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 Vibrant Christian Schools, 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, we’ll talk about the importance of high spiritual morale in Christian schools.
I attended several Christian schools as I was growing up. Some of them were permeated with an atmosphere of spiritual joy and fervor and others were not. I will never forget a speaker asking for everyone to stand who was willing to publicly profess his or her relationship with Jesus, and only one high school student stood up.
I had one young lady tell me after transferring from one Christian school to another, “This new school is not really a Christian school like my last one. There are wild parties every weekend and all the coaches curse.” She went on to say, “We use the same textbooks my cousins use at their public school, and I can’t really tell if the teachers are Christians.”
Christian schools should be distinctly Christian! Not just in name but in every area of practice.
Far too many Christian high schools do not have a high level of spiritual morale and momentum. In many schools, being a sold-out Christian isn’t popular and there is a sense of “let’s see how much we can get away with.” This should not and does not have to be the case. I have seen first hand Christian high schools that are teeming with young people who love Christ with a passion and lead their fellow students to do the same.
There are at least four essential components that must be in place in order for a Christian school to have a high level of spiritual morale:
1. There must be strong adult spiritual leaders
Again, this sounds like a no-brainer but it isn’t the case in many schools. Adult leaders must have a burden for the spiritual well-being of the students. This burden will be evident by a deep commitment to serious prayer for the students and intentional efforts to engage them spiritually. These adult leaders are not content to simply lead kids through the sinner’s prayer. No, they will not rest until their students are passionately in love with Christ.
As we think about the adults who lead the spiritual growth and development program, we need to ask a few questions.
Who leads the chapel program?
In many schools, this assignment is passed from person to person like a hot potato. No one really wants it, and no one really takes it serious but someone’s got to do it. The person in charge calls all the pastors in town and they begrudgingly agree to come speak. They come with little purpose or desire and the students sense their lack of passion. I believe it’s a great idea to use community pastors, but we must find those who care and who can identify with our students. If chapel is an afterthought for the faculty, it will be an afterthought for the students. Chapel should be a time to impact students in a powerful way, not a time to take a nap. I highly recommend student involvement in chapel. If they are helping to plan chapel and are involved in such things as leading worship, etc., they will be much more committed to its success.
Who plans your annual spiritual emphasis events?
Bringing in a captivating speaker for a few days and setting aside class time to show that this event is extremely important, will go a long way in helping your students understand the importance of these events. I have seen the entire atmosphere of a high school change as a result of a few days of spiritual emphasis. I’ve seen sin confessed, relationships mended, and rebellion subdued in a short period of time. If the adults in charge of these events will pray, plan, and make the investment necessary to produce two or three good spiritual emphasis events each school year, amazing things can and will happen.
Who leads your small group ministries?
It is critical that discipleship is taking place in small groups during the school day. If it takes place during school, it indicates to the students that it is extremely valuable to the school leadership. This can happen during chapel times on occasion or at other times that are regularly scheduled. Small group discipleship provides a great opportunity for teachers and administrators to develop much stronger bonds with their students. When juniors and seniors are prepared well to lead a small group, they can have a tremendous influence on younger students.
2. Encourage students to be involved in faith building activities outside of school
At our school in Virginia, we would cancel school for a day or two each fall in order to send our kids to a youth retreat in the mountains. On occasion, we didn’t cancel school but we excused every student who agreed to attend the retreat. Students who did not attend church on a regular basis would go to the retreat and get saved. Many of them had their lives forever transformed through this event.
We did our best to support and encourage youth ministries in our city. We wanted all of our middle and high school students to be plugged in every week to one of these ministries. Many of these youth groups would meet on Wednesday nights, so we decided not to give our students homework on Wednesday nights. High spiritual morale comes as a result of intentional action. As a result of these youth ministries, most of our students would attend great Christian camps during the summer.
We encouraged all of our high school students to go on mission trips. We knew the impact these trips had on our students and so we promoted them at a high level. I have seen numbers of young people receive a call to full-time Christian service as a result of a mission trip.
3. Have strong student leadership
When a strong core of juniors and seniors are devoted Christians, the younger students will follow their lead. Without their leadership, high spiritual morale is impossible. Retreats designed to prepare your upper classmen and women for spiritual leadership are a wise investment of time and energy.
A majority of your most respected and admired students must be serious about their relationship with Christ if you will achieve a high level of spiritual morale. Kids follow other kids!
4. Have a Campus Pastor to lead the spiritual morale efforts
I am aware that most Christian schools are stretched to the limits financially. However, many youth pastors would be willing to give 15-20 hours per week for a small salary. At our school and church in Virginia, I allowed our student ministry pastors to have full access to the students. If a student needed to step out of class to meet with a youth pastor, they were given permission to do so. A good campus pastor will carry the spiritual morale load and will bring a strong level of intentionality to the spiritual development program of the school.
Vibrant Christian schools are a powerful tool to transform young people’s lives. At Renewanation, we are committed to revitalizing Christian schools so they can fulfill their mission of training the next generation of Christian leaders.
Volume 7 Issue 1 - The Renewanation Review