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It might seem too simple to be true. So obvious that it is ludicrous, and many people probably won’t want to read to the end as they will determine that this is an issue for other Christian School leaders and not their own - and if your school is flourishing both in quantity and quality then you probably have this sorted so only read on if you what the nice feeling of someone patting you on the back.
And…before I get started, please understand this is a post that will hopefully help some people articulate a better picture of the amazing things that are happening in their school. Sometimes it is not what we do that is the issue, it is how we ‘sell’ it that is. Please read this post with that in the back of your mind.
In Christian Education there is a close correlation between the ability of the Christian School leader to articulate a compelling vision for their school and their ability to grow. For the school to grow, not just in numbers, but in maturity. So with Christian Schools in many places around the world struggling to fill their rolls with many people struggling to ‘afford’ Christian Education it is important that we are careful to let people know to the real value of Christian Education.
The tragedy is that too many Christian School leaders simply do not articulate the true value of Christian Education.
We live in a time where there are fewer people wanting to ‘invest’ money into their children getting a Christian Education. Not because it will not be good for them, rather because the big difference Christian Education makes is not well articulated for them. Is their investment worth it just so that a school will pray or read the Scriptures. Many people do not have the money for that and will instead opt to pray more and read the Scriptures to ‘save’ their money and send their children to the school down the road.
So is there a way to increase the ‘value proposition’ for parents? The answer is somewhat found in Simon Sinek’s explanation of the difference between trying to sell ‘how’ versus ‘why’. School leaders who can clearly articulate the bigger vision of ‘why’ Christian Education, rather than defaulting to ‘how’ we do Christian Education, can be the simple difference between a school that is struggling and a school that is flourishing.
Understandably many parents are thinking deeply about where they spend their money and the concept, or in some cases luxury, of sending their children to a Christian School is something that comes down to a perceived return on investment. And depending on the message that we send out about Christian Education it will either be a luxury that cannot be afforded or something that is priceless and will be invested in at the expense of all else, sometimes.
Consider this. Some parents are looking to send their child to a Christian School so they make their way to the school. While being introduced to the school they are told that the school has a strong academic program, prides itself on praying for their students daily. The sports teams all pray before they play. In this school the Scriptures are read daily and each student has a chance to do devotions to their peers. Students are required to memorise scripture for homework and they only sing Christian songs at assembly.
The parents are impressed by all the Christian things that are done and leave the school considering their options…but it really is going to be a push financially. The parents leave the school worried about the cost to enrol their daughter.
On the other side of town another set of Christian parents are considering the schooling options for their children to drive to the same Christian School as the first couple. However, a different person shows them around the school.
During their visit to the new guide shares the school's vision to transform the lives of young people. To equip young people to fulfil the Great Commission. She explains that the school does their best to educate their students not only academically, but that they will know that completeness comes through learning to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and loving their neighbours as themselves’.
Making mention that recently they have found as a school that they are needing to focus more on the ‘as yourself’ aspect because many of their young teenagers do not understand that they have value and purpose. That Scripture, worship and prayer were important tools in helping them achieve all that they desire their graduates to become.
Lastly that unlike the ‘local’ school this school was teaching that there is absolute truth, that the Scriptures are authentic and relevant, that students are designed to love and belong/contribute to society, that fulfilment does not come from having the most money, but through serving God and others in whatever field that God calls them into.
While having to travel across town to attend this school would be a hassle, the second set of parents leave the school worried about the cost of NOT enrolling their children in a Christian School.
Articulation really is one of the biggest threats to Christian Education at the moment. And I have seen it explained this way by many people, from parents, to new teachers looking for a job in a Christian School, to grandparents wanting to invest in their grandchildren’s future and to school leaders who have been in Christian Education for decades.
I have asked the question ‘why Christian Education?’ In many Christian Education forums and the difference is usually black and white. One set of answers has a low-value proposition and the other high. One group of people discuss the things we do in Christian Education. The others explain why we do Christian Education. Transforming lives, equipping for the Great Commission, holistic educational content for the head, hands and heart, teaching students to Love the Lord with their heart, soul and mind and to love their neighbour as themselves, teaching through context that help students understand that they are fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving God who desires a relationship with them.
But there is more to this issue…
Our parents are hands down the most effective marketing strategy that we have for spreading the hope that Christian Education can bring to the next generation. If we struggle to develop and use a vocabulary that articulates the real value of Christian Education, then we cannot expect our parents to do it on their own.
The same scenario happens regularly in our Churches and other community spaces. A parent is considering sending their child to a Christian School and often before they approach the school they will as a parent of a student at your school. The parent's response about either the things you do or the vision you have for your students will determine the ‘new’ parents likelihood of taking their enquiry further.
QUESTION: How do you ‘train’ your parents to talk about the vision that you have for your students as the real value of what Christian Education is?
ANSWER: You continually reinforce its message through your newsletters, community meetings, interviews, Facebook entries and in ‘carpark conversations’.
When a Christian School moves its focus from the way they do things to why they do things, God can do great things. Not only can He increase quantity, He can inprove quality. However, some Christain Schools value ‘what’ they do too much to consider returning their focus to ‘why’ they do them. Therefore questioning whether those things achieve their intended purpose are not questions that are even asked. Take scripture memorisation as an example. The first set of parents met someone who valued that the school had a homework programme that made students memorise Scripture. No doubt the school had a robust programme and the way it worked would be well instituted. However, the second guide was excited that the school wanted students to see the Scriptures as authentic and relevant. The first guide would value the system, while the second would happily review and adjust the system if they found a way to better achieve the ultimate purpose for Scripture memorisation.
QUESTION: Are there systems within your school that are more important than the purpose that they serve?
ANSWER: Yes, if you have systems that are not able to be freely questioned by those implementing them…No, if your school is driving by purpose rather than system driven. (Don’t just go removing system! A bad system can still help achieve a purpose, it just may not be the best way anymore.)
Start with your mission, vision, purpose statements. How are they going? What common vocabulary do you, your staff and your community have that articulate the value that this vision has for the graduates of your school? Is there anything missing in your purpose? THEN…when you are really brave, take a look at how your vision is manifest in each classroom, talked about by your staff and experienced by your students.
At the end of the day, talking about the hope you have for your students will only go so far if your school is not intentional about making that a reality…of course, with God’s help, all things are possible.
Is the difference between your school growing and not growing (quantity and quality) a result of the vocabulary that you are using?
Value the power of what a quality Christian Education can do, not the things we do in Christian Education.
All the best for the conversations.
Originally posted in www.christianeducation.org.nz
Such a curious thought, that I would have a calling on my life. A purpose.
Knowing you have a calling can be the most fulfilling aspect of living. Yet, not know what that calling is can be paralysing.
It can be what wakes you up in the morning, but it can equally be what keeps you awake at night.
Calling is something that I very much wrestled with over the years. Am I doing what God wants me to do? Am I all God designed me to be? What should I do next in my career? So many questions in the past, but it is now something that I have absolute peace with. Did I receive some prophetic message? A 'writing on the wall' moment? No. Just a better understanding of what God wants for all of us, and especially for me.
Let's start with the calling that you and I have in common. His Word is full of clues about our calling. In Genesis, it is made clear that we are called to take care of and rule over the earth and all that is in it, this is the Creation Mandate, and it applies to all of us. Furthermore, in Matthew, we are told to go into all the earth and to make disciples. This is the Great Commission, and just like the Creation Mandate, it applies to all of us. We are also told to love the Lord your God with everything that you have and to love your neighbour as yourself.
As you consider your calling you can be sure that the purpose that God has for you will include all of the above. If you are wrestling with whether something is your calling and that something works against your purpose to fulfil any of the above you can be assured it is not what you are designed for.
Does that mean that all of us need to be Ministers? No...and yes. No, in the sense that we are certainly not all called to be employed by a church, preach every Sabbath and have a name badge with the label 'Minister' on it. However, we are all called to do the work of a minister. We are indeed called to share the hope that we have in us, we are to love the Lord and to love each other.
God will no doubt call you to a purpose. For me, it is Christian Education. The thought of working with hundreds of children and dozens of teachers certainly is not appealing to everyone, but for me, this is my sweet spot, this is where I find fulfilment. Now, I find myself in a particular Christian school; this is important for someone who finds his purpose in Christian Education. However, I never received a 'writing on the wall' or a 'Road to Dimastas' experience to move here. So what happened that I find myself uprooting my family and shifting to a new school?
It was all about the freedom that I found in my calling.
This is an important aspect to calling. While God will call you to a purpose, rarely does he determine the place, not never, just rarely. Within this purpose we have freedom. In my situation, I was pretty much living the dream in Christian Education. I was at an amazing school, people came from all over the country and even from abroad to see what we were doing at school. I was invited to present our story and philosophy at both Christian and secular education forums and conferences and importantly, my family was very much settled. I was comfortable.
I was then asked to take up a new position in a school that would require me taking a difficult step away from my comfort and to begin the process of leading change once again. At first, it all seemed too difficult and too much like hard work...I had after all put in all the blood, sweat and tears (with the help of many amazing people around me of course) and I was reaping the reward of that work. Leading change is ugly, people get stretched, people often get hurt, and it is hard work, why would I willingly do that again? Especially if I was fulfilling God's calling on my life already, I was fulfilling God's calling on my life by being in Christian Education after all.
The reality is that your calling in not just about purpose, it is also about growth. As my last boss used to say, 'what can I do today to be of more use to Him tomorrow?
If you find yourself at a crossroad and you are looking for answers about your calling, a 'writing on the wall', of course, seek the Lord in prayer and talk to those around you whom you respect. However, also keep in mind that we are designed to grow. Seek out the purpose that gives you fulfilment and pursue opportunities to grow, to be of greater use to Him tomorrow.
Keep your eyes on the purpose God has designed you for and hold loosely to the 'place' (location) and even your 'plan' for that purpose. As stated in Proverbs 16:9, plan your course but allow God to direct your steps. The more that you understand your purpose the more agile you can be with the 'plan' and 'place' side of fulfilling your purpose.
A central theme of calling is freedom. Yes, God has designed you for a purpose but He gives you freedom within that calling. You can take it easy, or you can seek the track which leads to growth. I chose the growth path. There were many details within this path that I hadn't sorted out. However, as He does when we 'let go and let God', He took care of every last detail.
A central theme of calling is freedom, the choice to choose either comfort or growth. Choose well.
- Getting more Christian and less religion in our Christian Schools.
Christian education can be an incredibly transformative force. It can take a life in its infancy, as the life is establishing its understanding, expectation and perspective of the world and bring hope. Hope in a world that is increasingly seeming hopeless. It can help a young person understand that success is not about who dies with the most toys, rather it is about how many others one person can help, not just here on Earth, but for eternity. It can help a young person understand that they are a not the centre of the universe, fulfilment comes when we learn to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind and learn to love our neighbour as ourself. At its essence, Christian Education is counter-cultural. It tells of an alternative narrative to the world that other schools promote. Christian Education compels a view of the world that the world has lost. A view of the world that society no longer wants to see, albeit a world that society needs.
While there is much to celebrate about how Christian Schools’ develop Christian thinking in our students, we need also to be aware that Christian Schools can contribute to students developing bad Christian habits. Habits that are less like Christian habits and practices that Jesus tells of and more like religious behaviours that the likes of the Pharisees would be proud of.
It would be safe to assume that most Christian educators have visions of students learning that prayer is an ongoing conversation with their Creator. Visions that our students will create not just a deep knowledge of but a lifelong passion for the Scriptures. Visions that our students will ‘hide His Word in their heart so that they will not sin against Him’. Visions that our students will love the unlovable, have ‘next level’ empathy and be outward looking, looking to not only, ‘love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul and strength” but to authentically “love their neighbour as themselves”.
Left unchecked, these visions that we have for our students in Christian Education can become religious events that they do because they have to, rather than because they desire to do. Christian activities completed when others are looking. Acts of obedience and not acts of passion or service.
Take a moment to consider the following aspects that will be visible in most Christian Schools. In your school does what you ‘do’ really lead to the objectives that you have for including them in your school?
Scripture Memorisation: Over the years the most common approach to scripture memorisation I have witnessed has been one best described as ad hoc, almost accidental. Teachers think through the theme of the term or semester and complete a google search for as many verses they need for the topic of work. The scriptures are then given as homework to be tested on Friday. Sadly that is all they become, verses are a homework task, they have no ‘life’ at all in the classroom. A compliance activity.
The best Scripture Memorisation programmes that I have seen in action include a deliberate choice of scriptures that the school desires their young people to ‘hide in their heart’ for all that life will bring their way. The verses are not only given as homework, but are a living part of the classroom for the week and are intentionally revisited over the year so that the verses become sticky. The best scripture memorisation program deliberately gets to a place where the students are introduced to the new scripture for the week and they almost complain that they already know this one!
The parroting of 40 random verses over the course of a year because they matched the topic that was being investigated is far from life-giving, is unlikely to lead to lifelong memorising of the scriptures and will never lead to His words being ‘hidden in their hearts’. They will simply and painfully be remembered for Friday.
Biblical Literacy: In junior years, the scripture is so often learned as a lovely story with fun characters and exciting plots. Yes, this is God’s Word, but the characters and plots are not as important as the principles that we learn through them. In the morning a story from the bible and in the afternoon a story from some fun author.
I have seen school’s who do more damage in their Bible programmes than good. The objectives of the programme being learning tools of interpretation, the preferred delivery being preaching or an exegesis of the Scriptures. And worst of all, a place where the students' questions are pushed aside to make sure the teacher gets through their preset curriculum.
The key objectives of a Bible programme must be the development of a life long curiosity of the Scriptures and the training that the Bible is authentic and relevant to our students' lives. Yes, students need the tools to understand and unpack the Scriptures, but these tools are only relevant if the students want to engage with His Word after they leave school.
Yes, the Holy Spirit has a huge part to play in the students ongoing engagement of the Scriptures. However, we need to be sure that we are not putting barriers in place that turn students off.
Prayer: I don’t know of a teacher in a Christian School who does not want their students to learn that prayer is an integral part of everyday life. Prayer is full of power, promise and potential. It is a direct line that we have with our Creator and there is not a prayer too big or too small that is not important to Him.
However, so many teachers are guilty of modelling prayer in the exact opposite way for our students. Even though we might teach all the above about prayer, it is often used in a way that is quite the opposite. We pray at the beginning of the day, before lunch and at the end of the day. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Students are persuaded that prayer is something that happens certain times of the day, usually following a specific pattern, rather than in the ways that we desire our students will establish prayer in their lives.
Model the prayer life that we desire our students to develop.
Devotions: Most Christian Schools that I know have some time in the day, usually the morning, that is set aside for devotions. We want our students to know that they should set aside in their own life, a time of the day for reading the Scriptures and hearing from God.
While we want our students to spend quality time with God through their devotional time, it is often approached through a clinically premeditated watered down reading prepared by someone who does not know your students, prepared sometimes decades earlier, in the form of a ‘devotional’ book called ‘best ever devotions for girls and boys’.
Why cheapen this important time. The time should be spent on understanding the Bible Verse which is now a living part of your classroom. Unpack God’s thoughts on the challenges that your class currently has. If honesty is an issue, focus on honesty; if hurting is an issue, zoom in on loving others; if all is well, focus on God’s providence.
The point is that no one knows your class better than you. Why let some devotional book from 1984 provide the framework for making the Scriptures relevant to your class, yes it takes a little more work for the teacher, but the return will be worth it.
Worship: This could be controversial, for some worship will have a place in Christian Schools, while others will argue it is something only for the Church. And don’t forget what James writes about worship as an act of service. Service is also something that has a place in Christian Education, however, this focus of worship is about the form of worship that happens in song.
I have come across many Christian Schools who include worship in their assembly of meeting times. I have seen this done well, and I have seen this done poorly.
When worship is done well, it is powerful. There is something incredibly powerful about being in a room full of young people truly worshipping our Saviour. However, done poorly, it is worrisome. You can see in it the way they slouch, their dead eyes, in the way that the words go in their eyes and out their mouths without touching anything on the way through.
In every Christian School there are young Christians and usually even non-Christians who are on a journey. When the powerful words that are in most Christian songs are sung (think meditated on) without having some form of reverence it sends a message about the importance of their message to everyone around them. Dare I say it if there is a real complacency in a school about the way students engage in worship, the first place to change is likely the attitude of the teachers who are possibly marking their rolls or working down the back.
Pharisaic Thinking and Grace: This is a tough one, obviously we cannot promote lawlessness in our Christian Schools, however, how do we maintain a balance of law and grace. What would it take for a graduate of your Christian School to comment, ‘I was shown what grace was at my school’.
I am not suggesting that we don’t know how to teach about grace, of course we do, but by now you surely understand, the emphasis of this piece of writing is not about what we tell our students, rather, what we do. What students learn about the principles if scripture through our actions, not our words.
Relationships: Teacher to student relationships in Christian Schools have no choice other than to be different to the school down the road.
Grounded in our call for transforming young people, at the heart of Christian Education is a Christ centred Educator whose greatest desire that each of their students will be equipped for their future. Teachers who will do all they can for their student to also become Christian Centred. The process is built on strong relationship and must be able to be defined by one word, love.
Though it is a high calling, there is no room in Christian Education for teachers who do not have a genuine love for each student that they have any responsibility for.
Behaviour Management: This is where one of the differences between the school down the road and the Christ centred Christian School must differentiate. Christian Schools should be places of discipleship, not punishment. Yes, there is a need for consequences, but at the heart of the discipline process should be an absolute commitment to each student’s growth.
Consequences should always be fair and at the heart of the discipline process is a balance of acting justly and loving mercy which with God’s help will lead to the student walking humbly with our God.
There are many aspects of our Christian Schools which are indented for pure good. However, left unchecked can actually turn our students away from Christ. Below are some questions that could be considered at your school. However, the overriding questions are simple.
Is the way your students experience the ‘Christian things’ you do conducive to the reason you do them?
Does your current Scripture Memorisation approach lead to students mastering the most important scriptures you would want your students to have hidden in their heart?
Does your current Biblical Literacy programme lead to a life long curiosity of God’s Work, or is it just another course?
Do your devotions lead model searching the scriptures in a way that is responsive to the issues your students are facing today...rather than just ‘going through’ a devotional book that someone foreign to your students wrote twenty years ago?
If you desire your students to sing ‘Christian songs’ at school, are the words of the songs that they sing passing through their eyes and out their mouths without touching anything on the way through? (if so you are better to sing Yellow Submarine)
Are students taught that their Christian walk is a process of growth? If someone was caught in adultery would your response mirror Jesus’ or the Pharisees? Is the Christian life about praying in quiet or putting on a big show?
Do the teacher to student relationships better reflect the Pharisaic relationship with their people (judgement) or Christ’s relationship for the Church (growth)?
Does prayer in your school look more like a religious activity done at specific times of the day, or model in some way Paul’s desire that we pray without ceasing?
Does your behaviour management cause the most broken in your community closer to Christ or create a barrier for them to cross....is the focus growth or judgement?
Don’t misunderstand me. This is not a post suggesting that we remove the fore mentioned activities from Christian Schools. Quite the opposite. We need these to better feature these in our schools. However, we need to be sure that the way we use them are not contradictory to the objectives that we have for them. Ultimately we pray that as students graduate from our schools they will know without a doubt that each of the above are important aspects to our walk. And, that they did not just learn about their importance through our teaching, rather that they experienced it through our modelling.
Not an easy calling, but a hugely satisfying one.
A friend from Church asked me recently, 'Why would I send my daughter to a Christian School when it is so much cheaper and closer to send her to the state school down the road - they are both schools after all?"
I told my friend of a man called Harry. Harry saved up for years to buy a brand new Chevrolet Impala Premier. At over $40,000 and with all the added post-purchase extras that Harry lavished upon it, this car was Harry's pride and joy. Every weekend Harry would meet with other Chevrolet owners and talk about their cars and encourage each other. They were so happy and grateful for their cars that they even sang songs about them and whenever they got the opportunity, they tried to tell Ford owners what they were missing out on, inviting them to their meetings and trying to convert them.
Harry was very protective of his new Impala and at first he would sacrifice nothing to be sure his Chevy only got the best of everything. However, with insurances and the rising cost of gas, it was quite expensive to own a new Chevrolet. But as every new car owner knows it is very important to keep the car properly serviced. This meant the car would be in fine form for a long time and with regular servicing the car was bound to be a classic Chevy one day.
Just down the road from Harry there was a Ford Servicing Center. It was very good at servicing Ford cars. The workshop was shiny and had all the newest electronic gadgets. Most of the people who worked there were very good at servicing Fords and there was even the odd worker who was secretly a Chevrolet lover and was there trying put a little bit of Chevrolet in the cars they serviced. Some Chevy lovers knew this and sent their beloved Impalas and other Chevy babies to this Ford Service Center with the hope that these secret Chevrolet lovers might service their car. However, the real reason some Chevrolet lovers sent their babies to the Ford Service Center was because it was nearby. And, most importantly, the government subsidized costs at the Ford Service Center, so it was much cheaper to have the Impala serviced there than at the official Chevrolet Service Center across town.
When it came time to start servicing his car, Harry considered the Chevrolet Service Center, but because of the location and the extra cost in sending it across town, Harry chose to send his car to the Ford Service Center instead. Harry knew the Ford Service Center would only use Ford parts on his car - in fact Chevrolet parts were very much forbidden at the Ford Service Center, but it was closer and cheaper. What was good was that occasionally, in the interests of multiculturalism, some people from the Chevrolet Club were allowed to visit the Ford Service Center and show videos of Chevrolets. They showed pictures and told some stories about Chevys from many years ago. They even sang some songs about Chevrolets. But they were only allowed to sing songs about tires, towbars and paint jobs, definitely no stories or songs about the intricacies of what made a Chevy a Chevy. They weren't even allowed to talk about the main Chevrolet symbol and what it really stood for.
In his heart of hearts, Harry knew that at the Ford Service Center there were some Chevy-haters, and there was a good chance that his baby would be roughed up a little. In fact, because his baby was a Chevrolet in a Ford's world, there was a very high chance of some damage, but Harry hoped that the damage would not last. After all he reminded himself, it was cheaper and closer to use the Ford Service Center.
After a few years, Harry found his baby was changing. Not all the time, but sometimes when his Impala got hot it made noises like a Ford. Actually sometimes it even drove a little like a Ford. But worst of all for Harry, sometimes it would not start on Sunday mornings when it was time to go to the Chevrolet Club meetings.
One such Sunday morning, instead of walking himself to the Club (his car wouldn't start again), he decided to get to the bottom of what was going on. He spent a lot of time digging around underneath the hood, trunk, and elsewhere. Everything looked fine on the surface, but when he looked deep in the car he found that unbeknown to him, some of the car's internal parts had been replaced. There were Ford parts all over the place! Some of them didn't look like they even fitted very well and had to have been beaten into place.
As Harry closed the bonnet, wondering what he could have done differently, he realised for the first time that the Chevrolet badge was starting to slip, just a little.
Why would you send your child to a Christian School when the school down the road is closer and cheaper? The answer seems relatively straight forward to me...
by Shaun Booker, Principal, Hamilton Christian School, Hamilton, New Zealand (slightly adapted and contextualised by Dr Richard Edlin from Edserv International)