Strengthening Adventist education—Recommendations for pastors and officers
Taking one’s place behind a pulpit is a heavy responsibility. Much prayer, study, and preparation goes into the task of sharing God’s Word with a congregation. Regardless of whether this is in a simple, white clapboard church with a dozen members or in a stained-glass, vaulted-ceiling, high-reaching-steeple church in front of thousands, the goal is the same: sharing Jesus with the congregation. It is a formidable job—and one often fraught with obstacles and challenges.
But there is a whole cadre of troops who also have this mission, an army of thousands of individuals who have dedicated their lives to spreading the gospel to their “congregations.” They, too, have a pulpit and stand before listeners of varying abilities and demographics and groups of varying sizes. But whereas the church contains the pulpit for pastors as they minister to their parishioners, the classroom contains the pulpit for teachers as they minister to their students. The 4,000, or more, teachers in the North American Division (NAD) Adventist K–12 educational system, let alone the thousands around the world, are co-laborers with pastors in a common mission. The works of pastors and teachers complement and strengthen each other. In the truest sense, they are a ministry team.
The recent decline in enrollment in Adventist schools across North America should be of grave concern to both educators and pastors. These two ministries are so closely aligned that the thriving, or faltering, of one will, inevitably, affect the other.
NAD leaders have been concerned about this issue for some time, as they witness schools closing and enrollment numbers dwindling. Thus, in May 2014, the NAD Administrative Summit appointed an NAD Education Task Force (NADET), chaired by Elissa Kido from La Sierra University, with Larry Blackmer, NAD vice president for education, as secretary. Their job was to critically assess the current state of Adventist education in the NAD and, based on that analysis, make recommendations to strengthen the educational system.
In early 2015, two Andre ws University professors, Anneris Coria-Navia and Jerome Thayer, began a research project, called “Strengthening Adventist Education” (SAE), with NAD support to study the same issues. They collected data from 27 interviews (about half with educators and half with non-educators), 16 focus groups (with 184 educators and 108 conference and union officers), and online surveys (95 educators and 52 officers).
The NADET—with their team of 19 educators, lay persons, and administrative officers—worked for almost two years, discussing the myriad of factors affecting Adventist education, drawing perspectives from a think tank comprised of over 40 individuals both in and out of education and working in subcommittees to further focus on specific issues.
Both groups functioned independently and came up with many recommendations for strengthening Adventist education, which, upon closer analysis, revealed many similar findings. The NADET presented their full report at the NAD Year-End Meeting in October 2016. All recommendations in the report were discussed and approved by a strong majority of the attendees.
As stakeholders in Adventist education, we believe that this journal’s readership should not only be informed about these recommendations but also be equally inspired and concerned by the findings. The recommendations shed great insight on the current state of Adventist schools and make clear suggestions as to the direction the NAD needs to take, in order to build a stronger educational system. Many of the recommendations from the two studies are equally relevant to educators, pastors, and officers; others are primarily relevant to educators. A companion article to this one, with recommendations for educators, is being concurrently published in the Journal of Adventist Education.1
There are three reasons why the recommendations in the next four sections of this article need to be seriously addressed: (1) they were approved by a strong majority of the attendees at the 2016 NAD Year-End Meeting comprising mostly of pastors and church administrators; (2) they were the result of a two-year NAD-appointed task force (NADET); and (3) they were supported by a majority of almost 300 church officers and educators at division- wide focus groups in the SAE study. The full 63-page NADET report can be obtained from the Center for Research on K-12 Adventist Education at La Sierra University, and the full 77-page SAE report can be obtained online.2
This article reports the issues identified by the members of the task force and SAE focus groups but does not attempt to suggest how the recommendations should be implemented. Identifying appropriate strategies for implementation of each recommendation will require further study by pastor and officer groups at the conference, union, and/or division levels.
Many of these recommendations are not a surprise—many might even be considered to be common knowledge. However, the members of the task force and focus groups felt that they had not been addressed satisfactorily and still need attention.
Importance and mission of Adventist education
The Seventh-day Adventist Church was founded on firm biblical principles, an unwavering belief in the Second Coming, and the all-encompassing saving grace of Jesus. These tenets directed the formation of the Adventist educational system, as early church members built schools that would academically educate and spiritually nurture their children. The desire for quality education met with the conviction to share Adventist beliefs and, in that intersection, Adventist education was born.
As time has passed, however, there has been a noted change among members as to the identity and perception of the Adventist Church, which has led to a distinctly different perspective on the place and necessity of the Adventist educational system. Adventist education should be rich with strong academics, yet there are also ingredients unique to successful Adventist schools that demand focus. These elements are centered in religion/ spirituality, “service and caring,” as well as the extent to which the constituency values an Adventist education.3
We recommend that a comprehensive plan be developed to increase denominational loyalty and stewardship, specifically as it relates to the importance and mission of Adventist education.
Attention needs to be given to attitudes and values of church members, educators, pastors, and officers as they relate to the Seventh-day Adventist denomination in general and Adventist education in particular.
At every level (local church to General Conference) there needs to be a renewed focus on the value of belonging to and supporting the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Without denominational loyalty, parents are less likely to support Adventist education.
Because many members and pas- tors have not attended Seventh-day Adventist schools, there needs to be increased focus on the importance of Adventist education to the mission of the church. Members who become Adventists as adults, and have not attended Adventist schools, are unlikely to understand the value of Adventist education unless effort is made to instruct them in this area. This becomes particularly important for pastors who joined the church as adults and did not attend Adventist schools.
As members see the importance of Adventist education, and its centrality to the mission of the church, there needs to be increased focus on the importance of all members financially supporting Adventist schools, whether they have a child in an Adventist school or not. It is also important for all churches to financially support the Adventist education system (whether they have a local Adventist school or not).
A healthy church-school relationship can exist only if the teachers and principal of the Adventist school realize the value and importance of involvement in the local Adventist church, and if the pastor realizes the value and importance of being involved in the local Adventist school. The teachers, principal, and pastor need to value each other’s contribution and work together as partners in their ministry to the children of the church.
When these leaders make personnel decisions for persons who will be responsible for the education of our children (including teachers, principals, pastors, and conference officials), those whom they are considering must have a firm commitment to the church and Adventist education and be able to articulate the unique mission of both.
Collaboration between pastors and educators
It is common for evangelistic ministries (pastors) and educational ministries (teachers) to function somewhat independently. Since both ministries are crucial to the development of children, collaboration between these two types of ministries will facilitate the success of mutually held ministry objectives. Support from church pastors, the conference office, and members of the constituency comprise three of the thirteen prioritized “ingredients” that contribute most to school success among Adventist institutions.4 In a study exploring the qualities of exceptional partnerships between pastor and school, results demonstrated that such partnerships yield varied streams of financial sup- port, a meaningful presence among students and faculty, spiritual support and accountability, and church-based promotion of the school, including access to regular participation in services.5 Each of these aspects represents elements that favorably promote enrollment success.-
We recommend a comprehensive, system-wide plan that specifically fosters conditions in which pastors and educators can collaborate effectively for the spiritual nurture of children and their families connected to the church and/or school. This plan will require more communication between evangelistic ministries (pastors) and educational ministries (teachers) and greater intentionality. It would include responsibilities for educational and noneducational officers at the conference, union, and division levels and principals, teachers, and pastors at the local level. How could teachers work with pastors in the church, and how could pastors work with the teachers in the school? Barriers that make cooperation between pastors and educators difficult need to be eliminated. At the conference level, there should be a yearly pastor-teacher meeting, or retreat, where the two groups meet and plan together. Officers should periodically assess each pastor-teacher ministry team. The university/seminary training of teachers and pastors should incorporate strategies of how to work together. This might include having prospective teachers and pastors meet together in a common class.
The matter of cost and affordability is a recurring theme in the literature. Studies show that the cost of tuition is a factor of concern for parents, contributing to the decline of enrollment in NAD K–12 schools.6 Philip Mainda found that parents, regardless of school choice for or against Adventist education, have indicated that the cost of tuition is unaffordable, requiring financial sacrifice and/or financial aid. In the absence of either or both of these, parents are more inclined to select public education.7 In a study by Dennis Marshall, high tuition cost was the most common reason given by parents for not enrolling their children in Adventist schools.8 Yet, the challenge surrounding affordability expands beyond the difficulties parents face in paying tuition.
The pricing model for Adventist education must be brought into focus and properly examined in its given contexts. Mainda highlights the need for a pricing restructure, in light of heightened vulnerability to enrollment decline due to price insensitivity.9 Rick Newberry raises this issue among factors that impact enrollment at private schools. He contends that an examination of “pricing strategy in light of future sustainability” is essential.10 Strategic planning needs to address financial viability, ensuring affordability, accessibility, and quality in Seventh-day Adventist schools, taking into consideration tuition and other streams of financial support.
Financing Adventist education is the responsibility of the whole church, it is a practical expression of both stewardship and evangelism. To deal with increasingly higher tuition, lower average income levels, and societal changes, Adventist education needs a new financial model, more financial accountability, and strategic planning.
We recommend that the problem of low enrollment can be addressed only if there is less reliance on tuition and more reliance on other sources of revenue. In particular, we recommend that more of the financial burden should be shifted from parents of children in Adventist schools to all members in all churches.
To deal with the expense side of the financial situation, we recommend increased accountability by requiring schools to adopt and implement a financial dashboard, use a standard accounting/financial reporting system, require yearly assessment of school sustainability and viability, and include financial accountability in the accreditation evaluation process.
We recommend the development of a comprehensive plan for strategic placement of boarding academies to address whether academies should be consolidated or closed.
Marketing and public relations
Studies suggest that parental perceptions carry the most weight toward “overcoming” financial and other barriers that typically challenge school choice.11 Indeed, those who send their children to Adventist schools must have both the “money and the desire” to do so.12 Beyond this, parental satisfaction is a key contributor to retention.13
Therefore, more attention and support needs to be allocated to marketing and public relations for Adventist education. There needs to be a shift to include both “quality” and “purpose” in the content of marketing materials. While the quality of education is a significant factor in a family’s choice of a school for their child, the purpose and mission of a school is equally important. While the main responsibility for marketing and public relations lies with educators, the pastors and officers also have a significant role to play.
We recommend that each school have a comprehensive marketing and public relations plan. This plan would include cooperation between teachers, the principal, and the pastor as they work in an intentional way to both convey important, accurate, and timely information to parents and constituents and receive helpful feedback from them. Since most educators and pastors are not trained in marketing and public relations, the conference, union, and/or division should provide this expertise. Each school should compile relevant data that can be used to communicate the quality of the school to parents and constituents. Teachers and pastors should clearly communicate the value and uniqueness of Adventist education.
There are a number of issues that need to be addressed by educators, pastors, and officers in order to strengthen Adventist education. The list is daunting, and the task monumental, but the alternative—the continued decline of enrollment—is unacceptable.
The strong approval of the NADET recommendations at the NAD Year-End Meeting, as well as the administrative support given to the SAE study, provided an excellent first step in effecting change in the educational system. However, it will take a commitment and investment from all stakeholders to ensure continued progress in Adventist education.
While there are areas that can be tended to only by educational leadership within our church, many recommendations rest well within the jurisdiction of pastors and officers. These recommendations call for both teachers and pastors to put in extra effort to collaborate, as ministry teams, and for leadership at the division, union, and conference levels to make necessary changes in the system to more fully support Adventist schools. Our studies plainly show that for the Adventist educational system to thrive, the combined effort of educators, pastors, and officers is needed.
Adventist schools have a unique role to play in the Seventh-day Adventist Church and its future. They have the opportunity to provide children with a quality education alongside lessons and modeling in how to develop a deep relationship with their Savior. However, our schools can reach their full potential and make the biggest impact only when they do so in collaboration with the local church.
Two pulpits, one mission.
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1 See Jerome Thayer et al., “Strengthening Adventist Education in the North American Division— Recommendations for Educators,” The Journal of Adventist Education, 79, no. 2 (2017): 32–37.
2 Anneris Coria-Navia and Jerome Thayer, “Strengthening Adventist Education,” NAD research report (2016), retrieved from http://circle.adventist .org/browse/resource.phtml?leaf=27873.
3 See Richard C. Osborn, “Ingredients of the Most Successful Schools in the North American Division,” The Journal of Adventist Education 68, no. 1 (2005): 4–9; Berit von Pohle, (2013), “Constituents’ Perceptions in Northern California Conference: Determining What Aspects of Seventh-day Adventist Education Are Important” (doctoral dissertation, La Sierra University, 2013).
4 See Osborn for more details.
5 Bill Keresoma, “Pastors and Schools—A Dream Team,” The Journal of Adventist Education 71, no. 2 (2008-2009): 27–32.
6 For more information, see Gustavo Gregorutti, “Trends Influencing in Adventist K-12 Schools: A Review of the Literature,” The Journal of Adventist Education 70, no. 2 (2007–2008): 10–17; Dennis E. Marshall, “An Investigation Into the Issue of Low Enrollment in Adventist Schools in Canada and How It Is Being Addressed,” Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada (November 2008), retrieved from http://catnet.adventist.ca/files/resources/res_41. pdf; Humberto M. Rasi, “Adventist Education in the 21st Century: Eight Significant Trends,” The Journal of Adventist Education 72, no. 5 (Summer 2010): 6–9.
7 Philip Omenge Mainda, “Selected Factors Influencing School Choice Among the Seventh-day Adventist Population in Southwest Michigan,” Journal of Research on Christian Education 11, no. 2 (Fall 2002): 185–218.
10 Rick Newberry, “Nine Factors That Affect School Enrollment Growth” (2012), retrieved from http://www.enrollmentcatalyst.com/2012/03/21/nine -factors-that-affect-school-enrollment-growth/.
11 For more information, see Gustavo Gregorutti, “Factors Influencing Enrollment in Adventist K-12 Schools: A Review of the Literature,” (2007), retrieved from http://circle.adventist.org/download /FactorsInfluencingK12Enrollment.pdf; Olivia Dianne Beverly, “An Assessment of Factors Influencing Student Enrollment Within the Southern Union Conference of Seventh-Day Adventist Secondary Schools (doctoral dissertation, Wayne State University, 2010), retrieved from http://digitalcommons.wayne.edu /oa_dissertations/137/.
12 See Loren Seibold, “Why Adventist K-12 Education Struggles,” Spectrum (January 2009), retrieved from http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1326; Gene Edelbach, “Helping the Impossible Become Possible: Removing the Financial Barriers to Enrollment,” The Journal of Adventist Education 64, no. 1 (2001): 14–17.