Students in Christian Schools: Transformation or Indoctrination?
I have attended or taught in private Christian schools for well over two decades. I presently teach in a Christian School in Columbus, Georgia. My experience teaching in Christian education has been overwhelmingly positive. I walked away from public education twelve years ago and dedicated myself to educational ministry.
A common complaint I hear from non-Christian public school students as well as Christian school students is that there isn't a thimble full of behavioral difference between the two. If this is true it is tragic, if it is not true then it is a perception that must be addressed. This leads us to a most relevant question: Are students who attend Christian schools being transformed by the redeeming truth of Christianity or are they simply being spoon-fed a well-learned jargon that brings no transformation but rather produces a generation that exhibits a "form of godliness but denies its power." (2 Tim. 3:5)
Students who have been spoon-fed a Christian worldview but have not been taught or permitted to ask the hard questions are often swept away when they get to college and experience an environment that is decidedly atheistic but one that encourages enquiry and contrary opinions. They often mistake the falsity taught in an open and challenging atmosphere as truth and conversely question the truth they learned in an atmosphere that discouraged consideration of the 'hard questions'.
What is the mission of a Christian school? Is it to evangelize those who are lost? Is it to disciple whose who have accepted Christ? Is it simply to offer an alternative form of education and provide an escape hatch for those who are caught up in a culture saturated with promiscuous sex and illegal drug activity? I think most Christian schools have elements of all of the above in their declared mission.
A statistic was released some time ago that rocked the Christian world. 80% of youth stop attending church after they graduate from high school. Many reasons have been given: They had planned to leave even before graduation. They were sidetracked by atheistic professors touting PhD’s behind their names. They were unprepared for the sudden flood of anti-Christian culture that simply swept them away.
After decades of involvement in Christian education, I have observed this phenomenon in Christian schools as well though perhaps not quite so prevalent. I believe the real reason students leave the faith may well be that they never were in the faith to begin with. Christian school students often spend an entire twelve years learning the jargon of Christianity. They know what words to use and exactly when to insert just the right phrases to convince their elders that they are, indeed, followers.
After years of teaching, mentoring and observing young students in Christian schools, I have concluded that those many who leave the faith had never really enlisted. Jesus gave a clear calling to his disciples to follow him. Only a few became true followers. Some began to follow but were overwhelmed by the sacrifices they were asked to make. Others turned back because they missed the comforts offered by their families and culture.
The call to “Follow me” is exclusive. Christ wants us to follow him and no other. A bird can’t fly north and south at the same time. A bulldozer can either push or pull but it can’t do both simultaneously anymore than a person can follow Christ while simultaneously following a sinful, secular culture. Most of those who ‘leave’ the faith were not saved in the first place. They did not read their Bible regularly. They blended in with their non-Christian friends rather than be distinguished from them. They dated unbelievers and they rationalized a participation in sex and experimentation with drugs and alcohol. They gave mental assent to the Christian worldview they were being taught but they never gave their heart to it.
Christian educators must strike a balance between simply being an educator and being a spiritual mentor. It is not enough for students to learn the twelve tribes of Israel and be able to recite last week’s memory verse. The fact that they have mastered Christian lingo doesn’t always indicate that they have accepted and embraced those truths into their hearts. They are very skilled at reciting biblical truth but have they learned to make practical application of those recitations?
Some Christian school students walk away from the faith because they never distinguished the difference between accepting Christ as their personal Savior and simply accepting Christ as the Savior of their parents or their teachers. The paradox is that Christian educators want very much for their students to have a personal relationship with Christ but when we package the message in the atmosphere of the institution it is perceived to be very impersonal.
Students often make an unfortunate parallel between Christianity and the policies of the educational institution. They are given a list of rules to follow regarding academics, dress code and behavior. They can then make an easy transition to interpret Christianity as simply a set of rules to keep. They attempt to experience a personal relationship with Christ by keeping a list of ‘do’s and don’ts’. The rap on college students who come from Christian schools is that the ones who get wild get really wild. It may be because of the exhilaration they feel when they are freed from the weight of trying to abide by the rules using their own effort rather than relying on the grace of God.
We often go shallow when teaching Christian principles to our students. We want them to learn seven steps to successful dating or five ways to financial success. In so doing we offer them no more than they can find in the self-help section of Barnes and Noble. They can get ‘an inch deep and a mile wide’ anywhere. We find ourselves giving them what they want rather than what they need. We allow them to stay in the shallow end of the pool rather than explore the treasures that can only be found in the deep. Those who learn and then embrace the deep truths of the gospel are those who become great warriors and kingdom builders for Christ.
Christian teachers are tempted, just like all teachers, to entertain rather than educate. Students would much rather hear stories from your personal life than study trigonometry or Shakespeare. But succumbing to this temptation in Christian education is perilous to their educational as well as their spiritual development. More often than not, we fail to challenge them because we underestimate them. They are usually capable of diving much deeper than we realize. Make no assumption that their intellectual capabilities are limited because their behavior is foolish.
I have learned over the years that there are treasures deep in the souls of my students that are not revealed in mere words. Some are actually unaware of the gifts they harbor deep within. As an educator am dedicated to helping them discover what they are capable of but as a Christian educator I also want them to dedicate these discoveries to Christ the Savior. They will then become great warriors for Christ and skilled builders of his kingdom.