If someone were to ask you, “Who do you think is the most influential person in the world,” how would you answer? Would you think of the president, or a politician? Perhaps the Pope or a religious leader, a famous artist, musician, or sports figure? Deep within all of us is the desire to live lives that matter--lives of significance--dare I say lives of Eternal Significance so that the evidence of our having graced the planet is felt for eternity. We all ask questions like, “Why am I here?” and “What difference does my life make?” In all that we do in this life that is routine or mundane, we can’t escape the deep desire to matter.
In the later 1700s, a middle-aged Scottish preacher took charge of a tiny, poor rural school for teenage boys. The main building was falling apart and there were so few students, he had to do all the teaching himself. Over the next 26 years, this teacher taught 450 boys that would become:
-28 U.S. senators
-26 state judges
-12 members of the Continental Congress
-3 Supreme Court justices
-3 Attorney Generals
-2 foreign ministers
-1 Secretary of State
-1 Vice President (Aaron Burr)
-1 U.S. President (James Madison)
This teacher’s name was John Witherspoon. The school he pulled from the brink of collapse is now known as Princeton University. The boys he taught went on to write our constitution and found our nation. What in the world set this teacher apart? How did a mere teacher have such profound influence over so many?
John Witherspoon was no doubt an intelligent man, possessed of many leadership gifts. But those qualities could be said of many in his time and ours. But there was more to John than mere talent. He was a man who lived out an authentic faith that others recognized and wanted to emulate. He once said,
“True religion will give unspeakable force to what a minister says. There is a piercing and a penetrating heat in that which flows from the heart which distinguishes it both from the coldness of indifference, and the false fire of enthusiasm and vain-glory.”
The week after students packed their bags and loaded boxes into their cars Hillcrest staff met in the Student Union to identify a theme for the 2016-17 school year. Their goal is continually to reflect what Witherspoon called true religion.
In working through the theme the staff listed a host of concerns and praises following their school year. In this time they identified areas they wanted to grow and places they want to take students. Their self-examination, looking at the school environment, their classrooms, and all aspects of Hillcrest was humbling. It is easy to see that Hillcrest staff take their role as a leader and example seriously. They want to reflect Jesus in a true and honored example. Witherspoon noted the impact of this in teaching. He said:
“Example is more intelligible than precept.”
Pray for us as we continue to meet every other week as a staff to pray over the school year. We will meet on Wednesday to continue our talk through the 2016-17 school theme as we pray for each student enrolled at Hillcrest Academy.