Recently during a Friday morning devotional time with my Fifth Grade class, I posed the question, “What is a disciple?” I was about to read our Bible passage: Luke 5: 1-11: Jesus Calls the First Disciples. You know, stick with the plan: pose a question, read a passage, and then discuss it. Before I could even turn to the place in my previously-marked Bible, students started passionately spouting out popcorn-style answers. I was a little flustered because it was all happening so fast, not according to “my plan.” (A thing I am continually reminded of is just that: A plan. An idea. Not something set in stone. If something better is happening, go with it!)

 Then in the joy of what I was hearing, I grabbed a marker and started writing their responses on the whiteboard: “follower of Jesus, a student, someone who spreads the Word of God.” At this point, I’m dumbfounded because I was just expecting the standard definition of “learner” or the literal names of the twelve disciples. Never underestimate your students! They will continually surprise you.

And, they just kept going: a person fully committed to God, a Christian, (someone qualified this one with a Christian “but one who knows that they make mistakes”), a listener, humble, believes God. And then when I didn’t think my heart could soar any higher, someone said, “It’s like the names of the characters in The Witch of Blackbird Pond (a Puritan-era novel we had read earlier in the year):  Mercy, Prudence, and …  (to my glee, another student shouted out) Thankful Peabody,” a name of a minor character in the book but whose name “Thankful” is both a wonderful Puritan name AND a characteristic of a disciple!

These comments sparked someone else to say (again I thought my joyful heart could contain no more): ”Right, like the names in Pilgrim’s Progress,” a book which they had read in third grade AND one of my two all-time favorites! The answers started pouring out again: “Faithful, Hopeful, Evangelist (Spreads the Word),” and so forth. 

Finally, I read the Scripture passage (Luke 5: 1-11) which led to an additional discussion on what a disciple might be called to give up or surrender: family, friends, homes, jobs, business, “all the fish!” customs, culture, even their very lives. We talked a bit about Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s coined term of costly grace: it is free, but it is not cheap. We concluded our discussion and prayed at the end of our time together.

The beauty of this devotional time was: they got it. They remembered what they read. They applied it correctly across disciplines (from Bible to literature to history). Connections were made. They knew. They understood. I love those moments when I “get schooled” by Fifth Graders. It’s one of the best parts about being a disciple. 

by Stephanie Boss, Fifth Grade Teacher