At the end of school years, we spend a lot of time tallying up. Our awards reflect our focus on what kinds of things we are measuring. We give awards for years of service, scholarships for academic performance, and seat time requirements fulfilled. In Christian institutions how can we get closer to measuring the right things?
As we seek Biblical direction on this issue we encounter a different expectation as shown in the ministry of Jesus. Length of service doesn’t seem to matter in the end – Jesus told the thief who repented that he would be with him in Paradise that day. Knowledge and biblical understanding, as demonstrated by the spiritual leaders of Jesus day didn’t cut it – he wanted their hearts. Power and prestige was rejected and broken by Jesus – he made it clear his kingdom was not about such things, even though his disciples expected Jesus to use power to the very end.
So what should we be concerned about, focus on, expect and measure? As we think of students let’s consider the phrases “works of art” and “fruit on the journey.”
Len Stob makes these observations in the draft of his upcoming book:
Whereas most businesses know how to measure the quality of their product or service, the Christian school doesn’t really know what society and culture will look like in fifteen years. No one is sure where God may call the student to serve or what future opportunities may appear for which the student must be prepared. As a result, the actual educational needs for the student may be imprecise. The school strives to prepare students to serve in the unpredictable future.
What should the school measure? When should it conduct its measurements? There is no clear agreement on when the product of the school should be measured and considered complete. The risk is that the board may not understand the long-range contribution the school makes until a significant time after graduation. The effectiveness of programs is not always immediately perceived or understood. Perhaps the relationship is more like a one-of-a-kind piece of art rather than a mass-produced souvenir.
I really resonate with the “one-of-a-kind” piece of art when we think of students and our desired outcomes for them – Len’s last sentence is much more reflective of Ephesians 2:10 than what our current mass production schooling model demonstrates – we are God’s workmanship, his creation, especially and individually designed to do the things he has laid out in advance for us to do.
So what should we be encouraging in our “works of art”? What kinds of growth can and should we be expecting on the way? We must look at students as individuals and expect fruit that is appropriate to how “formed” this student is at a particular time. George Barna, in a recent blog post entitled “Measuring the Fruit of Wholeness” makes this observation:
My research revealed that certain outcomes – behaviors, attitudes, desires – do not emerge until a person reaches a particular level of growth. For instance, those who are struggling with implications of sin and have not yet asked Jesus to forgive them (stop 3) bear overtly different fruit than those who have been broken of sin, self, and society, and have fully surrendered and submitted their life to God (stop 8). Knowing where a person is on the journey helps us to know what fruit to look for or expect. After all, you can’t naturally produce stop 8 fruit if you’re a stop 3 person.
Barna goes on to suggest:
Although I’ve been conducting surveys for 30-plus years, I think the best way to assess one’s transformational standing is through observations borne out of relational engagement… The people who know me best can capably discern whether I’m making progress in my journey to Christ-likeness, and what kind of fruit I’m really producing. Those same people are most likely to address my reality with a bluntness and compassion that I need in order to grow.
Isn’t that our opportunity with students? We have the time in a daily setting to address their reality, to engage with them in the big and small matters of life, and to have honest conversations about the things that really matter.
How can we continue to get closer to measuring the most relevant things – the kind of things that our school missions so idealistically proclaim?