Why the Church Must Recover Its Vision for Education
If you were to search for “Christian school near me,” you would likely find a whole host of private Christian schools. But with how many of those schools does your church have a meaningful partnership or relationship? Other than a once-a-week youth group or Sunday School, what kind of investment has your church made in the education of your church’s children? Unfortunately the answer to these questions rarely reflects substantial engagement. This is a strange situation given the Church’s historic educational dynamism. On the whole the Church has lost her vision for seeing the school as a meaningful mission and ministry, and this will result in serious ramifications for the future.
For most of church history we see a very organic partnership between church and schools. Since the early medieval era, we see the Church quickly planting schools. Alcuin, in the 800s, started a vibrant church school in Charlemagne’s court that was renowned for its jovial community and dynamic teachers. The famous Byzantine schools of Constantinople met in churches and monastery courtyards to train up their children. The universities in Paris, Oxford, and Cambridge all became centers of synergy that combined the ministry of the church and the school that shaped our entire civilization.
And then we see the strong emphasis on education and schools during the Reformation period, as churches invested vast resources and energy into the education of their children. The missionary movement of the 19th century was also marked by countless churches and schools being planted around the world side-by-side as missionaries preached in the church on Sundays and taught in schools the rest of the week. The same can be said for the pioneers in North America: after they built their log cabins, the next priority was to build the church that would also be able to be used as a school.
So what happened? Why don’t we see the church today having the same kind of engagement with education?
In the decades following World War I, we see the birth of the “parachurch organization.” While many local congregations focused on the fundamentals and responded to liberalism at the seminary level, other entrepreneurial Christian groups formed across denominational boundaries. They began new civic and community service groups: Christian summer camps, the YMCA and YWCA, Christian aid organizations, Christian universities, Christian college ministries, and Christian schools. All these exploded across America. Most were not initiated by a single local church or denomination. These groups would become vital in providing the general context for the emergence of Non-Denominational Christianity in the 1970s and beyond. With the rise of these parachurch schools, the local church seems to have felt “unburdened” to participate in the education of their own children. However local churches today should recommit to engaging with Christian K-12 education in their community.
Christian families are looking for ways to give their children a deeper foundation than a youth group program is able to give. The church is losing nearly two thirds of young adults who grow up in the church.* The local church must step into the lives of her children in a more intentional way. The church must take more initiative in the instruction of their children not just with moralistic training, but with a robust worldview framework that encompasses all areas of the intellectual life. Youth groups just aren’t enough.** The church must re-engage with education if we want our young people to catch a fully orbed vision of the Christian life lived out.
Perhaps the most impact a church can make in this area would be by planting a new school program out of your church. Though this has a high cost, the benefits are even higher. Some churches are exploring a collaborative school approach, which means that students meet on the church campus for two or three days a week and the rest of the learning days are “homeschool days” at home with parents. This model side steps many of the overhead costs and burdens associated with a conventional school. If your local church is small and doesn’t have the resources to start a school, you can begin having conversations with other like-minded churches about what it would look like in your context.
If starting or participating in running a school isn’t something your church could realistically do, there are other meaningful ways your congregation could engage in. If you have a church facility, you could consider affordably renting facilities out to a local Christian educational program during the week. Pastors could look for opportunities to teach a Theology class to high school students. Your church leaders could join the school board of the local Christian school.
The missional opportunity for the church in the area of education is tremendous. The educational landscape in America has become increasingly bleak for families seeking a gospel centered education. How the church responds (or doesn’t) in this cultural moment, will have ramifications for decades to come. The local church (or group of local churches) that can offer a quality Christian education at an affordable cost, will become a lighthouse in the community. The local church will earn credibility in the community for the ministry and service they provide, which will in turn open new opportunities to minister. Families that would never otherwise enter a church, will be open to sending their children to the church to be educated. These children will not only hear the gospel, but may also become familiar with the rhythms of prayer and worship of the church.
The local church must recover her vision for the education of her children. Our children should be given the opportunity to have the church hold a significant voice in their education in a way that will create meaningful bonds that will last beyond their high school graduation. Our generation of pastors and Christian educators will have to answer to how we have invested in our children. How have we fed Christ’s youngest sheep? How have we prepared our children with imaginations saturated with God’s presence to go into the world to participate in new churches, new schools, new businesses, and new families? How the local church responds in this cultural moment will have repercussions that last for generations.
- The Juvenilization of American Christianity by Thomas Bergler
- The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Classical Christian Education by Ravi Jain and Kevin Clark
- When Children Love to Learn: A Practical Application of Charlotte Mason's Philosophy for Today edited by Eliane Cooper
- Summary of Charlotte Mason’s Educational Philosophy
- Education as Christian Formation from the Benedict Option by Rod Dreher
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