Reaching the Heart

One day a little girl was sent to my office because she was cheating on a timed math test. As we discussed the incident, I discovered her motivation for cheating originated from being tired of finishing last when taking this particular type of test. It is important to note that cheating is wrong and always will be, but this insight gave me a bit of understanding moving into the corrective process. Knowing her behavior needed correcting, but also wanting to connect at a heart level, I began to ask the girl a series of questions.reaching the heart

Reaching the Heart—The Problem

“Reaching the heart” is a phrase that Christian school leaders often cite when articulating their desire to fulfill their school’s mission. While most likely not written from a Christian educator’s perspective, in 1 Corinthians 13 Paul describes what I believe to be the greatest objective for a Christian school’s mission. Beginning in verse 1, Paul boldly states that if love is not leading a person’s life, that person will become known as a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. It is interesting to note that a life characterized by a gong and cymbal is a life that generates headaches for others. If you apply the metaphor to the Christian school setting, classrooms that do not facilitate a culture of love will most likely be characterized as a collection of students making a whole lot of noise and creating a huge headache wherever they go. Reaching the heart of students is vital for Christian educators if we are going to fulfill the Christian school mission to impact the world for the glory of God. The goal for this article is to awaken the need to reach the heart and initiate a strategy for success.

Biblical Worldview—The Answer

Christian educators share a deep conviction to lead this generation toward salvation and the biblical worldview as the answer for their lives. When working with the girl who cheated, I knew God’s Word would offer clear direction, but I also wanted to reach her heart and help her discover strategies she could use to “live out” the biblical principles. Christian school educators know that it is extremely important to teach students where they come from, why they are here, and where they are going, but if students don’t have the skill set to engage the material being taught, interact with others, wrestle with convictions, and think biblically, our worldview curriculum will simply become a cerebral experience. If we’re not careful, we can teach our students “what” they need to know but fail to lead them to understand “why” it is important and “how” the belief is to be lived out in love. For example:

• How is it helpful to teach a child that God’s Word is truth but fail to keep them accountable to the biblical standard and teach them how to obey?

• What good is it to teach our students that people are created in the image of God but allow them to treat people and those in authority with disrespect and contempt?

• Why would we teach children that their purpose is to serve God and glorify Him alone but develop a program that centers on self and directs students to pursue a dream devoid of God?

Research suggests we need a better strategy because this generation is falling away from the Lord instead of falling in love with Him (Ham and Beemer 2009; Kinnaman 2011). Could it be that while the typical Christian school mission statement says we “reach the heart,” our programs suggest something different? Before it’s too late, we must learn to engage students at a heart level as we teach content, or we will continue to lose this generation to a system that will ultimately fail them.

Heart-Based Education—The Strategy

Heart-based education is simply teaching students with the awareness of the Bible’s message concerning the heart, discerning what is taking place in the heart, and courageously addressing the heart as the Holy Spirit leads. Turansky and Miller (2006) conducted a study and discovered the Bible uses the word heart over 750 times. They categorized the verses and found nine themes emerge that summarize what the Bible teaches about the heart. It stands to reason that if we are going to teach from a heart-based orientation, we need to know what the Creator of the heart has to say and become very good at interacting with the heart from His perspective. According to this biblical study, the heart:

  1. is a wrestling place;
  2. is the place of commitments and determination;
  3. is where we feel close to others;
  4. is where emotions are experienced;
  5. is where temptations and desires develop;
  6. experiences guilt and conviction of sin;
  7. experiences passion about life;
  8. chooses values to hold and convictions to live by; and
  9. is where we connect with God.


When educators take the heart into consideration as they teach and manage their classrooms, they will present their lessons fully aware that their students, to one degree or another, are wrestling with life, developing values, discovering convictions, connecting with God, and trying to figure out how everything works. This posture is subtle and too simplistic for some, but if a teacher possesses this biblical understanding, the opportunity to reach the child’s heart and make a lasting impact becomes incredibly large.

Math teachers often think theirs is the most important subject at school—and the English, science, and history teachers think the same of their subjects. With all due respect, math (or any subject) is not the most important subject in a student’s day; but it could be, if the math teacher possesses a biblical understanding of the heart and teaches accordingly. For the one student in need of an understanding teacher, the math class taught with the heart in mind may mean the difference between life and death. Students need math, but according to 1 Corinthians 13, if math is all they get, they have nothing of eternal value at the end of the lesson. And when students graduate with a bunch of nothing, they will not impact the world for God’s glory, no matter what the school’s mission statement says about impacting the world.

Three Heart-Based Questions

Punishment and consequences can only go so far when trying to reach the heart, but learning to ask questions and cultivate strategic conversations can be a powerful strategy for “heartwork” at school. As I asked the girl who cheated the following questions, a wonderful conversation ensued, and together we discovered a strategy to help her succeed when tempted to cheat on a timed math test.

Question #1: What did you do wrong?

This question is so important for a heart-based discipline strategy. It targets confession and helps the child take responsibility. When students cannot answer this question, it reveals they either do not remember what they did or they do not want to take responsibility. If they can’t remember, I remind them of their actions, but I always ask them to tell me again because I am working on the heart, and teaching children to confess is a very important spiritual skill for them to learn.

Question #2: Why is that wrong?

The second question is important because once children confess, they need to be taught the conviction that supports the standard. Building the “why” into our students will, over time, help them embrace the convictions needed to be successful in living out the biblical principles that govern their lives.

Question #3: What can you do next time?

This question moves the conversation into a “coaching” mode and helps students build better strategies for next time. They will be tempted again, so we need to help them discover their options so that they can make a better choice the next time. Just as a basketball coach may take an entire practice to work on a particular skill needed to succeed in a game, we too may need to take some time to work on skills that will help generate life success.

When I led the little girl through these questions, she was able to confess her mistake and we talked about why cheating is wrong. However, as we talked, I discovered that she didn’t have much hope in correcting the problem. As we discussed her options, we discovered a plan that would help her to succeed the next time she was tempted to cheat on a math test. This plan became her personalized strategy designed to help her face her fear of being last and embrace the fact that she is loved and accepted by God regardless of her math speed. She spent the next hour with me practicing her strategy so that she could avoid repeating her bad behavior. When she returned to class the next day, the teacher noticed a change in behavior and asked me about the strategy she was using. Heart-based correction takes time, is often messy, is seldom convenient, and requires the counsel of the Holy Spirit. Other strategies may modify bad behavior and provide a sense of justice, but heart- based strategies build a framework that enables success when the child is tempted the next time.


The academic side of the biblical worldview teaches children the difference between right and wrong. The personal side of a biblical worldview teaches children how to live for God in the midst of right and wrong. God is not the mean man in the sky who loves to punish those who make mistakes. God loves us enough to correct us and walk beside us so we can learn along the way. If we are going to fulfill our mission and reach this generation for Christ, we need strategies that will reach the heart. If we continue down the path we are currently on, spiritual decline will most likely be the result. To get different results, we need a different strategy. To get biblical results, we need a biblical strategy. Reaching the heart is God’s idea, and we have the privilege of representing Christ every day in the Christian school.

Article written by Rick Martin for ACSI's CSE Volume 21 Number 2, p. 32-33


  • Ham, K., and S. Beemer. 2009. Already gone. Green Forest, AR: Master Books.
  • Kinnaman, D. 2011. You lost me. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
  • Turansky, S., and J. Miller. 2006. Parenting is heart work. Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications Ministries.


Rick Martin graduated from Columbia International University with a doctorate in educational leadership and now serves as the lower- school principal for Palmetto Christian Academy in Mount Pleasant, SC. In addition, Rick teaches online classes for Calvary Chapel University and is the founder of Heartwork at School, an organization that extends the principles developed by the National Center for Biblical Parenting to the Christian school community.