Blessings can become curses if not understood, cherished, and wielded well. Christian education has no shortage of inherit blessings and potential pitfalls. If we are not intentional in applying Biblical truth and the centrality of the gospel to every facet of Christian education, then cracks can become dangerous canyons. Thankfully, those dangers can be avoided if we are cognizant and vigilant.
1. The Danger of Slipping into Behavior Modification
Discipline must not be seen as conformity to policy, but as conformity to Christ. As Christian schools enforce the rules and policies that are set forth, they must do so with thoughtfulness and faithfulness.
First, a distinction must be drawn between convictions, standards, and preferences. Each of these parts of the policy makeup of a school have to be established and articulated well. If the lines are blurred, then students and staff will be immediately frustrated and students could be unnecessarily turned away from God’s truth. Imagine a school atmosphere where students and staff don’t understand the biblical or practical reasons behind school policies. Students will be inclined to rebel beyond that associated with typical adolescence and staff members will have no foundation to assert these policies. The distinction between convictions, standards and preferences is a matter of biblical prioritization. This should be a priority.
Second, it is possible to achieve behavioral conformity apart from Christ. The thought of a Christian school doing anything apart from Christ should be appalling. Lyrics from a Derek Webb song sum this thought up well: “you can make your life look good and you can do what Jesus would, but you’d be surprised what you can do with a hard heart” (Derek Webb ~ Ballad in Plain Red). The focal point of Christ in discipline is a matter of biblical emphasis. Would we rather have autonomic obedience or joyful submission? More importantly, which would God rather have?
2. The Danger of Confused Spiritual Roles
When the responsibility of spiritual development is shifted from parents and local churches (in that order) to the Christian school, then the potential impact of the school is actually diminished. This point can be easily misunderstood; so let me clarify what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that Christian schools should refrain from evangelism, discipleship, or outreach. However, Christian schools must not assume the biblical roles that God has specifically placed on families and the body of Christ.
Parents should see the work of the Christian school as a supplement to their own teaching, enabling the parents to be even more effective in their time with their children. The parents are the ones given the charge to educate, train, and instruct their children. That responsibility cannot be handed over to an institution. The Christian school has no more business usurping the authority of parents than does the state. This sort of abdication has already happened with some Sunday school programs, and tragically, there are some who are beginning to treat the Christian school the same way. Should we send our children to Sunday school or to a Christian school so that we won’t have to instruct them? Nothing could be further from the instruction of Deuteronomy–we are to teach our children when we sit down, when we drive, and when we eat meals together. We cannot abdicate our responsibility by assigning it to someone else (including a Christian school).” (Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning by Douglas Wilson)
When these God-given roles are transferred, the ministry of Christian education lacks the time, energy, and thought needed to truly accomplish its own purpose. It is a remarkable purpose. The Christian school is called to help students joyfully obey the greatest commandment. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. This great purpose won’t be faithfully pursued and achieved if the school is busy pursuing what God has actually called parents and local churches to do. The resources of the school (staff, training, money, prayer, and time) should be invested in advancing all aspects of the school towards integrating an all-encompassing Christian worldview into every facet of education.
3. The Danger of Nebulous Philosophy
Where there is no vision the people perish. Where there is no clear vision for Christian education, the Christian school self-destructs. There can be several causes for this lamentable result.
An unclear mission results in chaotic apathy. The lack of a unifying conviction which draws everything and everyone together can be disastrous. Al Mohler, in The Conviction to Lead, writes, “Once beliefs have been minimized and convictions have been marginalized, energy leaves the movement like air escaping a balloon. The same is true of other arenas of leadership. When the mission is ambiguous and the beliefs of the organization are nebulous, passion dissipates quickly.” If passion for Christ and the purpose of an institution wanes, then so does its effectiveness.
Secularism can creep in and put a stranglehold on the spiritual foundations of a Christian school. The subtlety is alarming. Unfortunately, public schools are often seen as the measuring rod for all academic matters. However, we quickly forget that the entire philosophy of public education is permeated with agnosticism at best and atheism at worst. Are we naive enough to think that this paradigm can be applied in institutions of Christian education without the underlying philosophy eventually showing up? This is perhaps the ultimate danger. When Christian schools lack a distinctive Christian philosophy of education the outcome is syncretism. The final result is an anemic spirituality, a tainted academic framework, and a confused school.
How do we practice cognizance and vigilance toward these dangers?
Always keep the gospel central. The good news of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners will help us think through the eternal implications of policies, vision, disciplinary procedures, philosophy and purpose.
Constantly evaluate the current emphases of the school and determine if they are overstepping the bounds of Christian education. If they are, then make changes accordingly. Making such changes becomes more difficult the longer a school assumes the spiritual responsibilities of parents and local churches.
Remember that the atmosphere is ultimately determined by leadership. Floundering leaders create an environment of chaos. The entire leadership team of a school must be united in the glory of a Christ-centered mission. Disharmonious leadership precludes success.
Do not neglect the importance of praying, studying the scripture, and seeking Godly wisdom as all aspects of guiding the school go forward. This starts with the leadership. It ends with a spiritually vibrant student body, by God’s grace.
Feel free to share other potential dangers in the comment section.
Chris (Michael Christopher) Dunn believes that God is worth his word being studied well and his desire is to study it seriously without taking himself too seriously. He teaches Bible at a private Christian School and serves as Director of Discipleship at Forest Hills Baptist Church in Wilson, NC. Follow him at @mcdunn85.