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 Part Three, we discussed looking at parents and students from a customer perspective, being student-centered, and inspiring our students to be great. In Part Four, we talk about addressing problem areas and the importance of having a clear and correct vision of whom students should be when they graduate.
Vibrant Christian Schools quickly make changes when something is not working well.
I will never forget a particular fine young person we hired to teach in our Christian school. Their resume looked great, and we assumed they would be a good addition to our teaching team. After only a few weeks of school, we knew we had a serious problem. This teacher was severely lacking in the skills to communicate effectively with students. We were facing student and parental frustration as well as the possibility of losing a year of quality instruction in a very important area of study. We wanted to find a win/win solution. How could we preserve the dignity of the teacher and the educational integrity of the students? We decided to bring in an administrator to assist in teaching the class. It was a costly investment for the administrator and school but it helped us save the year for the teacher and students. Obviously, we did not renew this teacher’s contract the following year, but we treated them with great respect. We did not allow this situation to ruin a school year and cause us to lose students. Schools that fail to address problem areas objectively and decisively will lose their vibrancy and momentum.
Vibrant Christian Schools have a clear and correct vision of whom their students will be when they graduate.
In order to produce a great product one must know exactly what that product looks like. In Christian schools and Christian homeschools, our goal should be to produce young men and women who have a passionate relationship with Christ, a thoroughly biblical worldview, and the academic training to be successful at whatever work God calls them to.
Unfortunately, far too many schools are falling short in one or more of these areas. A Christian school will not stay in business long if it’s lacking either strong academics or the development of a strong Christian worldview in the hearts and minds of its students. Some schools stay in business by solely focusing on one or the other but the magic happens when there is no dichotomy between academic and biblical worldview development. The schools that connect these two elements become powerhouse Christian schools.
Every Christian school should seek to be accredited by a legitimate Christian association. The structure and accountability accreditation provides is critical to academic success. However, just because a school is accredited does not guarantee academic success. Look at the end product not just the process to determine success! Let me remind you that success must be measured through more than test scores. Not all children have the same academic ability or interest, and we need to stop trying to cram every child into the same mold. I didn’t blossom academically until a few years after my high school graduation. I attended college for one semester and detested every minute I was there. I left college and ran a business for a few years and then went back to college and graduated Magna Cum Laude. Find the interest of your students and turn them loose! You will be shocked at what they can learn when they are working and studying in their areas of passion. Having said all of this, if your students are consistently scoring low on national tests, you must do whatever it takes to remedy this problem. There is no excuse for academically inferior Christian schools.
There is an even greater challenge facing Christian schools. This is the challenge of integrating biblical worldview. Too many Christian schools are nothing more than secular schools with a little prayer and Bible reading thrown in. When the graduates of these schools go off to secular colleges, they are quickly defeated and often abandon their faith. When a student has attended a Christian school for several years, they should have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, they should know what God’s Word says, and be equipped to defend their beliefs. They should be well versed in all the major worldviews and understand how Christianity is superior to those worldviews.
This kind of deep biblical integration and worldview training can only happen when it is a major emphasis of the school. This includes worldview courses throughout the curriculum and the hiring of teachers who are capable to teach in this area. It is also helpful to have textbooks that integrate biblical worldview at all levels.
When we conquer the biblical integration challenge we will graduate students like the ones Ken Ham has described. He said, “Imagine if we started raising generations of children who stood uncompromisingly on the Word of God, knew how to defend their faith, could answer the skeptical questions of this age, and had a fervor to share the gospel from the authority of God’s Word with whomever they met. This could change the world.”
Volume 8 Issue 1 - The Renewanation Review