Category Christian School Education
Title The Challenge of Christian Schooling in a Secular Age
Author/s Jan Stump
Preview Education should glorify God by providing opportunity "to learn to see God's creation and His glory and to take that as salt and light into the world."
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In 2006, the ACSI Education Foundation launched its mission to secure, manage, and distribute private support to promote the strategic growth, influence, and effectiveness of Christian schooling worldwide. At the request of ACSI's senior leadership, the Foundation's board unanimously agreed to take on the daunting task of providing visionary, innovative, research-informed leadership for global Christian schools and educators.

As a program- and service-providing association, ACSI struggles to keep pace with the visionary thought leadership necessary to empower Christian schools and educators to flourish in the midst of formidable challenges, both today and tomorrow. This candid assessment engenders many questions. If the Foundation is to launch a "thought leadership" focus to guide both ACSI and the larger Christian schooling movement, it must begin by identifying complementary activities occurring throughout the Kingdom so that redundancies are reduced and collaborations maximized.

The First Step

In February 2015, the Foundation took a strategic first step by convening a carefully selected group of experts, not affiliated with ACSI, who care and think deeply about the education of the next generation. Their task was to assist in identifying the problems facing the Christian schooling movement in general and ACSI in particular. We wanted perspective and candid feedback from scholars, cultural critics, and Christian school leaders who are thoughtfully engaged with the challenge of living faithfully in a highly secularized culture. Scholar James K.A. Smith articulated this challenge in his book How (Not) to be Secular:

Even belief has changed in our secular age. There are still believers who believe the same things as their forebears 1,500 years ago; but how we believe has changed. Thus, faith communities need to ask: How does this change in the "conditions" of belief impact the way we proclaim and teach faith? How does this impact faith formation? How should this change the propagation of the faith for the next generation? (23)

Prior to convening, individual panel members answered the following questions, and their responses were collated and organized thematically. Panel responses provided rich feedback to launch the group conversation.

  1. When you consider the responsibility of educating and mentoring the next generation of Christ followers to think and act with the mind of Christ, what questions or concerns keep you up at night?
  2. When you think of the future of effective Christian schooling in North America and globally, what barriers need to be surmounted and opportunities seized?
  3. In your estimation, what are the top three issues facing Christian schools today?
  4. What areas of particular interest do you care passionately about, and how might they relate to the issues being discussed?
  5. As an association serving schools from a wide spectrum of theological perspectives, what is ACSI's most important role?
  6. What are the major societal issues facing Christian families today?

The discussion began with the foundational question, "What is the purpose of Christian schooling?" This grounded the larger conversation in the consensus that education should glorify God by providing opportunity "to learn to see God's creation and His glory and to take that as salt and light into the world." Over the next two days, rigorous dialogue developed around what is and is not negotiable for Christian schooling in the 21st century, the role of the Christian school within a post-Christian culture (where a shrinking percentage of families are committed to passing down faith), the call for Christians to be a faithful presence in the world, the need for innovative funding models and practices to the solve the financial conundrum facing schools, and the challenge of effectively nurturing the love of God in students in this fast-paced digital age.

In addition to engaging in full-group discussions, the following participants presented "TED-style talks" to their colleagues.

  • Deborah Haarsma, PhD, president of The BioLogos Foundation, shared personal reflection on Christian education and the sciences.
  • Robin Hom, JD, superintendent of California Crosspoint High School (formerly Chinese Christian High School), presented a talk on affordability and accessibility to Christian schooling.
  • David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, discussed the implication to Christian schooling of the research that informed his book You Lost Me.
  • David Sikkink, PhD, associate professor at University of Notre Dame and director of the Cardus Religious Schools Initiative, interpreted Cardus research findings regarding specific facets of Christian schooling.

ACSI's senior executive leadership joined in engaging these presenters through questioning and brainstorming. The discussions and presentations were meant to provoke rigorous dialogue on educating the next generation to think and act with the mind of Christ.

Moving Forward

How do we channel this amazingly generative interaction into concrete recommendations to inform the Foundation's strategic planning process? Panel members were divided into four "consulting groups" tasked with identifying and presenting their top three to five priorities for ACSI and the Foundation to embrace. While each group reflected the personality and expertise of its members, common threads emerged.

These "consultant recommendations" are a distillation of over eight hours of invigorating dialogue around issues of great import. Nearly 200 pages of transcript document the entire conversation, informing recommendations for the next step. At their February 2015 meeting, the Foundation board of directors tasked ACSI's senior staff to sift through the information-individually and corporately- and identify priorities for both ACSI and the Foundation. This conversation has already informed ACSI's strategic initiatives, launched research, strengthened higher education relationships, and birthed partnerships. It also provides direction to the Foundation's strategic plan, and a case for support to fulfill its transformational mission.

We are grateful for our esteemed panelists. The group overwhelmingly agreed that ACSI and the Foundation must continue the conversation "for such a time as this."

Participants:

• Gary Arnold, EdD, Head of School, Little Rock Christian Academy

• Jeffrey Dill, PhD, Affiliate Faculty (Sociology), Templeton Honors College

• Philip Dow, PhD, Superintendent, Rosslyn Academy

• Donovan Graham, EdD, Director, Center for Teacher Renewal

• Deborah Haarsma, PhD, President, BioLogos

• June Hetzel, PhD, Professor and Dean of Education, Biola University

• Robin Hom, MAEd, JD, Superintendent, California Crosspoint High School

• Victoria Kennedy, President and Head of School, Bradford Christian Academy

• David Kinnaman, President, Barna Group

• Todd Marrah, EdD, Superintendent, Tree of Life Christian Schools

• James Marsh, MEd, Director, Van Lunen Center for Executive Management in Christian Schools

• Barrett Mosbacker, EdD, Superintendent, Briarwood Christian School

• Brad Oliver, EdD, Associate Professor, Indiana Wesleyan University

• Jerry Pattengale, PhD, Executive Director of Education, Museum of the Bible

• David Sikkink, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Notre Dame

• David Smith, PhD, Professor of Education, Calvin College

• Matthew Stump, PhD, Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology, George Fox University

• Larry Taylor, PhD, Head of School, Prestonwood Christian Academy

• Marie White, PhD, Educational Psychologist, Associate Professor, Nyack College


For nine years, Jan Stump served as the Director of Development and Public Relations for ACSI and consulted with hundreds of schools in the area of mission advancement. Currently, she serves as the Executive Director of the ACSI Education Foundation, whose mission is to promote strategic growth, influence, and effectiveness in Christ-centered education worldwide. Jan holds a master's degree in literature and has been a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) since 2001.

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