Will Christian Schools Remain Productive?

By February 13, 2017Public Blog, Uncategorized

Dangerous conditions aheadRecently 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

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.

Funding Threats

American Dream climbing pile money copyWhen 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.

Leadership Threats

The final category of threats to the sustainability of the Christian school movement deals with finding effective leaders throughoutleader maze copy 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.

Glen Schultz

Author Glen Schultz

More posts by Glen Schultz

Join the discussion 12 Comments

  • Melissa says:

    With the recent appointment of Betsy DeVos, I was concerned with what school vouchers might do to Christian schools. If, as Christian schools, we begin to accept vouchers as payment for our students, does that mean that we then will have to follow all regulations that the government begins to enforce in public schools, such as transgender bathrooms? If that happens then the sheltering effect of private Christian schools won’t even draw families to us anymore, because we will be forced to conform since we accepted funds. Surely that will be part of the conversation of the voucher system if it is actually considered.

    • Glen Schultz says:

      We always have to be on guard for potential traps that might come our way and putting our hope in government etc. Thanks for your comment.

    • Tom pollock says:

      I believe the major threat in the future will be affordability of Christian education. I see those who really want it are in the category of low income and have trouble making ends meet so they feel this is a luxury. They usually have multiple children. As the costs have to go up to keep good teachers it keeps getting further and further out of reach of those who really see the need to have their children in these good schools.

  • Mark Beadle says:

    Thanks for a good summary of an important conference. I look forward to the written work that is to come out of it.

    I think another challenge is the tendency for schools to hunker down against threats or circle the wagons as we saw on old western movies. Can a defensive strategy prevail?

    I think schools need to be more proactive in light of the 3 challenges you mention and the tendency above. Simply waiting for the culture to change or even hoping a new President or Secretary of Education will help will not be a winning strategy for an individual school.

    Plans can be made be made now so that the Christian Schools of 2025 are not only sustainable as you say, but flourishing. It takes real leadership to make this happen but I think that is what leaders (and boards) are called to do. As Barrett Mosbacker says– they must look over the horizon…

  • Mark Kennedy says:

    Quite frankly the 3 threat groups above concern me, not because they aren’t real, but because they miss the key issue. And they raise the question, “A threat to what?”. To our enrollments? To our ‘bottom lines’ (and to our definitions of the same)? To our compulsively materialistic lifestyles? To our power over secular society?To our ability to control and manipulate our own future via clever strategic planning? To our best efforts to spiritualize North American secular values so that Christian school students learn to ‘seek first the kingdom of gold’?
    The greatest threats aren’t from outside the Christian community and the fact that we think that they come from that direction is troubling. Do we really believe that all the mad hyper sexualized cultural and legal initiatives are more dangerous than an evangelical Christian community that too easily makes compromises to accommodate them? Do we really believe that the financial threat for North American Christian schools can be solved by simply throwing more money at our schools – especially ‘free’ money from the government? Do we genuinely think that even greater over-emphasis on producing our idea of “leaders” will be any more successful than it has been in the past?

    What if the money problem isn’t about money at all. What if it’s really about what we value most highly – what we treasure – as per “Where your treasure is there your hearts will be also.”
    Fact is that tuition funded Christian schools are growing by leaps and bounds in the poorest parts of the poorest countries on earth- I know, that’s a shocking non sequitor for most North Americans because it begs the question, “Why isn’t that happening here?” And it’s going on in those poor countries, often despite the availability of ‘free’ public school education (See James Tuley’s book “The Beautiful Tree”). Hundreds of thousands of families – maybe millions- in “Third World Countries”, who don’t have electricity or indoor plumbing in their homes are sacrificing basics to send their children to Christian schools. Why? We’d better think about that. Children are sacrificing too. When the current ACSI Director in Haiti was 5 years old his father told him, “if you want to go to school you will have to miss some meals so we can afford to pay your tuition.” He wasn’t joking. “Alright, Father, I’ll do that.” was the little boy’s response. What would a typical North American child say in that circumstance? Why? Why the difference?

    Regarding leadership, maybe we’ve gotten things all wrong in North American Christian circles for a long time. So many hours, so much effort and so much money expended for decades in developing students that we think are future leaders – an exclusive, select group above and apart from all the other kids. And often we get it wrong about those students. Writing as a long time former principal, I can think of many bright promising students who I thought would make excellent leaders – they didn’t. And then there were those incorrigible, rebellious, slackers for whom no sensible person held out any hope. Guess from which of the two group the Lord most often chose leaders. Do we really not get that God’s criteria for choosing leaders is totally different than humanity’s ( think David, think Gideon, think Moses) and that He can prepare them more effectively than we can ever hope to. And beyond that, what if the crisis in Christian schooling isn’t just leadership. What if the greater crisis is the lack of responsible Christian followership? Often the most effective Christian leaders have received critical leadership lessons the hard way, by learning to follow according to the principles of scripture (think David). Maybe we need to curtail our emphasis on the elite few who WE think will be leaders and concentrate instead on more thoroughly preparing every student to serve according to biblical principles as a servant of Christ first, then a leader or follower second.
    The really awful truth is that in all the 3 areas above, the greater threat is in ourselves not in the circumstances around us. I like Glen’s initial picture of the man walking above the ocean full of sharks. It so obviously evokes the passage about Peter walking on the water towards Jesus. When he gave his primary focus to the threatening waves around him and the deep waters below Peter began to succumb to those threats. When he focussed instead on the author and finisher of our faith he walked above the very real threats that surrounded him. For Peter it wasn’t just a somewhat ethereal spiritual experience. It was a lesson in practicality. And what if our threats abolish Christian schooling completely in North America and we’re all unemployed. Will God have abandoned us or removed opportunities to serve Him effectively?
    Maybe all the things we perceive as threats will help us refocus on the essential and practical priority of seeking first the Kingdom of God in all aspects of our schools and maybe we can help other North American Christians to do the same in their families.

    • Glen Schultz says:

      Thanks for keeping us on making the main thing the main thing. Sometimes perceived threats are more of a symptom to deeper issues.

  • I believe that the greatest threat is in Leadership. If those in charge, school boards and administration, are not fully committed to maintaining a Kingdom Education focus and lifestyle, then the hope of a school that truly impacts the hearts and minds of its students and families for the cause of Christ will become slowly extinct. The Christian School will then be nothing more than a private school with a different label.

    • Glen Schultz says:

      A school’s distinctiveness is very important. We need to remember what makes a Christian school distinctively different from all other forms of schooling.

  • Steve Johnston says:

    While I will agree that all of the threats mentioned in the article above are true threats, the greatest threat to Christian education is the internal threat and not the external threats. Developing a Christian mind is not preached from many pulpits in the United States today and many pastors are reluctant to back Christian Education due to the number of public school educators in their congregations. Many Christian parents do not see the value or need for Christian Education since many view that education as a secular education in all core subjects with a Bible class added to “develop character”. Many Christian schools were begun as alternatives to the violence in the public realm, but with the rise of both homeschooling and charter schools in many states, the parents see no need to send their children to a school that requires a large economic commitment when cheaper alternatives are available or their local schools are considered “safe”. A gospel that is now preached that emphasizes emotion without the commitment of the development of the intellect is a threat to both K – 12 Christian education and higher Christian education as shown by the number of Bible colleges and Christian universities that are in financial crisis or closing. Many Christians do not see the need to think with a Christian worldview since it is easy to separate Christian emotion from secular thought.

Leave a Reply