Recently I had the privilege of participating in the Global Christian School Leadership Summit. The Summit was the coming together of almost 700 leaders representing several Christian education associations from around the world. The purpose of the Summit was to develop a unified vision for the future of the Christian school movement.
A variety of topics were presented but the one that caught my attention dealt with the sustainability of Christian schools in the future. The term sustainability can best be defined as the capacity to endure or the endurance of systems and processes or the ability to remain productive indefinitely. I think we would all agree that we want to see biblical education to not just survive into the future but to actually thrive – resulting in future generations being spiritually transformed to be fully devoted followers of Christ.
There were a couple of presentations and discussions that caused the delegates to understand some of the biggest obstacles, challenges and threats that Christian education will be confronted with in the immediate and distant future. As I listened to the discussions about the hurdles facing Christian leaders, I saw these threats falling into three categories.
Cultural threats to the sustainability of the Christian school movement covers a wide range of issues. These issues are a result of the secular, postmodern culture dominating the world scene today. David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, explained that Christians must understand that they are no longer living in a Jerusalem culture – especially in the United States. A Jerusalem culture is one that is dominated by a Christian mindset or by what is usually referred to as the Judeo-Christian ethic.
Kinnaman went on to tell us that we are living in a Babylonian culture where a biblical lifestyle must be lived out as Israel was forced to do when the nation was taken captive by the Babylonians. Today’s world is dominated by a secular humanistic worldview that has, for the most part, privatized religion and secularized society.
Some of the more serious cultural threats to the sustainability of Christian education included:
- the current gender confusion that demands equal rights for those of the LGBTQ community.
- the legalization of same-sex marriage.
- the legalization of once banned substances such as marijuana.
These and other similar cultural trends are real and will have a very serious impact on Christian schools’ admission and hiring policies. The question was raised as to whether or not Christian school leaders are even aware that these cultural threats exist.
When Christian school leaders talk about the sustainability of the movement in the years to come, the issue of funding may be the one that is most often brought up. There has been a continued need to raise tuition fees to meet the demands of growing budgets in most Christian schools. Leaders are concerned about the danger of pricing Christian education out of reach to many Christian families that could result in diminishing enrollments. This is the reason why there is so much more of an emphasis on public relations and development efforts in the Christian school movement today.
Even though the need for school advancement is being more and more encouraged by a number of Christian school consultants, there were some other financial threats presented at the Summit. When these other issues were brought into the discussion, it was evident that many of them were not on the average leader’s radar. Possible new funding threats include:
- the possible loss of tax exempt status. This could happen through tax reform and/or not embracing some of the cultural threats that were mentioned above.
- new laws mandating minimum wage and salary increases for all staff members. Some states have already passed minimum salaries to be paid to new teachers. Even though groups have been successful in exempting religious schools from these new laws, this is something that may be coming down the pike.
- loss of donor dollars. This loss is related to the threat of religious organizations losing their tax exempt status mentioned above.
Will the Christian school movement be sustainable when faced with these and other financial threats? What will Christian school leaders be able to do to overcome these probable threats? There is no doubt that this is a major area that needs our attention.
The final category of threats to the sustainability of the Christian school movement deals with finding effective leaders throughout the movement. This issue has been talked about a lot over the past 15-20 years. My generation has been fortunate to be part of large number of Christian school leaders that have sustained Christian school education over the past 30-40 years. However, as more and more of this generation have stepped out of their leadership roles, the effort to find leaders to take their places has come up short. This condition has only intensified in the past few years. Some of the leadership threats discussed at the Summit included:
- the lack of young emerging leaders ready to fill the many leadership vacancies that already exist at many Christian schools.
- the need for more board members at Christian schools who are committed to a biblical philosophy of education.
- the need for younger leaders in Christian school organizations that are equipped to lead entire organizations into the future.
As you can see there are some major threats that have already emerged or can be seen looming on the horizon that impact the sustainability of the Christian school movement. As you consider the many issues I have mentioned above, what do you see as the most important threats that must be addressed if Christian schools are going to have the capacity to endure and remain productive indefinitely? Share which of these challenges you believe to present the greatest threat to the movement in the next few years to come. Next week I want to share with you my response to the issues that are threatening the sustainability of Christian schools as we look to the future.