For the last five years of my teaching career, I had the privilege of teaching Advanced Placement English Language and Composition, a course that had the most practical significance of all I taught over several decades.
It had two portions—a semester examining style, or how to use words for the best effect, and another semester on persuasion, or how to analyze or craft political speeches, sales pitches, or asking your folks to borrow the car. Regardless of your political leanings, these tools benefit us greatly in an era of fake news and alternative facts. Or greedy salespeople! Lifelong results from just two semesters.
That class, on how to maximize college and life achievement, gives us four lessons on how we can increase our spiritual achievement. And have no doubt, the productive Christian life is normative. Natural. Expected. These words haunt me when thinking back to my early years with Jesus, “There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen. You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word” (Hebrews 5:11-12, NLT).
At the beginning of our lives, we should focus on taking in and growing, but we transition to teaching others about Jesus, to impacting them. Yes, we keep feeding, but to achieve spiritual results with others. The AP class worked, 91% of my students passed, with the national average at 55%. And we took just about every student who signed up, and didn’t cherry pick just the best ones. So, here’s four quick tips from that experience that will also work for our spiritual growth.
1. Work with a team. Our English department prepped our students well. In the first week I gave an actual AP Lang test, and around 80% passed. For the semester I just moved them up 11%, the department did the bulk of the work. Spiritually, we need to be part of a good team, who work together for a common goal. Read Acts 2:42-47 to see how imbedded the early disciples were with one another, and how effective they were. Teamwork works.
2. Expect a lot. I challenged the students each year to work for a 100% pass rate. Honestly, very few students, if they worked hard, weren’t capable of passing, and I wanted them to know that. Many took it just for the AP boost on their GPA, but I desired more from them. Jesus also expects a lot from us, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The word “perfect” means mature, complete. Not a thumb-sucking infant forever.
3. Encourage one another. AP courses are the equivalent of a college course taken by a high school student, and are difficult. Barely ½ pass overall, and the challenge can intimidate some. I praised them for the 80% rate in the first week. I encouraged them for their progress. I gave them specific tips, individually and as a group, on how to improve. That also works spiritually, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). We easily get critical and judgmental of others, but let’s encourage our teammates and build them. Intentionally.
4. Develop skills. Our English department began teaching basic skills, such as grammar, logic, arguments, language style, and in the AP course we went deeper. Much deeper. The AP graders had one goal: to see the students demonstrate college level skills. In achieving for Jesus, we also need to develop our spiritual gifts and abilities and heart. Paul used his training as a scholar. We all have spiritual gifts that we refine through training and usage, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others” (1 Peter 4:10).
Most of you who read this have finished high school. But I suggest, that AP English Language class can improve our walk with Jesus. For all of us. Let’s get that 100% pass rate.
Kick Starting the Application
On that continuum of taking in to giving out, where do you land? (Remember, we always need some of each). Does that satisfy you, and why or why not? Of the four tips, which do you most need to develop a bit more? How will you begin that in the next week?