I just had the privilege of attending CACE’s Engage Conference in Washington, D.C. with its theme of Celebrating the Past / Imagining the Future. I always leave these gatherings refreshed spiritually, challenged to grow professionally, encouraged in the work we are honored to do, and equipped with a list of new books to order. This year, maybe more than any due to the absence of gatherings during the pandemic, I was blessed to be near brothers and sisters who are dedicated to serving the Lord in Christian education from various parts of the country and even internationally.
There were many great sessions and great conversations that took place around tables, but one theme especially comes to mind as I reflect on the time in D.C.: Is it worth it? Is working in Christian education worth it? This question was posed directly to a friend who was stepping away from his role at the end of the year due to family obligations. After doing good, hard work, and sacrificially serving his school, he was asked, is it worth it?
This question was also alluded to by various presenters who talked about their work and calling. They shared their desire to build something that is meaningful and would have long-term impact in the lives they serve and in their communities. Their hope was to be part of something bigger than themselves regardless of personal cost.
A presenter at the end of a long, distinguished career in Christian education affirmed that this vocation of Christian school leadership was worth it as he shared from his life experiences. He challenged the attendees to always grow in their leadership and understanding of Christian education and be leaders with vision and passion. He recalled the lives that he was able to impact; this veteran was grateful for the students who journeyed through his school and the opportunity he had to serve the Lord.
Is it worth it? As I meet with Christian school leaders around the country, I continue to hear about the burnout of Christian school leaders and teachers, so the question is legit. Are these good careers or not?
Out of curiosity, I looked at the U.S. News and World Report’s “100 Best Jobs” based on attributes such as pay, personal challenge, fit, stress levels, satisfying work life balance, etc. Not surprisingly, I did not find Christian school leader or Christian school teacher on the list. Whereas a Christian school leader or teacher is called on to fulfill some of the jobs listed, the specific roles did not make the list.
Yet, each of the Engage presenters, as well as each informal testimony I heard, affirmed the fact that our efforts are worth it. It is worth the personal sacrifice and the years dedicated to serving children in their schools. It is worth toiling through challenges such as changing family dynamics, financial struggles, and mask mandates. Even with the added tests of the last two pandemic years, the perspectives of these Christian school leaders had not changed: they remained committed to the work of Christian education they believe God called them to do. While I believe everyone at the conference already knew that the call was worth it, it was great to be reminded in community.
One of my favorite quotes from cleric John Newton speaks to this theme of vocational value. In writing to Richard Johnson, who was discouraged in his ministry, Newton penned these words that are as true today as they were in the 1791:
I have not been disheartened by your apparent want of success. I have been told that skillful gardeners will undertake to sow and raise a salad for dinner in the short time while the meat is roasting. But no gardener can raise oaks with such expedition. You are sent to New Holland, not to sow salad seeds but to plant acorns; and your labour will not be lost, though the first appearances may be very small, and progress very slow. You are, I trust, planting for the next century. I have a good hope that your oaks will one day spring up and flourish, and produce other acorns, which, in due time, will take root, and spread among the islands and nations in the Southern Ocean.
I am encouraged by this metaphor of planting acorns with the hope of oaks that will spring up and flourish. As is often true in Christian education, results aren’t always realized right away, but over the years the impact is undeniable, as evidenced in the testimonies of our parents, students, and alumni.
This theme raised at Engage prompted me to think about my own work at Charter Oak Research. Our company provides information to help schools understand their internal and external markets—research that helps them make the case for Christian education at their school. We focus much of our work on defining the value proposition of a school and asking if it resonates with prospective families and children. After this weekend, I am encouraged to share the value proposition of working in Christian education to the next generation of teachers and administrators. As we seek to recruit the best potential faculty and staff at our schools, educators to follow in the steps of those before them, we need them to know from Day 1 that, truly, it is worth it!