“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached . . .” (Matt. 24:14). Do Christian educational institutions share in this commission? Do they in fact fulfill a role in carrying the gospel to children and their families through the teaching ministry?
Do parents of students served at Christian educational institutions appreciate the religious experiences their children have at school? How important are the religious, academic, and cultural experiences the school provides? Do the parents without the same religious affiliation as their school of choice want religion to be part of their children’s educational experience?
In an investigation as to why parents choose to send their children to a private Christian school,1 the parents interviewed were more than likely motivated by their interest in having their children in an environment where they would daily have religious influences in the learning experience. All the parents interviewed were anxious to be supportive of the Christian educational experience their children were having, and most expressed the desire to harmonize the home experience with the Christian school experience.
There was a strong sense of teamwork from parents toward the Christian school of choice, whether or not the school was affiliated with their own denomination. With most of the parents interviewed, in instances where the parents’ religious affiliation was different from that of their school of choice, parents made significant efforts to affirm with their child the religious experience provided by the school.
One of the parents expressed a willingness to pay more tuition because of her satisfaction with what she was getting from the school she had chosen. This particular parent implied that she was getting more than her money’s worth. She was not a church member of the denomination affiliated with her school of choice.
How parents view Christian education
All the parents interviewed expressed their belief that their children were growing spiritually, academically, and socially. The greatest expression of satisfaction from parents centered on the instruction their children were getting about God, the treatment of others, respect for authority, cooperation with peers, how to be supportive of Christian morals and life principles, and family values. Christian education seemed to have had a positive impact on both the children and their parents.
One parent, however, made it clear that the reason for her choice of the Christian school was not the religious experience her child was having. She seemed to be more interested in what the private Christian school could do for her child to prepare him for later academic success. This parent’s perception of the school’s academic standards motivated her to want private Christian education for her child. This parent was willing to tolerate the Christian learning environment in her school of choice to give her child the best chance for academic success. In her case, the academic program was everything that the parent had expected and anticipated it would be.
All students have outside influences brought to bear upon them. They have to decide at some point how they will respond to those influences. Christian school teachers work and pray for the religious influence of the school environment and their dedicated effort and the work of the Holy Spirit to impact the student for eternity. These school teachers do their part to plant seeds of biblical principles that will be nurtured throughout the students’ lives.
In the mind of the parent who had no interest in the religious experience of the Christian school chosen, the school was “generic” enough not to interfere in the child’s life or in the life of the parent. The parent was not interested in the school’s religious experience impacting her child; the child was there only to absorb the scholastic and academic challenge provided.
The parent did not choose to enroll her child in a Christian school by accident. It was a conscious choice, motivated by her perception of the excellent academic preparation her school of choice provided.
Christians realize that God’s providence is not always necessarily understood immediately. Only time and the working of the Holy Spirit will determine the final result of a parent’s private Christian school choice.
Juxtaposed with the previous parent’s position is the attitude of a parent who felt that the Bible instructional program in her Christian school of choice was not as sectarian as it should have been. She expressed a desire to have the Bible instructional program reflect more of an influence from the sponsoring church. For this parent, including the denominational uniqueness of the church in the Bible instructional program of the school was preferable to general Bible instruction. Thus schools that accept students from more than one denomination or without any religious affiliation need to decide whether they are going to provide religious instruction that emphasizes their uniqueness or whether their religious instruction will avoid or downplay what makes the school’s religious experience unique.
More than one of the parents interviewed mentioned their interest in providing an ethnically diverse experience for their children, because this is the “real world.” These parents desire that their children have exposure to other children that were ethnically different but shared a common belief system, morality, spirituality, and religious fervor in their families.
Since the Christian school was seen as a safe place for families, parents were willing to accept whatever their perceived risks were to introduce their children to an ethnically diverse Christian educational environment. One parent was particularly pleased about the cultural diversity of her school of choice when discussing with her children that the love of God extends to all families.
The gospel at work
Is the Christian teaching ministry in private Christian schools helping the church fulfill the task of taking the gospel to the world? Yes, it is!
Parents who send their children to a Christian school continue to enthusiastically support the education ministry of Christian schools and teachers. For many, private Christian schools have played an important role in expressing the gospel in terms that children and their families could understand. Today the gospel is being presented to families in Christian schools through the efforts of their teachers.
The families interviewed continued to express their support for the spiritual impact Christian teachers and the Christian learning environment have in their lives, in their children’s lives, and in their homes. Judging by our interviews, churches with Christian schools should continue serving families who are not church members.
The future of Christian education
A major study reported “that since the mid-1980s, enrollment in private elementary and secondary schools has fluctuated between 5.2 million and 6.0 million” with the expectation that enrollments will “remain around that level between 2000 and 2011” in the United States.2 According to the above information, private Christian school enrollment will continue to fluctuate, and over the next decade the number of students served will remain virtually unchanged.
Every non-Christian or nonchurchmember family enrolled in a Christian school should be viewed as an important prospect for the expanding ministry of the school and the sponsoring church or churches. Potentially, the school could become the first point of contact with families needing and wanting Christian education for their children and perhaps a church home. A good idea for both the school administration and the supporting church leadership would include the development of a marketing strategy designed to discover whether or not these families have an interest in developing further a relationship with the church supporting the school.
The child influenced for Jesus while attending a K–12 school will become an adult and have a chance to make the all-important decision about faith in God and His Son. Isn’t this what Christian education is all about?
Sometimes the child decides for Christ while still in school. Sometimes the decision may be delayed until adulthood, but the Bible instruction and religious experiences received during childhood and youth under the nurturing instruction of a Christian teacher add to the foundation Christian parents and churches have laid for future decisions about God and church.
Many parents choose Christian education for their children. Some parents are interested only in the perceived academic advantage a private Christian school can provide. Christian schools and churches, anxious to provide religious and academic excellence to the parents who seek it for their children, realize this as a win-win arrangement for Christian school parents, educators, and affiliated churches. Parents, teachers, and affiliated churches are privileged to be able to partner in the Christian school’s ministry.
1 Mark L. Blue, “Why Parents Choose Private Christian Schools” (Riverside: La Sierra University, 2004).
2 D. E. Gerald and W. J. Hussar, Projections of Educational Statistics to 2011 (Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, National Council of Educational Statistics, 2001).