Simply Missional: Private Schools and the Third Way

pews1Alan asked a question at an earlier post that helped me think through an issue I’ve been wrestling with: the role of private Christian schools in a missional church. Now, I’m thinking largely of K-12. The Christian colleges have different roles, which I’m still sorting through.

I have four sons, with the youngest being a senior in high school. The two oldest attended Harding (affiliated with the Churches of Christ). The third is presently at Auburn (a state school with relatively conservative values).

At the K-12 level, we’ve had children in the public schools, a secular private school, and a Christian private school. We’ve tried everything — and each has had its advantages and disadvantages. I’m neither pro- nor anti-private school. Rather, I’m just trying to think how the private school idea best fits into the idea of missional Christianity.

There are two obvious arguments, going in opposite directions —

* We can’t be missional while being isolated from the lost. Therefore, Christian private schools, by their very nature, are anti-missional. We should instead send our kids into the public schools to be salt and light. And as parents, we should go into the public schools for the same reason, to work as volunteers to meet the lost and bring them to Jesus.

* Children are children. Our first duty as parents is to protect them, and public schools in many communities are dangerous. We owe ouro children a good education and preparation for college, and the public schools are often woefully inadequate educationally. Children generally make their faith commitment in their early teens. Therefore it’s critical that they be placed in a school that encourages faith. They can be in the world later, when they are old enough to take care of themselves.

Hmm … both arguments sound pretty persuasive. Some kids have the self-confidence to be missionaries in the 7th grade. Some of us never quite get there even as adults. Some kids will actually have stronger faith when in the presence of the faithless. Others can’t resist the temptation to be like the other kids.

Some public schools are great schools, filled with Christian kids. Some are cesspools of incompetence and crime. Some secular private schools are filled with kids from Christian homes and provide great environments for Christianity to flourish. Some are given over to a drugs and sex culture of the spoiled rich. Some Christian schools teach Christianity. Some teach a brand of Christianity Jesus would not recognize.

Therefore, I know much better than to generalize. Parents have to make a judgment based on their knowledge of their own kids and the available options. And some, like me, will make different decisions for different children.

 

That’s the practical side of the question. But let’s imagine that we’re all sitting on the board of directors of our local Christian school, as part of a visioning committee doing long-range planning for our school. Where would we lead our local Christian private school — if we could?

Plainly, as this is a Christian school, we have to find our values and our dreams in scripture, not in educational or American culture. Therefore, Ivy League schools, football, cheerleading, and such are beside the point. Indeed, preparation for fulfilling the American dream of financial success is secondary. Rather, what we want from our private Christian school is for our kids to grow up to be as much like Jesus as possible. We want them to be great Christians — and better than us. Right?

Rather than hoping they’ll make more money and have bigger houses and fancier cars than we have, what we really want is for them to be the next great missionaries, preachers, church planters, elders, and evangelists. We won’t be satisified if they’re just “faithful,” meaning regular in their attendance. We want our kids to help build the Kingdom bigger and better than we have. They should build on what we’ve done and build better. 

This means that our kids in this private school need to learn to live missionally. They should all grow up to be missionaries — missionaries to wherever they are. If they stay here in their hometown, they should be missionaries here. If they move to a bigger city, they should be missionaries there.

They won’t necessarily be fulltime missionaries. If not, they should be vocational missionaries — people who spread the gospel at work, at school, and in their neighborhoods. They should be Priscilla and Aquila — people who plant churches and make converts wherever they go.

Of course, not all kids will have the gifts to be great evangelists. But for those who don’t, they should still have hearts for evangelism and service to a lost, needy, and hurting world. They need to graduate burning with a passion to be a vital part of Kingdom business somehow or other.

Now — catch your breath with me. Have I correctly stated the best possible vision for a Christian K-12 school? Is this what you want for your kids when you write your tuition check? 

Ok, now that we’ve set a vision, how do we do it? What would a school that takes this vision seriously be like? I don’t know. I’ve never seen it, but I have an idea or two.

* The schools itself would have to be missional. The kids need the school, as an institution, to be doing what they are being prepared to do. The school should seek out the needy to provide them with a great education — without regard to athletic ability. We can’t be users and be Christians. 

* The school should encourage parents to be involved in these activities. The children need to see that their parents walk the walk.

* Even though scholarships are expensive, we need to have enough non-Christians in the school to make the point that Christians don’t live in a bubble and Christians sacrifice to help those in need. Maybe the school has to give up some programs to have enough money to serve the poor. Well, that would be the best possible lesson.

* And we need our kids to know how to talk to and love people who aren’t like them. My kids learned this in the public schools. A private school has to work harder to expose kids to the diverse world we live in — and not just in token ways.

* The heroes of the school aren’t Ronald Reagan and Rush Limbaugh. Rather, the school holds up missionaries and church planters as people to emulate. Men and women who are doing Kingdom work are invited to speak and share their stories. The students are thrilled with stories of heroic mission work in China and pray together for the safety of missionaries being persecuted in India. 

* But it’s not just evangelists who are honored. The school regularly invites in men and women who run inner city ministries, who develop affordable housing, and who run the food bank. The students grow up knowing about the community’s needs from those who labor to meet those needs. No one graduating from this school would ever sneer at shelters for battered women or housing for the homeless. And the students are encouraged to volunteer in these places so they can see Jesus in the faces of those they serve.

* Once we have our values set, other educational opportunites start to become obvious. We have field trips to community service organizations, mission trips to domestic and foreign mission sites, and programs to support church planters in their labors. The school newsletter reports on the struggles and successes of graduates who are building churches and serving the needy. 

Now there may be schools like this already. If so, I’d love to hear about them … because, you see, I figure we have the schools we do because they are what we really want: bubbles that protect us from an ugly world that prepare our children to live separated from the world — not in the world as salt and light among the lost.

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe our educators are ahead of me. I hope so.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink.
My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.

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9 Responses to Simply Missional: Private Schools and the Third Way

  1. mark says:

    The subject matter of Christian schools or any of our parachurch organization is a precarious walk through church politics. It is because such systems need overt cooperation and funding. Thus the bonding language of institutionalism is anti to anything that competes with it. For Missional does not as a concept wallow in the handbooks of rules and regulations attempting to explain what it means to be “affiliated” with the church but not the church. Instead Missional openly says we are the church. It is much like the language of worships wars. Nothing says it more than a Christian school chapel time Missional would call that “forced worship” but institutionalism would call that “character building”.

    But the real question is not can I have my cake and eat it too but rather what will win in the end. What direction is God going? In a world where Christianizing has been very popular we are seeing power forces undermining that popularity. This is spiritual warfare the gearing up for a world of surviving or a world of thriving. What will it be?

  2. Alan says:

    I think the best way to provide the kind of education you described is through home schooling. A group of enlightened Christian parents with shared convictions and shared vision could do an amazing job of training their children in all the things you described. They would be far more effective than an institutional private school because they live with the kids. The kids learn to do all those things in their normal lives. And they learn to do them the way the scriptures tell us it should be done — from their parents.

    Of course, the two income family has to be eradicated first.

  3. Lisa B says:

    Yes, I agree, homeschool is our answer. It is the hardest thing I've ever done, but well worth the cost to my selfish self.

  4. mark says:

    Can we just say Shane Clairborne Irresistible Revolution? When I think of Missional I think of being green, a communal garden, cloths made out of hemp and dreadlocks and living in the artsy part of town. But I believe most in the church repudiate such living styles. But is this what we mean by home schooling? And Alan’s comment

    "Of course, the two income family has to be eradicated first."

    Does missional mean lowering our standard of living? Or will the church find jobs that suitable for living in the upper middle class so that one parent stays home to teach.

  5. odgie says:

    No Jay, the schools are not ahead of you on this one. Being a graduate of one of our colleges, I feel confident saying that some of the things that you touched on are done well; others, not so much. They do bring in lots of preachers, but these are typically guys who work with gigantic churches, ride the circuit, and have full calendars of lectureships and conferences to speak at. What this fails to do is prepare students to go into smaller and/or "weaker" churches and help to build those up.

    The other failure is that the overwhelming majority of our graduates end up back in the Bible belt, thus leaving us with an almost insignificant presence anywhere else in the country. Indicative of this is the recent announcement about the closing of Cascade College. which is a significant blow to the church in the Northwest.

  6. Jay Guin says:

    Odgie,

    What you say makes sense. I was privileged to hear some church planters speak at Pepperdine this year, and they were inspiring. I love listening to Rick Atchley, Randy Harris, et al. — they are brilliant speakers and important thought leaders. But I was challenged, encouraged, and moved by the young church planters with congregations of 30.

    Not everyone can (or should) go into fulltime ministry, but everyone is qualified to help in the ministry of church planting.

  7. Jay Guin says:

    Mark,

    "Does missional mean lowering our standard of living?" Yes … because Christianity does.

    (Mat 6:24) "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."

    (Mat 19:29) And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.

    (Luke 6:24-25a) "But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. 25 Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry."

    (Phil 3:8) What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ

    Now, I'm not arguing that Christianity requires home schooling or private schools. My kids spent most of their years in public schools. But Christianity does require us to place the Kingdom far, far ahead of any desire to be upper middle class.

    But neither does Christianity require communal or monastic living. It does require a life that sees money as a tool to be used in God's service.

    PS — I don't have nearly enough hair left to wear dreadlocks, and hemp makes me itch.

  8. Jay Guin says:

    Alan and Lisa,

    In Alabama, homeschools have to be church sponsored, and my church sponsors a homeschool. We have several homeschool families, although the majority of our children are in public school.

    We also have a significant number of kids attend a local private, nondenominational Christian school. But it's expensive. Some very wealthy families have kids in public school and some struggling families make the sacrifice to have their kids in private school. I'm just glad the parents have the options to do what best for their own kids.

    I'm neither pro- nor anti-home school. I am strongly convicted that parents can't count on any school — Christian, public, or Sunday — to raise their children in Jesus for them. Ultimately, the parents are the biggest influence on their kids, and if they blow it, the schools are unlikely to fix the parents' mistakes.

    Therefore, when I teach parents of school-age children, I urge them to parent their children in Jesus — not counting on even our own Sunday school to do it for them. It's not so much homeschooling as the parents living for Jesus that makes the biggest difference, I think.

    In my experience, it's especially important that the father be active in church and service — not just regular in attendance.

    And if the parents will set the proper example, their kids will likely turn out pretty well, despite awful public schools.

  9. Happy says:

    Jay,

    Good article I did a search of Harding and some how this came up. My niece is going there next year and though I don't have any say in it I was concerned that with Harding listed as one of the "Top 10" most conservative schools in the nation, if that would be a healthy place for her. I have many friends who have graduated from Harding over the years and they are good people but as a youth minister of 16 years many students from my youth group attended there and what came home literally was card carrying members of the Evangelical Right. And yes c of C members are Evangelical. I'm not advocating them going to a Top 10 liberal school either (God forbid ACU or "ghast" Pepperdine, sorry my attempt at humor), but somewhere out there is an education that develops faith, family, a dying to self, carrying for others, etc….

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