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The right time and place  

 

This amazing privilege of being in ‘their’ world is what I believe schoolwork to be about, writes Martin Sweet 


 
Time and space
 

God’s angel spoke to Philip: “At noon today I want you to walk over to that desolate road that goes from Jerusalem down to Gaza.” He got up and went. He met an Ethiopian eunuch coming down the road. (Acts 8:26) 

One ongoing problem for anyone visiting a school is identifying when and where is the right time. In church life we generally don’t have that problem - even if it is considered the ‘wrong’ hymn or the ‘wrong’ order of service, we are all gracious enough to still get on with things (perhaps!). But in seeking to develop the relationship with a local school, a member from a church needs to know that there is a ‘time and place’. 

As I approach the end of my term as a ‘professional’ Christian schools worker, I have to confess to the feeling that I have comprehensively failed to get this message across. I still get comments from well-meaning Christians asking me if I ‘share the Word’ and other jargonised Christian objectives. 

Now, if this sounds a bit niggly, bear with me. Recently, while leaving a school I have been visiting for six years, the head teacher caught me and asked to see me. When we met, she was obviously upset and shared the simple details of a good friend who had just died. She asked me to pray with her there and then. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. To the second. Yet engineered and planned to an extent that even NASA couldn’t get it that right. For here was God at work. I cannot claim the credit for leaving the school at 10.15am! I had simply finished the assembly and was leaving the school. 

This amazing privilege of being in ‘their’ world is what I believe schoolwork to be about. Not evangelism, church-recruiting, or even networking. This particular situation arose because I just happened to ‘be there’. Remarkably, on the same day, another teacher at the same school quietly shared about her marriage breakup, while another shared about their long-term illness and so on. You see, the school is the community centre of our time. Or rather, a place where the community congregates. And I have to ask: where would you have expected to find Jesus? Only in the church, or knee-deep in the community? 

I could not help smile as I reflected on the assembly I had just taken. It was about ‘empathy’ and I had used the story of Bartimaeus, where Jesus instructs the crowd “Call him!”. Whereupon Jesus asked him (this is how it reads in Greek), “What do you wish me to do for you?”  

Of course, in God’s great grace, many reading this will have other far more amazing stories of being in the right place at the right time. It is truly wonderful that you and I can have a part to play in God’s business. But it can only keep on happening if we are in their world. As Graham Houston points out in Leading by Example, ‘There seems to be something inherent in human nature which tends to make us believe that our own worldview is superior to that of to others, and self-evidently so’. So if my worldview is focused on ‘me’ doing ‘my thing’ in ‘my way’ and in ‘my time’ – I’ll clearly end up a ‘goat’ (see Matthew 25:44). 

I often wonder if there are churches with a goat-like vision, but I’d get into trouble again. What I haven’t told you is that the same head teacher has asked me on a couple of occasions over the past six months to try and find Christians to ‘be in their school’ – reading with children, helping in class … anything! So, I approached a well-resourced church with this request and had a polite email back saying that the school was not in their patch. So ‘no’!  

I understand that churches can’t do everything, but it did disappoint me. Should we leave the Bartimaeus-es to their bowl and blind-stick? Or will we be saying ‘When did I hear about that?’ (see Matthew 25 again). If church people are to respond to the needs of their community, the most critical aspect of ‘being in the right place at the right time’ is that we recognise it when it happens. Part of the time/place blindness is that we often face both need and opportunity through the lens of our own limited vision, and not ‘in the round’ of the local or school community. Could it be that the ‘goats’ were so caught up in their own plans and missions, they never realised that they could be in the right place at the right time ... and just didn’t see it? Even more amazing was that the sheep didn’t see Him either – they were too inspired doing what they felt call to do. They didn’t even realise they were in the right place at the right time. 

So, what about other right time and place stories in the Bible? For example, I wonder if God would have ignited other bushes had Moses not turned aside to see the first? Or was it the first!? And I wonder how the teachers of the law in John 8:2-11 managed to be in the right (wrong?) place at right (wrong?) time to catch the man and the woman ‘at it’, in ‘the very act of adultery’?  

At times, am I guilty of standing in a ‘pharisaical’ crowd, having a critical approach to others for what I feel are missed opportunities? But what does that say about the ‘where’ and the ‘when’ of my activities? Let’s face it, it feels as though I am in wrong place or time quite often.  

I wonder if the answer is to understand that it is fully God’s heart to use us and to put us in the right places at the right time. As I said at the start, I think the one ongoing problem for anyone visiting a school is identifying where and when is the right time and place.  

But perhaps there is a more poignant problem. Is it possible that we spend our time looking for a ‘good’ time and place, and fail to see the very needs of our communities around us? Is it not ironic that we spend so much time in church life trying to identify what will get people through our doors – and ignore the wide open barn-door to our communities? By seeking to serve your local school community, you will find that the door gets pegged back very wide provided our aim were not to ‘commando raid’ (I dare not use the word ‘evangelise’) the school community. If we do, we should not be too surprised when the door closes.  

One final illustration. The Ethiopian that Philip baptised did not enter a church, nor is it evident that he met (m)any Christians. The first Christian he encountered was probably Philip, who literally got alongside and explained things in a language and tempo the Ethiopian clearly understood. A lesson for those visiting a school. Philip just ‘happened’ to be in the right place at the right time – but that was the Spirit’s doing. I can only pray and ask that I be led by the Spirit in my everyday life. And then I pray that my eyes and heart will remain open all the time. 

And yes, of course, I dare you to pray that you too will be in the right place at the right time. And (you’d expect me to ask this...) to pray that it might be your local school during term time! 

 

Image | Negative Space | Pexels  




Martin Sweet writes on behalf of the Baptist Education Group (BEG). The vision of the Baptist Education Group is to encourage every Baptist church to strategically engage in supporting its local school.

Martin is director of Spinnaker Trust, an organisation with more than 25 years’ experience, based in SE London, regularly supporting more than 100 primary schools in London and the Southeast with RE, assemblies and much more.

 


  




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