Is the Christian School Movement Dead?

It has been a long time since i have written on CJ, sorry to all those who actually read this blog.  Now you may breathe a sigh of relief because I should be able to write more frequently.  This weekend I take off to speak at a teen retreat at Camp UTIBACA, but last week I spent most of my time preparing to administer our Christian School.  I have a question that I really desire discussion on. 

Is the Christian School movement dead?  If it is, do you consider that “good riddance” and “It’s about time”?  Or with a mournful dirge, do you lament the loss of the only way we will ever be able to reach the world with the Gospel?  Maybe most will probably find themselves somewhere in the middle (you bunch of compromisers).  I believe that the Christian school movement as we knew it, is dead in the water.  I do believe that is probably a good thing, but I also lament the “failure” of the movement.  Yes, I believe the movement failed in its endeavor.  Those that argue for the success of the movement really just adjust what the goal was.  Several years ago, there was a noble goal to train and send out a Christian army of young people who would evangelize the world and increase God’s Kingdom. In my experience (and the experience of others I have talked to), most of those young people are not serving the Lord today.  So what happened?  Why did that goal fail.  I believe there were several fundamental flaws in our philosophy of Christian education. 

1.  The school became equal to or more important than the church. 
God called his people to go into all the world and make disciples through the local church.  Schools became the goal of the church instead of a tool for the church.  Maybe you have heard this dialogue before: “What church are you serving in?” “Oh, It’s just a small church of about 100-150 in x-ville.”  “Do you have a school?”  “No” “Maybe the Lord will help you start one.”  Maybe the conversation was not exactly the same, but there became a note of sadness that you weren’t done building the church until you had a Christian School.  The school can be a ministry tool of the church to honor and glorify God rather than a drain on the financial and spiritual success of the church; but it must be in its proper place. 

2.  We let the world teach us how to educate our children.    
Whether we recognize it or not, the world has seeped into the educational process in our schools.  Skinner’s operant conditioning and behavioral modification has replaced Holy Spirit empowered changing of the heart by the Word of God.  This was seen in outward conformity to a set of rules without a knowledge of God.  How then do we educate our children?  In the knowledge of who God is and what He has done–God’s works and character.  Every part of education needs to be focused on knowing more of God. 

3.  We believed that isolation would create true followers of Christ. 
I believe very strongly that insulating our children from the world’s philosophy and morality is right.  It is immoral to bring Satan’s philosophy into my house and I don’t believe our children should be inundated with the wickedness of the world. However, isolationism is not the answer.  One of the fundamental ways this was done was with closed enrollment.  “You can only attend our school if you are saved and go to a church of like faith and practice.”  Of course you can’t pay teachers with good intentions so we had “Interview office conversions” and redefined what like faith and practice was.  Basically the bottom line replaced our philosophy.  Completely closed enrollment (in my opinion) creates a breeding ground for works without faith.  It produces a class of young people who are faith-faking instead of faith-living.  In an open enrollment (with strict moral guidelines that are enforced) one can escape the worldly philosophies and goals and still recognize that you are dealing with a mixture of pagans, Christians, and “pagan-Christians.” 

I will be following up this article with another that will explain my goals for our Christian school.


  1. funlayers said:

    Maybe it’s as simple as this: Christian parents wanted the best for their kids, hoped to increase the chance of salvation and desire to follow Christ. But a lot of those kids, despite having the Gospel preached to them 3 times a day reject Christ and choose to live for themselves. You can only encourage students to be an ‘army of Christian soldiers’ if they’re 1.saved, 2.desiring to follow Christ with their whole hearts. Maybe the reason Christian schools aren’t ‘effective’ is that they’re made up of either unsaved or saved but selfish kids. What do you think?

    September 7, 2006
  2. Sarah,
    I agree that the motives and intentions were pure for the most part. I do think, however, that much of the blame must be placed upon the movement. Obviously I am not against Christian schools (I am the principal of one). I wonder if the fundamental goal (A Christian army) is flawed. Is that our goal in the church? I believe our goal in the church ought to be the same as the goal in the school. So you are right, they must be saved and desire to follow God with their whole heart. I just see more and more Christian schools interested in enrollment numbers, adding more athletic programs, focused on academic competition, getting bigger and better buildings (Granted these are the goals in a lot of churches too). So the answer in churches (to obtain these goals) is to produce outward conformity, better bus systems, long invitations, strict standards, and various behavior changes. You are right, schools are filled with unsaved and selfish but saved students, but so are churches. The answer is heavy doses of God’s Word and and firm knowledge of who God is. That is the answer for the church and schools. I am not suggesting the abolition of Christian Schools, just a redirection of focus from where many have wandered to.
    Thanks for your thoughts from Poland. Keep the comments coming, It helps me formulate what I am doing in the school here.

    September 7, 2006
  3. funlayers said:

    I don’t know that the ‘fundamental goal’ of training kids to live for God is flawed. It seems to me to be a really worthy goal. (To me it seems the problem might be ‘training’ kids who have no interest in spiritual things.) Along with that goal is the very practical problem of funding the school (so there’s a bigger enrollment push) and focusing too much on academics (but what parent wants their kid to come out of 12 year of very expensive education and be dumb?)
    Inside I feel this rebellion at the thought of the Christian School Movement being called a failure. Maybe there are a lot of negative things that happened along with the movement (just as in every major movement that’s ever happened, probably) but there’s got to be a lot of things done right too.

    September 8, 2006
  4. ruth said:

    I don’t think we can place blame on the selfishness of the kids enrolled or on their lack of interest in spiritual things or lack of desire to be in the Christian school–although those attitudes do exist and are admittedly a problem. If the Christian school “movement” is indeed dead, I don’t even think you can place blame on the movement itself. Any blame you place (at least the bulk of it) in my humble opinion must be planted firmly on parents. I believe it is the sole responsibility of the parents to educate their children in the broadest sense of the term. The parents (and I realize I am generalizeing, and there are certainly exceptions) have made some serious errors with regards to Christian education. IMO, these are their biggest mistakes. 1. They have presumed that placing their kids in the Christian school somehow shifts the responsibility of educating their children from them to the school. They feel absolved of responsibility and have taken a back seat. After all, they are putting out the money to put their kids in school–and they still have to pay state school taxes on top of it! They’ve done their part. BIG mistake. 2. They have misplaced goals for their kids. They want “good” kids, and they think the way to acheive this outcome is to insulate them (as you have mentioned in your post, Matt)in the Christian school. They think if their kids grow up to dress right and act right and smile pretty and sing in the choir that they as parents have done their job. BIG mistake.

    I know these parents. Some are neglectful and some are highly involved but their mistakes are common. Maybe I’m being to harsh. Maybe I don’t really know because I’m not a parent. But I firmly believe the faults of the “movement” are really the faults of the parents. Maybe the parents and the movement are one and the same.

    September 8, 2006
  5. Sarah,
    I know there is a problem with selfish kids (I deal with 38 of them every day), but that is the sinful nature of human beings. I think you are misunderstanding me. It seems that the goal of the “movement” was to train a Christian army, not necessarily to teach them to live for God. Therefore, the focus was put on the external not the internal. When you have an army they all look the same, talk the same, dress the same, fold their socks the same, etc. Living for God is a heart matter. My own experience reminds me that there was way too much emphasis put on the external appearance. Whereas the attitude of the students does play a major role, it is not the only reason the movement failed. BTW, when I say the movement is dead, I mean the nationwide push to have a Christian school in every church is dead not that every Christian School is dead or a failure, our school is growing. Sarah, you claim the movement is not dead or a failure, maybe you could explain why you have that view.

    Good points, I need to clarify, I do think it is good to insulate your children from sin and worldliness, but not to isolate them. There is sin and worldliness in a Christian School, but at least a parent would hope that the teacher is not an athiest and the curriculum is God-centered. A school can insulate (as we do our own homes) from the world, but the goal of isolation is flawed because it is impossible. Maybe you both have a point. The parents, the churches, and the students all share the fault.

    September 8, 2006
  6. ruth said:

    I think for the most part I agree with your point regarding insulation vs. isolation. Can you tell me what you know about the Christian School “movement”? When did it really begin? What were its major objectives? Do you think it has accomplished those objectives? Were those objectives worthy? Have those objectives changed today? Maybe I need to go back and re-read your orignial post on this issue for some of these answers (I will do that as soon as I submit this comment), but it seems to me that we need to define the movement more thoroughly before we decide whether it is dead or alive, effective or ineffective.

    Love you!

    September 14, 2006
  7. I guess our understanding of a movement is necessary to the discussion. One of the interesting things about a movement is that they are usually unannounced. I’m not aware of a nationwide organized movement that had open communication that together agreed to start Christian schools. Instead it came about by reaction. As the public school system became more and more disgusting, many God-fearing individuals began to develop a way to remove the secular world view from the education of their children and Christian schools became more available. There have always been Christian Schools. In fact, public schools was a relatively new phenomenon in Puritan societies. But out of a reaction of increased worldliness in the public schools, churches began starting their own schools in the early 70’s (my time may not be exact). I do not believe this was the problem. I believe that as these schools began to grow, many churches got “mega-schoolitis” and began compromising the grace of God. That is where my post comes in. Maybe I should say I have a major problem with where Christian schools progressed(?) to rather than there beginning. I am no expert all I really have to back up what I am saying is my experience and the experience of countless pastors and laypeople who recognize that there is a problem.
    In answer to your questions, I do think there is a growing sense of change in many Christian schools. I hope that our school is doing that. One fundamental danger of any ministry is that it can quickly become the only thing that a local church can or will do. I would appreciate comment on my history and will admit error where shown.

    September 14, 2006
  8. Mark said:

    Sorry to step into the family conversation here. I was reading your blog and thought you were onto something. I’m a teacher and very much committed to Christian education (I hope to be a principal soon), but I don’t think any of us are kidding ourselves into thinking that we’re putting out an army to conquer the world for Christ. I think I agree with Ruth that the majority of the failure is a failure in the home. Parents do expect the Christian school or the youth group to raise their kids. While this was happening though, the schools started to mistake numbers and externals for success instead of trying to help the parents meet their responsibility. Before I left NBBC, Dr. Bennett (the younger) gave us his philosophy of education and it starts with the parents. If they absolve themselves of that responsibility, then it will take an incredibly mature young person to overcome that. I don’t really think the school is going to be able to prepare a young person properly without the support of a good family and church involved. Maybe our problem is that we thought that we could.
    Great blog. I look forward to reading more.

    September 20, 2006
  9. Mark, Good to hear from you. Hope things are will with your family. I stopped by your blog and you and Chastity have two beautiful girls. I agree that the philosophy must start in the home. But how does that philosophy get there? Should churches be teaching about Christian education more. I agree that the failure is mostly with the parents; however, is there some responsibility that the church and school must share in trying to “educate” their children for them? Good thoughts, I would like to hear some more of your experiences with your school.

    September 21, 2006
  10. Mark said:

    I think the approach your church and school take regarding the family depends on your approach to enrollment. At the school I grew up in, more than half the kids in the school went to the church it was affiliated with. In that situation the church and the school could work together to develop a proper philosophy of parenting and the role of parenting in education. At the school I am in now, the enrollment is almost entirely from other churches (more than 80%). The enrollment is open enough that you just have to claim to attend a church (which many families don’t). So as a school we have very little opportunity to develop that philosophy, because we cannot team with the church to do it. I think churches should be teaching parents a Biblical philosophy of education and I think one of our big problems in education is that this has been left to the schools. But the schools very often have few inroads to effect the parents’ thinking. I’ve discussed this with my administrator before. Maybe having classes for parents or something. But our base is too broad and the churches may feel we are encroaching on their turf. I would be interested to hear how a school that is more closed in their enrollment practices handles this.

    September 29, 2006
  11. Mark, What do you think about an open enrollment policy? Obviously, in order to maintain Christian standards, you must have certain rules (dress code, use of language, morality). Personally, I think that schools can have several policies as long as they are honest and truly make the tough decisions. It is foolish to claim closed enrollment, then try to get people into the church so that you can say you are closed. It almost seems as if some schools use craftiness to get people into their church. Just an observation.

    September 30, 2006
  12. Mark said:

    I haven’t seen a church try that kind of craftiness. I think your enrollment policy flows out of your philosophy. Some schools view evangelism as one of their main purposes so they are completely open. I personally don’t like this approach. I think I would prefer a closed policy but I don’t think it would ever really work. We have a comparatively open policy, but don’t consider our purpose to be to evangelize. Students are supposed to make a profession of faith to get in, but we are not strict on this. And the principal doesn’t try very hard to witness to them in the interview for fear they would just pray a prayer to get into school. I’m sure we would have a lot of converts that way if we wanted. We get a few reform cases every so often. A kid who’s been kicked out of other schools. Usually we turn them away, but if they seem truly repentant, we’ll enroll them in a probationary status. Its worked well for us with a few problem students that we have had to expel.
    Like I said, I think a closed would be ideal, but impossible. An open is undesirable for academic purposes. A balance is difficult to maintain. Like you said, you have to be honest and make the tough decision. I don’t think the school’s purpose is evangelism, but discipleship.

    September 30, 2006
  13. ruth said:

    Mark, I tend to agree with you regarding a closed enrollment.

    A little rabbit trail thought for what it’s worth: I think regardless of the enrollment philosophy a school chooses, it’s really important for the administration not to be afraid of taking action against the behavior of problem students–to the point of removing the student from the school if necessary and to do this consistently. That may be a no-brainer, but it has been my experience that in some schools because enrollment is already low and consequently teacher’s salaries are already scraping the bottom of the payscale, administrators are afraid to kick kids out when it becomes necessary.

    October 3, 2006
  14. Sherri said:

    Great blog Matt! I have so enjoyed reading as this subject is of great interest to me as well. I have a post on my blog that expresses some of my thoughts on the subject, and I had a friend that puts her 4 children in the public school comment on it. I wondered if it would be okay for me to link her to your page? Your posts are very thorough and well thought out and the input from others makes it just superb. Thanks for taking the time to post all that you know about this.

    October 5, 2006
  15. Sherri,
    Go ahead and link away (I can always use more traffic).

    Maybe you are right about the “craftiness.” That was probably too strong. I do think that whenever money or numbers get out of place, compromise is inevitable. Discipleship is only possible with evangelism. I think we do a diservice to the cause of Christ when we separate the two (in churches or schools). What is the purpose of the church? I believe the ministries of the church ought to have the same goals. I try to view our school as just another ministry of the church. No more important than youth and children’s ministries, no less important than them as well. I can live with a school, and I can live without a school. I would appreciate your comments on these topics since I am as green as they come in school administration.

    October 5, 2006
  16. ruth said:

    Matt, I like your statement: “Discipleship is only possible with evangelism.” Good point.

    October 6, 2006
  17. melisa said:

    I think the school movement was started to give parents another option beside the public school. I think that we have seen a decline in school enrollment because we have seen a decline in families putting God and Church first in their lives. Some parents may think, “why pay for our children to go to a Christian School when we are really not intrested in going to church or putting the work into having a relationship with God.”

    October 10, 2006
  18. martin said:

    the biggest problem I see in my kids christian school is “rules without relationships”. The teachers and adm are so into enforcing the rules that the kids seem like a number to them. That is: This kid follows the rules and this kid does not. Each student is being deprived spiritually from the school. another problem is that some pastors view the christian school as an extended sunday school program. IT IS NOT!!! Real professionals should be in charge and not converted pastors.

    May 28, 2009

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