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On Being a Christian Educator

If what follows sounds familiar, it is because a while back, when I was in a cranky, self-righteous mood, I wrote about one of my biggest concerns–both for myself and others–which is that we don’t have the faith to follow our Lord and to seek His “well done.” Instead, we seek the formalized, narrow well-dones of the education world around us, even while we build schools and teach at home precisely because we don’t like what they are doing to our children. Once we get started, we forget about our children and get lost in the weeds of immediate problems or possibilities.

My thesis is that, if only I believed in God and let fear of Him be the beginning of my wisdom, I’d get somewhere and I’d think very, very differently.

So I went back to that article and rewrote it. I hope it is a little less self-righteous and a little more practical. Forgive me my fears and my debts to you.

Over twenty years of working with and observing schools have made me ever more concerned about the priority their leaders place on the immortal souls of their students.

What keeps leaders up at night seems to be whether enough parents will enroll their students to pay for the building program or whether the bills will be paid.

What seems not to concern them anywhere near as much is the warning Christ Himself gave that, while it is inevitable that stumbling blocks will come, it would be better for those who cause little children to stumble if they were taken out on a lake with a two-ton millstone tied around their neck and thrown into the sea.

I suppose we who are in leadership must not think this applies to us, since it’s the teachers who teach the children, not us. And yet…

The fact that other people implement the decisions we leaders make does not mean our decisions do not cause these little ones to stumble.

In fact, our failure to examine closely how our decisions effect the immortal souls affected by them may show more than we wish about how much we are doing this for them.
We cannot hide this lack of love behind the excuse of stewardship. A steward is measured for his faithfulness, not his anxiety over money and the ease with which it distracts him from his real stewardship, and our faithfulness will be measured by how our decisions effect the souls of the students we, perhaps too proudly, represent.

That passage we all like to rationalize away, Matthew 25, seems particularly apropos. Surely we remember the words. Jesus says,

Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, you have done it unto me.

And then He declares His verdict.


Enter into the joy of your Lord


Depart from me, you cursed.

We know that we are saved by faith and that no amount of works can ever make us just before God. But we also know that faith unexpressed in acts of love is dead, which is to say, it is no faith at all. We further know that whatever is not of faith is sin.

A school that is not built on faith, then, no matter what its “statement of faith”, is not a Christian school. It lies somewhere in the range of a school for Pharisees and a school for the lukewarm, neither of which Christ will honor and both of which have done untold harm to American Christianity.

What provokes this excessive diatribe?

I am deeply concerned that, as we enter a time of grave trial for Christianity in America, our attention is being distracted from our first love to many other matters, ranging from doctrinal squabbles to indifference to the truth about Christ to how we’ll pay our bills.
Especially how we’ll pay our bills.
We, like Martha, are worried and anxious about many things, and we miss what our Lord told us about schools when He said, “Only one thing is needful.”

We are like the Gentiles, toiling and spinning so our children can wear the soft clothes of kings and eat at the banquets of lords. Parents worry about the educational world of the past, where college admissions was the god. Now, as colleges have lost their way, parents apparently want their children to get lost with them, just so they can get in (as though it is hard to get in to an American college and as though getting in is always desirable!)

Schools, driven by markets that they don’t understand, instead of by the love of Christ, seeking the honor that comes from men instead of the honor that comes from God, build large buildings, take on great burdens of debt (so they can compete for those who don’t want more than a little of what classical education – not to mention the gospel – offers), and find themselves dependent on the toilers and spinners that Christ will spit out of His mouth.
We must set aside talk of producing leaders if what we mean by leaders is imitators of the dying world around us. We mustn’t call ourselves Christian schools if the driving energy of our decisions is not an intelligent apprehension of the love of Christ for the children and the Spirit He sent to save their souls.
I entreat you from the wounds of Christ, standing in His sepulchre: I entreat you from beneath the throne of Christ, kneeling under His feet, do not make decisions based on the fleeting rewards the Gentiles seek when you can be laying up treasures in heaven by remembering two things especially:
  • First, that everything is already yours in Christ
  • Second, that the children in Christ are the temple of the living God. He will not fail them.

We can and we do.

What does this mean practically to us as leaders?
  • A reorientation of our hearts, souls, mind, and strength:
    • Toward faith in the promises of God and in the faithfulness of Christ who loves the children so much He died for them and sent His Holy Spirit to teach them – and promises to destroy those who harm them;
    • And away from anxiety and envy.
    • We must learn to think differently!
  • A commitment to direct every decision toward one essential boundary condition, which I express in the form of a question:
  • how will this affect the experience each child has in this school, in the environment and in the instruction he receives.
    • Will it nurture his soul on the noble, the true, the just, the good, the lovely, the praiseworthy, and the beautiful;
    • or will it distract him with anxiety over his status in a dying and sinful world?
  • In particular, we must not
    • Grow too fast, becoming dependent on people who don’t understand or share our vocation
    • Build too fast
  • focusing on
  • protecting
  • equipping
  • supporting
  • assessing appropriately
  • providing for godly, faithful, loving, hopeful teachers.
  • A commitment to focus primarily on supporting and enriching the moment when the teacher interacts with the child, protecting it, not interfering with it. This means
  • Environment: giving due attention to the world in which the school exists;
  • Community: Building the community that is called out of and formed within that world;
  • Governance: implementing procedures for making and implementing wise decisions that include, whenever possible, fitting feedback that leads to self-correction;
  • Curriculum: Ensuring that the course the students run, their complete experience of the school, cultivates their wisdom and virtue so they can know, glorify, and enjoy God to the limits of their ever-expanding capacities while serving and loving their neighbor.
  • Pedagogy: Equipping teachers with the wisdom, arts, and resources to teach in a Christ like and Christ-glorifying way: mimetically and Socratically;
  • Assessment: Incorporating appropriate assessments at every level of the schools life to ensure that the community, the governance, the curriculum, and the pedagogy all work together to cultivate wisdom and virtue in the students.
  • A commitment to set school priorities on the nurturing of the child’s soul and NOTHING else.
  • A commitment to aligning the six dimensions of school life so that they harmonize with and do not undercut each other
  • It will be necessary to escape the analytical, quasi-neutral mindset of modernist approaches to institution building, striving for safety and dominance through inappropriate use of “business practices”, “best practices,” etc. Relationships, normative living, and analogical thought must overrule analysis and even survival.
There is no more time for left for Christians to try to change the world by being like it. We must begin and end our journey with confidence in the promises of God, all of which are yea and amen in Christ and extend beyond the capacity of our minds to imagine or think.
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us that we should be called the children of God. And such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not yet appeared what we shall be. For we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed in him purifies Himself, just as He is pure. I John 3:1-3

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