The 30-second ad showed a dad washing his car while his young son imitated him: soaping when the dad soaped, spraying when the dad sprayed, drying when the dad dried. Then dad sat down and leaned again a tire; so did the son. The dad pulled out a cigarette and lit it; the son took one and put it in his mouth. End of ad.
I recall this ad every time I think about the gap (sometime a chasm) between my preaching and practice in a Christian high school. Sponsored by the Mormon Church, the ad depicted how imitation is a powerful tool for learning, both for good and for ill. These days we use the term “follower” as a negative, e.g., “He’s just a follower,” like a student who follows the leader of a social group into trouble. Ralph Waldo Emerson, an America writer who celebrated “self,” said, “Imitation is suicide.” Likewise, Samuel Johnson claimed, “No man was ever great by imitation.” In education, imitation is in a recession; what’s taken its place is innovation, originality, and creativity. For the proponents, imitation is lazy, restricting, and deadening.
The comparison of a retailer and an educational institution may seem a bit strange. However, they have a lot in common, and there are some clear corollaries that can be instructive when considering the challenges and changes facing both sectors.
A quiz for leaders: multiple choice. Which one of these comparisons best captures your view of all children? A child is
- An empty bucket that needs to be filled with the water of knowledge.
- A cocoon wrapped in layers of blankets from which will emerge a butterfly.
- A diamond in the rough, flawed by sin and polished by grace and God’s hand to shine.
- A sheep that needs fences and shepherds to live well.
- A bulb that will become a beautiful flower if not stifled by “correction.”
“Some of the above” may be an option. However, almost all Christian schools, primarily through their leaders, develop programs (curricula) that emphasize one of these models more than others. In my experience (reading, watching, listening), most schools tend toward one of the following three notions about children.
You are likely familiar with the story of two bricklayers working on a large building. When each was asked what he was doing, one replied, “Just laying bricks.” The other said, “I am building a cathedral!” For leaders in Christian education, much of our work seems a lot like the first bricklayer’s. We may tend to focus on the means to the end, not the end itself.
It’s a matter of perspective, at least in part. Let me argue, however, that cathedral building is not simply a matter of how we perceive our work or its purpose. Often it is a matter of doing the proactive and intentional hard work of focusing on the end result, on our mission, on our reason for being.
I hope your start of the year has been good. Mine has been super busy. Why is it that, no matter how much I prepare for that busyness, I am always surprised by it? All that said, there is something that speaks deeply to vocational fulfillment when I fall into bed exhausted by a day well spent in what I believe is kingdom work, submitting it all to God and trusting him to bless it through me, and at times, in spite of me. I hope you feel passion and fulfillment in the leadership work you do for the King.
For the past year, I’ve been using this blog to share thoughts on the intersection of power and Christian school leadership. I’m hoping you’ve drawn something from those thoughts to reflect on and, in your own way, allowed it to shape your practice and beliefs. We’ve spent some time looking at factors at play in the arena of power (remember gender, charisma, theology?). I’d like to shift gears a little to deepen our understanding of how this plays out in our schools.
One of the schools leading the effort to make biblical worldview integration a flourishing practice among students and faculty is San Jose (California) Christian School. SJCS Throughlines “help students develop a clear picture of what it means to be an authentic Christian learner in all aspects of their lives. Arranged under three separate headings, they are qualities we desire students to develop, and….provide meaning and intentionality to the entire curriculum” (SJCS curriculum document).
In both Genesis and Galatians (and many others biblical texts), our calling as humans is emphasized as one of being a blessing to the nations: of reflecting back to creation the image of God and joining with him in redeeming this world to its original state of “very goodness.” This is the common vocational calling of all believers. Let me reiterate, there is no higher calling for the Christian school than to raise up students to be effective in our common vocational calling.
It’s summer. Last year’s books are put away and the halls are quiet. What better time to reflect on the past school year and contemplate the future by doing a quick check-up on our readiness to fulfill our calling?
Over the course of this year we have been looking at the idea of power and leadership, and we’ve done so through the lens of critical theory. That means we have tried to expose behaviors, practices, and norms—be they implicit or explicit—that limit us from fully flourishing as followers of Jesus. We have addressed gender, theology, culture, and status, and have yet to engage charisma and intelligence. I invite you to stay with me on this journey, as the most exciting part is yet to come: the post-exposure part where we explore what we do moving forward to ensure our enacting of power is more aligned with the Kingdom.
My last post talked about developing strategic alignment within your organization. The first step in accomplishing this is to develop a clear, agreed-upon vision and strategy. The essential task of any leader is to discuss and determine with your boards and with your staff what the “main thing” is for your school.
I often find that there is some confusion between mission and vision. For the purpose of this series of articles, vision is aspirational. It should be a short statement describing the clear and inspirational long-term desired change resulting from an organization’s or program’s work.
If in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3), then is it true that Christ can be revealed through those same treasures of wisdom and knowledge?
Of course! Do we not as Christian educators deal daily with those same treasures, whether in kindergarten or AP calculus? So how are we doing when it comes to revealing Christ within these treasures? It is obviously true that teachers will reveal Christ to those we teach only if we ourselves are looking for him.
But how? Here I am suggesting two ways among many.