There’s a crisis in Christian schools. Here’s how we fix it
Here is part 1: A Christian school crisis—and what to do about it
4. Forgetting the practical application
“Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them so everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them because if you do, you will save yourself and your hearers.” 1 Timothy 4:15-16
Christian school Bible teachers often aren’t trained to show the relevance of Scripture to a teenager’s everyday life. We must teach young people more than the cold facts of Christianity. We must show them how those truths can set their lives on fire for Christ.
For instance, the theology of the incarnation of Christ (God in the flesh) can communicate that we have a God who empathizes with us in our struggles (Hebrews 4:15-16). The doctrine of the Trinity is not just a mind-boggling mystery that teenagers must articulate for some test but also a heart-transforming reminder we’re never alone. God’s Word reminds us that the Holy Spirit invites us into the community of fellowship with the Trinity (John 14:23). The substitutionary atonement of Christ is not just gospel truth but a powerful reminder that we now have peace with God (Romans 5:1) and can experience peace, not anxiety.
When teens know why a certain Biblical truth is essential and how to apply it in their everyday lives, these truths become way more than answers on a test. They’re answers to the most significant problems they face. I dare you to show me a core theological truth that isn’t crucial for a teen’s identity, belonging, and purpose.
Just as Paul reminded Timothy, Christian school teachers must teach their students to live practically in sync with Christian doctrine.
5. Lists instead of love
“Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’? These rules, which have to do with things destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, false humility, and harsh treatment of the body. Still, they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Colossians 2:21-3:1
The Christian school I attended growing up had a lot of good things: skilled teachers, Gospel training, and practical theology. But it also had one big bad thing: a legalistic list of spiritual requirements for godliness. A not-so-subtle riptide of expectation whispered: “Keep this list of dos and don’ts, and you’ll be godly.” So I did. I kept my hair cut short. I memorized entire books of the Bible. I shared the Gospel relentlessly. I got straight A’s. Every day, I read my Bible. And on and on the list went. And up and up my frustration level went.
Consistent compliance with this long list couldn’t restrain my sensual indulgences. The list was like kerosene poured on the fire of my lusts.
Finally, at 18, I told God, “You have to show me some way other than the list, or I don’t think I can do this anymore.” That’s when He taught me about the indwelling Holy Spirit and daily dependence on Him. That’s when He taught me to let Christ live through me (Galatians 2:20) instead of me always trying (in vain) to live for Him. He used other believers in Christ to introduce me to game-changing books like True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer, The Saving Life of Christ by Major Ian Thomas, and The Grace Awakening by Charles Swindoll. From these books, I learned the way of Spirit instead of the way of the flesh, the method of relationship instead of religion, the practice of trusting instead of trying, and the way of love instead of the course of the list.
And everything changed as a result!
Oh, how I wish I had learned these truths in a Christian school. I wish I had known about the centrality of the Holy Spirit to the victorious Christian life. My Christian school was so conservative that they viewed the theology of the Holy Spirit as “charismatic” instead of essential.
Without the Holy Spirit, we have no divine power (Ephesians 3:16), no deep encouragement (Acts 9:31), and no effective witness (Acts 1:8). I thank God for individual teachers (Mark Schweitzer and Kenny Sanchez) who sought to train me in some of these truths. Still, the gravitational pull of legalism was so strong that it grounded me in a works-based approach to sanctification until God set me free during my first year of college.
We must awaken our Christian school students to grace, the Holy Spirit, and the life of Christ in them.
6. Letting the milk spoil
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” Matthew 28:18-20
Pour milk into a sponge, and eventually, the milk spoils. Pour the milk of God’s Word into the sponge of young minds, and, finally, that milk will spoil unless it’s wrung out to others through evangelism and discipleship.
When I speak at Christian schools, I often smell spoiled milk. These students have God’s Word poured into their minds by well-meaning teachers, but they’re never challenged or equipped to wring it out to others.
The Western model of truth transference is flawed. If we pour the best-quality milk (theology, worldview training, apologetics) into young minds, it will inevitably lead to transformation. Instead, it has led to spoiled milk. It is the stench of legalism and hedonism.
But when Christian school students engage in the mission Jesus has given them to “make disciples” here, there, and everywhere, that sponge gets wrung out, and they come back thirsty for more. They realize their goal is not just to know the truth but to spread it, not just to make good grades but to make disciples, to make it into a good college, and to embark on the most incredible mission of all time.
As legalistic as my little Christian school was growing up, the one thing they did exceptionally well was to equip us for the mission. We were encouraged to go out every Friday night and share the Gospel. Many of us did. “Friday night soul winning,” as it was called, brought to life all the truths we learned. We wrung our sponges full of Gospel truth every Friday night dry and returned to class on Monday thirsty for more.
What if Christian schools mobilized teenagers for the Gospel? What if they joined hundreds of other youth groups worldwide on the last Saturday of every month to wring their sponges dry on Go Share Day? What if evangelism training was a regular part of the Christian school curriculum, and if part of passing that class was sharing the Gospel with at least five people? What if, in every chapel service, teenagers shared stories of those they were engaging that week in Gospel conversations?
7. Lack of 10%ers
“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them, He said: ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:25-27
It takes only a fully committed few to set the pace for an entire group.
According to a study by the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute,
“Scientists have found that when just 10% of the population holds an unshakable belief, most society will always adopt their belief. The scientists used computational and analytical methods to discover the tipping point where a minority belief becomes the majority opinion.”
This means that if you can get 10% of teenagers currently attending a Christian school to commit 100% to following Jesus, they’ll inevitably influence the spiritual climate of the entire school. It doesn’t take everyone to be all-in. It just takes 10%. Those “10% become the thermostat that cranks up the spiritual heat of the entire school.
A few months ago, I had the privilege of speaking at Anchorage Christian School in Alaska. I thought I’d put the 10% rule to the test. During my talk, I gave a challenge to the teenagers. I had two rows of them (about 25 students) stand up. I said:
“It takes only 10% of you to make a difference in this entire school. But you have to, like the disciples of Jesus, be 100% committed. Since there are 250 teenagers between the middle and high school, it takes only these two rows of students to change the entire school! Will you be one of them? Will you be a 10%?”
For those willing to do that, I challenged them to let their chapel leaders know afterward. And within a few minutes after chapel, a group of about 10% gathered in the auditorium to pray. They started meeting every week to pray for revival and plan for outreaches. They call themselves, you guessed it, “the 10%.”
We need 10 %ers at every Christian school who will lead the way and set the pace. Teenagers need to say, “No more lukewarm Christian life!” We’re all in for Christ and His Cause!”