By Jamie Shafer
Over the past few decades, the public education system in America has removed many of the faith-related practices and terms from its programs. For Christians who remember a time when prayer took place in the classroom before lunch or when kids sang “Silent Night” at the annual Christmas program, these changes in our schools can be hard to understand and accept. Regardless of these cultural shifts, millions of Christian men and women are serving within public school systems. Many walk a tricky tightrope, trying to be true to their faith while respecting laws and guidelines that are meant to set clear borders around the separation of church and state.
Jeff Jaworowski, an assistant principal near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has been able to navigate this challenge in ways that he feels allow his faith to be a positive part of his everyday life while still respecting the views of students and coworkers.
Local Church Involvement
Jeff accepted Christ when he was 37 years old, after facing some tough personal challenges. He was encouraged by a colleague to make some changes in his life—and she made such an impact that he married her.
Jeff and his wife, Lisa, who is also an employee in the public school system, share a love of music. They serve in the praise band at Impact Christian Church in Moon Township, Pennsylvania. They were invited by another teacher to attend Impact’s Christmas Eve services one year and they decided to become a part of the congregation. They recently celebrated their fourth Christmas at the church.
As the couple attended church, they quickly noticed that they were worshipping alongside other teachers and school parents. Jeff said, “It’s funny—sometimes, as we’re leaving school on Fridays, one of the kids will say, ‘See you Sunday, Mr. J!’ And the other kids ask, ‘Why do you see him on Sunday?’ And he’ll say, ‘We go to church together!’ Jeff notes that, even though he hasn’t mentioned it, kids know that church is a part of his life.
Faith in Community
Jeff also attends and assists with a daily morning prayer time for any staff members who would like to participate before school. When the group began several years ago, Jeff remembers there were three or four individuals. “Now, we’re up to about 15 people every day. Some people come three days a week, and we have 20 in our building who have attended.” Group participants take turns leading prayer and reading from a devotional guide. It’s become a community of encouragement and support and a source of focused prayer on behalf of the students and the staff.
Jeff clarified by saying, “You seek Christ and that is your walk. When it comes to people, you can’t have any walls. You have to walk with them. Everyone in my building, whether they pray with us or not, gets my very best that I can do for them. There is a verse in Colossians that says to do your job like you’re doing it for Jesus” (3:23). He said that even if others don’t share his beliefs, they can still benefit by seeing God’s goodness through him.
Over the past 23 years, Jeff has served as a band director and an assistant principal. When asked about the cultural changes during his career, he replied, “There are changes in the students. They are so much more exposed to the world. There are a lot of good things in the world and a lot of bad things. Those are just the conditions. What we have going on in our school is good.” He attributes part of that success to the people who are regularly praying and supporting one another.
“We think that networking is a twenty-first century word,” said Jeff. “But it’s what the Bible calls us to do. It’s the only way I walk better as a father, colleague, friend, praise band artist, and husband. It is because I have an entire fellowship support team, a growth group. You can’t do it alone.”
Jeff believes we all have regular opportunities presented to us. Each day he strives to wake with a grateful heart. “I say, ‘Thank you God for that first breath I felt when I woke up this morning.’ And just like that breath, God lays other things out before you. Know that it’s God and that God is working through you. Is that other person seeing something in you that looks like God?”
Jamie Shafer is a communications strategist for Fishhook Communications in Indianapolis, Indiana. She and her husband, Eric, have two children.