By Jeff Keaton - Founder & CEO of Renewanation
Throughout my lifetime, I’ve had the privilege of being around and benefiting from many Christian schools. As a child going into the third grade, I attended my first Christian school in New Albany, Indiana. My father started Clearfork Christian Academy as a response to his conviction that his nine children should receive a Christian worldview education. I am deeply grateful for my father’s insight at a time when very few children were receiving weekday Christian education. I went on to attend several other Christian schools as my dad moved from one ministry assignment to another. In 2002, I was privileged to lead the charge to start Parkway Christian Academy in Roanoke, Virginia. Watching PCA grow to nearly 400 students in seven years was both exhilarating and exhausting as we tried to meet the ever increasing demands of a growing student body. In 2007, God gave me the vision of Renewanation. Over the last few years, I have become much better acquainted with the Christian school movement in the United States. I have met with numbers of school boards and administrative teams and have spoken to many groups of parents.
As I have traveled the country connecting with schools, I’ve formed some opinions concerning what a healthy or vibrant Christian school looks like. All of the schools I have visited are passionate about giving children a Christian worldview and have great people sacrificing immensely in order to accomplish their noble mission. However, from my perspective, the Christian school movement is facing serious challenges in part because there are not enough vibrant Christian schools. Too many Christian schools are just barely existing, and too many are closing their doors every year.
At Renewanation, we believe God has called us to be a part of creating a new Christian education movement. This movement includes Christian schools, homeschools, and ministries reaching students in non-Christian schools. We plan to help start many new schools as well as see many existing schools revitalized.
In Part One of Characteristics of a Vibrant Christian School, I detailed four characteristics. Vibrant Christian schools: know why they exist, have strong leadership, are serious about biblical integration, and have a passion for evangelism and discipleship. In Part Two, I talked about the importance of high spiritual morale in Christian schools. In this article, we’ll discuss looking at parents and students from a customer perspective, being student-centered, and inspiring our students to be great.
Vibrant Christian schools understand that students and their parents are customers.
I have hired many teachers and administrators who spent many years in the government school system. They were used to working in a school environment where students were going to enroll no matter how the school was performing or how the students and parents were treated. This is a slight overstatement, and I’m not implying that public school teachers don’t care about the wellbeing of their students and parents, because they do. However, public school employees know that next year, students will be there. The fact that schooling is mandatory, cost-free to parents, and students are assigned to certain schools, guarantees a fresh crop every year. This model is responsible for many failing schools in America.
When it comes to the Christian school, I have met many teachers and administrators who seem to be unaware that a student isn’t mandated to attend their school. In reality, Christian schools are essentially small businesses, and the parents and students are their customers. In most small businesses, there is a very high priority placed on the treatment of customers as well as the service being provided to the customers. I am well aware that this analogy can be taken much too far and that there are vast differences between a Christian school and a profit-making business. However, if Christian schools would work to earn the trust, respect, and appreciation of their parents and students, like businesses work to earn the same from their customers, many problems in Christian schools would be solved.
At the school I helped start and lead for nine years, we believed that our students and their parents were to be offered excellent service. As a result of this belief, we went the extra mile to solve the inevitable problems that arose in the lives of our students and their families. I remember a mother walking in after her husband had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. She was distraught and worried about how she would be able to keep her children in our school. I assured this precious mother that we would take care of her children and their schooling. This act of kindness reverberated around our community as we took care of our “customer” in a compassionate, loving, and Christ-like way.
Many times a student was in trouble and we would move heaven and earth to redeem them and save them from the failure of expulsion or grade failure. We weren’t always able to redeem every situation, but we gave it our best effort. Every time we were able to redeem a difficult student or family situation we gained a lifetime, loyal supporter and customer.
How do you view your parents and students?
Vibrant Christian schools love their students. They are student-centered!
Vibrant Christian schools start from a very different perspective than a secular school. They believe every child has been divinely created in the image of God Almighty, and each child is created with a unique and special purpose in God’s economy on earth. Because of these beliefs they constantly seek to help each student find their God given purpose.
Vibrant schools are student-centric in the sense that they realize the children placed in their care are moldable, tender clay. I am more convinced every day that the impressions made upon the mind of a young child are much more impactful and lasting than impressions made at a later age. Just think about the things you remember from your childhood. I still vividly remember the teachers who loved me and the ones who didn’t seem to love me. Some made me feel safe while others made me feel fearful. When teachers in a Christian school, or any school for that matter, leave positive impressions on the hearts and minds of their students, those kids are forever inclined to follow the lead and even the lifestyle of the teacher.
Christian school teachers must work to leave a positive, spiritual impression on the lives of those they are privileged to teach. This does not mean that they never strongly discipline a child. They must! However, if everything is done in love and in a spirit of kindness, even discipline makes a child feel safe.
I remember my high school principal taking me into his office when I had done something wrong. I have no idea what my grievance was on any of the occasions I landed in Mr. Wellbaum’s office. The only things I now remember about those meetings are a few of his words and his spirit. He said to me on seemingly several occasions, “Jeff, please stop doing these things that are getting you in trouble. I hate to have to punish you.” He would then lovingly mete out the punishment. Even as a feisty teenager I never disliked Mr. Wellbaum or thought he was being unkind to me. His love and personal concern for me gave him the authority to discipline me like I needed to be disciplined.
At the end of the day, our only mission in Christian schools is to teach our students truth and prepare them to represent their Heavenly Father well in this world.
The mission of the Christian school is not to build an organization. It is not to have the best academic or athletic program. It is not to be the best prep school in town. Our mission is to mold children and young people into the image of Jesus Christ and prepare them to go out and change the world. Yes, we use athletics and academics as tools to help in this process, but we must never lose sight of the fact that children are what this mission is all about.
Vibrant Christian schools inspire their students to be great!
I used to speak to all of our middle and high school students at the beginning of each school year. I would tell them that we started their school because we wanted to raise up a new generation of dynamic, Christian leaders. I would tell them every year that I expected one of them to become the president of the United States some day. I challenged them to believe God for the impossible and to go out and change the world they lived in. On more occasions than I can possibly remember, I felt led to pull a student aside and tell them that I believed God had something special for their life if they would surrender their all to Him.
Not long ago I was preaching at a church, and the young pastor’s wife came up to me and asked if I remembered what I had told her over and over again when she was a teenager. I confessed that I couldn’t remember. She said, “You told me I was going to be a pastor’s wife, and here I am.” Her husband was only 12 years old when I led his parents to Christ. I encouraged them and challenged them to be great, and now I have the privilege of preaching to their new converts.
Tell kids who you think they will become and they will believe you!
Vibrant Christian schools see the huge potential in their students and spend all their energy on helping each child reach their highest potential.
In 25-40 years, most all of us who are teaching and leading in Christian education today will be in heaven. However, the students whose hearts and minds we win today will be leading our schools, cities, and nations. As they lead, they will follow the example we have set before them. Let us love them, challenge them, encourage them, and motivate them to be all that God wants them to be.
Volume 7 Issue 2 - The Renewanation Review