Like every era, ours is one where events that happen before our eyes have the potential to mask the truth of what is really happening and require discernment. As Christian educators and leaders, the challenges are given added importance as you seek to offer that discernment to your colleagues, families and students. Leading requires a sense of the big picture and an understanding of broader implications.
I’m reminded of the importance of the biblical warning: “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matt. 11:15). It seems we need a right view of the way things are, followed by a right response to that reality. It is easy to miss what is really happening by going in the wrong direction in one of two ways. On one hand, we may wrongly think that things are getting better. It is true that there are great advances in technology, medicine, and communication. The expansion of access to culturally significant ideas, the arts, and leisure are impressive. One could easily be tempted into thinking that things are looking up. It’s happened before. Even believing communities and Christianized societies have been impacted by seeming progress throughout history to the point that theology became reactive—in an overly positive way—instead of prophetic, and discernment was replaced by euphoria.
On the other hand, it is easy to see many ominous signs around us and conclude that things are not looking good, that things are in a downward spiral, and that all hope is lost. Here Christians go from being engaged and aromatic to withdrawn and hopeless. It seems to me that a right way of looking at the world is to view it as dying, not dead. There are two things to bear in mind about a world that is dying: 1) It is under a sentence and 2) It doesn’t offer lasting hope (life). Both of these truths are helpful to me when I look at the world around us. A sentence has been handed down; it has not been executed. A dying world offers me little yet it may not appear dying all the time.
Our right response to the realities around us is possible because we are meant to be more than observers. What does being an adult heir of Christ mean? What does it look like to be entitled to an inheritance of eternity? It looks different from the world. If we are to take our place as heirs, we must also be prepared to suffer with Christ (Rom. 8). We are in a world that is dying, but we are alive. The suffering that we endure is not unto death but unto life. God, who is the all-loving One, allows His people to endure great difficulties. If He does this as part of His perfect plan, ought we to act as though we are OK with that? Ought I be able to offer encouragement that is real because it includes the hope of eternity? These are very real issues for a Christian school leader to deal with and respond to in ways that teach our students to think maturely as well.
For example, in the eyes of the world, we may seem callous when we see others’ real suffering as fleeting inconveniences. However, in light of eternity, we are faithful sons and daughters, choosing to see our pains as passing trials and holding on to the eternal truth of the gospel. The battle we fight is over eternal things. Indeed, it is in light of eternity that the apostle Paul was able to call suffering “momentary afflictions” (2 Cor. 4:17)—and for us, these are encouraging words. How we deal with suffering as a school community is a testimony to how the gospel actually impacts our thinking. Always caring. Grieving with those who grieve. But not as the world does.
Seeing the world as dying can make all the difference when looking at the things of this world and comparing them to those things of lasting glory. As a parent, I think of what it means to give up all earthly desires for my children. Is that only wealth and luxury? The harder things for me to give up are my desires for them to be happy and healthy, and to someday be married. But they are earthly desires too, right? Interestingly, the way we look at our children and our desires for their future are not only foolish, but also wrong to a society that has only this present world to consider. Are we prepared for the ridicule and hatred that will inevitably come from people who can’t see the love in the things that Christians do? Eternal things can’t make sense to the world. How are we preparing our school community to deal with an increasingly hostile world?
We are at war because we belong to a conquering King. Instead of fighting the battle, though, we’ve assumed the role of victor—before our work is done. At the very same time that the world dies, it fights back in unrepentant rebellion. I think we’ve dressed for the wrong battle. But that’s the human way, isn’t it? Consider the U.S. Army’s cavalry charge against Japanese forces on the Bataan Peninsula, Philippines in 1942. Outdated and out-armed, the besieged forces were forced to slaughter their horses for food, and the 26th Regiment fought on foot or in whatever scarce vehicles were available until their surrender. That was the last horse cavalry charge in U.S. military history. We prepare for battle against an enemy that is ever-changing while we don’t see the shift in tactics. The way we approach the changing landscape is important as we lead others—giving them courage, a model and good theology.
This article originally appeared in Cairn Magazine in similar form. It is reprinted her with the permission of the author.
Paul T. Neal (paul.neal@cace.) is Sr. Vice President for Marketing and Enrollment at Cairn University and co-founder of Charter Oak Research where he serves as Principal and Chief Research Officer. Charter Oak Research is a marketing research and consulting firm focused on resourcing and supporting Christian schools and colleges, other Christian ministries and for profit organizations. Charter Oak brings marketing research to bear on the strategy and tactics of enrollment and advancement needs of clients to improve brand awareness, perception and sustainability. Paul has presented and been published on: the use of normative data in analysis, respondent motives, trends in education and online communities and respondent quality. Prior to founding Charter Oak Research, Paul was a Principal at Olson Research Group for 15 years as well as serving as the Associate Director of the Center for the Study of Federalism at Temple University responsible for qualitative research on political culture and U.S. Public Policy. Paul has served as an adjunct faculty member at several Philadelphia area universities. Paul is a graduate of Eastern (B.A.) and Villanova (M.A.) Universities and attended Temple University for further graduate study.