How Do You Live Out Your Faith?

A recent study takes an in-depth look at the various approaches practiced by Christian educators in public schools.

Several professors at the Biola University School of Education, including myself, and leaders from Christian Educators were curious about this question: Which approaches to living out one’s faith are truly the most practiced by Christian teachers in public schools? 

So, in an effort to answer this question, we researched, gathered, and formulated the following 14 approaches to living out one’s faith as a Christian educator. 

Awe and Wonder: pointing out to students the intricacy, orderliness, and beauty of God’s creation, the arts, music, etc.
Biblical Integration: making as many connections as possible between the curriculum and biblical truth
Christian Worldview: introducing a Christian worldview by emphasizing themes such as the essential goodness of the creation, the evils committed throughout human history, etc.
Cultivator of Christian Virtue: systematically training students in virtues that Jesus commanded such as love, forgiveness, compassion, etc.
Essential Questions: guiding classroom inquiry and discussions to address the deeper questions of life from different perspectives, including a biblical perspective when appropriate
Exemplar of Christian Virtue: impacting others through actions rather than words by modeling righteous character for students 
Faithful Presence: being a consistent and reliable presence to serve students and staff
Good Disciplinarian: employing classroom management that takes into account the way God has chosen to discipline and disciple humanity
Gospel Sharer: making the gospel clear to students even if it possibly means taking risks of crossing church/state boundaries
John the Baptist: indirectly preparing the minds of students to choose to follow Christ sometime in the future (e.g. emphasizing aspects of science that imply ordered complexity or discussing events in history that imply the need for a savior) 
Societal Reformer: seeking to provide excellent and thoughtful education with the aim of developing students who will address societal wrongs
Stewardship: developing students’ gifts, knowledge, and resources to be used for responsible citizenship, according to God’s design (e.g. placing a high value on environmental care and concern for the wholesomeness of culture and the arts)
Training to Serve Humanity: motivating and training students to participate in humanitarian projects
Truth-Seeker: training students to discover what is true in all circumstances and to express what is true—not just intellectually but also in how we live

Then in 2021, we reached out to a cross-section of the Christian Educators’ database with a questionnaire. The responses of 389 Christian Educators members who taught mainly in public schools were included in the analysis. The 14 approaches were listed for respondents to rate on a scale from 1 to 5—with 1 representing “I do not live out this approach, nor does it seem to be an appropriate expression of the Christian faith” all the way up to 5 representing “I live out this approach substantially.” Respondents were also asked to indicate their top three approaches as well as the one approach that most accurately characterizes their practice. The graph below represents the ranking of the one approach each respondent indicated most accurately characterizes the way they live out their faith in their schools. 

The results of our study clearly proved to be intriguing. However, you might be wondering what relevance it has for you. Well, my hope is that you take some time to consider what approaches you have been practicing. I also hope you deepen your understanding of the approach (or approaches) you feel best describes you. At Biola University, we are currently working on a book called Biblical Integration Models for Education scheduled to be published in August of 2023. This book will provide a much deeper look into the philosophy and methodology of many of the approaches.

Furthermore, as you gain a more comprehensive understanding of the different ways to live out your faith in public schools, I hope you might consider broadening your current approach by adopting some new ones. Even if you feel that your approach in the past has been fruitful, you might wish to adopt a second or third one. Implementing a complementary approach is an easy way to start. For example, Cultivator of Christian Virtue clearly harmonizes with Exemplar of Christian Virtue

I also want to emphasize that I truly believe that one approach is not superior to another. God places different callings on the lives of Christian educators—callings that line up with the unique gifts, talents, and personalities God designed for each of us. Therefore, He uses each of us in different ways to minister to our students. Regardless of the approach or approaches God has called you to live out in your school, I pray that you flourish and bear fruit as you serve God in your public school.

Other Interesting Results from the study: 

  • Location (urban, suburban, or rural) was not an impactful variable. 
  • Men embrace the following models to a significantly greater degree than women: John the Baptist, Christian Worldview, Truth Seeker, Biblical Integration, Essential Questions, and Gospel Sharer
  • Women only embrace Faithful Presence to a significantly higher degree than men. But there was also a slightly higher increase for Good Disciplinarian, Exemplar, and Cultivator of Christian Virtue for women over men.
  • Overall, secondary teachers’ engagement exceeded those of the elementary teachers in eleven of the fourteen approaches, but only significantly so for Essential Questions and John the Baptist. Elementary teachers exceeded secondary teachers for Cultivator of Christian Virtue, Societal Reformer, and Good Disciplinarian, but only by small, non-significant margins.
  • English teachers reported living out their faith to a greater degree at statistically significant levels for Biblical Integration and Essential Questions, compared to most other teacher categories, except social studies. Science teachers embrace the Awe and Wonder approach more than teachers in most other subjects.
  • Teachers under the age of 40 reported lower incorporation of all 14 approaches compared to teachers ages 40 and over.

Block, Nicholas C. (2022) Educators' Self-Understanding of Their Roles as Christians in Public Schools, Religion & Education, 49:4, 391-411, DOI: 10.1080/15507394.2022.2110803

Nicholas Block worked 30 years in K-12 education, mainly in the L.A. area. After starting as a science teacher, he taught in the upper elementary grades before joining the School of Education at Biola in 2014.


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