By Dr. Bryan Smith
Over the past twenty years, I have visited many Christian schools. Some are big, and some are small. Some seem financially secure with impressive facilities; some seem to be just barely getting by. But I have learned through the years that things are not always as they appear. So, for those of us in Christian education, it’s imperative that we judge our ministries not by what others think about us but by what Jesus knows to be true. One way to do this is to examine ourselves by what Jesus says in Revelation 2-3.
The book of Revelation begins with seven letters to seven churches located in the Roman province of Asia. On the one hand, these are ancient words written to churches that have long since perished. But, on the other hand, these words are eternal. They are written by Jesus Himself, and they have applicability to churches in every place and in every age. In every generation, some churches are Ephesian, some are Thyatiran, and some are Philadelphian. And since any truly Christian school is like a church (it’s run by believers, seeks to meet the needs of believers, and prepares believers to serve Christ), Christian schools can be evaluated by these words in Revelation 2-3.
For the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on the final two letters. I’ll treat the last one first. Laodicea Christian Academy
Jesus describes believers in Laodicea as “lukewarm” (Rev 3:16). They were not “hot,” totally devoted to the Lord. But neither were they “cold,” entirely rejecting of who Jesus is and what He expected from them. They were somewhere in between. They were devoted enough to be respectable as Christians but rebellious enough to still live as they desired. Jesus found this half-hearted devotion sickening.
Worst of all, these believers were unaware of their desperate condition. They were self-deceived. They thought they were “rich” and “increased in goods.” But Jesus knew the truth. He said they were “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (v. 17).
So, Jesus called them to repent—to turn away from their insincere devotion and find in Him the wealth they thought they already had. This call to repentance is direct, but it is not cruel. Jesus concludes it with some of the most tender words in Scripture: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (v. 20).
Many Christian schools are Laodicean. They are lukewarm. Their commitment to Christ is superficial. They talk about how much they love the Lord on their website and in their brochures, but in the significant decisions of running a school, they show where their loyalties lie. They boast that their graduates can be found at prestigious secular colleges and universities. They motivate their students to learn by pointing them toward lucrative careers. They use secular textbooks—the same textbooks used in public schools. They turn a blind eye to their students’ unbelief and immorality. They hire coaches without regard to their spiritual health. In other words, they demonstrate by their choices that they are pursuing the same goals unbelievers pursue in education. Jesus is not at the heart of what they do; He is just the icing on the cake.
What does Laodicea Christian Academy need? It needs to wake up and realize that Jesus is not pleased. He is not looking for basketball trophies, for the praise of secular institutions of higher learning, or for Christians who are financially successful. Jesus is looking for people who love Him, who are devoted to His will, and who are happy to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the gospel. This is why Christian education exists—to produce graduates who are faithful followers of Jesus Christ. Yes, athletic achievement and academic excellence play a role in producing such people. But these things are the means to the real end. They are not the end.
But LCA will never produce such graduates until the leaders and teachers themselves become totally committed to following Christ. They must open the door and let Jesus enter their lives. They must learn to value what He values, hate what He hates. In return, He will fill their hearts with His love and wisdom. Then they will begin to send graduates into the world who can bear witness to the coming of the kingdom of God. Philadelphia Christian School
Things were quite different for the church in Philadelphia. They were not rich. They were small, oppressed, and weak. They were everything that the Laodicean church was not. And that was a good thing.
Jesus, knowing their struggles, told them, “Thou ... hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name” (Rev 3:8). Unlike the Laodiceans, these believers had been faithful. Even in the midst of opposition, they continued to uphold the name of Jesus Christ. They did not deny what the Lord had revealed about Himself, even though false teachers pressured them to do so. And they obeyed the teachings of Jesus. Their lives were holy. They fulfilled their obligations at home, at church, and in society.
What was Jesus’ response? He rewarded them with a kind of wealth the Laodiceans had not known: “I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it” (v. 8). Their opposition may have been strong, but it would not prevail. Jesus promised to lead them through their trials and give them the opportunity for greater influence. The false teachers would not win. The Philadelphians would win, and their righteous testimony would have the last word.
I take courage from the fact that many Christian schools are Philadelphian. They are easily overlooked because they tend to be small. They may rarely win a state championship. But they know what’s important. Athletics is not simply about winning. More than anything, it’s about discipleship—showing young people how to work hard and sacrifice to achieve something greater than themselves. And learning is about more than jumping through hoops so a student can get into the college of his choice. It’s about seeing God’s world from the perspective of God’s Word. It’s about preparing oneself to serve Christ wherever Christ leads.
This is the reason many of these schools remain small. More than a few parents are not interested in this kind of education. They want athletic success at any cost. They don’t want their children distracted by undue devotion to Christ. They don’t really want a Christian education. They want secular education in a Christian skin. So, they pressure Philadelphia Christian School to become more like Laodicea Christian Academy. When PCS insists on remaining true to its principles, these parents pull their children out of the school.
PCS understands better than most that keeping Christ’s Word demands sacrifice. For a school to be faithful, it must be willing to lose students, lose funding, and lose influence.
But will it really lose influence? Faithfulness to Jesus will have Jesus’ reward: “Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it” (v. 8). When we take the long view, we begin to see that the influence of PCS is better and greater than the influence of LCA. The graduates of PCS know the Lord. They know what is important in life. They know how to pray, how to minister, and how to flourish in this world because of their education—rather than in spite of it. They may be small in number, but God has never been especially interested in numbers. More than once, He has turned the world upside down through just a few followers of Jesus (cf. Acts 17:6). It is time, I believe, for Him to do that again.
Are your graduates the kind He can use? What kind of school is your school?
Dr. Bryan Smith has worked in Christian education for over twenty years. He has been a classroom teacher as well as a textbook author. Currently, he serves at BJU Press as the Bible Integration Senior Manager. In this position, he assists authors and teachers in the work of integrating faith and learning in the classroom. Bryan holds a Ph.D. in Old Testament Interpretation. He and his wife, Becky, have six children.