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A study of presidents, leadership

Christian educators are using the holiday to teach students how religion has influenced the chief executives.

By GAIL HOLLENBECK

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 17, 2001


The observance of Presidents Day this month gives teachers from area Christian schools an opportunity to discuss what kind of leaders our presidents have been and how they have influenced our country.

"A leader sets the example for the followers," said Brian Norman who teaches U.S. History, Bible, geography and Spanish at Seven Rivers Christian School in Lecanto. "The followers often do what he or she does and abstain from that which he or she abstains. That is why high moral values are critically important in a leader. So, I will talk about the presidents and show the ones who demonstrated good leadership, servant leadership as Christ had."

Barbara McKeon, who teaches second through eighth grades at West Coast Christian School in Crystal River said she will be teaching her students about all of the presidents this year.

"We've just studied about what makes a good leader as far as having Christian values," she said. "I'll teach about our forefathers' faith in God and what qualities make a good leader. This month I plan on teaching about Presidents Washington and Lincoln because it's their birthdays. I will tie in their faith and tell how they influenced the nation and talk about what qualities of a leader they displayed."

New Testament Christian School's social studies teacher, Rodney Messenger, also plans to teach his students about the presidents throughout the school year.

"Each chapter of our text brings in the presidents, and in a lot of cases you can see where the hand of God is leading a nation or a president," said Messenger, who teaches seventh through 12th grades. "So we won't be talking about the presidents just on Presidents Day."

Mrs. McKeon said she thinks that President Washington looked to God for daily guidance.

"Washington believed that America would be a "Divine Providence' only by its faith in God," she said. "He started his day at 4 a.m. with devotions and prayer. One scripture he used is Zechariah 4:6, ". . . Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.' As an encouragement to the men who fought under him, he would refer to Daniel 3:17-18. Washington truly was a man after God's own heart. He put his whole life and our country in God's hands. That's true faith."

Not all of the presidents have set a positive example, say the teachers.

"Some of the things a good leader should have are humility, recognizing their weaknesses and asking for help when they need it, being compassionate toward people, faithful in their duties, truthful, responsible, honest and loyal," said McKeon. "With the election of this new president, and the speeches that I have heard from him, George Bush is displaying those qualities, which means there's a good chance that America can make some major changes in the way the country has been going with things like abortion. I think it will change for the better, turning back to how we used to be."

Said Norman, "I think Lincoln definitely showed good leadership with his honesty, humility, and hard work. Those are all biblical qualities. Washington, the same way. He demonstrat ed bravery and was willing to sacrifice himself on the battlefield. He almost got killed several times for a cause he believed in and for the people he was leading. He was willing to go out in battle and do that. A recent president was not willing to do that, and I think I will make a contrast of that poor example. We need to ask if our leaders, with the power they had and the resources they had, did they use their leadership in ways that were pleasing to God? Although most adults, and even children, know that things like lying, perjury, and adultery are wrong, the message still gets out that if the president can do it and get away with it, so can I."

Recently, said Norman, his Bible class was given an assignment where they imagined themselves as leaders.

"They imagined themselves as a ruler back in the time of King Ahab and Jezebel. They saw their poor example of leadership, and we contrasted that to Jesus who was the servant-leader. I had them do some creative writing and put themselves in that position. I told them, "You have all this money, all this power, all these subjects, all this authority, they pretty much have to do whatever you say. What are you going to do in this situation? How would you, as a Godly leader, handle things differently?' So they got to write about what they would do if they were king or queen."

All the teachers agreed that teaching the qualities of good leadership is important for their students.

"It's important to show the kids the presidents who do seem to have honor and respect for the things of God," said Messenger.

"We need to teach the children at a young age that there are leaders," said McKeon. "We've been learning that the father is the leader in the home, and now we'll learn about the president of the country. They need to know the importance of having a wise leader to govern us and about the structure God has established."

"Each of the students will be a leader some day," said Norman. "At least in a small domain, they will be a leader in their own families. Probably many on the job sites will supervise at least some people and some will even realize greater positions of leadership.

"The Bible has the formula for good leadership," he said. "Jesus modeled it. He's the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and reigns supreme over all, and yet He demonstrated good leadership by becoming a servant, by washing feet which was a job of slaves. He said to go and do likewise and if you want to be first, put yourself last. It's important that they realize that good leadership is Christ-like leadership. And Christ-like leadership is servant-leadership."

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