Schools change over time. It’s inevitable. People come and go, communities wax and wane, and institutions morph. But here is something that is true of Regents Academy today and, Lord willing, always: our school is God’s school. The crucified and risen Jesus Christ is Lord at Regents Academy. He is the goal of our education, His Spirit is the power behind our work, and His Word is our authority and guide. We who labor day by day to teach and influence young lives are but instruments; it is God who must be at work to impart knowledge and wisdom and who enables us (in partnership with parents) to help children become what and who He desires them to be.
All of this is to say that if we will be true to our mission, and if we will truly be instruments of grace in the lives of children and families, then we must realize our limitations – and we must rely on God to change hearts, to build character in students, and to make our work effectual. Daily, we have to resist the temptation of thinking that we will succeed if we produce quick-worded, well-behaved kids with fat scholarships and meteoric test scores. Our goal is not that low. Our goal is to be used by Christ to impact hearts and lives for eternity. We strive not just to uphold a standard but to train students to love that standard – to the glory of God. And, with God’s help, never swerve from this purpose.
I am continuing to share some words of warning from an article written by classical educator Brian Douglas, who wrote in First Things about five temptations for classical Christian schools. Here are two more temptations that call for vigilance and wisdom.
The second temptation is to believe that academic rigor plus disciplined behavior equals a good education. It is easy for a classical Christian school to become known more for its uniforms, homework expectations, strictness, and the like, than for its gracious, loving environment. Yet we ought not treat education like a simple input-output situation, in which the right learning environment can program our students to be Christians. While students do need high expectations for their work and conduct, focusing on order becomes hazardous when it overtakes the joy of experiencing God’s grace. When this happens, students may learn to jump through the hoops, obey the rules, do the right things, but they do not learn to love God and others. That is moralism, the worst enemy of true Christianity.
Creating a truly gracious classroom is much harder than creating an orderly classroom. It is a challenge that requires spiritual preparation far beyond classroom management techniques. But the only Christian education is a thoroughly gracious education. It sounds so basic, but it remains true: Without God’s grace, we can only produce narcissists who are more focused on their own successes and failures than on the eternal reality of God’s love for his people.
The third temptation is to rely on ourselves rather than on God’s work in the hearts of students. It is easy for classical Christian schools to feel like we have the moral high ground in the midst of a fallen culture. After all, anyone who seeks out such a school believes it to be superior to other systems, especially secular ones. But the people of Israel are warned to not trust in their own goodness; it is not because of their own virtue that they will conquer the land.
The same is true for our schools. We will not successfully overhaul the education system just because we have the right methodology. Education cannot be reduced to a formula, even if the formula is a good one. Education is ultimately God’s work in the soul of a child, and forgetting that fact leads some educators to feel inadequate. We err frequently, do things for the wrong motives, misjudge students academically and spiritually, and fall short of the glory of God.
Focusing too much on our educational methods will lead us to despair. Self-assessment can easily leave us feeling either too strong or too weak. We praise our own accomplishments, and we feel inadequate based on what qualifications we lack. Whether our response is overconfidence or despair, anything but faith in God’s power and promises is idolatry. Our strength is from the Lord and not ourselves; He will accomplish his ends despite both our strengths and our weaknesses. We must remind ourselves, if God is not blessing our work as educators, then no measure of training, skill, or finances can overcome that. But if He is blessing our labors by changing our students’ lives, then nothing can overcome that either.