I recently read two articles that spurred my thinking on this “what do we deserve?” as it relates to Christian schools. I don’t want these sources to take responsibility for my thinking, but I do want to acknowledge them. Chad Dirkse, recently wrote a blog on the CACE website entitled, “But I’ve Earned the Right To…” It was a great reminder of how we do things differently as a believing community (church, Christian school, family, etc.). So hold that thought…..this blog actually came to mind when I read an article in Christianity Today, “The Church Deserves Better than Ugly Decorations”. These two articles don’t necessarily agree with one another, but they got me thinking on how we ought to view style (and more importantly) beauty in the Christian school setting, especially in the context of who we ultimately serve. Chad quotes in his blog, “Jesus did what he did because he understood it wasn’t about him but instead about the glory of His Father who sent Him.”
The article in Christianity Today has an elitism that permeates the article. This limits the ability to address issues of the aesthetic in light of ability, style, cost, time. The author starts out, “1987 called. It wants its tissue box cover back. You know the one, made by hand in colonial blue and dusty rose calico.” Throughout the article she explains that many of the bad taste items in our churches are cast-offs or hand-me-downs. This being said, it seems to ignore the fact that many of these things were made by people in the church who set out to build or decorate well—only time or taste is what made these items so objectionable to the author.
Any serious consideration of why things seem out of fashion, in certain faith communities, inevitably ought to lead to the conclusion that a major contributor is frugality (or affordability). It is interesting that this would be overlooked for such an easy argument that the “church deserves better.” Are we so uncomfortable with being out of step with today’s fashion that we develop an argument for keeping current? Moreover, another reason one church’s tastes seem simple to more sophisticated observers is the fact that the church is made up of more middle Americans than urban elites. There’s nothing wrong with middle Americans having different tastes than that elite. So what’s this have to do with Christian schools?
How are we to handle the constant pressure for new, better or more? It would be interesting to think through this, in light of the warning to not let the world squeeze us into its mold. Some pressures for improvement are good, but they are just out of reach. Other pressures are for things that actually may be undermining some of the very values that make up our distinctives. No conversation around the cost of keeping things current can take place apart from what more significant things have to go unaddressed—like faculty development, programs, and financial aid? Don’t we have to be comfortable being out of step with parts of society? Aren’t we another part of the counter culture of Christ’s Kingdom? But also, like the church, the reality is we are beholden to “shoppers.” How do we find that balance? How do we message to an audience that has changing tastes and changing expectations? I think we can do a better job showing the importance of substantive things over trivial and true beauty over fancy.
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.