Over the past year, much of which was spent in COVID lockdown, I have had many opportunities to reflect on the Christian life. My conclusion has been that too often, due to a whole number of reasons, I underplay the new life that we are to have in Christ. Repeatedly in the Scriptures, the people of God are called to conform to a different way of life than those around them. They are to follow God’s ways, for he is holy (Lev. 19:2). The people of God are also not to conform to the practices of the nations of the world. As Jesus taught, Christians are to love God and neighbor (Luke 10:27), to be Kingdom different! In the Epistles, this is described as new life, a life that is centered on the gospel. In my own life, I want to say, with the apostle Paul, I have been crucified with Christ; I have given up the old life I lived before I came to faith (Gal. 2:20). Yet repeatedly, I succumb to another story, the predominant cultural story. I am, thus, acutely aware that confessing that Jesus is Lord does not necessarily mean my everyday actions will be consistent with a Christian worldview.
Visit a Christian school website or read a Christian school prospectus and you will probably find suggestions of a distinctively Christian education. While language may vary, it is commonplace for Christian schools to promote themselves as “biblically grounded” or “Christ-centered” supportive communities seeking to foster the giftedness of each child. They may also suggest they teach Christianly, meaning their pedagogy is informed by a Christian worldview. Teachers teach from a Christian/biblical perspective, often with a goal that students will learn to think critically from a Christian/biblical perspective. Ultimately, Christian schools are places of formation. They seek to form a certain type of person, to encourage students to live the Christian life, to be disciples of Christ that love God and neighbor. As a Christian, I am persuaded by this vision for Christian schooling. I am also cognizant that Christian schooling occurs in the midst of a broader cultural story.
A Task of Leaders
Leaders have multifaceted roles. In Christian schools, this includes understanding the particular approach to the faith of their school. Leaders need to be able to articulate the story and vision of the school and have the ability to foster practice that is consistent with this vision across school life, including educational practice. So how—through what they say, the decisions they make, and the conditions they create—can Christian school leaders foster cultures that support education consistent with the Christian beliefs of their communities?
Before offering an answer, I present a caveat: Christianity is not about competence. It is not about a set or series of practices or rules that, if intentionally followed, will lead to success. It is also not contingent on a heroic charismatic Christian school leader. The message of the gospel concerns God’s love and grace, and it is centered on the crucified and resurrected Christ. It includes a call to follow and the indwelling, in believers, of the Holy Spirit. Thus, in a discussion on fostering cultures that support Christian schooling, what matters more than anything else is submission to Christ and the gospel. It is central, and it is central to all: the leadership, the staff, and the community.
To begin, as noted above, Christian school leaders need to understand the story of the school and be able to articulate its vision: the “why” underpinning the particular approach adopted. Furthermore, leaders within Christian schools must work to build and evoke shared understanding of this vision. This is not a simple task.
Chris Prior works as the principal of the National Institute for Christian Education (Australia). He lectures in worldview, school culture, and school leadership. Previously, Chris held the position of principal at Bayside Christian School near Melbourne.