Whom does the Christian school serve? 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. Every aspect of life is worship. In Christian education we seek first to bring glory and honor to his name.
At the same time, there is a second level answer to the question. We believe that God has entrusted the care of his children to parents. 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 three-legged stool. The three legs 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. The stool analogy suggests equal importance. Training a child is a combined effort. Each leg must be strong and of equal length or the chair is at risk of failing.
Some claim that the three-legged stool is an outdated analogy. It was created 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 Some point to these changes and conclude that the analogy is no longer applicable. Perhaps that is true. Perhaps it is not true, and instead it is a call to biblical renewal.
Another change in the culture of the Christian school is the 21st century parent. In a recent presentation, Gene Frost, head of school at Wheaton Academy, pointed to a significant change that has occurred in the mindset of the Christian school parent. He says that pre-80s parents could be described as loyalty customers. He contrasts those parents with the post-80s parent, which he called the value customer.
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.
The three-legged stool analogy is applicable to schools with loyalty customers. It is as relevant today as it was in the past for schools built on the foundation of the home-church-school partnership.
The three-legged stool is less applicable as a defining principle for schools whose parents are value customers. Schools that do not understand the new reality seem to flounder in frustration. To paraphrase Frost, 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.
Our Christian schools have both loyalty and value customers. Recognize both. Celebrate both. Understand the needs of both.
Both enrich our schools. Both lead us to better service to our God.
– Jeff Blamer, Vice President of Member Services