Last weekend was Thanksgiving. I had the opportunity to go back to BC to visit family and friends for the long weekend. On the flight back, I had the chance to read. The book I read, Pivot, was a response to the Global Christian School Learning Summit, a biennial conference for Christian school educators. Some of the presenters got together to prepare a review and a challenge for each of the session tracks from the conference. The first chapter was about sustainability for Christian schools. One of the subsections in this chapter dealt with the need for spiritual vitality in order to sustain the vision and mission of Christian education. The authors provided four keys to maintaining this spiritual vitality:
Key #1. In order for Christian schooling to be sustainable, the home, church, and school must be united under a common cause. It is imperative that parents, pastors, church leaders, and educators be willing to address the issue of education biblically.
Today this is still an issue. Very few churches are actively supportive of Christian schools; many churches are actually hostile to Christian schools. Church and home must work together with Christian schools to properly train children into biblical thinking.
Key #2. Christian parents, pastors, church leaders, and educators must continually strive to develop a strong biblical worldview in their own lives. Studies show that today’s Christians may be the most biblically illiterate generation of believers in church history, and that a very small percentage of Christians possess a biblical worldview. Christians must be intentional in developing their own worldviews so that they interpret all of life from a solid biblical perspective. As parents, pastors, church leaders, and educators develop a biblical worldview, they will understand and be able to formulate a biblical philosophy of education that will lead them in engaging their families in Christian education.
After having been involved in Christian education for over twenty years, I am no longer surprised by how few Christians have a well thought-out biblical worldview. This is something we strive to inculcate here at SCS and is one of the reasons for the work we have done with our CE (Christian Education) program. The other component of this is how biblically illiterate most Christians are today as the main source of theology comes from the music they listen to. When Martin Luther wrote A Mighty Fortress is our God, the mindset was that our music should teach theology and was written as such. However, that is not a good source of theology today.
Key #3. Christians must reject dualism, whereby they live their “religious” lives by biblical truth but their “secular” lives by human reasoning and common sense. This dualistic mindset has led the majority of Christians to see academic subjects as merely bodies of neutral facts with no spiritual meaning and, therefore, to not see the need for Christian education.
Education is not neutral; the organized educational system is definitely not neutral. I am so glad that we have groups praying for us on a weekly basis; the importance of this cannot be overstated. Many secular authors, and those promoting other worldviews, are becoming increasingly open about admitting that every aspect of education is spiritual and has spiritual overtones and underpinnings. We, as Christian parents and educators, need to realize this as well.
Key #4. All Christians must pursue excellence in who they are and what they do, as they serve a God who is excellent (Psalm 8:1) and who expects His children to strive for excellence (Philippians 1). However, biblical excellence is vastly different from worldly excellence, which is based on horizontal comparison and competition with others (and as a result, often devalues character). By way of contrast, biblical excellence has a vertical perspective, where God is the standard, Jesus Christ is the model, the goal is Christlikeness, the focus is character, the basis is God’s Word, and the motive is God’s glory. (In this model of excellence, performance is an outgrowth of godly character.) When parents, church leaders, and educators understand and pursue biblical excellence, their educational efforts will be distinctive and stand apart from all other forms of schooling.
This key certainly sets us apart from the secular (public) school system. As we work on our definition of excellence, let us keep the above definition in mind.
The authors then move on to a discussion of whether or not we should be protectionist or missional. (Another way of labeling these two perspectives would be to call them covenantal or evangelistic):
Christian schools and institutions have choices to make in the face of this changing world. The choices could be labeled as “protectionist” or “missional.” Each can find a basis in Scripture, and either can be a faithful response by an individual Christian school or other educational ministry to God’s plan and the leading of the Holy Spirit. As with any dichotomous characterization, these choices have the potential to become caricatures of what has been described. While the reality for Christian schools and institutions will be far more complex than these two choices can encompass, they serve as useful illustrative tools and means of categorizing potential responses. A protectionist approach, as the name implies, would see Christian schools and institutions focusing on ensuring that within that school community there is a strong reinforcement of beliefs and values. Perpetuation of faith and maintenance of existing religious freedom based largely on claims to those freedoms becomes the dominant paradigm of engagement with the legal and legislative environment. Of course, this approach can only be sustained against the background of strong existing religious freedoms and with an eye to protecting those freedoms. A missional approach requires a change of mind-set for many Christian schools and institutions in the West. While still ensuring there is a strong reinforcement of beliefs and values within that school community, a missional approach necessitates that Christian educators begin to live and think as minorities. This requires engaging with society in winsome, diplomatic ways. In this approach, Christian educators must operate with the assumption that their actions and motives are understood as bad for society and bad for individuals—and in some cases even evil. Christian educators cannot give those who hold a different view a basis to criticize them through the use of careless language or by unthinking behavior, but will need to be explicit in explanations of why they do what they do, and ensure their students and families also understand these rationales.
Based on the way these two perspectives are described, I would argue that we need to be moving more to a missional approach to education here at SCS. The closing thoughts from the authors show why I think this.
More recently the cultural focus has shifted away from merely sexual activity or even sexual orientation to “gender identity,” with Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) rights being asserted across a wide range of areas. The dominant cultural narrative understands “gender” to be distinct from [biological] sex with individuals able to determine their own “gender identity” independently from their sex “assigned at birth.”1 On the basis of this self-determined gender, individuals then claim the right to be treated as if their sex correlated with their gender. This can be in the form of adopting the social markers traditionally associated with a particular sex, such as dress and school uniforms, and on through to access to facilities such as changing rooms and bathrooms. Failure to accept this cultural narrative is being equated in the public square with racist attitudes of the past and linked with increased rates of suicide and negative mental health outcomes. Indeed, against the background of a wave of activism in this area, Christian education is in danger of being characterized by what it stands against, rather than what it stands for. Yet in the midst of these challenging circumstances there is hope. Christian schools and institutions across the globe educate millions of young people on a daily basis. Christian education doesn’t merely provide academic instruction but seeks to form young people in the knowledge of the fullness of Christ—young people who understand their identity in the revelation of Christ’s love for them and His saving grace. Christian schools and institutions have an incredible opportunity to speak into these young lives. As such, they should strive to become known for their positive oddities and not their perceived condemnations of society or individuals. If the Christian education movement is faithful to Christ it should look and operate differently than its counterparts. Those differences need to be explained to legal authorities and community and should reflect the love of Christ. In this way, Christian schools and institutions can begin to rebuild their reputations and show they are for the common good of the community and not out for their own preservation, even in spite of some actions and beliefs that might be interpreted as odd or even negative.
This is the battle currently being fought in Alberta. It is not far behind in BC and Saskatchewan. I am glad that the authors also provide a way to help us process how we should work to not only protect ourselves but also to plan a way to reach out into our culture to be the salt and light God has called us to be.
In order to embed these practices Christian schools and institutions need to ensure their written documents truly reflect the totality of who they are and what they believe. Faith, values, and beliefs should be captured and evidenced in foundational documents, policies, and practices, as that will be the basis upon which Christian schools and institutions will be judged, to a large degree. This is of particular importance in the area of employment. With a clear understanding of what they believe and why, and policies and practices to reflect this, Christian schools and institutions will have a sound footing on which to develop relationships with legislators. While legislators may not always agree with the positions proposed, communicating with them and helping them to understand the truth of who Christian educators are and what they are seeking has an enormous impact on legislation. The political world is the modern day “city gates,” at which Christian educators need to engage in discussions with civic leaders. This engagement needs to happen at all levels of government, and Christian educators need to have the wisdom to know when to engage and when not to engage on an issue. Some Christian schools and institutions may be called to play a further role, communicating and seeking to influence the wider culture. This happens nowadays primarily through the media. Christian educators’ messages should reflect the truth of who they are, what they believe, and how Christian education benefits society. Christian education needs to be seen as for the public good, not merely for its own good. Where possible on issues where Christian educators can agree with the government (or with those who may normally oppose Christian education), Christian educators should seek to work collaboratively. The positive message that education can be a good for all, and that education lifts people out of their current situations, is generally one that Christian educators can endorse and support. In Western cultures, where the popular narratives are increasingly disconnected with biblical truth, the prevailing trend will be for courts and legislators to follow that trend and make decisions and law antithetical to the operations of Christian schools. The pervasive influence of Western culture globally suggests that other nations should take heed of this trend and prepare themselves for what is likely to come. While Christian educators live in challenging times, they also need to be conscious that in dealings with those in the courts and legislators, the ultimate aim is that they, like the Colossians, “may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2b–3).
There will be no blog post next week as the SCS teaching staff (and administration) will be in Calgary participating in the ACSIWC Teacher Convention where our topic is Shalom and our keynote speaker is Dr. Christopher Yuan. We will have time to work on a group project with other Alberta and Saskatchewan Christian school educators on integrating our faith into every facet of our instruction.
Swaner, Lynn E., et al. PIVOT: New Directions for Christian Education. Purposeful Design Publications, 2017.