As I think about topics to address concerning Christian education, I often find myself focusing on cautions and pitfalls. Things that Christian educators should watch out for and work to fight against. While I think these are important things to write about, it feels problematic. When you are zoomed in on a problem, it’s easy to lose focus on the positive. In fact, it may be impossible. So, I want to take some time to step back and look at a few of the good things that happen because of Christian schooling.
When I think of the benefits of a Christian school, my tendency is to start listing the good programs it offers or positive statistics and teacher-to-student ratios. But I think this is because I’m used to trying to “sell” a Christian education. The truth is, if I were to go through my day and think of all the good that can come from a Christ-centered education, the thing that really makes me feel like I’m a part of something great aren’t statistics and programs – it’s people. A program, no matter how good it is, would be nothing if people didn’t take part in it. Statistics are empty numbers if they don’t represent the stories of people. To remember some positives this week, I’m going to mention a few people and their stories.
Building Spiritual Roots
I used to work with a fellow alum of my own Christian school. I remember a conversation where we compared our educational experiences. What was so interesting to me was that we both went to the same school, even had a lot of the same teachers, and yet had completely different perspectives from our respective ends of the spectrum. When asked where my spiritual roots went back to, school wasn’t my answer. It was my family. I grew up in a ministry-minded missionary family. Listening to and speaking about Jesus wasn’t uncommon. Bible class at a Christian school didn’t offer for me what it did for my friend. Her story was completely different. She came from a broken home and what she knew of God from her family was limited. So, when she talked about the reason for her faith in God and her relationship with Jesus, it’s hard to miss the sound of gratitude as she talks about her Christian school experience. And the beautiful thing is that because of those roots, spiritual fruit is so evident. She literally ministers to hundreds of people weekly because of those who chose to invest her Christian education.
Welcoming the Newcomer
Years ago, I had a couple of students come to the U.S. from another country. A brother and sister that came with their mom who wanted to study at an American university. For some reason they chose to come to our school even though they had not grown up in the church or a Christian family. Their family heritage was Buddhist, a fact unknown by me when I first met them. All I knew is that they were friendly, extremely brilliant, and spoke better English than I did. I didn’t try to evangelize them or argue apologetically with them; I just got to know them like I did with any other student. And what was better still was the way they were welcomed by their fellow classmates. So much so that after three years of sharing life with them, our hearts broke when we learned they were moving back home. They had become a part of our family. One morning shortly after they left, I came into my classroom to find a box on my desk. Inside of it were eighty sheets of paper, each one with a personal hand-written message for every student in their classes. Underneath the papers was a bright pink Bible with a message inside the front cover: “We want to donate this as a classroom Bible. Please remember us when you read it. We won’t be able to read ours in public anymore, but we will keep reading.” They had encountered God in the halls of a Christian school.
Worship from the Heart
More recently, I was able to stand at the front of a Jr. High/High School chapel setting and worship alongside some high school students. If you’ve been in youth ministry or Christian education, some of you may have witnessed a high school chapel worship service that felt a little sleepy or lifeless. But this particular chapel experience was different. And it wasn’t just the quality of the music, the high-tempo songs, or something about the lighting of the room. It was the sound of 350 people worshiping. Not just singing, but what seemed to be true and sincere worship from their hearts. And more than anything else, what ushered me into the presence of God with a thankful heart was when I stopped singing and took a moment to look around. It wasn’t just a chapel filled with students, but a refuge for kids who knew all too well the bitterness of life. I was standing next to some who had been hurt and broken. I was singing with some who have been betrayed, lied to, abused, and abandoned. But in that moment, none of those realities were reigning. They may have been waiting for them outside the doors, but as we sang on a weekday morning, we were in the presence of God, bringing him our praise.
Yes, Christian education brings with it some things to be cautious about. There is the risk of training students to know the right things and behave the right ways, yet have no love for Jesus. And no, not everyone’s story of Christian education sounds like the ones above. But I know a lot more stories that do. So tomorrow morning, I’m going to wake up my three kids and we’ll get ready to spend our day at a Christian school. At the end of the day, they will tell me about the books they’re reading and the mathematical equations they’ve learned. But they will also tell me about what they learned from God through those things. They will tell me about their Bible lessons and that their teachers prayed with them. And I think those are positive contributions from Christian schooling worth writing down.