Many of us hear a divine calling in our prayers. Greg Finch actually heard his with his ears.
After finding his passion for history in college, and earning multiple degrees in it, he still hadn’t found his calling. Then in 2001, at his daughter’s Summit Christian Academy in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, he heard the expanding school’s administrator appeal for qualified, God-fearing teachers in science, math, English – and history.
“Ka-blam!” he says. “Like lightning from Heaven, I instantly knew then my true calling for life, with clarity!”
And now on Saturday, the history, geography and government teacher will hear his name called as one of 12 Christian Teachers of the Year for 2022 at The Herzog Foundation Excellence in Christian Education Awards Gala in Washington, D.C.
It’s an amazing, providential ascension for one who, after enlisting in the Army at 19 and afterward working in his father’s business, didn’t even enter college until age 30. It was there that his heart “was mysteriously drawn to history.”
Or maybe not so mysteriously, after what he characterizes as lackluster lessons in a public high school that sought good coaches who could teach history, rather than the other way around.
Finch has now become a teacher who brings students to Christ and history to life.
In fact, through a relationship with the owner of an area Civil War-era home, Finch has taken his students into actual slave quarters – and through time, with gloved inspections of priceless family letters dating back to the 1860s. Students hand-copied and preserved the letters, while suspensefully following the life of one Civil War youth whose correspondence led all the way to World War I.
“As they were transcribing, it became clear that we were seeing a story unfold,” Finch says. “And we did it chronologically, from the oldest letters to the newest. And it was like watching a beautiful motion picture, but you didn’t know how it was going to end.
“It was like a serial cliffhanger, because every day when the bell rang, they actually, literally were sad.”
Finch’s former students involved in the letter project remember it as much as anything they learned from him. “If I had taught from a textbook or lecture format, it wouldn’t have been a tenth as meaningful.”
But it’s a relationship with Jesus that’s at the core of Finch’s teaching.
“An effective teacher must, first and foremost, acknowledge the Source of all learning,” he says. “I drench every lesson in God’s Word and prayer.”
His divine calling over that microphone so many years ago still echoes today, as evidenced by a letter recommending him as a Christian Teacher of the Year.
“Greg’s commitment to academic excellence, godly character, and his unique giftedness as a teacher to see every student succeed is top-notch,” writes Chris L. Williams, senior pastor of Fellowship Church in nearby Greenwood, Missouri.
If he couldn’t teach in a Christian school, Finch says he wouldn’t teach at all.
“I have the credentials to teach in a variety of settings, but I couldn’t do it apart from God. I just couldn’t,” he told The Lion, a publication of the Herzog Foundation. “Honestly, I would not be able to teach in any other setting. This is what God has called me to. It’s what he created me to be. But if I had to teach history as just a disjointed bunch of names and dates, I couldn’t do that.
“History has a context, and teaching in a Christian School allows me the freedom to explain that context, to reveal that context, that God has a huge plan for history. And we’re part of that plan. The students are, and I am, and we’ve been created, to quote Esther, ‘for just such a time as this.’
“You know, the culture just throws garbage at our students, and I get to correct some of that and show them what was actually said or written. And that’s a thrill for me.”
Indeed, on his students’ tour of the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, Finch says a guide misidentified a famous painting there as the “wedding” of Pocahontas. It’s actually of her baptism, which Finch informed the sadly uninterested guide. That evening at the hotel, Finch brought the mistake up to his students.
“I said, ‘Why do you think the tour guide is not wanting us to understand about Pocahontas and her baptism?’ And of course, they know the answer, right? There’s a suppression of truth right now about our history, and a rewriting of history.”
Yet, this is a promising time for Christian education, and a trying time for the nation. And the convergence of those two phenomena may not be a coincidence.
“You cannot cut morality away and hope to educate anybody, no matter how smart a curriculum might be intellectually. Without that moral edge, we’re lost. The Christian school is the last best hope for Western civilization, the last best hope for America,” Finch says.
For all these reasons and more, Finch’s reputation has stretched far beyond the region and even Christian circles. A Summit Christian Academy alumnus recently was asked at Massachusetts Institute of Technology orientation to name his most influential teacher. “Mysteriously,” Finch says, it was him.
Or maybe not so mysteriously.