Alan 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.