On Having a Long Vision
Lots of faithful Christians are starting new endeavors. They’re homeschooling for the first time or part of a church plant or two years into launching a Classical Christian School or have moved their family to a new state to be among likeminded believers. All of that work is the kind that is exciting and daunting at the beginning but successful only over long years of diligent labor where the growth is often unperceivable.
Nick Duncan is a classical school Headmaster and a man who has been plodding well in the same direction for a long time. He has seen great success, he’s had real disappointment. What follows is a talk he recently gave to his faculty that we think will be an encouragement to moms and dads, pastors, business owners, pipe fitters, and all kinds of people up to stuff for God’s glory.
He gave us a version to share and we hope it will be an encouragement to your in your own plod.
I Corinthians 3:6-7 states, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (ESV)” Notice here how Paul assumes one thing about the work of the gospel while he explicitly states another. He assumes that God’s people will be sharing the gospel and trying to disciple their neighbor. He says, “I planted, Apollos watered…” He then goes on to explicitly state that only God can actually make a plant grow. He says, “God gave the growth.”
Both of these truths are essential to our having a proper vision of what it looks like to disciple those around us. I work at a classical Christian school in Tennessee and so “my neighbor” on a day to day basis are the students in my school. Even more intimately, my primary disciples are my three sons. My wife and I work hard to plant and water our sons’ souls in the hopes that God will one day make faith grow in them.
For people like me who work in a school where the Western, Judeao-Chrisitan roots run deep it is easy to buy into the idea that our program will necessarily produce young men and women who have been transformed by the gospel. It is even easier to presume at times that my boys will necessarily be Christians because of our discipleship efforts at home combined with the solidly Reformed church we attend. This, however, is simply not true. It will be for most of our students and we have seen this fruit bear out in the lives of our graduates. Some, though, have spiritually wilted amidst a deluge of good water and fertilizer in their homes, churches, and school. This can be a tough pill to swallow.
One of the things we have to do in our homes and schools is keep a long vision. This is easy in one sense when we consider the great cloud of witnesses around from church history. The scriptural and extra biblical historical accounts of God’s people are flush with stories reminding us of God’s faithfulness to grow faith in his people and to allow that faith to essentially be passed on to later generations. God’s normative way of operating is for His people to make disciples of their children and the next generation. The classical Christian educational model likewise encourages us by providing a long history of results. We can see the fruit of Christian enculturation.
There is great hope in knowing our history as it helps us to remember we are not laying a new foundation and coming up with novel building plans. We are looking at well worn plans and continuing to do what has worked for a long time. This is true for how God has used classical Christian education as a means of grace in the lives of generations of believers. None of us are anything except workers on a construction crew who are continuing to build a great wonder that began in ancient days. In this there is comfort and having a long, generational vision becomes easier. Over and over in the Old and New Testaments God reminds His people to tell of His deeds so they will remember what He has done for generations and generations.
In another sense though, we are helping our students and children to lay a fresh, personal foundation of their own that we hope they will continue to build upon. We are asking them to come with us and walk these paths alongside us. And the hard news is, some will not. Many will; most I would even argue. But some will not while they are in the halls of our school or in our homes. Some will come around later. Some will depart and never return.
In our school and church community we have students that have left and have departed. Some have returned and some are still out there rejecting the good news they heard here for so many years. And here is the most difficult but vital part: our vision to raise up young men and women transformed by the gospel is a goal we cannot even ensure is met. We can make sure our math classes are distinctly Christian, we can discuss worldview for years and years, we can study our Bibles at home, and we can make beautiful art and music to God’s glory…but we cannot transform anyone into a follower of Christ. In other words, we can plant and water and weed and prune and fertilize…but only God can give the increase.
The truth of I Cor. 3:6-7 begs the question: How often are we begging God to use the work we are doing to transform our students and children into followers of Him? I fail here miserably, and I am sure many of you could say the same. My work is entirely dependent on Christ’s and too many days go by where I do not ask Him to bless it. A recent challenge I gave to our faculty and staff is to use a portion of their planning time to pray for their students daily. We all know how we spend our time and where we can find five to fifteen more minutes every day to ask God to give an increase in our students’ souls.
If you work in a setting like mine, your work is very sedentary. It’s hard during the seemingly endless, cold January days to see how my work changes anything. How will this kid ever learn to listen and obey, or to stop causing drama, or to have a good attitude? Will my sons ever learn to stop responding disrespectfully to my wife? Many, many rods have not been spared in that endeavor. But just ask your brothers and sisters who are teachers or parents with grown, faithful children if the work is worth it. Even if they have students or children outside the faith, I bet the answer is the same. Having a long vision means knowing that some will not be given faith in the short term and maybe even the long term. It also means being able to glory in seeing God give growth to many that you helped plant and water. When you can witness your kids or students love the Lord and see them out there building families, homes, working hard, and serving their church you are encouraged to have a long vision. You realize it is a worthy work. You realize God is faithful to give growth.
The work of education and discipleship is not like mowing grass. There is no instant gratification here. There is only instant suffering and grinding and wondering if anything you say matters. Only blisters and sore knees and worn clothes from all your gardening. There are no plants to see or harvest most days. And then one autumn day most of your plants grow. Because God is good and faithful to give an increase.
Your work matters.
But you and I have to have a long vision. This work of watering, fertilizing, and planting is a long work where your plants don’t bloom for years and years and years. Doug Wilson has been a major influence in my life and he often says our work as Christians is a long plod in the same direction for a really, really long time.
I call this Arthur Guinness vision. For those unfamiliar, Arthur Guinness was the founder of the brewery we now know as Guinness which he founded at St. James gate near Dublin in 1725. Most people at the time in Ireland had no access to clean water and thus drank liquors like whiskey and gin to the detriment of Irish society. Seeing such rampant drunkenness and wanting to use some inherited money for good, he decided to open a brewery where he could brew beer safe for drinking with a much lower alcohol content. Here is where Arthur’s long vision comes in. He leased his brewery for forty five pounds a year for nine thousand years. Nine thousand!!! If my math works, that was about thirteen thousand five hundred dollars a year at the time and around sixty dollars a year currently.
Arthur Guinness had a nine thousand year vision. Can you and I even see ahead to this summer? Let alone next year, or ten years or one hundred years? Your students will have grandchildren. Your children will be old, gray grandparents one day. What legacy will they be left? Will they remember that we watered and planted faithfully knowing we could not ensure their salvation? Will they tell stories of our faithfulness to the Lord’s work and His faithfulness to bless our work? Or will they remember that when we had a child or student apostatize we threw in the towel? Will we be any better than a false teacher whose late autumn trees bear no fruit (Jude 12)?
Our work matters and it matters eternally. We were born into this time during great tumult because God Almighty ordained it to be so. Do we sit around and mourn the ruins of what once was, or do we get busy repairing and rebuilding good things?
Every boy and girl under the sound of your voice has a soul that will NEVER DIE. Never. Every child once didn’t exist.
Now they do.
And they will exist forever.
Nine thousand years is absolutely nothing compared to eternity. If you ever start to think your little classroom, in your little Christian school, in your little town doesn’t matter…you better check those thoughts. If you ever start to think reading the Bible in the morning with your kids or singing hymns at night with them is insignificant…you better check those thoughts too. They’re not from the Lord and He would not have us entertain them. Take those thoughts captive (II Cor. 10:5) and then pray, teach, and love those under your care. And most importantly, ask God to give growth.
He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. –I Corinthians 3:8-11 (ESV)