Will Christian Education stay on the vine?

“The first great fact which emerges from our civilization is that today everything becomes “means”. There is no longer an “end”; we do not know whither we are going. We have forgotten our collective ends, and we possess great means; we set huge machines in motion in order to arrive nowhere. Jaques Ellul

I began my calling to education in 1977, almost fifty years ago.  The modern secondary Christian Education movement surged in the early 70s.  It blossomed as a strategic response to the 50 plus years of secular humanism thrust upon the country by progressivism in the academic world, liberalism in the religious world, and abandonment of Judeo Christian values in the culture.  The straw breaker was Madelynn Murray O’hare’s campaign to eliminate prayer from the public schools. Her influence was successful in 1963. 

I started out in a pioneer school that was just five years old at the time.  Like most in the movement, it was about families that wanted an alternative to the coming secular wave.  Families. Intact, two parent families.  Committed life long couples determined to raise their children to be obedient followers of God for a lifetime.  Seeing the secular public schools as a threat, parents desired schooling  to come along side them and hold the line, and fill the gap they could not during the week nor could Sunday School once a week.

I remember fondly when speaking with other Christian Educators sharing this adventure there  was a  common statement about the schools we served. “The school is a family.”  Not, it seems like a family, or we hope it’s like a family.  It is in truth, a family.  The early schools were small, many in the basements of supportive churches.  Likewise faculties and staff were small.  Teachers taught their discipline and in addition pitched in whenever and wherever needed to keep the daily operations running.  

The growth was rapid and it needed to be.  The competition from the secular academic world, the breakdown of the family, and the accelerated deterioration of the culture created a competitive environment and market for Christian Schools.  It became clear that for a Christian School to survive the institution would need to mirror all the opportunities available at the local public plan in addition to the “religious” facet that was eliminated from public education. must provide all the facets of the public school in addition to the “religious” component . As still today,  that meant capital.  Tuition rates grew steadily during the decades and smaller less equipped Christian schools fell by the wayside while those that had either church or community demographics to support them grew. Through the years the Christian School moment has earned the respect and credibility of the educational community and is some cases even antagonism for its accomplishments. In 2021 many Christian schools are on par or superior to  public education in all areas.  

On now near 50 years I can look back and see from where we have come.  There are strong Christian Schools that are celebrating thirty to sixty year anniversaries.  Many schools have earned respect and recognition for the accomplishments and value of their systems.  It is noteworthy and the influence on thousands of students and families is indeed significant and eternal in impact. 

What will the next 50 years of Christian Education look like?  There are significant challenges ahead.  Economics has always been a key to longevity.  In the beginning money was needed to  acquire and or establish  facilities.    The money spent on plants and structure most often limited the pool for salaries. From the beginning, the common theme recited often was you didn’t enter Christian Education to become rich.  It was a calling and sacrifice would require a servant’s heart.  And most important, you were not there to replace the family, you were there to be a resource for parents. It has always been the responsibility of parents to raise their children, while educators had the great honor to be the parent’s assistants.

The new challenges come after 50 years of further cultural deterioration.  Economics limits Christian Education to those that can afford it in communities of means and or affluence.  Government intrusion is threatening to eliminate economic means that have fueled enrollment the last 20 years.  Leftist ideology is encroaching through government edicts to effect curriculum development that must meet state standards.   

For me, by far the biggest challenge will be for Christian Education to stay attached to the vine.  Moored to it’s founding distinctiveness of valuing the gospel of Jesus as the number one priority in all facets.  This challenge will be critical and the most challenging as the breakdown of the family cross culture including the church community is driving the this country toward collapse.  I don’t hear “our school is really a family” these days.  The number of divorced and blended families in the Christian Community is similar to the culture at large.  The distinctiveness of a school that’s sole purpose was to assist families in raising obedient Christ followers has defaulted to creating equity in school academics and culture to maintain credibility and competition in the community.

For Christian Education to stay on the vine Christian Schools must be intentional in maintaining or returning to the initial mission of the movement.  The importance and value of the intact family must be preached and preached daily from K-12 despite how uncomfortable it may be for the community. The Theology of Gender should be front and center curriculum from K-12 more than ever with the breakdown of the family and casual acceptance of divorce. Christian Education was never to be a replacement for the nuclear family. The present culture has moved from training obedience for a lifelong pursuit of holiness to allowing feelings in the moment to dictate perceived happiness. Only the family unit can model a long obedience in the right direction.

As Paul said in 2 Timothy, “Perilous Times will come”. They are here.  Christian Education is needed now more than ever.  It must be first and foremost about reinforcing the design of God for the family.  Intact stable families grounded in the truth of the gospel of Jesus is the hope for now and the future. 

About Bill Harbeck

Founder and Director of Holding on to Hope Ministries. A non-profit work that helps survivors of childhood sexual abuse unveil their past and begin the healing process. Author of the book Shattered; One Man's Journey from Childhood Sexual Abuse
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