“By their fruit you will know them.”
“If you focus on results, you will never change. If you focus on change, you will get results.”
The beauty of Kingdom education is its multi-dimensional power. At its best, Kingdom education is made manifest in the intertwined dynamic of the home, church, and school. In the home, adults lead their children in the way in which they should go. In the church, elders edify families. In schools, professional educators multiply the seeds of the home and church and prepare children to be ambassadors in the marketplace of commerce, law, medicine, service, innovation, and ideas.
Each provider has a unique role in the formation of God’s people. But, to our dismay, some homes are satisfied to go it alone. Some churches, too. Or they may lean into the temptation to leave the work to others. Some schools may give way to the pressure to consume the calendar. Whatever the case, Kingdom education is diminished when these three powerful institutions do not work together for the same outcomes: the glory of God, the maturity of believers, and the skills to reclaim the world. It is not trivial to recall that “a cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
Our development as sons and daughters depends greatly on the priorities of the parents. Our development as believers depends greatly on the maturity of the local body of Christ. Our development as responsible, integrous, and Kingdom-minded citizens depends greatly on the mission of the school. Secular missions foster a secular future. Kingdom missions fan a Kingdom flame.
But we can’t stop there. We know too many examples where Kingdom missions fall short of their potential to shape a generation of successful difference-makers.
What Really Matters?
In every school’s path to maturity there comes a time when the leaders must ask: what matters? What really matters? The answer to that question becomes the true north of the school. Two questions follow:
- Is the school successful in focusing on what really matters? and
- Are the outcomes of our pursuit realized in the lives of our learners, children, and adults?
Too many schools do too much. Or maybe a kinder way to say it: too many schools try to do too much. Understandable. Instead of sharing the responsibility between home, school, and church in balanced ways, we are tempted to take on more than we are designed to bear. Not only that, but once we realize that we are first and foremost a school, we often succumb to the pressure to be all things for all constituents.
Heroic, noble, yet impossible. As with time management, success in managing priorities is earned by neglecting that which warrants neglect. In an extremely insightful book entitled Four Thousand Weeks, author Oliver Burkeman calls it “creative neglect.” The ability to truly focus on what really matters requires a decision to not focus on what matters least or even what matters somewhat. This is not easy. And follow-through is even more difficult.
Burkeman points out that the root word of “decide” is the Latin, “decidere”—“to cut off,” as in slicing away alternatives. Every decision we make slices off an alternative use of time, resources, energy, and people. In a biblical frame of mind, we think of the imperative to prune ourselves (or be pruned) in order to bear more and better fruit. Similarly, when a school commits to “what really matters,” wise decisions can be made about what stays and what is abandoned. The result? More and better fruit.
What did you think of when this blog quoted Jesus? “By their fruit you shall know them.” Clearly, he was speaking of discipleship. But, in the context of schooling, beyond discipleship, what is your school known for?
The Results You Seek
When you read Dixon’s observation at the top of this blog, what changes can you make in the way you do school this year that will give you the results you seek and pray for? What changes need to be made in what you are focusing on as a school in order to produce the results you know are most important?
One last image to remember—the barbell. Experience is teaching us that Christian schools can be successful at both discipleship and scholarship. Faith and intellect are not mutually exclusive. Both can flourish together. They are opposite weights of glory, creating an equilibrium that strengthens the muscle of a school. As Donovan Graham illustrates so well in Teaching Redemptively, Christian schools can and must zealously pursue spiritual formation and academic preparation, academic preparation and spiritual formation, in order to fulfill the call to a true and robust Kingdom education.
The Golden Triangle
We started with the golden triangle of home, church, and school. Let’s end there. Let’s ask ourselves: what can’t the home do? What can’t the church do? Engineering, student leadership, psychology, recess, calculus, deep discussions about truth and falsehood with peers? In the name of Jesus, let’s do those things to the glory of God. My guess is that we will then be experiencing a flourishing school.
Editor’s Note: Join Dr. Gary Arnold at ACSI’s Flourishing Schools Institute (FSi), where he will be speaking on the construct of Outcomes Focus. The next FSi will be in Kansas City, MO on March 14-16, 2023. Register your team today!
About the Author:
Dr. Gary Arnold has served in leadership roles for various organizations. Currently, Gary is serving as President and Head of School of Little Rock Christian Academy in Little Rock, Arkansas. He also directs the Head Certification program for the Council for Educational Standards and Accountability (CESA). Gary has served as the Board President of the Council for American Private Education (CAPE) as well as the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Council for Religious/Independent Schools and the Illinois Coalition of Non-Public Schools. Gary is a member of the Core Team of Christian Education Charitable Trust (CECT) of the Maclellan Family Foundations (TN). He is also a Founder/Partner of NextEd, LLC, an educational services platform formed to empower schools to achieve their Next.