Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Death Of A Christian School

The news article reported; a Christian School operated by a Baptist Church in Southern California was closing its doors after 36 years.

The school was a ministry of the church and therefore under the authority of the church leadership.  The church’s pastoral staff made the difficult decision to close the school.  According to the leadership, enrollment had steadily declined for several years.  Their current enrollment was about 120 students fewer that it was about 5 years earlier.  No doubt the current national and local economic and jobless conditions played a major part in their decision.  These are extremely tough times for many businesses and Christian ministries are not exempt from hardships.  Tuition is very expensive and, when times are tough, people must make sacrifices or find other options to survive. 

According to the church spokesman, the Christian school ministry had not been financially viable for at least seven years, as the cost of operations had adversely impacted the church’s budget by several hundred thousand dollars.  In spite of austere and cost-cutting measures in the past, they simply could not outlast the recessive economy.

And that, my friends, is the objective, unspun story as it can best be known from direct, verifiable sources even though some of those sources no longer exist in print because the news report was substantially changed overnight.

Once the decision to close became public, news of the school’s problems began spreading like wildfire, as current and former students began posting comments on Facebook.  Within hours an organizational structure began to form, from parents, students, and the community, to garner support to save the school.

Of course, that is heartbreaking and tragic news to the students, parents, and teachers.  And I understand the personal, emotional reactions; the prayer meetings, the tears, and expressions of frustration that manifest themselves in a myriad of ways.  I get it; you have my sympathy.  However, the obvious manipulative slant from the press (evidenced by its own printed revisions) and the strings of misguided and ignorant comments on the internet are troubling for the church. 

So, as a former church and Christian school business administrator, a parent of two Christian school students and the grandfather of Christian school students, a former member of a Christian school board, the husband and father of Christian school teachers, and a supporter of Christian school education for over 35 years, I want to proffer a few random observations from a Christian church’s biblio-centric ministry perspective.

·        The Church is not an organization of human origin.  It is an organism comprised of the regenerated (born-again) believers that form the Body of Christ in this world.  The local Christian church is an assembly of member believers formally joined together for specific and limited ministry purposes that are mandated by God in Scripture.  Those purposes are to preach and teach the Word of God, to care for the members, to build them up in the faith, and to prepare them for the work of spreading the Gospel throughout the world.   As such, the church must be free from any external pressures or alliances that may compromise its mission.  This principle understanding of the nature and purpose of the church is foundational to every other comment that follows.

·        The local church is free to develop a framework of programs that it deems expedient to accomplish its  biblically mandated purposes.  A Christian school can be, and sometimes is, one of those structures only insofar as it is and remains effective to teach the Truth of God’s Word, present all truth in all subjects from a God-centered and biblically sound worldview, and ensure that every student hears the good news of the Gospel and is instructed in righteousness. 

·        One commenter suggested that the church’s priorities are misplaced because it allocates resources to ministries other than the school.  Another questioned how the church could claim to be in financial stress and then send the pastor on a mission trip to Africa.  But a church has multi-faceted ministries just as a body has multiple functions and all of those ministries must be evaluated from time to time for effectiveness and then, either eliminated or supported.   The church’s mission is never to be determined or prioritized by outsiders (non-members), the local community or the “marketplace.”  When an outside group attempts to usurp the control or direction of a ministry, that church is in trouble. 

·        One very harsh comment was critical of the pastor for his teaching and preaching about honoring commitments and yet, letting everybody down by dishonoring the commitments made to teachers and students.  That was immature, uninformed, and irrelevant.  Most Christian schools operate on a year-to-year basis.  Teacher contracts are renewed each year and, unlike government schools, most of them understand that there is no tenure and no guarantee of future employment.  But then, most Christian teachers trust God, and not the State (or the church), to supply their needs.  At least they should.  And most of them are very emphatically certain, at the time of hire, about how God “called them to this ministry” so it would seem reasonable to trust that He is now “calling them elsewhere.”  As for the students, tuition is paid and enrollment is established on an annual basis.  It is a "fee for service"agreement and if you get all the class instruction for which you paid, and a report card documenting your earned grades, the church’s commitment has been honored.  They owe you nothing else.  Sorry!

·        The church should fire their attorney.  According to the press report, Jimmy Mettias, the school’s attorney, in direct contradiction to the church’s leadership, said (the school) is “financially self sustaining and sufficient” and the move by the church may lead to litigation.  He also said, “The way the church handled this situation was shameful.  You don’t let people go like that.  It’s a haphazard way of doing things.”  He has planned meetings with parents, teachers and staff in order to discuss the possibility of relocating the school, independent from the church.  He has recklessly created doubt and concern regarding the well-being of the children by stating, “The school is being run by eight teachers, which is a very serious safety concern for parents,” and saying, “They are exposing themselves to significant liability.”  At best, it sounds like his interest in his client is conflicted.  In my opinion, it certainly seems unethical.

·        Finally, because of creeping liberalism, outside influences, and market pressures, most Christian ministries naturally decline. I don’t need to expound on this point here; I have written extensively on this subject in another post.  But as an example, let me point your attention to an organization with which everyone is familiar (or maybe not).  The Young Men’s Christian Association.  No doubt about it; it was a social ministry started by serious, well-meaning, committed Christians for the purpose of reaching boys with the good news of the Gospel.  Years ago they changed (shortened) their name to their initials, YMCA.  Today it is mostly known as the “Y.”  The “Christian” part of the ministry has been successfully obscured or totally lost but the social aspect is still in existence.  Sadly, that downward trend threatens every aspect of Christian church ministry, whether schools, music, missions, youth, or anything else.  And so churches must evaluate them from time to time.  When a church’s “programs” lose sight of their original biblical mandated purposes, the church should turn them back or turn off the lights. 

(The original internet news source for this post has been removed)

originally posted 3/8/12

No comments: