By Jeff Keaton – Renewanation Founder
Throughout my lifetime, I’ve had the privilege of being around and benefiting from many Christian schools. As a child going into the third grade, I attended my first Christian school in New Albany, Indiana. My father started Clearfork Christian Academy as a response to his conviction that his nine children should receive a Christian worldview education. I am deeply grateful for my father’s insight at a time when very few children were receiving weekday Christian education. I went on to attend several other Christian schools as my dad moved from one ministry assignment to another. In 2002, I was privileged to lead the charge to start Parkway Christian Academy in Roanoke, Virginia. Watching PCA grow to nearly 400 students in seven years was both exhilarating and exhausting as we tried to meet the ever increasing demands of a growing student body. In 2007, God gave me the vision of Renewanation. Over the last few years, I have become much better acquainted with the Christian school movement in the United States. I have met with numbers of school boards and administrative teams and have spoken to many groups of parents.
As I have traveled the country connecting with schools, I’ve formed some opinions concerning what a healthy or vibrant Christian school looks like. All of the schools I have visited are passionate about giving children a Christian worldview and have great people sacrificing immensely in order to accomplish their noble mission. However, from my perspective, the Christian school movement is facing serious challenges in part because there are not enough vibrant Christian schools. Too many Christian schools are just barely existing, and too many are closing their doors every year.
At Renewanation we believe God has called us to be a part of creating a new Christian education movement. This movement includes Christian schools, homeschools, and ministries reaching students in non-Christian schools. We plan to help start many new schools as well as see many existing schools revitalized.
Vibrant Christian Schools: Know why they exist
As I have met with Christian school leaders and board members around the country, I have found many of them to be unclear as to the exact reasons for their school’s existence. When asked, they give answers like:
A. “Our school exists because our teachers are more loving and caring than non-Christian school teachers.” I quickly dispel this notion because we all know many Christian teachers who work in non-Christian schools. Even many non-Christian teachers care deeply about their students.
B. “Our class sizes are smaller.” I tell them that this is not exclusive to Christian schools.
C. “We don’t have all the bad kids.” I quickly ask them if they have ever been to a Christian school.
D. “We deserve to exist because we have been here a long time.” Non-sense!
After hearing these and many other answers, I try to help them understand that there is only one thing a Christian school can do that a non-Christian school can never do: give their students a thoroughly biblical worldview education. Our government schools cannot give a child a biblical worldview because it is illegal.
A vibrant Christian school’s primary mission is to teach children to see God’s hand at work in every sphere of study. This does not in any way mean that Christian schools are glorified Sunday schools. Test scores show that Christian schools are doing an exceptional job preparing students academically. More importantly, they are educating students with the absolute truth of God and His Word as the foundation.
When Christian schools fail to understand their primary mission, they begin to die. People will not invest the energy and resources necessary to keep a Christian school open unless there is a vital reason to do so.
Vibrant Christian Schools: Have strong leadership
This may sound like a no-brainer, but I mention it because a large majority of Christian schools are struggling to find effective leaders. Many believe this is because Christian schools are not able to pay administrators and teachers what non-Christian schools can pay. This is no doubt a factor, but I believe a greater factor is a problem of perception. When sharp young educators believe that Christian schools are not serious about providing high-quality education, they go another way. More importantly, when educators fail to understand the worldview conflict in education, they do not see the need to make sacrifices so that the next generation will develop a biblical worldview.
Vibrant Christian schools find creative ways to bring strong leadership onto their team. Often, they will find a proven leader from a field outside education who feels called into the ministry. Good leaders can adapt to almost any environment and surround themselves with people who have expertise in areas where they do not. Leadership is critical! Find good leaders and they will find a way to make your school vibrant. Fail to find good leaders, and your school will have little chance of vibrancy.
As we think about strong leadership in schools, we must consider the necessity of two types of leaders on every school team. Vibrant schools have found a healthy balance between educational leaders and entrepreneurial leaders. Entrepreneurs find ways to build, grow, and expand schools. Educators develop infrastructure and the necessary systems to ensure that quality education is taking place.
There is always a tension between these two types of leaders, but it is a necessary tension. Entrepreneurs left to themselves will have a growing school but may not have a strong school internally. Educators left to themselves will have all their ducks in a row but will have little understanding of how to attract new students and cast vision for the future.
Jerry Falwell and Elmer Towns are excellent examples of this unique blend of entrepreneur and educator working as a successful team. Liberty University would not exist today if Jerry Falwell had not received the vision for it and had not taken huge leaps of faith to build and grow the school. However, without educators like Elmer Towns and many others, Liberty would not have made it to its current state of immense success.
I experienced this same dynamic when I started Parkway Christian Academy in Roanoke, Virginia. I had a vision and passion for growing a Christian school. The educators I hired built the infrastructure. Together we were able to build a vibrant school.
Vibrant Christian Schools: Are serious about biblical integration
Many Christian schools are led by good Christian people who do not possess a strong biblical worldview. They have been trained in secular schools and have developed a secular worldview in spite of the fact that they are born-again Christians. Many of these secular-minded Christian school leaders and teachers do not see the need to make biblical integration a primary focus. Vibrant CHRISTIAN schools teach from a biblical worldview in every subject.
The best way to insure that biblical integration is taking place is to train teachers consistently in biblical worldview and to use a curriculum written from a biblical basis.
The presuppositions of a biblical worldview and a secular worldview are light years apart. For example, a textbook writer with a secular worldview will not take sin into account as they write. Is it really possible to understand the human condition if one does not even believe in sin or evil? A secular writer will not believe that the Bible is a resource for the answers to life’s problems. Therefore, they are prescribing solutions that are not based on the absolute truth of the Bible. If a textbook writer does not believe in sin and or in the authority of God’s Word how can they possibly lead their students to the knowledge of the truth? Their secular worldview bleeds through in what they write in the text.
Academically excellent, biblically based curricula are available today. When a school uses these textbooks, they are in reality helping to train their teachers who may not yet possess a fully developed biblical worldview.
Vibrant Christian Schools: Have a passion for evangelism and discipleship
There is a serious debate in the Christian school movement about whether or not a school should be a covenant school (open only to children from Christian homes) or open enrollment school.
I will not try to settle that debate in this article, but I will say this. All Christian schools are in the business of evangelizing and discipling their students. At Parkway Christian Academy, we had an open enrollment policy. As a matter of fact, we committed to giving scholarships every year to students from non-Christian homes. Why? We wanted to lead children and their families to Christ, and it worked!
Christian schools can be a great tool for evangelism and discipleship. How else can you get non-Christian parents to give you their children’s hearts and minds for 35 hours each week? We had many students whose parents never darkened the door of a church, but they paid us thousands of dollars each year to educate their child. What a great opportunity for evangelism and discipleship.
I believe that when we create a new movement of Christian education, and millions of new children are receiving that education, we may spawn a spiritual awakening. Most of the millennial generation (78 million born between 1980-2000) have been secularized. They are not as open to the gospel, and they do not believe the Bible. Therefore, they are much more difficult to evangelize. However, every time we give a child a biblical worldview, they are highly susceptible to the gospel. They believe the Bible! They believe in sin and hell and judgment. They believe that Jesus died for their sin and that He is the Savior of the world.
Christian education is one of the greatest tools for evangelism in the world. Pastors and church leaders need to be awakened to the great power of weekday Christian education. Yes, it is costly. Yes, it will make some people unhappy. However, it is a life-changing method of preparing the hearts and minds of the next generation to know, love, and serve Christ.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a continuing series that will appear in future issues and is based on a speech Jeff gives at Christian Educator Conferences and to school leadership teams. For info on booking, please visit renewanation.org/schedule-a-speaker or call 1-855-TO-RENEW.
Jeff Keaton is the founder and CEO of Renewanation. A successful pastor, church and school planter, and a ministry entrepreneur, Jeff has invested his adult life into helping people grow spiritually. He speaks across America challenging the church to reach the world for Christ and to get involved in the great cause of giving children a Christian worldview education. He is the author of The Life of Radical Faith. Visit his website at jeffkeaton.net.