Monthly Archives: February 2008

Easy does it – NOT!

Where did we ever hear that educating Christianly was going to be easy? Fundamentally we are trying to teach the important knowledge of this world and at the same time take our students beyond this earthly level of understanding to a knowledge that is beyond our comprehension – to the wisdom of God.

It isn’t easy – we are sometimes disappointed with students who profess one thing and then so clearly don’t connect their beliefs to living, with parents who seek only safety and/or success from our schools and don’t seem to understand our mission; with colleagues who lack passion, discourage faith or who don’t teach in a distinctively Christian way, with administrators who take the politically correct route and lack courage, and with churches who are fearful to admit any differences between public and Christian schools and any affinity to a Christian education approach lest someone be offended. We grind our teeth when we hear of choices away from a Christian education that are not made for the right reasons – the root causes often being parents buying in to a certain standard of living of peers and refusing to make any changes in consumption of an ever increasing standard of North American living. Consequently many schools face enrollment issues. Part of our surprise seems to arise out of applying a business model to our school thinking – if we build the best car on the block why won’t everyone buy it? It is this consumption model that gets us into trouble. We definitely should build the best car as an offering of our very best to God, but will people be willing to pay for the car? How good does the car need to be – at what cost? And how do we know it is the best? It is not easy to balance cost and quality . . . with faithfulness . . . and an eye on the competition down the street.

We sometimes forget that we are called to faithfulness and sacrifice – the old hymn asks: “Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease – while others fought to win the prize, and sailed through stormy seas?” My generation sometimes expects that we are somehow entitled to beds of ease – without the struggles endured by our parents and grandparents. Are we expecting smooth sailing or are we ready to grit our teeth into the storm with a supreme confidence in the Master of the wind and the waves? We are into the budget and staffing planning season for schools – difficult decisions will need to be made. We must continue to work with each other, support and encourage each other, help each other to do our work faithfully to the glory of the Lord. We must do the best we can – not expecting anything to be easy – for we are engaged in a battle for truth – a battle for equipping students with the kind of wisdom that is not of this world, but that comes down from above. “Therefore…let us throw off everything that hinders and … and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1-3

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Filed under Biblical worldview, distinctively Christian, encouraging the heart

A different definition of success

Last year I wrote a post about this topic under the heading of “An American Idol” (see February 19) and it was a big hit with readers of this blog…given that it was in the middle of the TV show American Idol season, it more than likely showed up in Google searches boosting the number of hits! ☺

At a recent pastor’s retreat I really appreciated the words of encouragement that were brought to the pastors by the speaker, Don Cousins. Don is a church consultant who used to work at the really big numbers place (Willow Creek) and shared what he has learned about how God measures success from his own personal journey. He noted that the only numerical indication of believers being added in the New Testament was on Pentecost and there are no indications as to how large the churches were to which Paul addressed letters. Cousins emphasized that pastors could become in bondage to a numerical and statistical approach to ministry. Possible downsides of this bondage include: pridefulness, discouragement, frustration leading to drivenness, compromise, comparison/competition with other pastors, and spiritual presumption – if numbers are most important, what about the growth of cults? He reminded pastors that it is God who causes the growth (Acts 2:47.)

He suggested four sets of questions to ask one’s self related to God’s view of “success”:

  • Am I being faithful? (Matthew 25) Are you doing what God has called you to do? Does your gifting match your calling?
  • Are you bearing fruit? Are you measuring influence or faithfulness? Are you taking back what belongs to God?
  • Are you experiencing fulfillment? Are you “returning with joy” from ministry? (Luke 10:17) Is your “joy full”? (John 15:11) Are you joyful in fruitbearing?
  • Are you making God famous? Are you a faithful steward of the grace of God? (I Peter 4:10.) Are you putting the generosity of God on display? Are we sharing the gifts he has given us?

As I heard and considered these words, I was struck by how appropriate they were to not only the pastors in attendance, but for all who work in ministry in Christian education, and so I share them with you. May you be encouraged – not by numbers, but by God’s definition of success.

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Filed under encouraging the heart, mission measurement

Soul Searching movie released

Findings from the largest ever study done of teenage spirituality in the U.S. were reported in the book: Soul Searching: the Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers by Christian Smith with Melinda Denton (see my blog posting of October 11, 2006.) There is a new documentary movie that has come out on the book – see the trailer below.

From the movie jacket: “The movie illustrates some of the major themes and findings of the book, but it also goes behind the book in depicting the inner lives of a sample of American teenagers. Find out what these teenagers really think about God and religion, what their hopes and aspirations are, and what the research says about the effects of religion in their lives.”

Along with the 79 minute movie there is a 20 question study guide put together by Dr. Smith. I believe that this movie could be very helpful in gaining new insights into teens and their religious beliefs whether viewed by school faculties or church adult education classes. Ron Polinder, superintendent at Rehoboth Christian School recently used the video with his faculty and had this to say: ” It is outstanding . . . every Christian high school in the country should view it.” The DVD is available for purchase for $19.95 on Amazon.

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Preparing Christian minds for college

From some personal experiences and observation, it appears that the treatment of Christianity at public universities has moved from benign neutrality to open and aggressive opposition. Are students in Christian high schools and churches preparing kids for not only intellectual attacks on faith, but for puerile, vulgar, and God dishonoring language used by professors? How about the dilemma of a student being graded on whether or not such language is used back to the teacher in assignments? How about being ridiculed by fellow students for stating faith beliefs and then having the professor join in the verbal beatdown?

Education delivered in the manner I have described above is not only intellectually dishonest, it is soul demoralizing for students. It is education that seeks to dis-integrate rather than integrate head, heart, and hands. Here is how Niel Nielson, president of Covenant College, contrasts classroom experiences at public and Christian colleges:

Students attend college to learn, and the learning occurs primarily through the interaction with faculty who will inevitably shape how students think and feel about everything. Professors are very bright, very persuasive, and in secular institutions almost always opposed and even hostile to Christian faith. And they want their students to think like they do. Even if professors are not actively attacking Christian faith, they are teaching from a framework that does not acknowledge Jesus Christ, i.e. they are failing to take into account the One by whom all things were created, in whom all things hold together, and under whose authority all things find their unity. Students who study in such settings simply will not learn to think Christianly – unless there is, alongside the “normal” curriculum, some comprehensive and systematic study that demonstrates the preeminence of Jesus Christ and the biblical reality that in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3), and does so for every academic discipline which the student studies. Unfortunately such parallel study rarely happens, and most campus ministers, gifted as they are, do not have the capabilities to help students deal with the relentless and powerful imprint of sophisticated secular scholarship in all the academic fields.

He goes on to ask the same question that I have often wondered about parents who choose public K-12 education over Christian education:

Why do so many Christians continue to fail to grasp the utterly crucial importance of shaping the mind and the heart in the educational process itself? Many Christian parents, who devote themselves so diligently to caring for their children’s souls, miss the very point of college education, opting instead for short-sighted emphases on university traditions, prestige, and the perceived path to a good job, and launch their children into learning contexts where they are inundated by ways of thinking that the parents undoubtedly abhor but willingly allow to shape their children’s minds and hearts. And perhaps even more important, the children of these Christian parents miss the glorious opportunity, in the educational context, to see how everything in creation fits together under the kingly rule of Jesus.

To read his post, “Christian Education as Preparation for Life” on his blog, please click here. CSI commercial moment ☺ – we look forward to hearing more from Dr. Nielson as one of our keynote speakers at our summer leadership convention this coming summer.

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Filed under Biblical worldview, kids/culture, student outcomes

Of wounds and wounding

What comes to mind when you hear that someone is “wounded?” Maybe weak, disabled, sidelined, damaged—all having a negative connotation.

Recently, a group of school leaders gathered to examine wounding in the life of a leader, and learn how to prevent wounding to others, and turn personal wounds into strengths. Everyone is susceptible to wounds—you wouldn’t be human if you had none at all—but it was refreshing to examine how wounds can actually strengthen our character, deepen our trust in God, give us greater empathy for the people under our leadership, and make us more effective as a leader and a human being.

Strengthening the Heartbeat is a donor-funded program for experienced school administrators. The three-year cycle is capably spear-headed by Dr. Bruce Hekman from Calvin College. Bruce is joined by Jim DeKorne and David Koetje from CSI, and administrators Glenn Vos and Jack Postma as group leaders.

It was a pleasure to be asked to join this group of experienced school leaders from North America and around the world during their most recent gathering at Calvin College the week before last.

We considered together the topic of Faith Nurture, Leadership, and Wounding. We looked at what the current research on attachment, nurturing, brain research, and the ways that social intelligence research informs how we have been created. We reflected on the role of spiritual disciplines to assist in the healing process. We considered several essential questions:

  • How do we respond to wounds inflicted by others and do we trust God to bring good during the healing process?
  • How are we as leaders wounding others, whether they are teachers or students?
  • How does this wounding encourage or discourage faith in followers?

Finally we considered how institutional structures and practices may create a toxic and wounding culture within a community. Bottom line we recognized that so much of what we do as leaders in Christian schools can either encourage or discourage faith. God grant that we can truly be individuals, schools, and churches that demonstrate both grace and truth.

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Filed under book, encouraging the heart, mission development, staff development

Is it important for your students to apply a Biblical perspective to course content?

Question: Is it important for your students to apply a Biblical perspective to course content?

If you answered “yes,” keep reading.

You think it’s important for your students to apply a Biblical perspective to course content. Three questions:
(1) What course content could your students apply a Biblical perspective to?
(2) During which units could your students apply a Biblical perspective to course content?
(3) On what types of assessments could your students apply a Biblical perspective to course content?

Bottom line:
(1) What course content will your students apply a Biblical perspective to?
(2) During which units will your students apply a Biblical perspective to course content?
(3) On what types of assessments will your students apply a Biblical perspective to course content?

Target Biblical perspective. Today.

(Post shared by Michael Essenburg, Christian Academy of Japan. For more information on integrating Biblical perspective, see his web site: http://closethegapnow.org)

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Filed under classroom, curriculum, distinctively Christian, student assessments, student outcomes