Category Archives: church partnering

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

Flourishing – Understanding how God has gifted (students) and called them

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

(Eighth in a series that delves deeper into the characteristics of a flourishing student – click here to read the original post on flourishing.)

I had two differing experiences in my educational career that dealt with the aspect of vocation. One was in my 8th grade year when my teacher took some time with each of us to talk about our individual talents and how we might use them in high school and beyond. A second came during a very confusing time of life as a college freshman – seeking direction in the guidance office, I was given a vocational test. The test suggested that I should consider becoming a rabbi; I thought this a curious outcome since I was not Jewish, but an evangelical attending an evangelical college. (Given that I am writing this blog on nurturing student faith, maybe that test was not that far off! :) Needless to say, one experience was helpful, and the other was not particularly so.

I hope that as K-16 institutions, we are now doing a much better job with helping students understand how God has gifted them and also helping to discern God’s call in their lives. But I wish I had more certainty – please write if you feel this is an area of strength in your school – I would love to share what you are doing!

Over the last decade, the recognition in the business world, that we should be working from our strengths rather than spending time trying to build weak areas, is a welcome relief to our previous deficit approach. I am specifically referring to the work done by Clifton and Buckingham and the numerous books written as follow-ups to this groundbreaking work. Using a strengths model, I believe that the time is ripe for us to better equip students through identifying their gifts/talents and having them practice using their gifts/talents in team settings. We have said that we believe all children can learn, so then we can’t continue to teach in the same ways – we need to be helping students know who they are and how God has wired them, thereby optimizing their talents in the classroom. Secondly, we know that cooperative learning is a research proven strategy, but unless we have identified individual gifts/talents, we likely will not effectively put project groups together where talents are maximized.

Last month I shared what Beaver County Christian is doing with having their alumni come in and talk about how their Christian education is impacting their careers. One of the benefits that I like about this project is that it serves to cultivate the missional imagination of the students. Through the stories shared by the alumni, students can begin to imagine how they might be listening for, and living out, God’s call in their lives. As a child I was brought to “missionary union meetings” to hear how missionaries were making an impact on the world out there. Although I didn’t always enjoy going, I usually enjoyed the engaging stories, the cool artifacts, and learning about the world on the other side of the globe. I realize now that my parents were trying to expand my missional imagination!

We are living in a time where we have a greater global awareness through our connectivity, more movement toward a personalized student educational experience, and more understanding how teams function best.  These three aspects may indicate that this is a perfect time of convergence around better equipping our students to flourish through understanding their gifts/talents and how God is calling them. What is working well in this area at your school?


Filed under Biblical worldview, church partnering, classroom, community, distinctively Christian, encouraging the heart, kids/culture, mission development, student outcomes

Ten questions for your church about Christian day school education

  1. Public education cannot and will not point children to God. Simply put, all education is religious in nature – it is either man centered or God centered. Public education cannot legally acknowledge God as creator and sustainer of life. Who can be thanked in a public school curriculum? Where is praise to be directed?

  2. Do you believe Sunday School and youth group alone can adequately provide a solid foundation for the faith formation of youth?
  3. Can kids truly be expected to be effective “salt and light” in public K – 12 education? (see my blog post of 4.28.08)
  4. When your church recognizes and prays for those adults who are nurturing faith of kids in your church, do you also recognize and pray for those “missionary teachers” in Christian day school and encourage them in their work?
  5. Kids are having less conversations about faith today according to Barna research. Where can kids best have conversations about faith on a daily basis and begin to understand how faith relates to all of life?
  6. Our first mission field is our own kids – what good is it to “save the world and lose our own soul”? (our kids as flesh of our flesh)
  7. A prime strategy in use in world mission outreach is to begin a Christian school right after establishing a church. It works – why do we not believe it to work in North America?
  8. Why do some of us pledge in our baptismal forms to do all in our power to raise children to love and serve the Lord and then not help provide Christian day school education for all families?
  9. Ask your pastor if he/she would have been better equipped for their work if he/she had been trained at a “public school” seminary or a Christian seminary and if not, ask them why any different approach should be used for kids and their spiritual training and development.
  10. Christian education and advocating for missions/evangelism are not antithetical – each of our children is a “mission project.” If faith is more caught than taught, don’t we want kids to have the most contact with adults who are living out their faith and showing how God is revealed through all of learning?

“Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.”  Deuteronomy 6:6-7.


Filed under Biblical worldview, church partnering, curriculum, mission development, student outcomes

School/church/home partnering that encourages discipleship – a model that is working!

How to best partner with churches has been a true conundrum for CSI Christian schools in recent years.

Cultural changes and shifts in church membership,  coupled with students coming from a broadening number and variety of churches, have left schools confused about how to keep the home – school – church triangle intact, or even functioning at all. At the 2007 CSI membership convention we attempted to highlight the issue and make some progress on the issue of our common connection – the faith development of the students we share. If you are interested you can go back to earlier blog posts: here is the original post about the work, the report on the work we did at the convention, how it could be used with churches, and a subsequent post about how some schools attempted to follow up. One of the common difficulties in our larger (and even mid-size!) schools is that there are often over 100 churches represented in the student body.  How can a school effectively connect with all of them, let alone do any planning together?

In the light of this persistent challenge, it was my pleasure last week to chat with Len Stob, superintendent, and Ben Dykhouse, Director of Christian Leadership, at Ontario (CA) Christian and to hear about their mentoring/discipleship program.

I will let Ben explain:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in The Cost of Discipleship, writes that “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” In Growing True Disciples, George Barna gauges the responses of students involved in mentoring relationships. 30% of the students reported the experience as “life changing,” 60% said it was “really helpful,” 10% thought it was of “some value,” while less than 1% decided that it was “not helpful” (pg. 51). At Ontario Christian, we believe discipleship is a primary goal of the church, home and school. Thus, Ontario Christian is offering a Discipleship Program for students that will partner church, home and school to foster these characteristics of a disciple. Ontario Christian’s aim for this program is to give students another opportunity to grow in discipleship. So, what is Christian discipleship? Christian discipleship is acknowledging Christ’s Lordship and following him in all areas of life. Specifically, a true disciple will experience transformation in his/her relationships with friends, coworkers, family, and fellow church members. A true disciple will also embody a distinctively Christ‐ like lifestyle. Another characteristic of a Christian disciple is involvement with Christ’s church. Finally, a disciple has the desire to bring reconciliation, justice, and righteousness to his/her immediate community and to the world at large. One part of this program will be a mentoring relationship. Each student in the program will be paired with a mature Christian who attends the same church and is of the same gender. This mentor must be approved by the student’s parents, and she/he must meet certain requirements (see info via wiki link below.) This relationship will give the student the opportunity to experience spiritual growth in Christian community, dialogue with a mature Christian, and establish roots in her/his church that will last beyond high school. We strongly believe that whole‐life Christian discipleship does not happen without fellowship among other Christians. In other words, it does not happen primarily in personal devotions. This mentoring relationship is outlined in great detail see sections II‐IX on the wiki (see the link below.)

A second component to this Discipleship Program is partnering with the student’s home. With the goal of discipleship in mind, families of students in this program commit to eat a meal together at least three times per week. The family will also commit to have family devotions at least three times per week. Again, this is to emphasize God’s call to families to disciple their children and to put the arena of discipleship in the context of community. Materials for family devotions will be provided as a resource. However, families will not be bound to using these for their devotional time. Parents will also attend two meetings while their student is involved in the Discipleship Program.

Beyond discipleship growth and the forming of cross-generational bonds, Ontario Christian sees a “return” on the kind of positive campus culture that these sophomore and junior student leaders are able to assist in building. They are processing this work with their own staff at the end of each semester and are also hosting a symposium for youth pastors. They report that, due to the mentoring, students get more rooted in their own churches as well. It seems like a very exciting program that has strong promise to not only develop student leaders, but to strengthen church, school, and family ties.

If you are interested in knowing more details about this program you can contact Ben Dykhouse, Bible Teacher and Director of Christian Leadership at Ontario Christian High School. His phone number is 909.984.1756 ext. 39 and his email address is: To see more details about the program including mentor qualities, tips for effective mentoring, qualities of an effective student disciple, contracts for mentors, students, and families, and discussion starter questions, please visit the DC (Distinctively Christian) Tools for Schools wiki.


Filed under church partnering, community, discernment, distinctively Christian, encouraging the heart, leadership, mission development, parenting, resources, student outcomes

Help wanted: Teacher feedback for social justice project


How can I find specific global projects that relate social justice issues to my elementary science curriculum? Are there resources to help me incorporate advocacy writing in my persuasion unit in high school English? Where can I find hunger or AIDS statistics to use in middle school algebra problems, and better yet even some first-hand stories to personalize the issues? In other words, how does my current school curriculum relate to global social justice issues?

A collaborative grant between the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning and the Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Justice is exploring social justice connections embedded in K-12 school curriculum and is organizing the CRC resources to assist teachers in opening these connections with students. Informational readings, statistics, activities, first-hand accounts, videos, and global projects are being evaluated for their classroom potential, covering topics such as fair trade, environmental stewardship, hunger, disease control, disaster relief, immigration, disability concerns and many others.

Currently the grant team is seeking feedback from K-12 teachers who are interested in reviewing the resource summaries applicable to their teaching levels and subjects. A small stipend will be awarded for teacher feedback; however, the number of feedback positions is limited. To receive more information and to reserve your teacher feedback position, please email Jane Hilbrands at Feedback forms may be completed until July 13. Principals, if this grant project sounds interesting, please promote the feedback opportunity among your teaching staff. Thank you!


Filed under change, church partnering, curriculum, resources, stewardship

The revolution – moving out of the conventional church

How is the church continuing to change and what impact will this have on the faith development of youth? The latest survey coming out of George Barna’s research organization, The Barna Group, puts additional weight behind his contention that people will not be worshipping via the conventional church in the future and that they are moving to alternative means.

A recent random sample phone survey of 1,005 adults taken by The Barna Group in December 2007 reported the following:

Each of six alternatives was deemed by most adults to be “a complete and biblically valid way for someone who does NOT participate in the services or activities of a conventional church to experience and express their faith in God.” Those alternatives include engaging in faith activities at home, with one’s family (considered acceptable by 89% of adults); being active in a house church (75%); watching a religious television program (69%); listening to a religious radio broadcast (68%); attending a special ministry event, such as a concert or community service activity (68%); and participating in a marketplace ministry (54%).

What does this trend mean for postmodern youth? Should we be concerned about this shift away from conventional church gatherings or be encouraged that perhaps kids (and adults) want to express their faith in more action-oriented ways?

Barna has now taken the revolution a step further. In his latest and controversial new book, Pagan Christianity? Exploring the Roots of Our Christian Practices, coauthored with Frank Viola, he suggests that much of our current institutional practice is not biblical but can be traced back to third- and fourth-century pagan roots. Naturally, this is causing a firestorm within the organized church. Yet some are saying this book is potentially the most important book on spirituality written this century. Since I have not read the book, I can only suggest that you check out reader reviews of the book and consider prayerfully reading it.

If we who value the Reformed faith really believe that we are to be “always reforming,” we certainly need to take a good hard look at this book. Hopefully, it will serve to drive us back to the Word, to the study of history, and to the reexamination of our thinking about church. Perhaps this book, like Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 15:1–20, will help people rethink what is truly biblical in the practices of our church life and what is merely man-made tradition.

We should not be afraid to fully discuss these things with the young people in our care. Hopefully, we will be able to demonstrate a spirit of humility—a “seeing through the glass darkly” attitude—to teens who sometimes are turned off by their perception that we have all the answers. Could it be a helpful exercise for us, together with our students, to investigate a particular church tradition and see how it lines up with Scripture as well as how it has been adapted to reach culture? If we love truth more than tradition and believe the Holy Spirit is guiding believers into all the truth, what have we really got to lose by it?

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Filed under change, church partnering, student outcomes, uncategorized, worship

Covenetwork Manifesto – an update

This past summer at our leadership convention we spent time working on a set of beliefs that school and church could embrace about the faith nurture of our students. (see my blog post of September 10, 2007.) We also discussed next steps about how churches and schools might engage together and focus on the nurture of faith in youth.

There are a couple of schools that I am aware of that have take some significant next steps. Rehoboth Christian School in Gallup, NM has given this issue increased focus by including it as a part of their strategic plan.

Calvin Christian, Grandville Christian, and West Side Christian in Grand Rapids, MI gathered together pastors and administrators to discuss next steps around the Manifesto in October (see below)

They also put together a team of parents, pastors, and administrators to implement the ideas. One of the steps taken at Calvin Christian was to establish a faith nurture implementation committee for the school board. This committee will include pastors/youth pastors, school staff members, parents/board members, and high school students. One of the ideas they are considering implementing is to put on a parent conference on faith nurture.

If others of you are making advances with church and school partnerships around youth faith nurture, I would love to hear about them! Please post a comment to this blog or if you are not as comfortable with it being public drop me an email:

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Filed under church partnering, student outcomes