Making Christian Education Great Again

Robert F. Davis 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. | (Photo: Robert F. Davis)

The frequency with which television programs and motion pictures quote scripture has always fascinated me. Of course the practice goes back to great literature, especially Shakespeare. Equal to my fascination is wondering how many viewers know or understand anything about these biblical quotations. Even more puzzling is when the humorous situation is juxtaposed to the quote and the "laugh track" erupts with laughter.

A prime example of this is from an episode of Married with Children where Al Bundy and his kids are running from their mother. Al shouts, "Don't look back. You may turn into a pillar of salt" and laughter breaks out.

I think most popular of biblical quotes along with "an eye for an eye" is "you will know the truth and the truth will set you free." Actually, out of context this could refer to anything.

To clearly understand, Jesus' words to a group of believing Jews, John 8:31b and 32 should be read and considered carefully. "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (ESV)

Belief in "God's Word," the "Gospel" sets you on the road of "discipleship!" Discipleship, according to Bible teacher William Barclay means, "Constantly remaining in the Word, listening, absorbing, and obeying." This discipleship then issues in knowledge and results in freedom from fear, self, others, and from sin.

This is the very essence of a "great" Christian education! And I believe it is most clearly stated by the late Dr. Paul Kienel, "The task of training our children to center their lives in Christ and outfitting them for the future is no less than our number one mission in life. Christian school education stands ready to assist in that all-important responsibility."

Everyone knows this, right? Everyone should know this, right? Well, do they? I'd like to offer a resounding, "Yes, for sure!" But I can't.

Christian schools can and have lost their salvation. And while many still maintain a "vibrant" faith too many have stepped on the "slippery slope" toward faithlessness and still others have already "bottomed out."

(See: "Can Christian Schools Lose Their Salvation?")

I could mention, but won't, schools established by Christians to prepare Christians which are about to turn a spiritual page and move into Christian obsolescence. Remember the Harvard University moto which now rings hollow, "Truth for Christ and His Church."

St. John quotes Jesus again while speaking in the temple, "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand." (John 10:28 ESV)

Some years ago while preparing for a performance of Bach Cantata #78, which contains this passage, I was translating the German text. It literally was expressed "and no one will wrest them out of my hand." Not "snatch," not "pluck," but something much stronger, "wrest!"

It seems to me instead of "securing" the faith for Christian school/college students, they are being "pushed out" of faith and down the "slippery slope."

Why are they being pushed? How are we pushing them?

Too many teachers and administrators don't really understand what Christian education is nor how it is practiced. Too often Christian schooling amounts to a place populated by Christians, where a Bible class is part of the curriculum, prayer opens the day or class, and chapel is held with some regularity. That's it! Educational content is very much the same as at any other educational institution.

In the area surrounding my home are several Christian schools. Only one, to my knowledge, strongly stresses Bible and apologetics. And while apologetics is so needed only one teacher presents one course at that school. This is hardly sufficient or effective.

So what can be done? In a word, "involvement." Let me note four pressure groups which can become "centers of strong influence:" faculty, parents, alumni, and board members. I call these "centers of strong influence" for specific reasons, because each is actively involved in the school and these all represent major donor categories of any institution.

Unlike some, I personally consider the faculty a "major donor" category. Not only do they contribute valued information to the resident constituency, but they make a huge financial sacrifice by choosing to teach at a Christian school.

As a development professional I am keenly aware that parents, alumni, and board members are the three largest and most important "donor groups" to any school. Interestingly for different reasons, but regardless foundational!

The faculty, if carefully hired, is the first line of defense against theological and social slippage at a Christian school, although the faculty can be skittish because of the fear of job loss. This is why I encourage the faculty to form a "faculty council," whether approved or not, in order to speak as a group, with one voice, thereby losing individual vulnerability. The faculty, meeting on or off campus, can speak freely among themselves to address a multitude of issues including theological, social, and educational problems, formulate a collective opinion, and present it up the "food chain" to the "powers that be." This council should work to acquire an "ex officio" seat on the important institutional committees and the board.

Families are paying the bill and have a vested interest responsibility to see that their money is being used well and in keeping with their personal and spiritual world-view. If not they have their finger on a very sensitive trigger, a trigger which can set a series of financial consequences in motion. Keeping things in good order is one reason why parents and grandparents are a large donor group.

Consider the small Christian school budget. While they vary wildly, from approximately $500,000 to $5,000,000, variances on the annual small sized institutional budget can wreak havoc. If parents were to take action and retreat from a school, considering the range of tuition, a loss of 10 students could create a shortfall of anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000. This is quite significant and will affect business as usual.

Alumni represent another concerned group. Their interest in the school is appreciation and the hope a school's reputation will continue to be sterling, further adding value to their own education. Involvement for an alumnus is participation in "homecoming" and as a voice on the "alumni committee." Alumni along with parents and board members are advocates of an institution. If their advocacy wanes the school is affected. Keeping abreast of that which is happening at their "alma mater" is most important and definitely will keep pressure on institutional fidelity!

The board like the faculty must be chosen carefully and not just because they can make themselves available for meetings. (See "Characteristics of the Effective Board: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.") The board establishes policy, assures that the school is financially stable, and hires the chief executive they believe capable of carry forth the "mission" of the institution. Involvement should center on "knowing" what is being taught and supported at the school and whether this is faithful to the overall philosophy of education and the platform of principles. The board must have complete trust in the chief executive's leadership!

These are only four pressure groups for maintaining fidelity. There are others, but if these four accept their responsibility and act appropriately transparency will be a result and fidelity to the mission a reality.

As parents we assume, through observation, that our children have accepted the validity of the "Gospel" for themselves. But are we certain? As a teenager I was certainly able to fool everyone. There is plenty of talk about Christian students abandoning their salvation, their faith while at college. Author David Wheaton in his book University of Destruction doesn't think so. He doesn't think they had a hold of salvation in the first place. (See:

The education, Christian education of our children is so important. Faith in Christ is absolutely foundational.

Consider this, St. Augustine said, "God has made us for himself. Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God."

And this from Blaise Pascal in Pensées, "Man searches in vain, but finds nothing to help him other than to see an infinite emptiness that can only be filled by One who is infinite and unchanging. In other words, it can only be filled by God himself."

We need to lead the search, make the search meaningful and possible, not unavailable.

Let's get serious about Christian education, become involved, acquire a voice, and take charge as guardians of the Christian faith. The takeover of educational institutions by the ungodly is in part the reason for the mess in which we currently find ourselves. Act now!

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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