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Selling Grace: The Future of Christian Education

September 18, 2013
By Blake Hiemstra

In the world of Christian education where I spend the bulk of my days, big, ominous terms such as Budget Shortage and Declining Enrollment get bantered about with the dire soberness of Walter Cronkite letting the world know that JFK just died. The economic crisis our country faces pulses through Christian schools, prompting many families to pull their kids from the private classroom and find other, cost-friendly options for education.

My school, in addition to other Christian schools around the country, has been forced to grapple with the reality of classrooms that are less than full and how to keep the Bottom Line from being colored with a little too much red. Strategizing committees pour effort into how to market the school. The social media lines crackle in the effort to promote the cause of Christian education. As teachers we strive to advance the cause of Christian education, flavoring the relationships we have in the community with seasoned salt about our school.

It’s a perilous time indeed for Christian schools. A time that begs the question,Is it worth it? In some regards, this may seem like the ultimate example of biting the hand that feeds you, but lean times in Christian education truly make me wonder what the Christian school has to offer that makes it worthy of its hefty price tag.

It’s not solely the education. While my school instructs students well and strives for best pedagogical practices, it’s limited. It can’t offer the rigorous line-up of AP classes and specialized curricula that its public counterparts provide.

It’s not simply the intimate setting. Sure, the smaller class sizes prove inviting, and the prospect of knowing each classmate’s name seems intriguing, but the simple reduced population surely doesn’t justify the tuition bill.

It’s not only the spiritual component. If a parent is solely focused on his child’s faith formation, a Christian school is not the answer. That may sound blasphemous to my school board, but the truth is that the school does not provide the best arena for spiritual development. The home does. While not every parent is equipped for homeschooling success nor available for the demanding schedule of homeschooling, surely the Christian home provides the best opportunity for the daily practice of Deuteronomy 6:6-7: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get it.”

It’s not the safe haven from the evils of the secular world. The chain-link fence outside a Christian school may thwart the intrusion of nefarious ill-meaning invaders but only provides a negligible defense against sin and the powers of darkness. Sure, the safe haven of a Christian school might insulate students from the wide-eyed evil more apparent in public schools, but the detention room at a Christian school rarely sits unoccupied.

What then makes the difference? What makes Christian education both worthwhile and essential?

It’s the whole package.

It’s the daily experience of grace.

It’s the daily audience with sold-out teachers who love the Lord and who pour that love of Christ into their lessons with the blood, sweat and tears of a struggling artist.

It’s the blessed, palpable expression of Community, a community saturated and dripping with the grace of Christ, that students experience every day.

It’s the living vibe, flowing through a school that every square inch of this planet belongs to God. And that seeing and owning that truth affects a person’s vision for the rest of his life.

It’s the dynamic interaction of facts and faith, and the crew of talented Christ-followers who give life to that interaction every day.

It’s the web of relationships, the beautiful expression of the holy church, home and school triangle, that covers and crisscrosses a Christian school and enriches the whole environment.

And perhaps the extent to which Christian schools continue to exist and even flourish in the future is the extent to which they become oases of grace to the wearied pilgrims who travel this sod and seek to know the King who rules this world.

Is it worth it? Absolutely.

Blake A. Hiemstra lives in Visalia, CA, with his wife, Carla, and 4 kids. He teaches middle school English at Central Valley Christian School. His blog is called The Write Project. Hiemstra is also the author of a book called "The Year of Living Metaphorically: Ramblings and Reflections on Life, Faith, Family and the Creatures Known as Middle Schoolers."