Cultivating a Thriving Christian School Series: This article is the seventh in a series on how Christian schools can escape recurring enrollment and financial challenges and transition to long-term institutional health.
By Ron Gordon
“It’s all about leadership.”
A former CEO would aptly launch each of our quarterly business reviews with this reminder. What followed was a challenging discussion on how our business unit was faring with the development of our current and future leaders. Strong leadership, whether in business, church, or Christian education, consistently produces lasting impact and flourishing results. What defines strong leadership? An Amazon search on books with the word “leadership” in the title will yield over 5,000 titles published in 2022 alone. Fortunately, we need only look to Scripture (Sola Scriptura) for a biblical framework for Christian school leadership. With Jesus Christ as the foundation, six distinct pillars hold up a thriving Christian school.
“Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law” (Prov. 29:18).
“Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it” (Hab. 2:2).
Vision is one of the most critical elements for effective Christian school leadership. A clear, concise, and compelling vision should permeate all facets of a Christian school. It is the purpose of its existence. A Christian school exists to partner with parents in developing students to become passionate Christ followers who understand all of life through a biblical perspective. Intentionally focusing on this purpose should underpin each lesson taught, work of art crafted, athletic skill developed, small group mentored, chapel conducted, policy deployed, and campus environment designed. Communication around this purpose should be continual and consistent to the point of perceived monotony.
In his book Essentialism, Greg McKeown points out that the original definition of “priority” from the 1400s was a singular term. There was only one priority. In today’s culture of multiple priorities and deadlines, Christian school leaders must remember this original definition regarding vision. As reflected throughout Scripture, societies, nations, and families rise and fall based on their alignment with their obedience to God’s laws. A clear vision sets a foundation for a thriving spiritual culture in alignment with its purpose.
Humility “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8)
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18).
“For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:16).
Humility is referenced over 100 times throughout Scripture. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis argues that the “utmost evil” is pride as it “leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.” Augustine and Aquinas also held that pride was the root of all sin. If pride is public enemy number one, authentic humility is our solution.
This struggle can be particularly challenging for Christian school leaders, given the demands of board members, faculty, parents, and students. The recurring and often troubling belief is, “I was selected for this position; therefore, I must meet or exceed everyone’s expectations.” Unfortunately, this mindset may trigger an authoritative leadership style contrary to the selfless model Jesus taught and displayed. Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matt. 23:12).
Leadership is determined by God. Therefore, all decisions and actions should be filtered through Scripture, prayer, the Holy Spirit, and godly counsel. Humility appropriately recognizes this role as the servant leader. This heart posture eliminates fear and unleashes our team members’ God-given talents and strengths. When team members fear leadership, they avoid stretching themselves, leading to indecision, inaction, and maintaining the status quo. This dynamic is portrayed in Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30). Developing a shared culture of humility where God alone is held in reverent fear will allow Christian school teams to strive for biblical excellence.
“The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them” (Prov. 11:3).
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8).
While vision and humility are critical, integrity is the foundation of leadership. The attributes of integrity extend beyond honesty. Integrity follows through on commitments, takes responsibility for words and actions, and consistently strives for biblical excellence, working diligently toward the mission. Integrity is patient with others during difficult situations and gracious to those struggling. Integrity respects the dignity of others enough to say “thank you” and “please,” and has the maturity to master emotions and keep passions under control.
Many leaders will run through this list and give themselves the benefit of the doubt since they believe their motivations and intentions are pure. It has often been said, “We judge ourselves by our intentions, but others judge us by what we do.” As John Maxwell pointed out, “He who thinks he leads but has no followers is only taking a walk.” Without integrity, leaders may find themselves unaware that they are simply taking a walk.
People-Focused and Process-Oriented
“Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these’” (Mark 12:29-31).
“The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty” (Prov. 21:5).
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).
The balance of valuing people and relationships while establishing consistent processes and systems can be challenging. The leader who exemplifies meaningful compassion and seeks out relationships secures the opportunity to lead and execute vision around structured processes. As Theodore Roosevelt accurately said, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” This sentiment reflects a core value at RenewaNation, Passion for Relationships, which states, “Organizations and causes come and go, but people live forever. As a result, we invest in people to transform culture.”
While our focus should be on the people we serve, a process-oriented leader will also build systems and processes that reflect their values, establish clear expectations, and bring consistency to daily activities. Contrary to a common perspective that rules and guidelines are restrictive, these devices secure significant freedom when we operate within their boundaries. However, as shared in our first article in this series from 2019, “There Are No Quick Fixes.” Establishing a people-focused, process-oriented culture doesn’t happen overnight. This journey requires careful cultivation and a long-term perspective.
“A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).
“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9).
If ever there were a model of what the impact of discipleship could achieve, Jesus proved this through His investment in 12 men over three years. Today, over two thousand years later, His intentionality in building relationships and training continues worldwide, with over two billion people identifying as Christians. Leaders recognize the impact of their mission will only survive beyond themselves if discipleship and development are deliberate and enduring.
While Jesus ministered to multitudes, His daily training targeted a small group of hand-picked followers. He poured into them. He prayed with them. He prepared them. Leaders need to be intimately involved in the selection process of key team members and then be intentional about developing them at a deep level. In today’s fast-paced culture, quality time is often emphasized over quantity time; however, in reality, both are necessary. Carve out specific and ongoing opportunities to connect with and develop team members. Reproduce yourself by investing in your team. John Maxwell reminds us, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Prov. 3:5-6).
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh. 1:9).
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal. 5:16-18).
While the aforementioned characteristics will help lead others well, the Holy Spirit serves as our daily compass. With so many voices shouting for our attention, only the leader who can turn down the noise and be directed by the Spirit’s call and fueled by the Spirit’s power can experience a truly enduring, thriving Christian school. Cultivating this level of Spirit sensitivity requires living out the spiritual disciplines of daily Bible study, continual communion with God through prayer, fellowship with trusted believers, and periodic, intentional fasting to humbly seek God’s presence and power.
The Greek word dunamis is often used in Scripture to refer to the Spirit. It’s the same base word used for dynamite. We have access to the same powerful and explosive nature of the Spirit that we see in the Bible but seldom leverage it. Understanding this truth should reduce our fears and strengthen our courage to boldly lead where the Spirit directs us. Exponential impact toward our mission must be rooted in our reliance on the Holy Spirit.
As you reflect on these biblical leadership characteristics, evaluate your Christian school leadership team, including both board members and administration. Is your Christian school thriving? Where is focused improvement needed? Are there significant gaps that need to be addressed? Consider engaging with one of our Christian school leadership mentors to support your transformation journey to become a thriving Christian school. Learn more about our Christian School Renewal Program at renewanation.org/christian-school-support.
Ron Gordon is the Executive Vice President & COO of RenewaNation and leads their Christian Education Division. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering and an MBA from Virginia Tech. He spent 22 years in the Defense industry, leading manufacturing organizations, managing numerous multi-million dollar projects, and building cross-functional teams. In addition, Ron has supported church plants, led AWANA groups, and helped over 50 Christian schools through renewal and startup efforts. Ron and his wife, Tonya, live in Roanoke, Virginia, and are blessed with three adult children.