Why Should We Engage?
The mission statement of Surrey Christian School is “Educating for wholeness by engaging God’s world in the servant way of Jesus.” Central to the statement is the idea of engagement, that we are called to be actively seeking the good of God’s world. Note that it is not simply the world, but it is God’s world, and this orientation helps sharpen our focus on engagement as an element of faithfulness. This call to work for the common good in God’s world has its deep roots in our Reformed heritage as a Christian school, specifically in the belief that we are meant to be image-bearers of God who actively seek to bring God’s redeeming love to “every square inch” of the domain of human existence. And our posture in this engagement is “the servant way of Jesus.” Biblical scholar Michael Gorman writes extensively on the idea of self-sacrificial love in his book Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality. Gorman reminds us that we are people of the cross; therefore, our posture of engagement should be cruciform. He explains that as followers of Jesus we are people of the cross, people who walk in the world with a posture of self-sacrificial love for their neighbor. Surrey Christian School believes engagement in the servant way of Jesus has the potential to form students into followers of Jesus who love their neighbors well and who are a people of shalom, or wholeness.
[A]s followers of Jesus we are people of the cross, people who walk in the world with a posture of self-sacrificial love for their neighbor.
What If We Don’t Engage?
In our current Western cultural context, it is no secret that there is significant division, politically and theologically. In this context, it is tempting to retreat into our own silos, to strengthen our sense of community by narrowing it to those who think like us and maybe even talk and look like us. It feels safer and is easier, even cozier. However, this retreat can easily lead to a kind of tribalism that is counter to the gospel. In the book of Jeremiah, when all the leaders and elites have been captured out of Jerusalem and shipped off to Babylon, Jeremiah (who was still in cozy Jerusalem) had a prophetic word for those living in exile. God calls to them: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf” (Jer. 29:7 ESV). In the midst of being under siege and captured, God calls the people of Israel not to fight or retreat but to engage for the common good rather than just their own good. This orientation to our world is echoed in 1 Peter, written to a community of people who were powerless and socially ostracized. Peter calls them not to withdraw but to stand up to the Roman Empire as the face of God in the face of Christ. They were to be known as benefactors in their community; they were to “do good” (1 Pet. 2:14–15), which Biblical scholar Scot McNight cites as the technical language of civic benefaction. This means they were to seek the good of the city, help drive down grain prices for the poor, build theatres, and refurbish civic buildings. McKnight states, “The fellowship of the Christians created a community wherein true justice was worked out, wherein healthy, loving relationships were the norm, and wherein response to society was one of benefaction and compassion” (122). It seems clear from Scripture that disengagement and withdrawal are simply not options for us.
[R]etreat can easily lead to a kind of tribalism that is counter to the gospel.
So, while we are intended to be communities of atonement, the fruit of that atonement is to bear out in the broader communities around us. This requires our engagement. It does not mean things will be easy or simple, but they may become rich and beautiful. As Eugene Peterson puts it, “The aim of the person of faith is not to be as comfortable as possible but live as deeply and thoroughly as possible—to deal with the reality of life, discover truth, create beauty, act out love” (152). Inevitably, this will enlarge our world, and a large world needs a large God, for the larger our world, the less we can exert control over it and the more we need the master of the universe to be just that. Thanks be to God for his greatness! Let us then avoid the temptation of shaping God into a local, tribal deity, thus reducing his power over us and our communities. Instead, may we trust in his sovereignty over all of life and out of that trust engage others well with the belief that God is at work in their lives and in the life of his world.
How, Then, Should We Engage?
Surrey Christian School (SCS) has had its mission statement for over twelve years now and has spent those twelve years seeking to embody the mission in its day-to-day practices. There have been some successes as well as some missteps along the way. The following are just a few examples of how SCS has worked to engage God’s world in the servant way of Jesus. A cultural norm we have tried to inculcate is to be a people of “try.” This means there is collegial and leadership support to take risks and venture out with students to engage.
Surrey Christian School has chosen to be friends with the Kwantlen people, to listen to their truth and to work toward redeeming the name of Jesus by being good neighbors and friends
- Surrey Christian School (all four of its campuses) exists on the unceded territories of the Kwantlen First Peoples. These people are our living history and have stewarded this beautiful land for tens of thousands of years before we arrived. They suffered greatly under colonization, and sadly, much of that suffering was in the name of Christ and the church. Surrey Christian School has chosen to be friends with the Kwantlen people, to listen to their truth and to work toward redeeming the name of Jesus by being good neighbors and friends (this is the work of reconciliation). We started along this journey by employing Kwantlen artist Brandon Gabriel for a couple of months as an artist in residence at our campuses. We have now developed a strong friendship with Kwantlen storyteller Joseph Dandurand, who spends time on our campus on a regular basis. We are learning to more fully see the Kwantlen people as fellow image-bearers with whom we have much in common and from whom we have much to learn. These are the people in our particular context, the neighbors God has gifted to us. They too are on a journey as they move in our direction with offers of friendship and the willingness to engage our students.
- The city of Surrey is the fastest-growing and geographically largest city in Canada, and it is one of the most ethnically diverse. Surrey Christian School is no longer dominated by immigrants from Western Europe. We are increasingly populated by recent immigrants from Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe, and that is reflected in our student population where 52 percent of parents speak English as a second language. Our staff and board are slowly reflecting the reality of the ethnic diversity. Here’s the hard part: we have not stewarded this gift well in the past. We had good intentions but no intentionality.
Dave Loewen is the executive director of the Society of Christian Schools in British Columbia. Prior to that he served as the superintendent of Surrey Christian School, comprised of three Christian schools and three early learning centers in British Columbia. He has served as a teacher and principal at both the elementary and secondary levels. Dave’s PhD focused on organizational theory and leadership studies with research interests in communicative ethics. He is an adjunct faculty member of Trinity Western University’s Master of Arts in Leadership program and is currently studying theology at Regent College in order to better inform his leadership. Dave is married to Sharlene and has three children, aged 24, 20, and 5 (yup!). He manages a growing suburban farm operation in his backyard, currently with three spoiled chickens and one lovely puppy dog.
Gorman, Michael. Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality. Eerdmans, 2001.
McKnight, Scot. A Community Called Atonement. Abingdon, 2007.
Peterson, Eugene. Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best. IVP, 1983.
Smith, James K. A. Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology. 2017.
———. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation. Baker, 2009.
———. Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works. Baker, 2013.