When we say we are for something, what does that mean? When we say we want something, what does that look like? I have been involved with Christian education now for almost 20 years professionally. As a graduate student, I chose Christian education and as a parent, I have chosen it as well. When we say we are pro-Christian education, I think a question that needs to be asked is what does that mean?
What is the future of Christian education, what does it look like? With market pressures hitting Christian schools and universities what does it drive us to do as leaders? How should we respond to the demands of a consumer mentality? What should our families expect in return? What is it we are providing? The way we respond to the demands and expectations of our customers and target population plays a role in the type of school we become.
How we answer these questions defines who we are and the way we allocate resources. It should and will drive our resources and our energy. It also demonstrates what our motivations are and how we will handle changes in the market place, students and culture.
My business partners (at Charter Oak Research) and I have been travelling across the country getting to know many Christian schools and different Christian school leaders for the past 3 years. In our time on the road, we have had the privilege to work with various kinds of Christian schools: Church vs Independent, Board run vs. Parent run, open enrollment vs. closed enrollment, evangelical or discipleship, classical and traditional and the list continues on and on. We have done research with thousands of parents and students of K-12 schools, colleges and seminaries.
At each school we have the opportunity to work with the leaders to hear their goals and their hopes for the school. We have met hundreds of Christian school educators who have gotten into this form of ministry to impact the next generation for Christ. We have seen how these same educators have persisted in this field for the same reason they initially entered. Each school desires to be a faithful Christian school tied to their mission. What can sometimes get lost is how we are actually doing at being a Christian school. Are we fulfilling the call to be a Christian school or have we become tossed to and fro on the whims and the desires of our internal population and our perceived external market that just have not decided to come because of X variable?
It is easy to get excited about the next great idea or program; we have seen this even in the church environment and recently reported on specifically in the area of youth ministry and the effects of a program-focused approach without the biblical underpinnings. It is not uncommon for us to look at challenging budgets, pressures on enrollment, parent desires and cultural shifts and turn our attention off of the main thing because we need to come up with something that will respond to the changes and catch the eye.
In reality, though, we are challenged to equip the students we serve by providing them with an opportunity to have a Biblical worldview. We aren’t able to promise faith but we can promise providing our students the tools and a lens through which to make decisions using scripture and preparation for their future academic and professional pursuits.
In 2011, the Barna group researched why regular churchgoers during their teen years have become disconnected from church life after the age of 15. While there was no single reason, Charisma Magazine reported here, how Barna identifies some reasons.
Reason 1-Churches seem overprotective
Reason 2-Teens experience with Christianity is shallow
Reason 3-Churches come across as antagonistic to science
I am amazed at how much of an issue this is becoming and how much it may impact us as we move forward with the pressures unlike any time before. Many Christian colleges are priced at $40k+ a year and have the best facilities a student could ever imagine. Christian K-12 or high schools compete, at times, with newer and larger public school facilities and charter schools that often get a pass on performance. Affordability and delivering on value, though not the same thing have become real challenges. At times the bells and whistles can turn our attention off of the foundation. The consequences are real for us, as what we have promised needs to be delivered on. Our goal isn’t to keep people at school but to be faithful to train the next generation.
Have we become a school that:
- Is an average place for families to send their kids as we are an alternative to the public school world
- Is a school that because we label ourselves as Christian we don’t take the academics very seriously-and are fine with that
- Is a prep school with great academic programs and bells and whistles and sprinkle that with a Bible class each year for our students
- or lastly, a school who takes faith and academics seriously, that seeks to not just have Bible class or curriculum but teaches students across all areas to challenge their view on everything in the light of scripture
Abraham Kuyper’s 1889 convocation speech in Amsterdam at the Free University had some interesting thoughts for us to ponder today. “There are three wonderful things about scholarship: it brings to light the hidden glory of God; it gives you joy in the act of digging up the gold that lies hidden in creation; and it grants you the honor of raising the level and well being of human life.” “Every man of learning should be fired with a zeal to battle against darkness and for the light…Similarly, it is your high calling to wrest the light of God’s splendor from the recesses of creation, not in order to seek honor for yourself, but honor for your God.”
Later in the same speech he says, “And scholars far from being able to do without their faith, must begin by being rich in faith if they are ever to feel their heart stir with the holy impulse that drives them to engage in true scholarship.”
Each school really does fit into one of the above models. There are many ways to evaluate this. As school leaders and as parents when they make decisions about school at enrollment time, which school we are matters.
Questions for Christian School Leader’s consideration:
- How trained are the teachers in Biblical integration?
- How do we track our answer here?
- How do we know-and who is able to evaluate this on the staff?
- How have we invested in our teachers to continue to improve?
- How qualified are our faculty in being up to date in their field?
- In looking at our budgets, how much are we investing in areas that show where our priorities are?
Very good article David. You are quite right in challenging us to think about the goal of our school and to ensure we are truly focused on that. I think the big issue still facing many Christian schools is training teachers to understand the essence of Biblical Christian schooling and to be set free to fully utilise their gifts in that.
Look forward to reading more of your thoughts!
We face similar issues in Australia. Recently CEN (Christian Educations National) has produced a booklet on curriculum planning entitled Transformation by Design. It aims to provide a framework to support teachers in thinking through intentional planning of Christian worldview in specific units, through a firm Biblical Perspectives (revelation) and ‘Threads’ (exploring a discipleship response) and essential questions around issues of faith and academia.
Your reminder of the importance of excellence is significant. Excellence in Christlikeness is a great goal. Pursuing gifts with passion as service and exploring relationships and contexts with compassion.
Thanks for your thoughts, vert timely for our discussions.
Curriculum Development Officer
Northern Territory Christian Schools