Is a Christian educator the same as an educator who is Christian?
For that matter, does Christian education differ from education of or by Christians?
Approaching education with a Kingdom mindset requires that the school and her leaders view all aspects of teaching, learning, culture, sports, and the arts through the lens of the grace and truth of Christ. All truth is God’s truth. All beauty is God’s beauty. A history discussion or a biology lecture, therefore, should incorporate questions that lead the students to explore God’s work and provision, His sovereignty and goodness. A math course should not just teach students to execute the mechanics of various algorithms but, more meaningfully, to connect mathematical patterns observed in creation.
In Colossians 3:17, Paul writes, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Whether teaching, coaching, grading papers, sorting library books, mailing transcripts, or sponsoring chess club, every aspect of the work of schooling can and should be done through Christ’s strength and for His glory. Moreover, as Christian educators, our conduct at our workplace should distinguish us as Christian by the way in which we show compassion, patience, humility, and forgiveness.
But Christian education is not just a collection of believers doing the regular work of schooling out of Christian motives or with Christian kindness and compassion. Christian schools are often hallmarked by weekly chapel services, Bible classes, and morning prayer over the intercom. Some Christian schools scrutinize their curriculum for Christian values and principles or choose textbooks by Christian publishers with explicitly Christian themes.
These programmatic aspects of spiritual formation (Chapel, Bible class, morning prayer, etc.) are necessary for any truly Christian education, but on their own they are insufficient. Gospel-centered Christian education weaves the hope of Jesus into the fabric of every imaginable aspect of school. Biblical integration across all disciplines is essential for students to fully grasp the magnitude of God’s love and power.
But just like learning about algebra does not automatically turn students into lovers of algebra, the same is true of the Christian faith. A culture of disciple-making is the most essential part of developing Jesus-followers who will not check their faith at the door once they move on to college or career. Far too many students receive a Christian education that includes Gospel presentations or even doctrinal instruction without ever being personally, intentionally approached by a coach, teacher, or older student for ongoing discipleship. Obviously, disciple-making can take many forms, from Bible studies to prayer groups to church-based programs like Awana or youth groups. But just as we desire for our students to be not only hearers of the Word but doers, we also must not be simply proclaimers of the Word, but “fishers of men.” This aspect of our calling is true of any Christian who works at the school, regardless of whether “make disciples” appears in their job description.
Even with Christian programming and a culture of discipleship, the great temptation away from Kingdom priorities that Christian educators face is the temptation to “keep up with the Joneses.” Christian schools and colleges can easily find themselves capitulating to an arms race with their non-sectarian peers for the best facilities, activities, and programs. All one has to do is drive on campus to an elite college football program and stand in awe of the plush leather couches, flat screen monitors on every wall, and other luxuries typically reserved for posh hotels. Even explicitly faith-based schools can fall prey to this temptation, with chapel services increasingly turned into productions with cutting-edge audio/visual technology and lighting featuring charismatic guest speakers delivering engrossing messages. In any domain, from beautiful architecture to award-winning programs to high-tech productions, excellence can reflect God’s greatness and glorify His name . . . or it can feed our own pride and become an idol. From the school board down to the elementary school student, this heart check should be a regular practice: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).
Of course, even the most spiritually enriching of schools will also be evaluated based on its performance as an educational institution and graduates’ success in college and beyond. Yet these two factors, college prep and Christian worldview, need not be opposing ends of a continuum. A deeper, more nuanced, way to view college prep and Christian Worldview curriculum is to place these as axes on a coordinate plane. Perhaps College Prep could be the vertical axis while Christian worldview is the horizontal axis. The end-goal, then, for Christian education would be to extend curricular design into the upper right quadrant. In other words, a curriculum that is designed to develop both students’ intellectual acumen and spiritual formation would fuse the heart and the head.
There is no shortcut to developing a Kingdom culture, and no foolproof way to maintain it in the face of competing priorities and worldly temptations. But with hearts committed to making disciples and the humility to lay our every achievement at Jesus’ feet, Christian education can achieve true excellence by developing students who are “equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17) and who follow Jesus all the days of their lives.