Category Archives: board governance

Should Christian schools be more like seminaries or churches?

Out of its best motives, the Christian day school movement was born from the deep conviction by parents that God’s truth be recognized in every subject and every aspect of learning. Knowing that a teacher’s worldview has a powerful and undeniable impact on students’ worldviews, public schooling was not acceptable to these parents because of concerns over what core values/worldview would be promoted. In a public school setting, where all worldviews sit on an equal platform, the highest aspirations for student outcomes often gravitate toward individual economic success and becoming a good citizen. By contrast, Christian education may also work toward these goals but holds a primary emphasis on nurturing students to love God and serve their neighbors in Christ’s name. Christian schools seek to unfold the wonder of God’s creation, teach students wisdom according to Biblical principles, and help students begin to practice for their life work of service/worship. Should the Christian school of today be more about this equipping in the same manner as a seminary or be more focused on working with a wide range of student belief as churches do? Our appropriate response may be – “It depends on the needs of the student and where they are at in their faith formation”, but I believe there is more to be considered because some schools only allow children of believers to attend, while other schools take all comers, regardless of parent beliefs.

Christian schools were originally structured to function more like seminaries than churches. This was based on the belief that Christian schools functioned as an extension of the Christian home – children of believers were also believers and were sent to a Christian school for discipleship. It is similar to when adult Christians desire to study the Bible more deeply, they may choose to attend a Christian seminary where they can study Greek, Latin, Biblical history, preaching, teaching, and discipleship. There is an assumption on the part of the Christian seminary that the student knows what they are signing up for and the seminary teaches from a certain perspective.  Similarly, parents who enroll their children in Christian day schools, desire and expect that teachers will teach from the perspective of God’s sovereignty and view each child as an image-bearer of God. They expect that the teachers will challenge their child to believe in Jesus and begin to understand what that means practically in life.

However should Christian schools more closely resemble today’s churches? In a world today where churches see themselves in a much more seeker oriented vein, is it appropriate also for Christian schools to be based upon the same type of missional approach? Just as anyone can come into a church on a Sunday morning, should parents of any or no belief be allowed to enroll their children in Christian schools? In both cases, many Christian school educators would say, “Yes, as long as parents and students coming in to the school understand what kind of education they are going to receive and are not disruptive to the process.” In talking with missional Christian schools, I have seen and heard a vitality and authenticity of conversations that can be had with students, as well as a lack of assumptions by students about faith (i.e., my parents are saved and so I must be too). Christian schools that go the missional enrollment route have found that they must take great care with articulating a biblical perspective in their curriculum and instruction so that they remain true to their mission, but I would add that this should be true of all Christian schools.

I believe that more dialogue on this question would be very helpful. How we should proceed may have a significant impact on how Christian schools are viewed by churches and parents considering Christian education.  I have worked as a teacher and administrator in both public and Christian school settings. I am under no illusions about the shortcomings or strengths of either. What I would like to see is more dialogue between Christians working in both settings, more prayer for each other, and more support from churches for both. We should desire that all students have the opportunity to flourish. I believe that a quality Christian school that takes its mission seriously has similarities to both a great seminary and a great church – revealing God’s truth in its teaching, making no false assumptions about individual’s faith, and connecting its purpose to the needs and challenges of the real world that Christ followers are called to serve.

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Filed under Biblical worldview, board governance, change, church partnering, history

Tough Question #3: Collaboration – a Christian responsibility?

Source: troglodyteking via Flickr

Something that has troubled me in recent years is the degree to which Christian schools collaborate and work together for the greater good. I have become increasingly concerned as the recent North American recession has brought a few things to greater light. Declining enrollment and budget shortfalls (due in some part to the troubled economy) should be encouraging us to work together even more for a common vision of Christian education.  I am deeply saddened when I’ve learned that some schools would rather maintain identity and pride of place than do what is best for families and students, and ultimately, the kingdom. Sometimes this is a parent problem and sometimes a board/administration problem.

A friend was recently telling me about how, due to low numbers, he was unable to offer a particular athletic program. His solution was to check with two other local Christian schools so see if his students could join with their team. The other two schools were fine with students coming over and joining their teams. When my friend offered these options to the parents, some parents were angry and said that their children would never join the other Christian school teams. One can only speculate – did old athletic rivalry mean that much to the parents that they would rather deny their children an opportunity, as opposed to letting them play for that rival Christian school? Aren’t we supposed to be on the same team? The same parents would not have a problem with their children playing on city recreation teams or “traveling” teams, but wouldn’t join another Christian school team! I was incredulous, but my friend insisted he was not making this up.

Perhaps even more dramatic examples occur when schools lose enrollment over a number of years, yet refuse to have their students join with another larger Christian school nearby. They cut programs and opportunities for students, try to sell parents on the personal, small school aspect, but largely end up offering an inferior education and ask enormous sacrifices of their teachers and administrators – low pay, little or no professional development, and heavy workloads. This is not excellence – these schools are bleeding to death, yet refuse to collaborate or close doors.

We are dealing with issues of pride and a lack of stewardship in these situations. Don’t get me wrong; small schools can be vibrant and wonderful places. But if pride of place and identity gets in the way of what is best for kids and the nurturence of their faith,  I believe we are better stewards if we seek to share our resources for the common good rather than prop up something that is not excellent. If we can’t offer our best, it is time to look in the mirror, acknowledge it isn’t working, swallow our pride, and join forces with others to better advance the kingdom.

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Filed under board governance, change, leadership, stewardship

Mission-Directed Governance – a great new resource!

To effectively lead a school is challenging enough in the best of times, but in the challenging times in which we are living, the key issue of the management of change places additional stress on both Christian school boards and administrators. How can the school be governed in a way that is proactive and not just reacting to the latest problem? How can we reflect being the body of Christ in action?

In recent years there have been more instances of boards seeking to solve problems by firing administrators, which makes them feel better temporarily, but does little to address long standing dysfunction in their governance system. Some boards have sought answers by moving from the traditional governance system to the newer Carver model. Conversely, others have gotten more involved in the day-to-day operations and have increased their management role, or in some cases, administrators might say “micromanagement” role.

I am excited to share with you that finally the Christian school community has been presented with a well thought through and balanced approach to governance that embodies the best Christian principles. In his new book, Mission Directed Governance: Leading the Christian School with Vision, Unity, and Accountability, veteran administrator Len Stob shows us a more helpful way through his mission directed approach. His approach deals with three critical questions:

  1. How does the school identify and protect its foundational beliefs?
  2. How does the school identify and promote its mission and vision?
  3. How does the school identify the roles of authority, determine the process for decision-making, and ensure accountability?

Stob takes the reader through a thorough critique of existing governance options and then lays out how the mission directed governance system works. He gives practical ideas and tools for implementing this system. One of the chapters I appreciate most is his chapter entitled “Measuring What is Most Important.” Stob makes helpful suggestions as to how we can determine if we are meeting our school missions and nurturing faith in the process.

I recently asked Len why he wrote the book and how he hoped the book would be used. Here are his thoughts:

As we developed the mission-directed governance system, we found that it worked.  The administrative team encouraged the writing of the book for the purpose of explaining the concepts and rationale for the mission-directed governance system to new board members, or when there would be a change in administration.  

In conversations with administrators and board members from other schools, they expressed interest in the concepts as well.  In so many cases, administrators and school board members are frustrated because they feel the pressures to improve, but they find it so difficult to work together and to think strategically. 

The importance of thinking strategically is not merely to have a long-range plan for financial stability, facilities, or promotion.  The primary focus needs to be on the mission of the school.  How do all aspects of the school contribute to the purpose of the school with concentration on student learning?  There needs to be unity of the board and school head as to what are the vision, the goals, and priorities.  Further, there needs to be accountability. 

 It is almost impossible to have vision, unity, and accountability under the traditional governance system.  Under this system, board’s are not really in control of the school’s direction. The traditional governance system is designed to protect and preserve undefined assumed community values.  The system is designed to prevent new ideas from moving past the discussion stage. 

 In frustration with the traditional system, some schools are adopting the John “Carver” model.  This alternative is designed to run the school like a business.  The primary problem is that the board is independent from the community, and more importantly is no longer tied to the theology, philosophy, and mission of the school.

 The mission-directed governance system blends the best of the traditional and governance-by-policy systems.  It provides a unity under a defined mission and clearly puts the board in charge of the school while allowing the board to concentrate on strategic planning with board-approved goals and priorities that advance the mission.  Assigning specific goals to the school head and measurement of the important aspects of the school provide real accountability.

Len has written the book so that it is easy for school leaders and boards to study and use. The chapters are of a reasonable length and there are helpful reflection/discussion questions at the end of each chapter. You can learn more about the book, read an excerpt, and make contact with Len here.  I highly recommend that you read and utilize this valuable resource for Christian schools!

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Filed under board governance, book, change, distinctively Christian, leadership, mission development, mission measurement, resources, student outcomes