DISCIPLINE—EVERY TEACHER’S WORST NIGHTMARE. What Does the Bible Have to Say?
When it comes to teaching, discipline is not one of my favorite topics. I really do think I was traumatized during my administrative practicum. I was placed in an elementary school with a veteran principal. She was one of the few female administrators in the district, and I felt fortunate to train under her. I learned a great deal about leadership from her, and for that I am grateful. However, I was caught off guard one day when she asked me to participate in a disciplinary conference with a student.
I don’t remember much about the actual offense, but I do remember her putting a paddle in my hand and telling me to administer swats to a teary-eyed young boy. I froze. Corporal punishment was still legal at the time, but I honestly didn’t know anyone still administered it. I must have looked shocked because she urged me to proceed. I couldn’t do it, and I told her so. She respected my position, but needless to say, it didn’t deter the punishment. I walked out of her office knowing in my heart there had to be a better way. What I witnessed that day many years ago was not discipline. It was punishment. There is a very real difference.
I seriously debated whether to tackle the topic of discipline in a blog because it is such an emotionally charged subject. We all know that when it comes to our students, discipline is multi-dimensional. There are so many variables to consider that it makes it hard to navigate, especially when emotions are involved. I can’t tell you how many times I have second-guessed myself. Was the consequence appropriate? Did I respond out of anger? Will the student learn from this? Sometimes it is hard to determine if our techniques are making a difference, and that often heightens our level of frustration. Bottom line – discipline is hard.
I had an aha moment recently. The Bible strongly emphasizes the importance of discipline (Proverbs 3:11-12, Proverbs 10:17). However, if you are like me, your past experiences with discipline may create some confusion. How should we as Christian educators view discipline? I got to wondering. Perhaps we should examine how God defines discipline and why He disciplines. Then we could apply what we learn to our role as Christian educators. Granted, this may not answer all of our questions, but I think it will provide a foundation for our disciplinary decision-making. See if you agree.
What is discipline?
I have to admit that for years I didn’t really understand the difference between discipline and punishment. I realize there is a fine line between the two, and discipline can often feel like punishment. The Bible says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). I’m not a big fan of the word painful, but this type of pain has purpose. The key to grasping what discipline truly is from God’s perspective is to remember that God is good. His Word tell us, “God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness.” (Hebrews 12:10)
Discipline is about growth and maturity as a believer. God's use of discipline, though unpleasant at the time, is much like the training of an athlete. The athlete's exercise seems painful rather than pleasant as it is taking place. Afterward, however, the athlete sees growth and development as a result of those experiences. This “training” makes the athlete strong.
We all want to live fruitful lives, lives full of peace and joy. This is what God wants for us, too! However, just like our students, we mess up. When we do, it is so critical to remember that God doesn’t discipline us to punish us. Jesus already took our punishment on the cross (1 Peter 3:18). God doesn’t discipline us to condemn us. Romans 8:1 makes this clear. God never disciplines out of anger or frustration. His correction helps us become all He has called us to be. God disciplines us to make us strong and fruitful, to be more like Jesus (1 John 3:2). So, what is discipline? Discipline is training.
Why does God discipline?
The answer here may seem obvious. God disciplines us to help us grow and mature. This is undoubtedly true, but I believe there is a deeper reason we experience God’s discipline: LOVE.
“ I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.” Revelation 3:19
“My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline and don’t be upset when he corrects you. For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.” Proverbs 3:11-12
Understanding that God disciplines us because He loves us is crucial. I don’t know about you, but it is easier for me to accept correction from someone who loves me and wants what is best for me than it is from someone who does not. As parents, we know our children will never reach their full potential without training and discipline. Part of loving them involves discipline. The same is true for us as children of God (Hebrews 12:7-9).
God’s love for us extends beyond anything we can imagine (Ephesians 3:18). His love desires to make us more mature, improve our character, keep us on the right path, grow our faith, and cleanse us from sin. So, why does God discipline? He does so because He loves us.
By now I hope you are already starting to make applications to our disciplinary role as Christian educators. Discipline is training and must have as its goal the good of the child. Discipline must never be used to vent our anger or frustration. Discipline should not single children out, embarrass them in front of their peers, or damage their dignity. Discipline should always focus on growth. Here are some questions we should consider when discipline becomes necessary.
· What will help this student make better choices in the future?
· How can I help this student understand the consequences of his actions?
· What needs to happen to right this situation?
Discipline is training. While it may not always be understood and accepted, it is ultimately a gift we give our students.
Finally, we have to answer the all-important question. Do our students know we love them? I’m not talking about the touchy-feely kind of love. I’m talking about a love that expresses care and concern, sees a child’s potential over his/her shortcomings, and regards each child as one created in the image of God. Do we do our best to love our students as He loves us (John 13:34-35)?
Discipline will always be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be a nightmare when we remember what discipline is (training) and why we do it (love)!