Winter 2022 Connections
by Bryant Russ, HC Director of Faith Formation
So what exactly does it mean to be the Director of Faith Formation?
I get asked this question fairly often…and don’t quite know how to answer.
I’ve been in this role for several months now, but still haven’t figured out how to succinctly describe just what it is that I get to do. The truth is, it means lots of different things. It means getting to be a part of big-picture brainstorming as well as helping teachers examine daily lesson plans. It means lining up chapel speakers, collaborating with local pastors, helping plan events like Senior Camp and Dance Marathon, and exploring best practices related to faith integration in the classroom. Sometimes it means meetings, google docs., and phone calls. But more often than not, it means visiting the middle school dressed up as King David, brewing a pot of coffee for a senior who stayed up too late, or connecting squirrelly high schoolers (sorry guys) with Miss Wierenga’s Forest School class to learn how to build a fire in the rain. It means reading “Dinner at the Panda Palace” to a kindergarten class and then teaching them a new word: hospitality. It means recording a podcast conversation with a couple of board members about how to pursue unity in Jesus in these polarizing times. It means praying with a student whose mother was recently diagnosed with cancer, or having lunch with the young man who has lots of questions about faith.
Though I’m still trying to figure out how to answer that question in a simple sentence or two, I can readily point to a few themes that have defined my short experience as Director of Faith Formation. Three themes in particular stand out as lessons God is teaching me, and they also offer a glimpse into daily life at Holland Christian Schools:
”I was recently convicted about how many times I say the word "hurry!" to my children in a single day...
3 Miles Per Hour
I was recently convicted about how many times I say the word “hurry!” to my children in a single day. While I was speed-walking my 6-year-old daughter to her kindergarten class, she said something that stopped me in my tracks: “Dad, you don’t hear me very good when you’re walking so fast.”
I think, perhaps, the Holy Spirit is saying something similar. Though 90 mph might feel like the minimum requirement in our frantic, frenzied world, it is not at all conducive for relationships. And at the end of the day, if we accomplish our to-do lists but miss the God we’re invited to know and the neighbor we’re called to serve—if we miss one another—then I’m not so sure we accomplished anything of lasting value. 3 mph is the approximate speed at which people walk with one another, speak to one another, get to know one another. 3 mph was, and is, the pace of Jesus and his disciples. This has been such an important lesson that I now have a 3 mph sign hanging in my office as a reminder that seeing, noticing, and knowing have to take priority if we are going to live our mission. When I slow down to that 3 mph pace I have eyes to see some of the incredible ways God is working in this place…which leads to a second significant theme.
”I want to associate Jesus' name with great joy, to the point that God's laughter spills out of me and onto my neighbor.
Though these have been challenging times for so many reasons (you probably don’t need the list at this point), the chaos of the past several years does not define what I see happening at Holland Christian. Don’t get me wrong, this has been and continues to be an exhausting stretch. But when I step back from the 30,000 ft. perspective of social media or the evening news, the defining characteristic I see is joy.
Whether walking the halls of the middle school or peeking inside a Spanish class, I’ve come to think of my new role as the “best seat in the house” for witnessing the delight of learning in a distinctively Christian community. I get to see hundreds of elementary students raising their precious voices in song, and a wide-eyed biology class learning about evapotranspiration (it’s a thing)—and everything in between! Joy has been such a hallmark in my observations and experiences in Holland Christian classrooms that it is quickly becoming one of the first words I associate with Christian education.
I saw this when one of my new elementary friends ran over to introduce me to her mother. “Mom, this is Mr. Russ, the guy who talked in chapel today!” Her mom asked, “And what did he talk about?” The little girl paused as though thumbing through a file cabinet in her brain. “Umm… the only thing I remember is that he talked about Jesus.” And upon saying “Jesus” a smile broke across her face and spilled out into laughter.
In that moment I realized: I want to say “Jesus” like this little girl. I want to associate Jesus’ name with great joy, to the point that God’s laughter spills out of me and onto my neighbor. This is a lesson I’m learning from Holland Christian teachers who so beautifully model what the biblical authors call “the joy of the Lord” (Neh. 8:10) in every grade level and discipline. This joy is indeed our strength.
Every morning I enter my office and plug in the small fountain that sits beside my desk. As the water bubbles over I speak a simple prayer, “Jesus, make your home in me.” I learned long ago that I cannot be an effective educator (or chaplain) in my own strength. I am simply not enough. On my own I don’t have the skill, energy, or insight required to manage my personal brokenness, let alone participate in the school’s mission of equipping minds and nurturing hearts to transform the world for Jesus.
Because of this, my first and foremost job is to embrace my dependence and invite God’s animating presence to breath, speak, move—through God’s Word and through prayer. Only when richly receiving God’s generous love will any of us be able to offer it in return. There’s just no other sustainable way. What we sometimes call “ministry” is simply the overflow of grace in a person. I (re)learned this truth recently from Italian Renaissance artist Fra Angelico. Renowned for his innovative paintings depicting scenes from the life of Christ, Angelico’s advice for aspiring artists was simple: “He who wishes to paint Christ’s story must live with Christ.” I see this so clearly in the lives of HC people on a daily basis. One of the surprise blessings of such a turbulent season is the increased awareness of our dependence, and an increased desire to abide in Christ so that good fruit can continue to grow. As the Lord said to the Apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
As I settle into the new perspective that goes along with my new role, I believe more than ever that Holland Christian is a special place to be. I get to see firsthand just how minds are being equipped and hearts are being nurtured for the purpose of transforming the world for Jesus, and I’m grateful. Looking ahead, my prayer is a simple one (and a borrowed one 🙂
”One of the surprise blessings of such a turbulent season is the increased awareness of our dependence, and an increased desire to abide in Christ so that good fruit can continue to grow.
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:16-19).