Imago Dei—Genesis 1:26 teaches us that mankind was created in the image of God. This truth becomes the basis of our service to students, honoring that image within them. Additionally, we want to help our students recognize it in themselves and those around them so that they can honor that image through service too.
Humans reflect the communal nature of God. In Genesis 1:26 God says “Let Us make mankind in Our image, after Our likeness [emphasis mine].” Existing in the three distinct persons of the Trinity, God is fundamentally a relational being, and when God created us, He made us to reflect that relational nature. Through relationships we then have a basis to serve those around us.
We have also been made to crave relationship with God Himself. In John 17 Jesus prayed that Christians would be unified with each other and with the Father just as He was unified with the Father. We are designed to long for a relationship with God like Jesus longed for a relationship with the Father. Education that seeks to meet the needs of students will be unsuccessful if it neglects to address the need for this relationship.
As humans, we crave relationships. Students of all ages require healthy relationships with other human beings. Because of this, relationship is a good topic to investigate with your students. Whether studying fictional relationships in literature, historical relationships in social studies, or ecosystems in science, we can ask students about what makes a good relationship. We encourage students to explore why human relationships are important, and how they point towards the God who created us to bear His image as a relational being.
Looking beyond just the content of our classes, we can affirm this relationship through our professional practice. One way to do this through using a think/pair/share activity. After asking a question give students a minute to think about (and maybe write down) their answer. Then provide two minutes for each person to share with the person next to them. Finally, randomly select a few students to share what their partner said in answer to the question. (I usually have the student whose idea was shared confirm that their partner shared their idea faithfully.) This activity is useful for emphasizing the inherent value we have as image bearers of God because it teaches each student that what they think is important. It’s a great tool for building the confidence of students who normally wouldn’t answer a question in class because a partner affirms their ideas and then they can watch how the rest of the class responds when the partner shares their idea. Also it helps students grow in their skills as relational beings because they are required to not just answer a question, but listen carefully to what someone else says. Teaching practices don’t just help students grow in their ability to have relationships, but they actually involve them in relating to and serving those around them.
Philippians 2:4-8 teaches us that Jesus, even though He was “in the form” (or image) of God, did not seek to be a king among men, but sought to be a servant. The Son came to earth so that He could relate to us and serve us. Let us celebrate that our students, like the physical form of Christ, reflect the image of God, and are therefore able to serve. We can look for ways to build age-appropriate service opportunities into the curriculum. In a math class, we can orient the abstract in a moral direction, doing something like using statistics to investigate local poverty. In a language class, we look for opportunities to use those language skills to build relationships and serve with those growing skills. In an arts class, student creativity can be directed to serve the local community in some way.
As we become intentional about focusing our classroom lessons and practices around the truth that we are the Imago Dei—the image of God—we will help ourselves and our students live out this calling to be in relationship. There is no higher calling for humans—made in the image of God—than to relate to and serve others.
Teacher, International Academy of St. Petersburg
Photo Credits: Creation of Adam. detail. Michaelangelo. public domain image. Cooperative Learning, Anil Duth. via Wikimedia Commons cc. Service Learning. Jane Adams [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons.