“Be careful how you live; you may be the only Bible some people ever read.”
—William J. Toms
One of my favorite quotes from a former professor is “It’s not the trick; it’s the time.” She was teaching us that there are many gimmicks that claim to have the edge on teaching strategies and intervention, but what we really need to offer our students is our time and attention. Looking at this same quote from the context of today’s thought, I might say, “It’not the words; it’s the actions.” So often, we think we have to have the right words to defend, encourage, or sympathize, but what we need is to be an example.
Be an expert in your profession—Recently, I was in a meeting where the information being shared was well outside my wheelhouse. I trusted the presenter in his decisions because of my knowledge of his expertise. In the years I have been with Concordia, Irvine, I have come to trust this man’s words through observation of his work ethic, his dedication to his field of study, and his humble nature. He is honest about what he knows and what he doesn’t know. When he shares information, it is informative, and he meets us at our level. He has the depth of knowledge, and he knows when and how to demonstrate his understanding. Through servant leadership, he is willing to “work” for us to build his capacity and ours. His example has opened my heart and mind to his words, which convict me to follow his decisions.
Live life above reproach—Let your actions on and off campus be the voice of your character. Titus teaches us of the characteristics that exemplify one who lives a blameless life: “hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined” (Titus 1:8); “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine” (Titus 1:9); “sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, and able to teach” (Titus 3:2). Few people can meet all these qualifications, but those who try to meet them are trusted advisers, people I would cling to in times of joy and need. A teacher who truly lives an honorable life will shout without speaking and will still be heard when whispering.
Be visible, be available, be approachable—My neighbor is a teacher at a school in our community. Not only do I believe that he possesses many of the traits listed above, but I have also witnessed his openness to engaging with the community outside the school campus. It’s easy and understandable to want to keep one’s personal and professional lives separate, but supporting the community and activities that your students participate in communicates to them an interest in their lives. During a few over-the-fence conversations with my neighbor, I have gleaned insight as to the after-hours investment he makes, ensuring that students who have questions can contact him, offering before- and after-school tutoring, maintaining an open-door policy and genuine desire to be in relationship with every student and family. Never once have I encountered a time when he seemed closed off or lacking in desire to contemplate a curious question, scenario, or situation. Never have I wondered if he had really heard me or that my presence was distracting or holding him back from accomplishing his daily tasks.
My final thought on this topic is this: recently, I was introduced to the notion that unchurched persons sometimes feel like the prey of well-intentioned Christians who have set their sight on a “project” rather than a person. The drive to witness, to save, or to enlighten can cause us to move past the traditional get-to-know-you, trust-building, relationship-development stages and straight into the vulnerable core of a person’s identity. I think this happens for a couple of reasons. First, we desperately want to see the fruit of our labor, forgetting that we may be just one in the line of many whom God will use to cultivate, sow, water, and harvest for the Kingdom. Second, sometimes we forget that it is not our job to convert people. The Holy Spirit will do the work of converting hearts through the Word. With these reminders and the grace of God, we can love our unchurched co-worker as we live life together, build a friendship, establish trust, and then share the message—first through our actions and then, God willing, through speaking His Word.
It was years ago that my grandmother gifted her grandchildren with a framed copy of the William J. Toms quote. Mine still hangs in my house, reminding me that every day is a new opportunity to outwardly demonstrate my love for God and His people. In my life, there is room for improvement, but I strive to live a message that readers want to know more about.