In 1996, I was a young pastor tasked with the mission of adult ministry and discipleship at a medium sized church in the western suburbs of Chicago. As a graduate of a premier bible school and a product of growing up in the church since my infancy, it was shocking to me to recognize the truth that I was ill prepared for my mission and had literally no idea how to disciple a community of people.
14 years later, out of the ministry and the founder of a consulting company that was hired by The Gallup Organization to oversee and coordinate their Global Faith Initiative, I learned that my struggle was not unique.
Over the past six years my education in this shared struggle has continued through data collected from over 10,000 students in Christian schools around the world. Through the information provided from this ongoing study and the opportunity that has been provided to meet and train teachers from nearly 50 countries in the last 12 months, it’s fair to say that there is a disintegration that is occurring in our classrooms and that there is a need for some disruptive innovation in the way that we train teachers to equip students to reflect Christ.
In his July 23, blog, Erik Ellefsen identified four questions to consider and develop as we consider the chaos in education policy. I would submit a similar version of those questions that need to be considered by every Christian school administrator, board member, bible department faculty member and Christian University professor of Christian education.
- Why does your bible department exist?
- How does your school define spiritual maturity?
- How does your school measure spiritual transformation, success and spiritual health, and then differentiate to meet the needs of students at various stages in the process?
- Who are you connected to and aligned with as part of a local and national professional network?
First, why does your bible department exist? According to the most recent findings of the 2014 Cardus report, effectively Christian schools are producing students who demonstrate a high level of “giving, participation and volunteering as a well as a greater frequency of attending a religious service, but once family background and other control elements were included the Christian schools were not making a noticeable difference in the lives of their graduates than those of non-Christian school students (Cardus Education Survey 2014. p28).” The report also identifies that “Evangelical schools institutionalize the importance and practice of religiosity (p28).
- So is that our measurement of success?
- Is it enough that the existence of our Christian school bible departments is effectively not making things worse?
- Should it become a badge of honor that Christian school graduates are becoming religious?
The most recent data collected from the Global Student Assessment (GSA) provided through The Engaged Schools Initiative suggests that the insight provided by Cardus is incomplete and that their results provide more cause for concern than celebration regarding the state of what is occurring in our Bible classes. In fact, the GSA results point to the fact that there is a general disintegration occurring in the minds of our Christian school students and that students are adopting a disintegrated materialistic worldview in their approach toward learning (For more information download the GSA 2014 Report).
In the gospels, Jesus informs us that one of the highest forms of worship is to love the Lord with all of our mind, later the apostle Peter would exhort us toward a reasoned and reasonable faith (Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27, 1 Peter 3:15).
But as Joel Satterly notes in his blog post regarding The Call of Cardus, “The typical Christian school faces a pressing challenge to focus on being school as opposed to a tuition-funded youth group” and that while “Catholic schools tend to enjoy a reputation of academic rigor Protestant schools are perceived as anti-intellectual.” This conclusion highlights not only the gap between our rhetoric and our current reality, but the gap between orthodox theology and the bad theology that is the foundation for the disintegration occurring in minds and hearts of our students.
The Cardus report also notes that “Protestant schools continue to lead the way in socializing their graduates in religious practices and beliefs” but that “non-religious schools appear to be managing to make space for their student experiences for spiritual formation” (p6). If this is the case, then we must ask the question, what separates the purpose of your bible department from any other set of spiritual or moral classes offered by any other school?
- Is the purpose of your bible department to produce students who smile more and swear less?
- Is the purpose of your bible department to produce students who can compete in a bible trivia contest without embarrassing their alma mater?
Failing to clearly identify the deliverable or purpose for existence is like pointing a bow at the broad side of a barn and then painting a target around the arrow after it has been shot.
Few days pass without me investing time to remind my students that they are one of the less than 5% of their generation that has the opportunity for a 4 year high school bible education (Beemer, 2010) and that they have the opportunity to become one of the ½ of one percent of their generation that have a biblical worldview (Barna, 2009). I also remind them that if those numbers are accurate then it is not enough for us to graduate students who are merely hanging onto their faith. Our bible teachers exist to equip students to become reflections of Christ in their circles of influence. Our benchmark is not graduation, but 10 years after graduation because nothing less than a long-term vision for our existence is acceptable if our investment into their lives is designed for an intentional long-term return.
Clearly identifying and ensuring that the purpose for our existence is theologically sound impacts everything from our scope and sequence to our measurement benchmarks, forms of assessment, differentiation and even the teachers that we hire and what classes they are matched with. The implementation of that purpose should be a cause for innovation that not only improves every aspect of our process and our product but our reason for existence should also bring us back to the original intent of a Christ-centered education; to equip students to reflect Christ (Ephesians 4:11-15).
Next blog (part 2)
Connecting Truth: Best practices for schools that have defined and are measuring spiritual maturity and transformation in the context of equipping students to love the Lord with all of their minds.