Denton Rhone, PhD, DMin, pastors the Houston International Seventh-day Adventist Church, Houston, Texas, United States.

I was raised in a socially and economically austere environment. The law of averages suggests that youth from such backgrounds are unlikely to succeed. This prediction has proven true for many of my friends: some descended into violence; some were destroyed by poverty and deprivation; some adapted to street life and never left it.

I got out. I found Christ in an Adventist evangelistic series conducted by the late Pastor E. C. Walton. Becoming an Adventist opened up for me an opportunity to enroll in a Seventh-day Adventist educational institution, which changed (actually, saved) my life. It changed the lives of my brothers and sisters and, much later, my parents as well.

Thus, I am burdened by the increasing number of children in Adventist homes not benefiting from Adventist education. Although new people are joining our church, many come from economically depressed areas and may lack the resources to afford Adventist Christian education for their children. This is a problem that needs addressing.

A stark contrast

For starters, the postmodern push to be inclusive supports the minimization of differences and would discourage the need for the uniqueness of Adventist Christian education (ACE). In an effort to be politically correct, some may be tempted to forget that the earliest advocates for a refined educational framework constructed the craft on three theoretical foundations: epistemology, metaphysics, and axiology (EMA).1

These three terms (EMA) are not used in everyday conversations. It is, therefore, easy to overlook their value regarding education. Epistemology answers the question, What is knowledge, and where does it come from?Metaphysics speaks to the construction and location of the individual’s sphere of reality. Axiology addresses the question of the ethics, morals, values, and aesthetics underpinning the source and construction of a knowledge base.

After all, at every level of schooling, education is either secular or Christian, theistic or atheistic. Christian education is delivered through a biblical worldview. Its epistemology, or knowledge source, is founded on the Bible. Its metaphysics, or source of reality, is founded on the Bible. And its axiology, or values, morals, and aesthetics, are founded on the Bible. This is in contrast to atheistic or secular education. Its epistemology is founded on empiricism, or measurable science. Its metaphysics, more than likely, is founded on evolutionary theories, and its axiology is more often than not founded on democratic pluralism or the opinion of the majority.

Which one do we want for our children?

Intentional immersion

Parents and leaders must not forget God’s purpose. God wants prepared people to partner with Him for the evangelization of humanity. This has always been a principle with God; wherever He places the gospel, He establishes institutions and qualifies workers to carry forward His mission.

In the Old Testament, God used Samuel to establish the school of the prophets, from which the ecclesiological skills needed for administration, discipleship, and preaching were forged (1 Sam. 19:18–24; 2 Kings 4:38–44). As the church moved through the centuries, the concept of religious education and missional training always remained in vogue. Universities were founded primarily to train workers for the mission of God and the evangelization of the world.2

The Seventh-day Adventist pioneers believed that wherever the gospel was planted in the world, a school should also be instituted. In these schools, workers could be trained to spread the three angels’ messages. Adventist Christian education is why the Seventh-day Adventist Church today, with its qualified and committed global workforce, still exists. If there were to be an erosion of belief in ACE, the Adventist way of life and mission would disappear. The church and its mission need ACE and vice versa. It is in the interest of the church to expend all efforts to keep these two in harmony and to keep ACE distinctively Adventist. Adventist Christian education has been the driver and motivator for mission, which has brought light to a darkened world.

The guile of separation

Despite the importance of ACE, many of our young people today will never experience an immersion in Adventist education because of ideology and financial issues:

Too many Adventist parents are comfortable believing that the church or the family altar is the place for learning about the eschatological prophetic mission of the remnant. For them, the spheres of influence are separate, the issues are separate. To their minds, education is defined as simply earning credentialed certification from the best accredited secular institutions available. As for eschatological prophetic teachings, that is what the church is for.

Some parents simply cannot afford ACE. Financially challenged parents have no choice but to separate the issues. For them, missional training must rest with the church and home while skill development becomes the responsibility of public, secular, educational institutes. In some congregations in various regions of the world, a significant number of families come from circumstances that are both socially and economically challenged. Would not the continual advocacy for ACE in congregations of economically depressed persons inadvertently nurture elements of elitism in the church? Would not the advocacy of the superiority of ACE diminish the value of the educational experience of those persons not privileged to afford ACE?

Parents with the resources to finance ACE must be reminded of the EMA of Bible-based education. Educational leaders need to remain committed to delivering a top-quality education that gains the confidence of education consumers in the environment. Education in an ACE environment that is below accredited industry standards does not glorify God. The Holy Spirit guides us, but employees must do exceptional work.

Economic challenges must be expected. The demographics of evangelism tell us that resources are needed to ensure that our economically challenged families have collaborative ACE learning experiences of comparable value available to them through the church.

With the rapid expansion of evangelism today, large-scale evangelistic efforts in depressed communities must be accompanied by a strategic plan. They must immerse the massive influx of new minds into relevant, ACE learning experiences that will be transformative and expedite their assimilation into an Adventist culture reflective of the mind of Christ. How can we do this? There are five steps church and educational leaders can take to ensure that no child is left behind.

Leave no child behind

1. Assessment. Discreetly determine which families have their children attending non-Adventist schools because of circumstances and not choice.

2. Access. Make a special effort to have these children join and actively participate in the church-supported groups for children and adolescents. Many times the children who have access to ACE attend the same schools. Their peer-bonds are stronger. When they come to church on Sabbath, they tend to associate with the same group of friends. Special efforts should be made to minimize cliques. Sometimes the same children from the stronger, legacy families are chosen for activities over and over again. Giving special attention to children who are not as socially competent will minimize alienation and draw these children closer to the group. It is important for them to develop strong peer relationships with the better-assimilated youth.

3. Transformative activities. Regularly review the activities of ministries in our church that target children and adolescents. Confirm through collaboration that the content of those activities complies with the distinctive teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. According to the Youth Ministries department of the Seventh-day Adventist Church,3 Adventurers is a club for children ages 6 to 9, with 1 million members worldwide. Pathfinders, with 2 million members, is for young people ages 10 to 15. The Ambassador group strives to meet the spiritual, social, and lifestyle needs of those from 16 into their 20s. Then there is Sabbath School. These groups can be the lifeline for children without access to ACE. Such groups should be microcosms of mainstream ACE, filling the gaps that come with not being part of a bona fide ACE institution.

4. Monitor and evaluate. Track the attendance and participation of these students with periodic quizzes, prizes, projects, homework assistance, and service activities. These activities should involve them and their families and should function as indicators of integration and learning. One on one “leadership appointments” will keep the children apprised of their progress and keep the leaders informed of their needs and the subsequent adjustments that might be required.

5. Strengthen adult and peer mentorship capacities. Empowered, immersed adults produce empowered, immersed children. Target parents and other active Adventists for special mentorship workshops. The objective is to set up intentional partnerships to allow for a grounded integration and interchange of faith, friendship, and learning. Parents will help parents. Peers will help peers. Just because someone has been in the church for a long time does not mean that they can automatically assist in mentoring others into full immersion in Christ. Training and coaching are needed. Children cannot learn and understand the distinctive faith-life elements of the Seventh-day Adventist Church if the parents and persons of influence are not strong repositories of accurate knowledge, reflections of positive attitude, and sources of motivational energy.

The challenge

Unique challenges are associated with survival in socioeconomically deficient conditions. Advocacy for ACE will be difficult if the children are hungry; if borderline homelessness exists; if they face an uncertain immigration status, toxic family relationships, and overwhelming health stresses. Mentoring partnerships in the church provide the mentoring partnerships that the children would have experienced in the ACE environment.

Adventist Christian education saved my life. Let us find creative ways to ensure that every member—new, emerging, and generational—receives the opportunity to benefit from transformative Adventist Christian education experiences.

  1. George R. Knight, Philosophy and Education: An Introduction in Christian Perspective, 4th ed. (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2006), 15–32.
  2. Will Durant, The Reformation: A History of European Civilization From Wyclif to Calvin: 1300–1564 (New York, NY: Simon and Shuster, 1957), 786, 787; Will Durant, The Age of Faith: A History of Medieval Civilization from Constantine to Dante: A.D. 325–1300 (New York, NY: Simon and Shuster, 1957), 988; Richard Middleton and Anne Lombard, Colonial America: A History to 1763 (Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, 2011).
  3. General Conference Youth Ministries Department, https://youth.adventist.org.
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