Christian Education: What Makes the Battle for a Christian Education so Hard?

Each day I take time to pray specifically for three Christian school administrators. I pray for them because administrating a Christian school is a formidable task, because their institutions are in a particular battle for their very existence, and because providing a Christian education is more difficult now than ever before!

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While the battle for a Christian education is noticeable external pressure, resisting is so much more difficult because of the ineptitude of the internal environment. This internal problem manifests itself in three areas: board leadership, administrative performance, and unreasonable expectations of the faculty.

In addition to having served as a board member, working with boards has been, to say the least, a challenge. Board service is demanding. It is not for the "faint of heart," or to be approached cavalierly, but taken seriously. The "pool" of potential board members has been shrinking significantly among the more qualified candidates and for good reason. These individuals don't waste time and require assurances that the "gifts" they would bring will be used effectively. This means they want specific and targeted assignments. Since most Christian schools don't operate this way they lose the best candidates.

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Board meetings at schools generally are too frequent, usually monthly, last too long, often into the "wee hours," and are unfocused, spending more time meddling rather than dealing with policy setting and fiscal security. Consequently the candidate "pool" is reduced to those with time on their hands or simply those who want to add "board service" to their resume. I received a message from a school's headmaster recently saying the board was dealing with some internal problems. Upon examination I discovered that the board consisted of: three faculty members and two parents. This means that the headmaster reports to a faculty member who reports to the headmaster. Think on that! Do you think there might be internal problems? All of this constitutes an ineffective board which actually creates more problems than they can solve!

Since one of the three board duties is hiring the "chief executive," you can imagine what type of person an ill-qualified board will hire. Among the process problems are: whether to hire a head of school, principal, or simply an administrator (see here, and here), and also to give attention to writing a carefully crafted "job description" for the position. The way this scenario usually plays out is that administrators do not really know what they are expected to do and do that which they like, allowing much to go undone. Other personnel, "corporate climbers," then move-in and enlarge their own "fiefdom." Communication suffers, people who should be aren't included in planning, and institutional progress languishes. That which develops may best be called a "pastiche."

In The Message Eugene Peterson presents Proverbs 14:28 like this, "The mark of a good leader is loyal followers; leadership is nothing without a following."  Consider the chief executive I've described and the board which hired this fellow and Proverbs 14:28 takes on real meaning. What then is the faculty to do? There may be "scope and sequence," coordination of field trips, an orderly exam schedule, and professional development, but probably not.

Likely there will be: a line at the principal's office for discipline, wild grade inflation, no uniform method for calculating final grades, and the now frequent vote of "no confidence," by the faculty, in the leader. Come to think of it, probably the only group working efficiently, doing what they should, and keeping to themselves is the maintenance staff.

Keep in mind all of the aforementioned problems are internal uncertainty. When you add the external pressures, which includes parental interference and societal attitudes, expectations, and demands, you can begin to understand why the "battle for a Christian education is so hard. Actually it appears as though Christian educators "wound their own" and then "shoot their own wounded."

Os Guinness in The Call offers biting insight for this situation. "The problem with Western Christians is not that they aren't where they should be, but that they aren't what they should be where they are."

Robert F. Davis has 40 years of experience providing counsel for educational and not-for-profit institutions. He previously served as vice president for Advancement at Bryan College in Tennessee and consulting vice president for Advancement and Alumni Affairs at Liberty University in Virginia.

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