lunch fellowships, Bible trivia nights using Quizlet Live or Kahoot!, regular combined fellowships for all classes, combined fellowships or special classes with other local churches, and so on. However, we cannot underestimate the social and mental health benefits of meeting in person. If there is a chance to meet your students outdoors, it is an excellent opportunity to hold fellowships, go hiking, or do other fun activities.
Here is a further selection of ideas for each class:
Kindergarten (4–5 years old)
For young students, parental support is vital. One good idea is to teach memory verse songs during class, which are also shared with parents to sing with their children during the week. Another idea is to have a fellowship session with students, parents, and teachers. Start with hymn singing before splitting into a parent breakout room for discussion and a student breakout room for art and craft activities, such as making a prayer jar or doing a step-by-step drawing activity. Consider dropping off or mailing resources for RE activities so that all students are using the same materials.
Elementary 1 (6–8 years old)
At this age, we can administer homework through programs and apps such as Seesaw, LINE, ClassDojo, or Google Classroom. Students can also submit videos of themselves reciting memory verses. A weekly Bible reading and prayer meeting for class students and teachers, lasting around thirty minutes, can increase class bonding.
During lessons, whether virtual or in-person, the students can each contribute to a group craft project, such as a wall poster or photo collage. They can also take turns choosing which hymn to sing and sharing why they chose it.
Elementary 2 (9–11 years old)
To increase engagement, teachers can use Google Docs or Google Jamboard for sharing during fellowships. One idea is for all students to work together to draw the meaning of a memory verse using Jamboard, which means students can work on it at different times. We can administer homework through Google Forms.
At this age, students can participate in virtual testimony fellowships and weekly lunchtime prayer sessions separated into brother and sister groups. They can also be encouraged to create virtual hymn presentations, for which they individually record their voice parts as audio or video to be later layered together. Sending one-to-one messages is also an excellent way to keep up with their school lives and allow them to share their problems, opening a path for teachable moments.
Junior 1 (12–14 years old)
In addition to the practical advice for younger classes, we can encourage students in this age range to become more spiritually proactive. Set up a shared weekly prayer request list and a nightly Bible reading, sharing, and prayer meeting via Zoom. One student per week can share encouragement or reflection via your class chat group. Get them to think about participating in holy work by assigning them small class projects, such as designing an evangelical theme and promotional materials.
Junior 2 (15–17 years old)
Teachers need to develop a close relationship with students during these difficult years of mental, physical, social, and spiritual development. Each teacher can be assigned a few students to look after and schedule weekly one-to-one catch-ups and prayers with. A couple of teachers can combine their students into larger care groups, which can meet virtually for Bible sharing and prayer before Friday night Sabbath services.
Senior (18+ years old)
To help build their spiritual independence as they transition out of the RE system and into adulthood, encourage students to join campus fellowships, and make a point of joining with them. Continue to set up weekly evening prayers to share about their week and give prayer requests. To help establish spiritual companionship within their peer group, set up casual post-Sabbath online fellowships using fun multiplayer game platforms (such as Jackbox Games) and Zoom.
 Scripture quotation taken from the Amplified® Bible (AMPC). Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. www.lockman.org.