This essay is a collective effort by seven administrators of conservative Anabaptist schools. This group of administrators believes that our schools are poised to aid our churches and homes in the call to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. They offer this essay in hopes of seeding ongoing discussions throughout our communities about how to best mobilize our current opportunities for God’s glory.
In ancient Greece, the mothers of Sparta would send their sons off to battle with this stern bit of counsel, “Return with this shield or on it.” The commitment of the Spartan society to military supremacy and heroism was such that every member of society learned to value victory above life itself. The Spartans raised their children in light of their goal to be the greatest warriors in the world. Children deemed unfit for a life of vigor were abandoned to die. The boys who were allowed to live entered a boot camp-like academy at the age of seven to toughen, strengthen, and train them in the skills of warfare. Fighting is what they learned to love. Their stories and their songs honored the men who had shown exceptional courage and strength on the battlefield. Military conquest was the air that they breathed and the bread that they ate. The Spartans’ single-minded dedication to their military brought vision, energy, and crystal-clear purpose to the way they raised each generation.
We, too, have a cause. As followers of Jesus, our purpose requires as much and even more sacrifice than that of the Spartans, but it is poles apart in its aim and method. Our cause is not war, slaughter, and destruction. Instead, it is a life of active love that shares the Good News, heals the brokenhearted, brings freedom to captives, and offers liberty to the oppressed. Our cause is abundant life, not death; healing, not killing. Our goal is love for God and neighbor fleshed out in humble servanthood.
Jesus gave the rationale for this life of service in the greatest of all commandments: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” He continues with the natural implication of loving God above all else: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Modeled beautifully in the life of Jesus, the way of love inspires and empowers service. The north star of Christian teaching and training, the guiding light for all our decision-making and efforts in raising our children, is love for God and love for one’s neighbor.
The efforts that go into the training and preparation of young people in Anabaptist communities need the energy, vision, and clarity that comes from a deep-seated commitment to the cause of loving and serving God. Much effort has gone into developing a thoroughly Christian education in many of our communities, but the work is not finished. In order to maintain what has been accomplished and to build upon it, we must prayerfully continue to evaluate, to dream, and to plan. What would our schools look like if every component of education were dedicated to the task of preparing young people for a life of wholehearted love and service to God?
The task of training our children to love and serve God is often disconnected from the day-to-day operation of our schools. In spite of intentions to provide a Christian education, some of our schools and homeschools struggle to nurture students in invigorating and convincing ways. Too many students see school as an experience to endure until they can begin doing things that really matter. Some parents view school as another intrusive legal requirement and find serving on the staff or board a chore. Something is wrong when education, a key way that a people pass on their vision, values, and knowledge, is associated with apathy or burnout. Our schools and homeschools can and should be much more.
We have a vision for a Christian education anchored in the greatest command and aligned with our values as Anabaptists. We envision education that:
This would be a servant education, one that highlights our privilege to be servants of God who practice loving service to our neighbors. A servant education would call, inspire, and prepare young people to join God’s mission in the world.
Rooted in the mandate that God gave to humans at creation and in the great commission that Christ gave to the church at the end of His ministry, the mission that God calls his people to carry out on the earth today includes three prongs: 1) the building of the church, 2) the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel of Jesus to the world, and 3) the stewardship of God’s creation. Let’s consider what it means to prepare our young people for effective service in these three areas.
Building the church. The focal point of God’s mission on the earth is the church, the active presence of Christ in the world carrying forward Jesus’ work of “reconciling all things unto [the Father](Col. 1:20).” Therefore, a priority of a servant education is to prepare and equip young people for “the building up of the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12).” Our schooling should cultivate in our young people the values and skills needed to strengthen and bless the church, particularly the local congregation, the functional unit of Christ’s body, the place where His life and love are actually experienced.
We should partner with homes in teaching students how to lead singing, study the Bible, prepare and give devotionals and topics, read Scripture orally, pray in public, teach Sunday school, and lead group discussions. We should train our students in the interpersonal skills vital to church life. School provides unique opportunities for showing children how to work together and cooperate with other members, how to listen to other perspectives and be willing to share their own, how to watch out for the weaker or quieter members of a group, how to engage in meaningful conversation with people of different ages or interests, how to disagree in a respectful way, how to lead and how to follow, and how to stick with a group and persevere when it would be easier to quit. These are essential skills for healthy church life. Ultimately, a servant education seeks to inspire and enable a generation of people to commit themselves to and serve the people in the church to which they belong, using the gifts God has given them to bring the church body to “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13).”
Proclaiming and demonstrating the gospel to the world. The church cannot rest until it has succeeded in taking the gospel of Jesus to all people. A servant education will also equip students to share the gospel compellingly and joyfully with those who are enslaved to sin, to give of their time and resources to help those who are sick, hungry, discouraged, and displaced, and to share friendship and hospitality to those God brings into their path. Our lives and our curriculum must echo the message of the good Samaritan which is that loving one’s neighbor means caring for all people: the voiceless, the weak, the poor, the hungry, the widows, the children, the rich, and the educated. To do this, we must give our young people eyes to see past the typical cultural prejudices to the true value and the true needs of people.
Stewardship of God’s creation. In addition to equipping students to carry out the church’s mission, a servant education paints a vivid picture of God’s intentions for human society on earth and equips students to contribute effectively to that component of God’s mission. In the very beginning, God instructed Adam and Eve: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth (Gen. 1:22).” Later we are told that God put humans in the garden to “dress and to keep it.” The mandate here is that humans, as God’s image-bearers, are to manage the earth and creatively develop its resources for the flourishing of human society and the glory of God. While sin has deeply marred the world, this is still God’s intention for His creation.
Godly training prepares children with the attitudes, skills, and knowledge to enjoy and manage the created world in accordance with God’s will for it. To effectively fulfill this calling, young people need the knowledge and skills to grow food, build houses, design bridges, and care for the sick, along with a host of other tasks that are necessary for life to flourish. Our education should give our students a vision for the significance of their work. It is not just a way “to make money so that I can contribute to God’s work.” It is God’s work, and we were created to find pleasure and meaning in it. When done in a spirit of submission and service, planting cotton, preparing meals, and repairing computers are ways of responding to Jesus’ desire to see the Father’s will being “done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10).”
This is the vision toward which our schools should work: the church of Jesus Christ filled with people from all nations, tribes, tongues, and social and economic groups; people who are conformed to His image, obedient to His Word, submitted to each other, stewarding His earth, caring for the needy, and faithful in spreading the good news around the world. Ultimately, a servant education puts God and His mission at the center, not “me.” Instead of asking, “What good is school going to do me?” students (and parents) should learn to ask “How will this enable me to help others?” A servant education is others-focused, not self-focused.
This sense of participating in something bigger than themselves invigorates students. They rally around the goal of preparing to be God’s hands and feet to serve a world in need. English, math, and science classes are no longer educational hurdles over which to leap. Instead, school is preparation with real purpose.
Next week: The Method and The Call