Tyler Neethling’s return to Judah as the tenth-, eleventh-, and twelfth-grade Bible teacher is in full force. The Judah alum did not plan to return, however.
During the craziness of the pandemic, Mr. Neethling was trying to start up a ministry overseas in the Philippines. He said, “My wife and I were going to take our family overseas for mission work. Obviously it didn’t work out with the circumstances.” But this change of plans raised the question of what he could do to be faithful to God while he remained in Champaign. He was “just trying to pass the time, trying to figure out God’s will.” He said, “I was working in landscaping, and I became heavily involved in my church and youth ministries.”
Mr. Neethling’s faithfulness paid off, as he eventually caught wind of the Bible position at Judah. He believes that God closing the door to going overseas led him to Judah. He said, “God decided to bless me with full-time, all-the-time ministering to students.”
Mr. Neethling is beyond qualified to fill the position here at Judah. “I went to school for student ministry and biblical theology,” he said. “I’ve started youth groups from nothing and have filled voids wherever need be.” He not only understands the Word of God, but also the culture of Judah. He first came to Judah about halfway through fourth grade. When asked about the difference between the Judah then and Judah now, he said, “When I was here at Judah, it was pretty insulated, which can be good or bad. It was a bit of a bubble. The vast majority of kids had families heavily involved in church and Christian backgrounds. A few had parents who threw them in to give them a shot at figuring Christ out. It seems more like 50/50 now, which is an amazing opportunity, but it changes dynamics. I’ve already had beginnings of good and honest conversations about spirituality and belief in God and salvation. It’s a phenomenal opportunity.”
In his interview, Mr. Neethling recalled specific teachers who changed his life while he was a student at Judah. In fact, Mr. Neethling molds his teaching style around Mr. Hinshaw, his sixth-grade teacher. He said, “It was my first encounter with a male teacher. He was highly interactive with his object lessons. He was funny and wasn’t afraid to let loose and have fun. But he also knew when to be serious and learn, and I appreciated the balance he found.” In high school, Mr. Neethling had “Happy” Davis and Mr. Williams for Bible and worldviews. He said, “Mr. Williams genuinely changed my life. I’m here teaching worldviews now because of him.” He mentioned how Mr. Williams gave him a passion for understanding the Bible using reason and logic. “He helped a teenager,” said Mr. Neethling, “who was developing pretty serious apathy towards faith and the bigger things in life.” Mr. Neethling also said, “I have vivid memories of teachers praying over me, which was crazy to me.”
Mr. Neethling is very grateful for the opportunity to return to Judah as a teacher; he loves it here. Although he claims to be an introvert at heart, he said, “It’s an amazing opportunity to minister to youth five days a week, eight hours a day. I get to live out my purpose every single day. It’s difficult, but there’s something special about it.” He has already realized that being a teacher is difficult. He discovered that in just a few weeks. But, he said, “I depend on Christ. I depend on Christ for wisdom and classroom management. I depend on Him for strength and endurance when work gets overwhelming.” He says his favorite thing about the job is “seeing students have that lightbulb moment where they finally connect the dots. That’s what I live for, especially when it has anything to do with their relationship with Christ. I love seeing confusion dissipate.”
It’s safe to say that Mr. Neethling is loving his new job. But Mr. Neethling does not take teaching the Bible lightly. It’s what sets Judah apart from the typical high school. He makes the point, “If we are truly going to live out our mission statement of being Christ-centered and academically excellent, what we have to do here is center around Christ for their entire day. To some this might be all they have, and that’s a big responsibility.” Mr. Neethling says he is in constant prayer for our school and the student body: “I wake up early and pray during coffee. I don’t listen to anything in my car, so I pray on my way to and from work. I pray at night as I fall asleep. I pray for the students by name and class and the needs that I see that they have. I continue to believe that the Holy Spirit permeates the room and continues to move and live in their reality.” Mr. Neethling understands that Bible is not just another class here at Judah. It’s the very cornerstone of how we are to follow Jesus with our lives. Mr. Neethling’s plan moving forward is pretty simple: make Jesus real to the student body. He says, “I want kids to get into the Word and do something with it other than fill in the blank. Hopefully, that gives the Word some legitimacy. I want the big ideas to become specific and practical. If I don’t help them understand how this affects them, it just becomes more questions in a workbook.” Mr. Neethling knows what Judah is and wants to give back. He credits this school with making him into the man of God that he has become. He is experienced with the culture of Judah, but most importantly the gospel. He wants to impact the students’ lives and has passion for making the gospel real to every Judah student. There is a very bright future ahead with Mr. Neethling as Judah Christian School’s high school Bible teacher.
—Keaton Welch, class of ’25