Doctoral student advises world's largest public high school Bible club
A Bible club at a Pennsylvania public high school, advised by a Liberty University doctoral student, has gained national attention as the largest of its kind in the world. The club from Redbank Valley High School in New Bethlehem, Pa., has been featured on Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) twice and has inspired Christian high schoolers across the country to start Bible clubs in their schools.
Joe Harmon, who is on pace to begin his dissertation next year in Liberty’s Doctor of Education program, is the club’s advisor. He will begin his 10th year at Redbank this fall and currently teaches eighth grade civics and 10th grade U.S. history.
Harmon said the students are fully responsible for running the club, which regularly attracts about 300-350 of their classmates — more than half the school. The club meets on Mondays during the school’s activity period. In his advisory role, Harmon handles any behavior issues and works with the club’s leaders to ensure they have enough material to fill the timeslot and that the material is appropriate.
|Redbank Valley High School's Bible club was recently featured on Christian Broadcasting Network. CBN first featured the club in 2011.|
The club is now an important aspect of the community, its influence extending beyond the meetings, throughout the school, into town, and even to other states.
“For the students who are already believers, it shows them that their faith does not need checked at the campus door; they can bring God with them into their school,” Harmon said. “I witness students praying before they eat lunch, before games … I see kids actively reading their Bibles or devotionals in study halls. I see kids unashamed to be a believer.”
Throughout the school and the community, Harmon said the club has created “a culture of acceptance for Christianity and reverence for God.”
“The community has supported the club immensely — it really has brought together the different youth groups and has provided a unifying presence in general,” Harmon said.
He said the club has helped him grow in his faith as well. When Harmon was asked to take over the responsibility of the club eight years ago (then called Fellowship of Christian Athletes), he said he was just a “baby believer” with little knowledge of the Bible. He began working with students to select officers and leaders, taking a back seat as he witnessed membership surge from 40 to more than 100 students.
As news of the club’s success gained national attention, other people began contacting the school asking how they could do this. Many others found it as a source of inspiration and hope.
“So much negative attention is placed on today’s youth and on the awful things occurring in schools,” Harmon said, calling the club’s story “an inspirational boost.”
“Whether you are a believer or not, it is impressive that 19 student leaders get up in front of their peers on a weekly basis, organize club meetings, and run a club that has such an impact. They are truly an inspiration.”
|Joe Harmon (right), a Liberty University doctoral student, huddles with Bible club leaders, whom he advises, at Redbank Valley High School.|
Harmon started a ministry online called School Bible Club to help others wishing to start Christian clubs on their own campuses. This ministry is not affiliated with the school and does not try to duplicate what occurs there. Harmon has had the opportunity to speak at churches, a youth convention, and meet with pastors, parents, and students.
“One of the pieces of advice I give is to remember that clubs don’t have to be controversial; the student leaders at Redbank focus on the nature and character of God, on the Gospel message, week in and week out,” Harmon said. “They aren’t radical; they just teach biblical precepts like love, forgiveness, joy, respect for authority, self-worth, etc.”
He said the biggest challenge for students at first is not understanding federal guidelines and being afraid of the controversy.
“I’ve talked to students who have tried to initiate a club but the principal was fearful of litigation. I advise the students to do their homework, to read what has been done by other clubs to get them in legal trouble. This way, they can go to their principal and hopefully assure them that the club they initiate will be in line with federal guidelines.”
At Redbank, the teens share the Gospel regularly and have seen a number of their classmates come to Christ as a result of the club. As they prepare their lessons for the week, they are sure to incorporate many fun elements, including worship, videos, and skits. But the rapid growth and success can only be attributed to God, Harmon said.
“It was merely on the announcements, ‘Come to a Bible club meeting,’ and they showed up and continued to show up and come in droves.”
One of the criticisms, he said, is that some students only come to “get out of homeroom.”
“Well, so what? They at least hear a Christian message for a portion of the club, pray as a group, and be a part of something that’s greater than them,” he said. “There are other clubs they could attend, but for some reason, most come to Bible club. I think it says, for the most part, kids are interested in what’s happening. I truly believe kids are seeking answers, are searching for truth, and hope to find it, even a piece of it, through Bible club.”
As the club continues through new generations of leadership, Harmon said it is important that they keep the fire alive. Last year the club started a mentorship program for seventh- and eighth-grade students to work alongside the older leaders so they can see how the club operates and share in its vision.
For Harmon personally, advising the club has been a source of inspiration for his spiritual walk, even prompting him to pursue his doctorate with Liberty, the world’s largest Christian university.
“I didn’t get into teaching thinking I would ever do this, but apparently God had other plans. The growth of my walk with Christ parallels the growth of the club. I love travelling around to speak about the club and hopefully inspire using what is occurring at our school. And I get to advise some of the best teens around to run a club that reaches so many.”