Category Archives: resources

End of the year interesting stuff

It is always exciting to reach this point in the year, to look back, and to consider God’s faithfulness! As we head into summer, we always have high hopes for catching up on our reading and reflecting. So, no guilt if you don’t look at things below, but here are things that caught my eye recently:

UnknownA few weeks ago I finished reading a wonderful book In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness, and Heart of Christianity by Jim Belcher, who I learned in the meantime has accepted a new job as President of Providence Christian College in Pasadena, California. His new book has received recognition as Christianity Today’s “Best of the Best” book for its 2013 Leadership Journal awards.

Here is a thoughtful post by Ontario, CA school head Paul Marcus about Christian schools being judged by the behavior of their students – Not Angel Factories

ImageI am just finishing Michael Frost’s new book, Incarnate: The Body of Christ in an Age of Disengagement.  This is an excellent book for Christian school leaders to read to help them in their task of cultural discernment. Not only does he point out ways that our culture sucks us into excoriation/escapism, but suggests how Christians might better love God by loving neighbors. This book provides excellent guidance for educators who seek to live out an incarnated life with students.

Good videos on vocation/work from Tim Keller:

Work defined – “arranging of raw material for the flourishing of everyone”

Why Work Matters – A Christian understanding of why your work matters and why God matters to your work

On the lighter side:  Video – How to Write a Worship Song( in 5 minutes!)

Fantastic collection of science resources for congregations and educator at The Ministry Theorem.

A very helpful video companion (and great charts also!) to the book Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design by Calvin professors Deborah and Loren Haarsma – available here.

Our Children Should Not Have to Choose Between Science and Faith by Tim Stafford

A follow-up to Stafford: Why You Might Have to Choose Between Science and Faith

What do we really tell our boys by saying “Be a man!”? This video trailer “The Mask You Live In” questions assumptions. Warning: Language is realistic, but may be offensive)

What will education look like in the future? Helpful infographic from KnowledgeWorks.

The study habits of today’s students: interesting infographic.

Excellent thoughts, research and resources on the use of lecture from Grant Wiggins.

Quote: “The observer of beauty always gets a passion to share that beauty with others. You always talk about what you love.” Tim Keller

How would you define beautiful work?

One pastor’s observations about the 5 Traits of Kids Who Keep Following Christ As Adults.

“Unsung Hero” video – the difference one life can make in the world – very touching!

Inspiring creativity in schools – relationship between chaos and creativity.

Buck Institute’s PBL project search tool – 500 projects!

This is a truly amazing video – Wonder! TED talk on the hidden mysteries of our world. 

 

Thanks for reading Nurturing Faith again this year! CSI will be discontinuing Nurturing Faith and so this will conclude posts on this site, although previous posts will be able to be accessed at this location.  If you have enjoyed reading Nurturing Faith, I will continue blogging at the following sites:

danbeerens.com – my personal website

CACE – as a CACE fellow, I will blog periodically on this site.

SCS Community – as a convener of these conferences, I will also be blogging on this site.

Blessings on your work and let’s continue the dialogue!

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Filed under Biblical worldview, book, change, classroom, community, creation & environment, curriculum, encouraging the heart, image of God, resources, staff development

I just need time to think!

Mark Eckel bookI am not really a big fan of “devotional” books. I sometimes find them less substantive than I had hoped for or a bit forced and trite. Despite that reservation, today I am delighted to be recommending a book to you that at first glance might fall into that category, but let me explain. Mark Eckel has put together a wonderful book entitled I Just Need Time to Think!: Reflective Study as Christian Practice. It is a collection of fifty thoughtful essays organized into these ten topics: study, retreat, discipline, holiday, reading, reflection, obstacles, walking, path, and place.  They are written in bite size amounts – perfect for use in a daily reflection time, and rich like cheesecake – even though tasty, you shouldn’t try to eat too much at once, but just savor it instead.

Let me tell you a bit about Mark: he is an outstanding Christian educator and a master weaver as a writer. In fact, the name of Mark’s blog (which I highly recommend you read) is Warp and Woof , which he describes as “the vertical-horizontal weaving of threads that create fabric. The intersection and unification of everything is the tapestry of life under the Lordship of Jesus. Wholeness begins with Him.” One of the beauties of this book is that he weaves together extensive reading he has done and study of the Bible and great books with practical insights about living out one’s faith. He expertly synthesizes historical Christian perspectives and has a knack for finding just the right quotation to underscore his points. He is a bridge builder – helping us to reflect on the accumulated wisdom of the ages to move to concrete ideas that we can implement (not to mention dozens of possible books to read!) His passion is to teach others how to think Christianly and to honor Christ through reflection and learning. We need more thoughtful weavers, bridge builders, and translators like Mark. It is evident that he has made the spiritual disciplines of reading, writing, and reflection a priority in his life – and you as reader get to benefit!

With Mark’s permission I want to share a poem that appears in his reflection entitled: Retreat: Cutting Wood on Sunday. His subtitle for the chapter is “Rest is doing something other than what we would normally do.” As someone who has looked for a good way to describe what Sunday is about, his statement that “we need to rest from our giftedness” struck me.  I know that when I do not do this, I do not rest well and I also violate what God intended for me when he gave me a day of rest. Here is Mark’s poem that he wrote to remind himself that rest is crucial:

Lord, when the alarm clock, stove clock, and time clock demand my presence,

When the pace of life is hectic,

When I wish there were six more hours in a day,

When the traffic light is stuck on red

And my family’s schedule demands I be in three places at one time,

May I take time to rest, Lord.

Lord, when people expect too much of me,

When the boss has forgotten about the eight-hour day,

When I am constantly at others’ beck and call,

When the cell phone, Twitter, fax, and email all go off at once

And I begin to hate the human race,

May I take time to rest, Lord.

Lord, when work occupies all my waking hours,

When television commercials say I must have more,

When my neighbors flaunt their newest toys,

When alcoholic does not apply but workaholic does

And I decide to go to the office on Sunday to catch up,

May I take time to rest, Lord.

Lord, when money means more than people,

When I read The Wall Street Journal more than my Bible,

When overtime becomes my primetime,

When promotions and pay hikes are my ultimate goals

And looking out for number one has become my slogan in life,

May I take time to rest, Lord.

Lord, may I refocus my life on you.

May I restore my thoughts in your Word.

May I refresh my schedule by meditating on all your blessings.

May I relax my activity every week to enjoy the life you gave me.

May I take time to rest, Lord.

Eckel, Mark D. (2013-12-24). I Just Need Time to Think!: Reflective Study as Christian Practice (Kindle Locations 585-599). WestBowPress. Kindle Edition.

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Thoughts on the book: God is Alive and Well

51BUEzcU8lL._SL500_AA300_Like Mark Twain’s statement “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” the death of Christianity in North America is greatly exaggerated, according to Frank Newport in his latest book, God is Alive and Well: The Future of Religion in America. Newport is someone we should listen to on the topic: he is the Editor-in-Chief of the well respected Gallup organization, an organization that has been regularly polling about 350,000 people a year on many matters, including religion. In addition to that credibility, Newport is not a dispassionate observer, having grown up as the son of a Southern Baptist theologian and graduating from Baylor University.

Sometimes it feels difficult to get a true perspective of what is actually happening in the United States and it may seem like the country is on a rapid course to secularization. To begin the book, Newport makes the point that America is still very much a Christian nation, based on its data. While we like to think of America as a historically Christian nation, a surprising finding was that, based on the research of Starks and Finke, America was quite non-religious in the olden days and actually church membership is far higher today than it was in colonial times and has been consistently rising for the past 200 years! What has changed in recent years is the number of Americans who say they have no religious identity.

 Here are ten surprising findings, as well as some things we might guess intuitively:

  • 80% of all Americans are Christians, 95% of all Americans who have a religion are Christian.
  • Protestants are shrinking due to low immigration rates, low birthrates, low conversion rates, and not living longer than non-Protestants. Newport suggests the word Protestant may fade away as it is not a common descriptor used by young people today.
  • Due to a Hispanic influx, 45% of Catholic Church members aged 18-29 are Hispanic, and about one-third of all Catholic Church members in the age group 30-49 are Hispanic.
  • Americans who are the most religious (across all faiths) also have the highest levels of wellbeing, as defined by overall life evaluation, emotional health, physical health, healthy behaviors, work environment, and access to basic wellbeing necessities.
  • Old people are more religious than young people in all but 16 out of 142 countries.
  • Religious belief drops rapidly until it bottoms out at age 23. A steady upswing in belief occurs from age 24 to about 40. One plausible explanation is that having children does seem to affect the desire to be religious.
  • There are definite differences between states in terms of religious expression. (In short, Confederate states highest, Eastern states lowest, with the Midwestern states in the middle)
  • American women of every age group, in fact most women around the world are more religious and worship more often than men. A woman with a child in the home (18-44) is more religious than any other group.
  • More than 4 in 10 adults have left the faith they were raised in and switched religions: i.e. they have switched religious affiliation, moved from being unaffiliated to affiliation, or dropped any connection to religion.
  • Religion is personally more important to people with lower levels of education and income, while more socially important to those with higher levels of education and income.

Things Newport believes will happen:

  • Political parties will increasingly view religious people as a sector to be tapped and mobilized.
  • The country will become more religious in the future as Baby Boomers return to religion as they age. This is based on the fact that the return to religion by older people has shown to be a consistent historical phenomenon across the decades.
  • He sees two paths for the future of religion in America – the path of secularization many European countries have taken, or its own unique path with “religion changing, morphing, and transmuting itself into new but still vibrant forms.” Based on the evidence he sees, he believes that “America will become a more religious nation in the years ahead, albeit one that may look a lot different, religiously speaking, than it does today.”

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Whose responsibility is it?

Education for FlourishingIn their book, Education for Human Flourishing: A Christian Perspective, Spears and Loomis express concerns about the current educational emphasis on the pursuit of knowledge/technical prowess versus the pursuit of truth/virtue in the classroom setting. Are we educating for excellence and flourishing, or primarily to have students possess certain skills and pass high-stakes tests?

As Christian educators we might well agree that our work should transcend state/national standards. We are educating with an eye toward the student’s work/vocation and an understanding that our work is our acceptable sacrifice to God, not simply directed toward success and employment. Historically then, how have we ended up with our current state of education today? The authors believe that the concerns can be summed up in two words – a lack of wisdom and theology:

“Wisdom pursues how knowledge, within a discipline, is coherent, and recognizes how the seemingly discrete pieces of knowledge within a discipline fit together as a unified whole…the study of theology is a unique pursuit of wisdom because it is a study of God – the one who created and makes coherent all the universe.” Quoting Aquinas: “…we should pursue theology because we love God and want to better understand what he has revealed about himself.”

Spears and Loomis point out that the loss of theology as pre-eminent in the Enlightenment Era led to the loss of the connectedness in the disciplines.  This factor in turn led to empirical science being seen as superior to Christian revelation. (Earlier in the book the authors point out that both rationality and revelation are needed in Christian education.) They are concerned that in American education we are increasingly being drawn into a homogenous, technical, information narrowing educational process as contrasted with Jesus’ emphasis on the personal and connected model of teaching people. Given the current information economy, they believe that “schools no longer have the capacity to act as a trustworthy guide in the development of moral dispositions and actions.” If we seek to maximize human flourishing in a holistic manner, there must be space in the educational process for “creativity, complexity, diversity, richness, and multicultural understandings” that lead to human growth and flourishing. Spears and Loomis suggest that much of this responsibility for a high quality information economy falls to the leader of the school.

The authors are particularly critical of their own (departments of education at Christian colleges) in terms of effective leadership, good theoretical work and effective problem solving: “In fact, there have been no significant ideas originating from Christian schools of education for at least several decades…Christian schools of education appear resolved to operate within existing theoretical structures developed by the technical model of the secular academy.” In an earlier chapter, Spears and Loomis suggest that few Christian scholars are cognizant of the present direction of education and may have even lost the capacity to comment on it. At the current time, the authors point to Nicholas Wolterstorff as the only exception to a complete absence of Christians working in the theoretical field of Christian education.

The authors point out that the responsibility doesn’t simply rest there though – it must be shared by practicing educators. These educators need to approach their work “intelligently, integratively, and transforming present informational constraints,” and be “unified in Christ’s passion for human beings and their full and complex development.”

The book provides a helpful section relative to three options for Christian teachers teaching in public schools as articulated by J.E. Schwartz:

  1. Agent for enculturation – teacher views reality as split into sacred/secular, church and state with a high wall of separation, being passively obedient to school authorities, and valuing social stability,
  2. Christian advocate/evangelist – sacred is higher than secular, no split of knowledge and reality, teacher answers to a higher authority, and using school to further knowledge of God and spread a Christian pubic morality,
  3. Golden Rule Truth Seeker – life is integrated with no split of sacred/secular, no direct proselytizing, go where truth leads, honors truth, justice, intellectual honesty, and the quest for truth is ultimately a quest to know God.

The authors believe that the Golden Rule Truth Seeker is the best option for Christians working in public schools – it provides a position to maximize information and overcome the technical framework limitations of public education.

This book is a very helpful critique of the inadequacies of public education today and how Christian education is able to answer the deepest human needs with a holistic education. It rightly challenges those in Christian leadership positions, whether colleges or K-12, administrators or teachers, to understand more clearly the history and implications of the present course of American education. I wish the authors had gone further to present more concrete ways that Christian educators in both K-12 and college could partner together to reach the lofty goal of education for human flourishing. This partnering could include helping Christian educators to better understand how to construct and teach integrated units that get to wisdom and theology with students. The partnership could also articulate how Christians could become “golden rule truth seekers” in their settings. This is where the hard work remains and we desperately need our Christian colleges to begin this process with teachers in training.

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Why should you consider REVEAL?

In the last two month’s posts I have explored the results of the REVEAL pilot that was completed in twenty CSI schools last year. What has been shown is that we can reliably obtain metrics that help us understand how students progress in their faith formation through the high school years, as well as what other forces impact their faith development. The results from the pilot schools have been very positive as reported by them back to the REVEAL leadership. I believe it is now time for Christian schools to get serious about using this type of assessment tool to help them understand to what degree they are meeting their missions.

The mission of the Christian school is sometimes understood as having two aspects – academic achievement and spiritual formation. Although I used to view it this way, I now advocate that our task with students in Christian schools is to help them worship and serve God. Students can do this better if they understand the Wonder of God’s creation, the Wisdom of his Word applied to our world in counter-cultural and prophetic thinking, and the Work that God has equipped them and called them to do. The process of education should help students discover and hone their gifts, with  teachers who show them how to apply the law of love to their fellow man through their studies. Education in Christian schools then is happening in the larger context of learning about God’s Word and world, learning to love God and one’s fellow man, and then offering one’s life to God in service.

What we will miss if we focus primarily on assessment of students’ academic progress is hugely significant. We will miss the heart of our mission – are kids understanding how wonder, wisdom, and work come together in them so that they can become flourishing human beings? I sincerely hope the time is past where we just say we are doing faith formation of students, but have little or no evidence of the effects of our efforts in this regard. REVEAL gives us a tool to have serious conversations in the mission critical area of faith development – with our students, with our teachers, with our parents, and with each other. I urge schools to embrace the use of this tool! Use it as a focusing tool for conversations around the most important outcomes of your school. Use it for accreditation purposes as part of a set of tools to examine your mission accomplishment.

Thanks to Willowcreek and to Terry Schweitzer for their interest and commitment to Christian education and for making this tool available. I encourage you to contact Terry at terry@engagechurches.com or call him at 224-512-1072. He is very willing to discuss why schools found REVEAL helpful and how it might be a helpful tool in your situation.

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What does REVEAL reveal? Part two

Last month we introduced you to the work done by Willowcreek Community Church with Christian high school leaders regarding measuring the spiritual formation progress of high school students. The intent of the survey was to help school leaders better understand whether students were exhibiting spiritual growth and what actions the leaders could take to better help students grow. Their attempt was to reveal the students’ hearts for God and for others. The results of this survey have not only personal implications, but broader implications for schools; this survey might be useful as a benchmarking tool to see if there was student growth in faith formation from year to year.

In May 2013, a 25-30 minute online survey was given at 19 different Christian high schools, with the highest percentage of participants at schools in Michigan, then Wisconsin, Illinois and Washington. Over 4,600 student responses were collected. The summary of the findings and observations are presented below from a REVEAL summary document and my phone conversation with the project leader, Terry Schweitzer.

Finding #1- Students:

  • “Many school leaders assume that the best predictor of spiritual growth is year in school. They presume that juniors and seniors who have attended the school longer would be further along on their spiritual journey than freshmen and sophomores. The survey results debunk this idea, showing that the relationship between year and school and stronger core Christian beliefs, spiritual practices, and virtues is flat.”

  • “Commitment to core Christian beliefs, engagement in spiritual practices, and behaviors that reflect Christian virtues rise at each stage of this continuum (below), showing a strong positive relationship between level of intimacy with Christ and spiritual growth. Additionally, students’ level of ownership of their faith and their spiritual journey increases as they progress into the more mature stages of growth. Drawing on this information, there are ways in which leaders of Christian schools can encourage students in each stage to keep moving forward in their spiritual growth. Different beliefs, practices, and virtues have been shown to catalyze spiritual growth for those in each stage. By encouraging the development of each, leaders of Christian high schools can make a stronger impact on the faith development of their students.”

STAGES - REVEALObservations: We know intuitively that students are at different stages on their faith journey. What are the intentional ways we can deal with the development of beliefs, practices and virtues shown in each movement in the diagram above? Are these faith enhancing practices embedded within our curriculum, classroom, and community in the Christian high school?

Finding #2 – School: “Results indicate that schools can best encourage students’ spiritual growth by helping them to own their faith and engage in spiritual practices. Schools and parents can maximize their effectiveness by working together to this end. Additionally, the results indicate that students’ spiritual growth can be measured using an overall Student Spiritual Vitality Gauge (StVG) score that represents students’ growth in Beliefs, Spiritual Practices, and Faith in Action. The StVG demonstrated both reliability and validity as a measure of growth.”

Equation:SVG

Observations: The Christian high school plays a very large role in student spiritual growth, as demonstrated by an effect size of .26 for parents and .30 for schools. The Spiritual Vitality Gauge (as shown above) could be calculated for individuals, classes, and for schools as a whole.

Finding #3 – Parents: The pattern of the data indicated “the close relationship between parental involvement in family spiritual practices and spiritual growth of high school students. . . these findings challenge Christian ministries to involve parents to a greater extent in programs aimed at children and to invest more in the spiritual growth of parents in order to create a spiritual tailwind that will lead to spiritual growth in children.”

bar graph 1

bar graph 2

Observations: The REVEAL survey results reflect the findings of the 2005 National Study of Youth and Religion Survey as reported in the book Soul Searching – “we get what we are” – meaning that the spiritual beliefs and practices of teens often closely parallels that of their parents. It appears that to foster the growth of teens, we must also involve parents. What is a bit surprising is that among the select group of parents who have made a choice for Christian education there are 35-72% of them who never or almost never engage in prayer, Bible study, and service. This demonstrates what those of us who have sat at parent interview tables have known – parents desire a Christian education for various reasons – some for safety, some for success, and some for shalom.  It appears that with these parents their profession of faith level is higher than their practice level. What are the implications for the Christian high school?

I believe the REVEAL folks have been a tremendous help to Christian schools with this work. They have demonstrated that it is possible to get a measure of spiritual formation of high school students. From this measure schools should be able to be more intentional and focused in their efforts to nurture faith with students.  My recommendation is that schools get involved with gathering this data from students and using the REVEAL tool annually. Schools need to commit to doing it for a period of years so that the results can be used in a benchmarking type of process to answer the question: “Are we impacting student spiritual growth?” and then “Given the results of REVEAL for our school, how might we work with students on their spiritual growth from year to year in order to better meet our mission?” For more information on REVEAL please feel free to contact Terry Schweitzer at Willowcreek Community Church.

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Promising developments to support Christian education

Recently I learned of several encouraging developments within organizations to support and promote the cause of Christian education. I will list ones I am aware of in this article and I invite you to share other resources in the comments section below.

CACE graphicIn November, Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa announced that they had received funding from the Verdoorn Foundation to set up the Center for the Advancement of Christian Education, or CACE for short. The goal of the center is to “help innovate, improve, sustain, and promote Christian education at the primary, secondary, and college/university levels.” In the words of President Erik Hoekstra, the Center will become “an information hub and provider of consulting expertise to Christian schools. The center will serve school boards, school leaders, teacher leaders, parents, and churches as a clearinghouse for Christian education innovation.” The work of the Center will focus in five areas:

  1. School Improvement and Innovation
  2. Pastor/Church Leadership and Development
  3. School Operations and Sustainability
  4. Sociological Research
  5. Political Action and Advocacy

Five to seven Fellows will work in these areas with schools on behalf of the Center, and the Center will be led by Education Department chair Dr. Tim Van Soelen.

cardusCardus, the Hamilton, Ontario think tank, and authors of the Cardus research on Christian schooling, announced the Cardus Religious Schools Initiative in partnership with the University of Notre Dame. Besides seeking to generate new theoretical and empirical tools for understanding religious schools, one of their main goals is to provide timely and informative summaries of existing research on religious schools, with the intention of making research accessible to multiple audiences. I am intrigued by the research evaluations already listed here. The report that may be of particular interest to CSI schools is “What Parents Want,” a recent Fordham Institute report based on a survey of American parents regarding the educational goals and the school characteristics that are most important to them. You can read the CRSI report here. You can also sign up for their education newsletter to receive updates.

a6bb37_5e568272d04c6a4002d08c018e378d6d.jpg_srz_p_175_125_75_22_0.50_1.20_0I would also like to share information about a couple of other groups that are being led by former CSI principals. Harriet Potoka, founding principal of Daystar School in downtown Chicago, is serving as the Executive Director of the Center for Christian Urban Education, a collaborative effort of Trinity Christian College and the Bright Promise Fund. Its purpose is stated as: “The Center provides a professional network for Christians involved in private, public, and Christian schooling in the unique context of urban life in North America.  It serves as a school improvement network, a center for conferences and symposia for urban Christian educators and utilizes the schools of the Bright Promise Fund as lab schools for teacher education and the sharing of best practices.”

Edusource logoThree “retired” CSI administrators provide leadership for about 50 Christian schools within a 70 mile radius of Chattanooga, TN through the work of Edusource Unlimited and the Southeast Center: Don Holwerda is the Executive Director and lead person with the SE Center activities, Larry Kooi is the Director of Operations and Outreach, and Barry Koops is the Director of Christian School Executive Search. They provide training to local schools through workshops and seminars to develop and implement plans to help schools achieve and maintain sustainability. They also seek to strengthen executive functions, develop programs and best practices for sustainability, and serve as a resource for innovation.

I am very encouraged by these ways that Christian education can be nurtured and encouraged! Thanks to those who have the vision of service and of coming alongside  leaders in Christian schools. I am sure I am missing many other good efforts going on out there to support Christian education. Would you please take a moment to share other efforts that I may be missing?

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