I would contend that the highest priority within the mission of the Christian school is service to God. We are created in his image and for his pleasure. He desires our obedience, worship, and more. Actually, every aspect of life is worship. In Christian education we should first seek to bring honor and glory to his name.
This honor and glory is demonstrated each time the education professional interacts with students and parents. Thus, there is another layer to the question. God has entrusted the care of his children to parents and they to the school. God’s instructions to parents are found in His Word. Among the many notable passages are these:
- “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
- “He commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children” (Psalm 78:5-6).
- “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children” (Deuteronomy 6: 6-7).
In our schools, we have applied the commands in scripture with descriptors. We have used the metaphor of a triangle. The three sides of nurture are the home, church, and school working in harmony and unison to train the child in the way he or she should go. Training a child is a combined effort.
Some claim that this model is outdated. It originated when families were more intact. It was created when churches were more supportive of Christian schools. It was created when schools were more closely tied to a particular denomination. Some point to these changes and conclude that the model is no longer applicable. Perhaps that is true. Perhaps it is not true, and instead it is a call to biblical renewal.
Other changes in the culture of the Christian school is the 21st century parent. In a recent presentation, Gene Frost, head of school at Wheaton Academy, says that parents before the 1980’s could be described as loyalty customers. He contrasts those parents with the post 1980’s parent, which he called the value customer.
Jeff Blamer, Vice President of Member Services, CSI clarifies the two categories in his blog. He says:
To oversimplify, the loyalty customer’s highest priority is for the Christian school to be scripturally rooted. The loyalty customer is satisfied with the Christian education product as long as the school is clearly Christian first. The positive aspect of loyalty customers is their non-negotiable commitment to the Christian school. They tend to be loyal to the school through good times and bad. Their tuition is not a fee, but a contribution to the cause in which they believe. The negative aspect of loyalty customers is that they demand little from the school in terms of excellence. They are satisfied, and their satisfaction can lead the school to conclude that an okay education is good enough.
Value customers’ highest priority is that the Christian school be excellent in academics, program options, and opportunities for their children. The value customer is not satisfied with mediocre educators or education. The value customer’s commitment to the Christian school is more tentative, because there is a qualifier attached—Christian and excellent. They are Christian school parents, so there is a degree of loyalty, but the loyalty is always being tested over against demonstrated value. Tuition is a fee, which value customers willingly pay as long as they are convinced of the value. The positive aspect of value customers is that their demand for the best pushes school beyond complacency to continuous school improvement. The negative aspect of value customers is that their commitment is not a given, but tenuous.
Schools that do not understand the new reality seem to flounder in frustration and fizzle out. The value customer seeks inspired leaders driving programs toward excellence, a school that identifies what it is best at and does it, a school with systems in place toward continuous improvement, and a school that preserves its mission while stimulating progress. I would extend beyond this consumer transaction that there is a “special” ingredient that adds value that cannot be found in another circumstance. The Christian school value customer must see Jesus Christ and a biblical worldview integrated into everything.
As a Christian school administrator I need to recognize that Christian schools have both loyalty and value members. I need to celebrate both and understand the needs of both. I don’t really see them as mutually exclusive. Of course a parent should expect high quality. Of course, they should be loyal to the purpose of Christian school. Doesn’t the ideal of full biblical integration call for excellence and a value superior to what can be found elsewhere? It is sinful to give less than we can.
Where I divert from Dr. Frost and Dr. Blamer is that it is a consumer relationship. Yes, money exchanges in order to compensate individuals for some part of their service. However, a true Christian school recognizes that staff, faculty, parents, and students participate in raising the value of the school. Without each of us doing our part in excellence, the Christian school cannot be all it is intended to be, a place that brings glory and honor to our Heavenly Father.
Head of School Blog