Becoming More Christian in Christian Schools

Shaun Brooker | June 28, 2021

Christian education can be an incredibly transformative force. It can take a life in its infancy—as the life is establishing its understanding, expectation, and perspective of the world—and bring hope, in a world that is increasingly seeming hopeless. It can help a young person understand that success is not about who dies with the most toys, rather it is about how many others one person can help—not just here on earth, but for eternity. It can help a young person understand that they are not the center of the universe; rather, fulfillment comes when we learn to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind, and learn to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Spiritual Practice Christian Schools

While there is much to celebrate about how Christian schools develop Christian thinking in our students, we also need to be aware that Christian schools can contribute to students’ developing bad Christian habits—or practices and mindsets that are less like the ones Jesus taught, and more like the religious behaviors the Pharisees would be proud of.

For example, many Christian educators likely have a shared vision for spiritual formation when it comes to prayer (as an ongoing conversation with their Creator), learning Scripture (as students’ “hiding His Word” in their hearts so they might not sin against God), and loving one’s neighbor (having “next level” empathy and being outward looking, to not only “love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul and strength” but to also authentically “love their neighbor as themselves”). But without intentionality, these visions that we have for our students in Christian education can become religious activities—things that students do because they “have to” do them, versus because they truly desire to do them.

Examining Our Schools—and Ourselves

We are encouraged in Scripture to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5). Take a moment to consider the following spiritual formation practices that will be visible in most Christian schools. In your school, does what you “do” really lead to the objectives that you intend?

Scripture Memorization: Does Scripture memorization look more like students hiding God’s Word in their hearts, or is it just another homework assignment—where students memorize 40 random verses throughout the year, are tested on the verses each Friday, and the verses have no “life” at all in the classroom? If the latter, then Scripture memorization becomes a compliance activity. Instead, verses should not just be given as homework, but also serve as a living part of the classroom for the week—and intentionally revisited over the year so that the verses become “sticky.”

Biblical Literacy: The key objectives of a Bible program should be the development of a lifelong love of the scriptures and conviction that the Bible is authentic and relevant to our students’ lives. But if Bible classes center on learning tools of interpretation, with the preferred delivery being preaching or an exegesis of the scriptures—and worst of all, a place where the students’ questions are pushed aside to make sure the teacher gets through a preset curriculum—we will end up turning students off to God’s Word. Yes, students need the tools to understand and unpack the scriptures, but these tools are only relevant if the students want to engage with His Word after they leave school.

Prayer: I don’t know of a teacher in a Christian school who does not want their students to learn that prayer is an integral part of everyday life. Prayer is full of power, promise, and potential. It is a direct line that we have with our Creator and there is not a prayer too big or too small that is not important to Him. But how is prayer modeled in our schools? Do we just pray at the beginning of the day, before lunch, and at the end of the day? If so, students are persuaded that prayer is something that happens certain times of the day, usually following a specific pattern, rather than a direct line of communication that Scripture tells us to utilize constantly (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We need to model the prayer life that we want students to develop.

Worship Through Song: Most Christian schools include worship through song in their assembly of meeting times. There is something incredibly powerful about being in a room full of young people truly worshipping our Savior. However, done poorly, it is worrisome. You can see in it the way students slouch or the way the song lyrics go in their eyes and out their mouths without touching anything on the way through. In every Christian school, there are young Christians and usually even non-Christians who are on a journey. Again, modeling by teachers, leaders, and staff is key to helping them on that journey. When the powerful words that are in most Christian songs are sung (think meditated on) with reverence, it sends a message about the importance of that message to everyone.

Relationships: Teacher and student relationships in Christian schools absolutely must be different than at the school down the road. Grounded in our call for transforming young people, at the heart of Christian education is a Christ-centered educator who desires that students will be equipped for their future. The educational and discipleship process is built on strong relationship and must be defined by one word: love. Though it is a high calling, there is no room in Christian education for teachers who do not have a genuine love for each student in their care.

Discipleship (and Discipline): Flowing out of the importance of discipling relationships between teachers and students, Christian schools should be places of discipleship, not punishment. Yes, there is a need for consequences, but at the heart of the discipline process should be an absolute commitment to each student’s growth. At the heart of the discipline process is a balance of acting justly and loving mercy, which with God’s help will lead to the student walking humbly with our God. This is difficult, as obviously we cannot promote lawlessness in our Christian schools; however, each school and educator must maintain a balance of law and grace. Consider “backward design” related to this issue; ask yourself, what would it take for a graduate of your Christian school to comment, “I was shown what grace was at my school”? As educators, we certainly know how to teach about grace—but in keeping with the emphasis of this essay, what’s important is not just what we tell our students, but rather what we do.

Asking the Central Question

There are many aspects of our Christian schools which are intended for good. However, if unexamined, and if done without intentionality, these aspects can actually have the opposite effect—they can turn our students away from Christ. The overriding question to prevent this is straightforward: Is the way your students experience the “Christian things” you do aligned with the purpose for which you do them? And in answering this question, we need to consider what students learn about the principles of Scripture through our actions, not just our words.

Ultimately, we pray that as students graduate from our schools, they will know without a doubt that each of the above spiritual practices are important to the Christian walk. And, that they did not just learn about their importance through our teaching, but rather that they experienced it through intentional opportunities for spiritual formation and through modeling by their teachers. It’s not an easy calling, but it is a hugely satisfying one.


ACSI Announces New Board Chair

Jul 26, 2021, 09:25 AM by Caitlyn Berman

Colorado Springs, Colo. – The Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) is pleased to announce Dr. Jay Ferguson as the new board chair. Ferguson will assume the position July 26, 2021, and will serve a two-year term.

In his role, Ferguson will ensure the organization is effective in implementing its new strategic plan, using the Three Strategic Pillars of Advancing, Access and Advocacy to guide all decisions.

Ferguson is head of school at Grace Community School in Tyler, Texas, where he has served for nearly 20 years—six of those years spent serving on the ACSI Board. He shared that his favorite aspects of serving on the board include the opportunity to be a change agent for the organization and the opportunity to build relationships with other Christian school leaders.

“As a current head of school, I know the importance of an organization coming alongside and helping Christian schools and their leaders develop and flourish,” Ferguson said. “ACSI is critically important to the growth of Christian education around the world.”

Former ACSI Board Chair Robert “Bo” Gutzwiller has served for two years. He believes Ferguson possesses the ideal skillset and experience for the position.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time as ACSI Board Chair and have no doubt that Dr. Ferguson will bring a high level of discernment and expertise to the role,” he said. “I’m thrilled to see ACSI continue in a very strategic direction.”

Ferguson recognizes the magnitude of the Christian education movement internationally.

“As one of the largest global Christian school organizations, ACSI has the potential to impact millions of children and thousands of schools for God’s Kingdom,” he said. “I look forward to working with the leadership team to ensure a viable and healthy ACSI— one that thrives in achieving its mission.”

ACSI President Dr. Larry Taylor expressed his gratitude to Gutzwiller for his years of dedicated service.

“God is doing an amazing work,” he shared. “I have been honored to serve alongside Bo Gutzwiller for two years and am grateful for his commitment to Christian education. I believe he is passing this baton of leadership to the very capable hands of Dr. Jay Ferguson.”

Ferguson has served at Grace Community School in a variety of capacities including development director and head of school. He holds a doctorate of Philosophy in Leadership Studies from Dallas Baptist University, and practiced as a lawyer before his time at Grace.

Passionate about Christian education, Ferguson looks forward to assuming his new responsibilities.

“What I love most about ACSI is not just what it’s doing domestically but what it’s doing internationally,” he expressed. “It’s an honor and a privilege to serve this outstanding organization, and I’m excited about the direction it’s heading.”

To learn more about ACSI, please visit the website at ACSI.org or connect with the ACSI Care Team by calling (800)367-0798 or at careteam@acsi.org.

To learn more about Dr. Jay Ferguson, visit Grace Community School’s website.