Reaching a "Christian Culture"

Though an increasing number of families are homeschooling, Christian schools are struggling to maintain their numbers with an increasing share of children moving to secular Charter schools. Here are some thoughts on how Christians can expand interest in Christian schooling (and homeschooling).

During the early hours of this morning, I was reflecting upon the question of how to effectively and efficiently promote Christian education across the nation. Communicating in churches seems key, but pastors must be “on board” to see sustained change. However, I heard from a regional ACSI director that nearly a decade ago, ACSI had a multi-year campaign to promote Christian schooling among pastors, and their efforts largely failed! Perhaps this is because 1) pastors fear the conflict/competition/judgement that may arise among parents associated with the schooling they provide their children, 2) most pastors attended secular schools and fail to see the possibilities associated with a good Christian education, 3) Christian education is often viewed as merely an insular “bubble” that not only softens children from the “realities of life,” but prevents them from being “salt and light” to those in need, and 4) promoting Christian schooling obligates churches financially to support/start a Christian school while placing Sunday offerings in competition with tuition payments.

If I am right, then these are obstacles that must be overcome. #1 reflects discipleship that pastors handle on a routine basis. #4 is a current reality that SACE is working to change by promoting school choice - a movement that pastors can energize their congregations to support. But #’s 3 and 4 are grand philosophic obstacles! How do we convince tens of thousands of pastors and their congregations that Christian education (in its diverse forms) is a vital mission of the Church that not only powerfully shapes the minds and hearts of their children, but transforms our culture to reflect the goodness of God to the world?

How do we teach millions of adult Christians that during the education day, children are assimilating not just facts, but values and beliefs which will shape their characters, standards, life visions, and frameworks for reason? How do we show them that while Sunday school and youth group can win their hearts to Jesus, the education day is the primary place where the knowledge, skills, and activities of life are addressed and given a context and meaning? While a child can learn that he is to “love God and his neighbor” at church, it is in the academic setting where he will begin to learn (or not learn) what this looks like “on the job” and within public culture. It is in the academic setting where the qualities, acts, and concerns of God can be focused through the lenses of art, science, literature, math, athletics, history, and language. Actively or passively, schooling links knowledge and skills with particular areas of meaning, areas that secular schools either fill with shallow “popular” meaning or leave “blank.”

My pre-dawn wonderings reflected on my failed efforts. People’s lives are overloaded with media and activities. Few will ever read about Christian education on the web. My most brilliant thoughts are considered merely
spam (oh, it hurts to write it!) when I send them unsolicited. It is difficult for outsiders to give a presentation within most churches. And, finally, communicating past people’s preconceptions/ignorance about Christian education is difficult.

Then an idea came to me -
What if local schools dramatized Christian education and presented their skits, first in churches of attending students, then to other churches? Youth presentations tend to have a receptive audiences, schools would be motivated to host teams to gain support, students like to be “on stage,” and the message of Chrwould be heard. What I would like to communicate is that a Christian education is meaningful both to the individual, the church, and society because God is shown to be relevant to all of life.

A key would be to connect the broad concerns of Christian adults (many without children) with the mission of Christian education. For example, a skit could begin by depicting multiple scenes from adult life in which previously “secular” situations were transformed into God glorifying events by people who had been taught to see and express God in all of life. These vignettes could then be linked to the Christian classroom.

For example: one scene could show a courtroom with a judge reading the verdict of “innocent” to a tearful and falsely accused defendant who proclaims, “Thank you God for justice.” A second scene could depict a professional gardener dedicating her flower gardens to the enjoyment of the public - complete with contemplative plaques leading visitors to reflect on the beauty of creation’s God… A third scene could depict a mechanic responding with love and responsibility to an angry customer whose car left him stranded -
again… A fourth scene could depict a medical researcher being overheard expectantly seeking God for further understanding of a cure for cancer… A fifth scene could depict an executive board meeting in which the discussion genuinely reflected a concern that corporate earnings were linked with investments that strengthened families and communities.

Following these vignettes and a bit of narration as to how secular education has led to primarily to secular public expressions, the set could become a series of classrooms in which teachers and students were linking the subject matter with Christian thought and teaching - where students were not just “gaining knowledge” but were learning about the Source of knowledge and how He calls us to apply our knowledge and skill in a loving way. Thus, the courtroom illuminates God’s concern for justice, the nature garden reflects God’s creativity and gift of beauty, the mechanic demonstrates that we are pre-eminently called to love God and others, the medical researcher reflects the reality that God is concerned about our work and actively uses our skills to minister to others, and the executives’ discussion demonstrates that the moral and philosophic truths of Christianity should pervade every aspect of life and work - the rules of business profit do not somehow justify immoral pursuits.

I don’t write plays, so maybe the above example is “lame.” But I believe the strategy is sound. It is largely up to Christian school leaders to find creative ways to teach the public to understand and value Christian education. They have the perspective, the vision, and the pathway into church communities. Few American Christians understand the potential of a Christian education. Perhaps through this and other creative ideas, we can take the classroom into their worlds!
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