A Call to the Church in America: Step Up to the Opportunity to Revitalize EducationMay 18, 2016
The outrage over the public school gender identity accommodation mandate is vociferous. But if it’s all sound and fury that comes to nothing then a significant opportunity will have been missed.
Instead of stepping away, what might it look for the Church to step intentionally into the chaos and restore order through a renewed commitment to education as ministry?
Literacy, primary, secondary and higher education were undeniable catalysts in the birth and development of Western Civilization and it was the Christian Church that influenced – and provided – those educational opportunities.
Education and the Church
The Greeks and Romans only educated the elites. The Christian Church, valuing every human being equally, sought to educate everyone.
The first Church champion of education was Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo (AD 354-430). The philosophy of education in the West is founded on Augustine’s teachings that:
- God is a rational being
- Not only the human soul but also the human mind are made in the image of God
- God created humanity to be able to understand and govern creation
Upon these foundations of faith in God, the West built a cohesive culture based on logic, language and rational knowledge.
And as part of the Reformation, Martin Luther – who we must remember was a priest – called for the overhaul of education that had, of necessity during the Dark Ages, become sheltered in monasteries.
In 1520 Luther made an impassioned plea to the German Aristocracy. His “open letter to the Christian nobility,” said, “I believe that there is no work more worthy of pope or emperor than a thorough reform of the universities.” Others, including John Knox and John Amos Comenius, joined Luther in universalizing education with the goal of an educated civil society. It was the Church, through educational ministry, that united Europe under one worldview and produced history’s first educated continent.
It was this culture of people, educated by the Church, that established the foundations of the nation-state, parliaments, democracy, commerce, banking, and higher education. It was Friars who founded Oxford and Cambridge. And in nascent America, the first 123 colleges and universities – including Harvard, Princeton and Yale – were founded, funded and flourished as educational ministries of the Christian church.
Stepping into Today’s Chaos
Leap forward 380 years to today. The Church has basically forfeited its influence in education and been relegated to the margins. Last week’s letter from the Obama Administration threatened funding if localities and states do not comply with their “guidance.” The Administration is promoting chaos where we need order.
We could argue it should not have taken this extreme government overreach nor this long to be asking these questions, but the last week’s news should motivate us to consider: is it possible to imagine the reclamation of education as something that the Church provides? What reinvigorated role might the Church play in public education?
The number one way to influence education is for Christians to be working as teachers, administrators, coaches, bus drivers, mentors and classroom assistants — seeing the public school as a mission field where Christians serve vocationally as ministers of the Gospel. Other tangible ways to step into the chaos:
- Formally commission in your church every church member who is involved in public education to see their vocation as ministry. This includes elected officials, school administrators, teachers, coaches, mentors, classroom moms, school volunteers, the lunch ladies, school resource officers, and yes, parents.
- Bless students and educators: Start or join back-to-school supply programs, weekly food distribution backpack programs, prayer walk school campuses on the weekends and after hours.
- Adopt a school, a grade level or a classroom: pray for them consistently, support godly teachers, and assist serving in the classrooms. Start by asking a nearby school what they need, what would help and what they want. Assume nothing. The answer might surprise you.
- Find out what kind of volunteers schools in your city utilize and circulate that information in your church bulletin, newsletter and digital communication. Every school needs people to read to younger students and to help with homework in after school programs.
- Teach the Bible in your public school to ground students in the Truth. Yes, this is legal and it’s happening. Schools release kids to take all kinds of classes off campus during the school day, why not offer a Bible class?
- Start after school programs and summer enrichment programs (beyond VBS), which include both Biblical instruction and homework assistance. If your school already has a Good News club, volunteer to help. If they don’t start one.
- Start ministries with families whose children have special needs, are in special education and life skills classes.
- Reach out to single moms. You know how hard it is to get it all together for your kids, get them what they need, where they need to be, and keep them busy with healthy activities all summer, over school breaks and teacher work days. What might it look like for a home school family to align with a single mom and her kids? What might it look like for a retired couple in the church to become the grand parents of that family? What might it look like for your church to demonstrate what an intact family looks (and feels) like?
Ready to think big?
What if every church in America helped sponsor students every year to attend a classical Christian school in their town or city or state? If every church sponsored one child, 300,000 more kids would be receiving the kind of education that built Western civilization. Instead we’re relegating them to a public education that we know is not worthy of their humanity nor the advancement of the culture built on Christian ideals.
How many churches have empty educational facilities built in the days of the Sunday School movement that now sit empty?
How many retired teachers, school administrators and academics populate church pews waiting to be mobilized for a renaissance in education in America?
What might it look like for empty-nesters to create a home-school co-op at your church for the children of single moms or others who don’t have the luxury of home-schooling?
What about offering scholarships to the kids of lower income and single parent households who want to attend private Christian school but simply cannot afford it?
What might happen if new immigrants and refugees knew that churches were the go-to place for ESL classes, school supplies, backpack ministry, homework help, mentoring for their kids, summer enrichment activities, and the kind of generational family support that we take for granted?
What if the Church took the lemons of the recent gender identity accommodation mandate and made lemonade?
Want more on this? Listen to The Reconnect on this topic from May 17: