Rev John Chappell is passionate about many aspects of ministry, but one thing that comes across when you speak with him is that he is particularly passionate about SRE.
John, the Senior Minister at North Ryde Anglican Church, says, “It’s always been my passion to try to raise up people to enter schools and explain Jesus. It’s just such a wonderful opportunity to take the great news of Jesus to students in our schools. And whilst that door and window is open in New South Wales, we must make the most of it.”
SRE and MTS
John is also an MTS trainer, having trained seven apprentices. Each one of them has had teaching SRE as part of their program, which John says is an absolute must for church-based apprentices. “I want everyone to have that DNA of sharing the gospel with children and youth, and the school situation is such an obvious place to learn to invest the word of God into the next generation,” John shares.
“It’s a sadness that there is a number of schools now where no longer SRE is being provided. And the main reason it’s not being provided is because churches are not providing people for delivering the classes. So, one of the things that’s certainly urgent is our need to prayerfully raise up more people to do that and to give people, as much as possible, a real and a positive experience. Our apprentices, by and large, have found being involved with Scripture, a positive experience that’s enabled them to recruit others into that ministry down the track.”
John spends significant time training his apprentices to teach SRE, walking them through the required accreditation process as well as the MTS training paper and offering ongoing insights and reflections.
He says that while apprentices are generally keen to take up SRE teaching, some are quite fearful of the unique context of the SRE classroom, particularly worrying about discipline.
“To them I would say, chill out. Even the 60-year-old amazingly gifted classroom teachers will have difficulties with students at times, and they have no problem with admitting that,” John says. “I think one of our problems when we walk into the classroom is that our whole psyche is geared up as to whether this class was perfectly behaved and perfectly achieved the aims and the lesson goals that the book stated in front of us. Whereas, I just want to say to all, take a deep breath. It’s okay. The Lord, just through the mere fact that you walked through the door, is going to do his will and plan and purpose through these kids.”
John points out the many opportunities that come from having MTS apprentices teaching SRE.
Firstly, many apprentices also lead kids club or youth group, and the crossover with SRE is very beneficial.
“On an average year, not everyone comes all the time, but we’ll have around 120 people enrolled for part or all of the year in our kids club. And nearly every single one of those children has been a connection through scripture at school,” John says of North Ryde. The benefit of having the same leader in SRE and at kids club is clear – the kids feel comfortable attending and there can be plenty of cross-promotion.
It also gives a natural connection into the families that isn’t immediately possible during a school day. “We get to talk to their parents when they pick up and drop off at kids club, which then leads into connection into outreach ministries, ESL, church services and other things that we do,” John shares.
For North Ryde, SRE is seen as part of the flow of youth and children’s ministry just as much as Sunday school and kids club.
John has strong words for churches not currently involved in SRE, in parts of Australia where this is an option.
“The delivery of SRE is no longer, sadly, I think for a number of senior ministers, one of their top priorities, which has led a number of schools to no longer have SRE taught. And one of the main reasons why is, from a senior minister’s perspective, it is very difficult to staff and to staff well will require prayer, time, envisaging, recruiting, effort and money. And that is not easy. And so, I want to encourage any senior ministers that I meet to pray, think big and think opportunity. We have an obligation to reach out to the people in our local area, and schools are a part of that. And if we don’t keep the door open into schools through the provision of well-trained volunteers and paid workers, that window will close.”
For MTS trainers especially, John says they should make every effort to give their apprentices the opportunity to teach SRE. “This is a great opportunity, and SRE really ought to be a part of our training portfolio.”
John also says that there are opportunities for churches and ministry staff to connect with schools in a way that fosters positive relationships. “We are always endeavouring to support the principals and the teachers,” he says. “I encourage parishioners to serve on the P&C and be the first sign up to run the Bunnings sausage sizzle. And we help out in more unique ways. In 2021 we hosted a COVID-safe staff Christmas party for the teachers of the school. After a storm our church staff were onsite with chain saws and leaf blowers helping in the clean up. We set up a multimedia system with multiple cameras for a live Zoom for the school end of year concert. We were not after anything in return – but genuinely want to serve the community for its good. And of course that goes a long way in building a ‘good reputation with outsiders’ (1 Tim 3:7), for the gospel.”
John acknowledges that SRE is ‘an administrative nightmare’, and that some ministers will have themselves had negative experiences in the classroom and with building relationships with schools.
But as John has demonstrated at North Ryde, the benefits make dealing with all the challenges worthwhile.
Over to you
What can you learn from John’s passion for SRE and local schools? Do you see SRE as an important part of a church’s ministry?
Spend time this week ensuring that you are providing your apprentices with adequate space to invest in their SRE classes. SRE isn’t an afterthought! Also consider how you and your team, including apprentices, could get more involved with your local school.
Pray for trainers like John as they seek to help their apprentices confront the challenges of teaching SRE and effectively minister in this unique context.