When I recently read the letter that the apostle Paul addressed to the church in Colossae, I was struck by the very beginning of it. I would not have expected such words from this modest and humble man: “Our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction…. You became imitators of us and of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 1:5-6, NIV).
How is it possible that a missionary who always gave people Christ as a model suddenly puts himself in the role of a model for others to imitate? Although it feels presumptuous at first, as Adventist educators we know that our noble mission is to introduce our students to the greatest Master and Teacher, no matter what subject we teach. Our mission is to make them acquainted with the One who is first and foremost their Lord and Savior, but also the best model for their daily lives. But how can we effectively carry out this task?
The apostle Paul’s approach can be very inspiring for all of us. His mission was to preach the word of God, to teach and educate in the faith. However, he understood very well that communicating the values of the gospel is not just a matter of the information we share. Christian teachers need to be experts in their fields in order to impart the best education to students. However, this is not enough to fundamentally impact our students’ lives for the better.
Looking back on my days as a student, I am reminded of the many teachers who have influenced my life and awakened in me a desire to serve my Savior. There is no doubt that they understood their field well, and yet I must admit that over the years I have forgotten much of what they taught me. What remains in my mind instead is the impression their personal example made on me: their love for God, for other people, for the church, and for their students, but also the humility with which they acknowledged their weakness and their need for God’s grace.
For a long time, I thought that my role model should be Jesus and Jesus alone. Gradually I realized that I also needed human role models, people who give me a better understanding of what Christ is like and who give me examples of what it means to be a Christian in this world.
It is my firm conviction that it is our duty as Adventist teachers to strive for professional excellence in our fields. But if our ministry is to have an impact for eternity, then there is another crucial task before us: to live in such a close relationship with Christ that our students will take notice and say, “I would like to be like them because they are like Him!” By imitating us, they will be imitating Christ.