Why Christian Teachers and Schools Matter…

Posted by on Sep 20, 2015 in Blog | 4 comments

Last night I spoke at the 25th anniversary celebration of Grace Christian School in Bunbury. I don’t know what you think of the missional potential of Christian schools, but my assessment is that it is enormous. I am not sure if this is true in all parts of the world, but am convinced that it is in Australia where a favourable funding regime and a willingness to enrol students of any or no faith (while holding a strong line on only employing Christian staff, who carry the mission) sees Christian schooling as the most rapidly growing sector in education.

Here is what I said last night. If it sounds like the script of a speech it is because it is! I’d be interested in your thoughts.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, often known as the prince of preachers, once inspired his theological students by saying: If God calls you to be a preacher never stoop to become a king.

I’d like to change that slightly: “If God calls you to be a teacher, never stoop to become a king.’

‘Ha, ha,’ you say. ‘Aren’t you being a tad unrealistic?’ Well, provided you don’t have to be a slave to literalism, I think the claim is defensible, and on this Grace’s 25th anniversary I’d like to explore why Christian teachers and schools matter – why what you do matters – and why you should continue committing yourself to it.

It has long been said that it takes a village to raise a child. Those who said it had in mind a former era when neighbours, aunts, uncles, cousins, local shop keepers, the local church and school, cubs and netball clubs all worked together to shape the values and direction of each child. That focus has now narrowed down enormously…

Take the neighbourhood.

An interesting exclusion in most home building packages that otherwise include pretty much everything, is a door bell. I live in a fairly new area, and am struck by how many homes simply don’t have one. The message is clear – if you don’t know us well enough to have our mobile number, don’t drop by. We won’t hear you knocking, and you are really not welcome. We certainly won’t provide a bell to make it easy for you to attract our attention.

Each of the homes is separated from the next by a solid fence too high to see over, whilst garage doors are automated and lead directly into homes, so you are unlikely to have a quick chat to your neighbour while they open up their home. You simply don’t see them. The front garden is minute, so needs minimal care – and even that care is often provided by a gardening company. If someone is working in it, they probably don’t actually live in your suburb. So the neighbourhood as the place where everyone knows your name and watches your children grow up, is rapidly disappearing. Local sporting clubs are struggling to survive, and increasingly are not staffed by volunteers but by professionals who will charge you for their services. The local corner store is no more – we all shop in large glitzy but impersonal malls. Aunts and uncles are more likely to provide accommodation when you are on a world tour than they are to live in your suburb, and attendance at churches continues to decline. So if you ask ‘where is the village that is raising this child?’ the answer is increasingly – it consists of its parents (who in 35-50% of cases live in separate homes) and the local school. Of all that used to be in the ‘beyond just the parents’ mix of raising children, it is only really the school that remains.

What’s more, in an age when both a child’s parents are likely to be working to pay off a crippling mortgage (or mortgages if separated), teachers often land up spending more time with their students than their parents do – especially when you factor in that they are awake for all the hours they are at school, but sleep, watch TV or sit glued to social media for much of the time they are at home.

When it comes to influencing the shape of the next generation, the local school probably has the greatest impact.

When it comes to the Christian school, this is even more true. After all, when parents sign up for the school, they know its charter. They know that its founding brief is to teach and care from a Christian world view, and that by signing up for the school, they give their consent for the school to do just that.

No local church has such an incredible opportunity. Even when a family does attend church (and regular church attendance is now defined as once every 2.5 weeks) the church only has contact with the child for about 2 hours in the week. The school has them for 30 plusand that for well over a decade. If at the end of an education through a Christian school a student decides against becoming a Christ follower, at least it is likely to be an informed decision, instead of on the basis of the silly caricatures that dominate the media.

Those of you who know me have probably heard me mention one of my favourite verses, Habakkuk 2:1, where a distraught Habakkuk, anxious to see if he has succeeded in changing God’s mind and persuading God not to use the Babylonians to bring judgement on Judah, makes his statement: ‘I will stand on my ramparts and watch. I will look and see what he will say to me.’ How do you see what God is saying? Don’t you hear it? No… Habakkuk is clear – I am standing on the city wall and watching because I know that the answer I get will be in the realm of action. I will see what happens, and from what I see, I will figure out what God is saying.

I think if we listen by watching and seeing what God is doing in our day, we will see the incredible mantle being placed on Christian schools. While churches are in decline, Christian schools are in a rapid growth phase. Each Christian school has a group of teachers and administrators who must also see themselves as being on the front line of what God is doing – they are almost the sole occupants of the village that must now raise the child. It is a very significant mantle to wear, and it must be embraced with the utmost seriousness and commitment.

As we do so, we face both dangers and opportunities. By instinct, I am a positive person, so let me get the dangers out the way first.

Our dangers…

  • Succumbing to either/or thinking. Either/or thinking is one of the curses of our time. It is so limiting. Do you know what I mean? In Christian schooling it is often claimed that some schools are committed to educational excellence, others to pastoral care and yet others to missional impact. Some justification is then given for the focus chosen. The reality is that we must tick each of these boxes – indeed, not just tick them, hit each out of the stadium. At the recent CSA Conference in Western Australia I told the story of Vicki Lorrimar – who graduated from Vose Seminary at the end of last year with an MDiv degree, and was the top theology graduate by GPA for all of Australia. She has just started a DPhil research program in theology and bioethics under Alistair McGrath at Oxford University. She has a brilliant mind and will make an enormous contribution in the future. She seems such a mature stable Christian that I had always assumed she was from a second, third or fourth generation Christian family. But one day she said to me, ‘You do know, don’t you, that I was converted at Carey Baptist College? I was the first in my family to come to faith. My parents sent me there because of the good morals – and the staff were so wonderful that I found Jesus as well.’ I am sure that there are many comparable stories that could be told of Grace Christian College. Pastoral care, educational excellence (without which we have no credibility) and missional impact all coming together.

 

  • The move from a soft to a hard secularism. Make no mistake about it, the climate in which the Christian faith is practiced in Australia and around the world is changing, and not for the good. For Australia, as for many Western countries, we could characterise it as a shift from a soft to a hard secularism. A soft secularism says that while the public square (of which education is part) is not primarily about faith, faith can be one of the voices present. It makes it possible to spot and plot the intersection between faith and life. Hard secularism, by contrast, while not actually persecuting people of faith, insists that faith is confined to the ghetto of ‘churchland’. With a hard secularism, it is implied that religious freedom is when the church can operate on Sundays in its buildings, so long as none of it spills out into the public sphere. It restricts any attempt to apply faith to daily life, and reduces faith to a purely personal affair. There is little doubt that Australia is moving in this direction – the outcry over chaplaincy being a recent example. In spite of the victory against this challenge, it was a little hollow as it came at the cost of declaring that chaplains are non-religious. Really? Is that actually a victory? We must not be naive. There will be an increasing challenge for the right of schools like Grace to exist. Such challenges must never succeed. Be vigilant, and get involved in wonderful groups like CSA who advocate so strongly, effectively and convincingly for the rights of Christian schools.

Opportunities

Enough of the dangers. There are enormous and exciting opportunities that face us.

Because we are the village raising ever increasing numbers of the next generation, we have an opportunity to shape the future as never before. But it won’t just happen. Three very quick challenges… As Grace Christian College combines educational excellence with outstanding pastoral care and missional effectiveness, please add to this a commitment to

  1. Produce leaders. Studies of current 18-30 year olds show that they have less of an appetite for leadership than has been the case in the past. There are many reasons why, and we certainly need new models of leadership and indeed should think more of leaderships (plural) than leadership (singular). But leaders and leadership are needed more than ever, and in a climate where the average graduate from the state schooling system is reluctant to take on leadership, if we make it our focus, the leaders of the future will be graduates of Christian schools. That could birth a very different spiritual landscape.
  2. Produce global leaders. The mission programs run in Christian schools connect globally to so many part of the world. They give our students a large view of the world – a God’s eye view of the world. It will have a spin off. Our graduates should be the best equipped to be global leaders.
  3. Produce compassionate global leaders. If we are to work with God in shaping the future, let’s be sure it is shaped by the agenda of God. The Western world currently bows to 4 idols: money, sex, power and self. If our graduates are attuned to the heartbeat of God, they will sing a different song… and let’s be sure, a different song is needed.

Leaders… global leaders…. compassionate global leaders – through excellent education, brilliant pastoral care, focused missional endeavour, and a clear focus. Grace Christian School at 25. What an exciting period. If God has called you to become involved in Christian schooling, never stoop to become a king…

4 Comments

  1. “I think if we listen by watching and seeing what God is doing in our day, we will see the incredible mantle being placed on Christian schools. While churches are in decline, Christian schools are in a rapid growth phase. ”

    I am coming to agree with this more and more. Not that the schools movement is by any means ALL that God is up to, or that it is the MAIN thing that God is doing in our generation, but perhaps people will look back on our time and discern that the impetus for all this “rapid growth phase” was the Spirit of God. Thanks for the post Brian. 🙂

    • Thanks Jules. A good insight.

  2. I am a christian teacher who was told that “i am not a blessing to a christian school, but the school was a blessing to me”, which upon i resigned from the christian school. Before being told the above, this is how i came to being a teacher. I had left manual work and went to university at aged 27 with 4 daughters. I recieved a BSc biology and dip ed. I had to give up my entire lifes finances to get through uni and then came out starting at the bottom of salary level.
    What i have learnt now working in the public school system for one and half years. The christian school loaded up teachers and bullied them if they spoke up. The public school tries to help teachers when the work load builds up and finds ways to reduce out of school hours work time and does not bully teachers who have a complaint about being exhausted. Hope this helps all who read to not be arrogant as the kings of Israel use to be towards the the meek.

    • Sorry to hear that was your experience Kurt. I’ve usually heard very different stories to this, but would be interested in what others have to say.

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