Category Christian School Education
Title The Heart of a Christian School Leader
Author/s Cecil Swetland, EdD
Preview Serving others requires sacrifice and a willingness to handle responsibilities outside your job description.
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I have had the privilege of working with a number of outstanding leaders in education, business, and ministry settings. Although they are all talented and skillful in a variety of distinct ways, they each have the same distinguishing feature: the heart of a leader.

A Shepherd's Heart

For many years, my family lived in an area outside Los Angeles, surrounded by many miles of open farmland, much of which lay unused. Rather than let the wild grass burn in the summer heat, landowners would allow livestock to graze on their property. As we drove to work in the spring, we would often see a herd of sheep wandering in the fields-and, just as often, a shepherd keeping watch nearby. The shepherds knew that predators are always around. They continually watched the landscape for coyotes. Protecting the sheep was a never-ending task.

Shepherds didn't only protect their flock from predators; the sheep needed protection from themselves, too. Sheep are known to get separated from the herd. This is dangerous for the sheep because they are completely helpless away from the group. Sticking together is their only defense. The shepherd values each sheep and will retrieve any that get lost.

The Christian school leader is like a shepherd. He or she cares for every student, staff member, and family that is a part of the school. It is a shepherd's heart that causes leaders to reach out to individuals and families who are experiencing trials, to visit homes and hospitals when individuals are sick, to visit students and families when their students are participating in events away from school. They attend baptisms, weddings, and funerals. A Christian school leader with a shepherd's heart protects, rescues, and cares for everyone connected to the school.

A Servant's Heart

We know that Jesus came into the world to serve rather than be served (Matthew 20:28). If this is Christ's example, how should we follow this as Christian school leaders?

First, seek the good of others before you seek your own good. This can be an inconvenience. There may be people on your staff who get the vacation days they want while you change your plans. This does not come naturally because we have a human, sinful nature. If you are prayerful about this and pay attention, you will find many opportunities to serve others simply by treating them the way you would want to be treated if you were in their shoes.

Second, be willing to take on difficult or menial jobs. You may need to clean up a mess on campus because the person responsible for it is busy taking care of another mess and cannot be in two places at the same time.

Once, on a whim, I let our office staff go home a couple hours early while I sat at the reception desk and helped people as they arrived at the end of the school day. I enjoyed this job for a little while. It was good to greet people and see their surprised smiles as they opened the door.

Everything went smoothly until two different phone lines were ringing and three parents were standing in front of me needing help. Though it was not as bad as it could have been-the parents knew I was filling in and waited patiently-I gained a new appreciation for what our receptionists experience every day.

Am I suggesting you spend all day serving as custodian or a receptionist? Not at all; but serving others requires sacrifice and a willingness to handle responsibilities outside your job description. You will experience joy in serving others at your school, even if you accidentally hang up on parents calling to check on their child. (I apologized when they called back.)

A Steadfast Heart

An effective Christian school leader must be resolute in faith and firm in direction. He or she must continually remember that Jesus Christ is the true owner of our lives and the schools we are entrusted to lead. The leader is called to be a steward who faithfully and unshakably moves forward on a firm foundation of faith.

As disciples, we are called to live out our faith on a daily basis. Our personal commitment to Jesus Christ will keep us calm when others are tempted to be worried or frightened. For example, completing the annual budgeting process can be an exercise in faith. As a school leader, you are probably at the center of the process; you know details about what is happening and why specific budgeting decisions have been made. It is important to remember that those around you do not know the specifics of your school budget and are looking to you for reassurance that programs they value are important to the school-that they themselves are valuable to the school. Communicating openly with your staff and families, being a calming influence during difficulties, and relying upon Christ are important factors that will allow you to lead with a steadfast heart, whether your school is experiencing blessing or hardship.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to leading your school through any given situation. There will always be a myriad of variables and complexities that make your school unique. If you give yourself a regular "heart exam," you can be prepared to lead your school through significant trials and unimagined blessings. Recall the wisdom of Proverbs 4:23-"Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it"-and maintain the steadfast, compassionate heart of a leader.


Cecil Swetland, EdD, served as chief executive officer of Desert Christian Schools in Lancaster, California, for 18 years before joining ACSI in 2015 as Regional Director for the California/Hawaii region.

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