I see quite well, actually. From a distance, that is. Computer screens, books, the print on my pill bottles? Not so well. I use reading glasses, cheap ones, with multiple pairs at every landing point of my day. I have an eyeball distortion, called presbyopia, a Greek word meaning “old eye.” (Presbyterian means “rule by elders.”) For most people, this aging of the lens begins in one’s 40s. Reading glasses correct the problem, with higher magnification necessary as one ages.
In school leadership, boards and administrators often have vision diseases that prevent them from seeing God and the world rightly. When administrators wear the correctives lenses of the Bible, they can lead teachers to supply these glasses for students and help them overcome a major vision defect: myopia. This myopia, left uncorrected, blinds people from seeing God’s vision for his people. When school leaders themselves have this disease, they can lead followers on a path that may look satisfying but is loaded with potholes and ditches of quicksand.
Myopia is suitably named: “my-seeing.” It’s navel-gazing. It’s “What’s in it for me?” Already back in the 1990s, a US senator said that many kids’ values were not rooted in “commitment and community service but in the shallow ground of immediate gratification.” A Canadian Christian sociologist at that time said that older teenagers think, “First take care of self. Goals are clearly self-directed.” In our current culture, we even shop for churches that give us what we want. Sometimes even our prayers slowly turn the psalm line “Bless the Lord, O my soul” to “Bless my soul, O my Lord.”
In Christian schools, teachers can sometimes have myopia: “My classroom is my castle. I will teach what I think important.” Working with others is too time-consuming. Some leaders are myopic enough to think they have nothing to learn from others, including the board or leaders in other schools. Occasionally boards themselves look inward only, ignoring students’ parents and better practices in other schools, and judging their own school only through the eyes of their own children. Self-serving, self-satisfying, self-sufficient—some or all apply. Myopia can lead to inaction and PLOM (poor little ole me) or to lone ranger leadership. Peter Kreeft said it this way: “The national anthem of hell is Sinatra’s ‘I Did It My Way.’”
Look Up. Christian school leaders need Bible glasses containing three lenses to cure vision myopia. These glasses, first of all, help leaders to look up to see beyond themselves. The psalmist says we see light in God’s light (Psalm 36:9). The writer of Hebrews personally commits to Christ, “I lift up my eyes to you, the author and perfector of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Kreeft, again, calls navel-gazing leaders to get a “faith lift.” Wearing the glasses of God’s Word helps leaders, as a principal has written, “to articulate the vision [of the school] and bring people together toward achieving the vision.”
Look Out. Bible glasses also help leaders, teachers, students, and parents to look beyond the moment, beyond the local community, and beyond natural self-interest. It’s helping students to look back in time. One writer claims education is fundamentally “connecting all of history to a student’s personal history.” As a leader, it is helping children see what happened before the history of Israel—where nations were and are—and math formulae as old as Euclid. It is remembering: the Bible’s songs almost always start with remembering God’s work in history. In Christian schools, the more teachers help students “look out there,” the less their myopia. “I” shrinks and “we” grows. Renae, a former student two decades ago, caught the benefit of volunteering in a hospital: “It’s been two years because I enjoyed helping out. The reward you get is so great for the little time you give.”
Look Forward. The Bible has numerous example of people, all flawed, that God called to lead. He painted a picture for them of the future, the Promised Land, a real place “flowing with milk and honey.” Today he calls Christian school leaders to look through the third lens of the future. Peering intently through that lens is often scary, maybe because that lens has the mud of the murky present on it: the school budget is strained, some parents are myopic, teachers bellyache over the copier stalling. Moses received direction from God about the future on the mountain top, and returned to followers finding satisfaction in a shiny calf.
The best Christian school leaders wear Bible trifocals to help teachers, students, and parents read the times and the certain future. They (old and young) dream visions, make them clear to followers, and trust God to use even warped instruments to have his kingdom come.
– Dan Vander Ark