May 2, 2009
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March 19, 2009
Dealing with difficult people can be very uncomfortable! Despite 20 years of experience, my stress level still rises whenever my administrative assistance informs me that:
Mr. and Mrs. Jones want to see you. They are upset about .....
One would think that by now I would have learned to be more sanguine but alas, I still feel my gut tighten in anticipation of an unpleasant conversation.
Although I have not yet learned how to reach a “state of nirvana,” I have learned a few things over the years that may be helpful to you. I offer the following tips with the prayer that you will find them helpful the next time you face that angry email, phone call, or the unscheduled “do you have a minute?”
Conflict Cannot and Should Not Be Avoided
If two godly men like Paul and Barnabas, who ministered and faced persecution together, could not avoid conflict (Acts 15:39-40) then there should be no illusions about our ability to avoid it. Conflict is inevitable. It is also an integral part of our ministry to students, parents, and staff.
I often tease parents during our Parent Orientation sessions. When asking for their prayers I quip:
My job is relatively easy--"I only deal with people's children, money, and religion!
Parents laugh at this statement because they quickly realize just how difficult leading a school can be. Most of them would not want the job for any amount of pay! Upon reflection, they become a bit more empathetic when assessing the school's response to a given situation.
A Little Humor
As illustrated by my quip, humor is a natural and effective way to reduce tension, demonstrate humility, and foster empathy--provided it is used appropriately and in the right context. Misused or inappropriate humor can do more harm than good. Well timed and thoughtful humor, on the other hand, can relax a tense situation and put it into perspective. Consider the following non-school examples (source: How to Use Humor to Diffuse Conflict, by Carla Rieger).
Our manager was pushing the IT technician to fix a huge computer breakdown in under half a day. The technician was getting frustrated at the unreasonable request, but rather than push back with resistance, he said, "Actually, I only need two hours. The other two I'll be using to cure world hunger." They both laughed and the manager mellowed out.
A client kept returning our budget proposal saying it needed to be smaller. No matter how much trimming we did, the client kept pushing for "Smaller, smaller!" I finally took the proposal to a copier and had it reduced to two inches in size. I sent it to the client and said, "This is about as small as I can make it. Tell me what you think." He called me saying it got a huge laugh in his office and that he would now accept the proposal as soon as he could find his magnifying glass.
Again, be careful. Humor can be very effective but it can backfire if it is poorly timed or inappropriate.
To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is! (Pro 15:23)
To Disciple and to be Discipled
When I know that I am about to be confronted with an angry or upset parent, or when confronted unexpectedly, I remind myself that every conflict "is an opportunity to disciple or to be discipled." The objective is not to avoid conflict, it is not to deny that there is a problem, and it is not merely to "tolerate" the other person or the meeting. Instead, conflict is a providentially appointed opportunity to disciple and minister to others or to be discipled by others (Rom. 8:28).
When dealing with someone who is upset, don't ask yourself "how can I avoid this situation or how can I get through it as quickly and painlessly as possible." Instead, ask yourself this,
How can the Lord use me in this situation to minister to Mr. and Mrs. Jones and how can the Lord use upset Mr. and Mrs. Jones to instruct me or to make the school better?
You will be surprised how much easier it is to deal with difficult situations and people when you adopt this biblical attitude. I remind myself of the following verses when facing a difficult situation:
Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17)
Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. (Proverbs 11:14)
Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (Pro 27:5-6)
The upset parent or staff member can be our instructors! Only pride would keep us from freely acknowledging our need for correction--even if not given in an appropriate manner.
Relax! You and I have clay feet. We make mistakes. We sin. Unlike our teenage children, we don't know everything.
We don't have to pretend otherwise to be effective leaders. In fact, acknowledging our frailties reflects genuine humility, fosters listening, reduces defensiveness, and in general reduces tension. It also puts us in a state of mind to learn from the situation while fostering respect for those who are upset.
Admit mistakes. Do not be defensive. Own the poor decisions. Doing so models Christian character, is instructive to those who are upset, and leads to the development of stronger schools.
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (Pro 16:18)
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. (James 1:19)
This verse reminds me of Steven Covey's statement that one of the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People is that they seek first to understand and then to be understood. In our pride or defensiveness we often seek to justify more than we seek to understand. We want to defend more than we want to learn. This attitude is both wrong and counter-productive.
Even if the other person is out of line or just plain wrong, we can often learn something of value from the confrontation. This requires that we talk less and listen more.
Sometimes people just need to vent. Have you ever been in a meeting where the other party keeps repeating the same grievance over and over? You got it the first time or certainly by the second rendition but they keep going?
Take a deep breath (quietly!), be patient, and give them ample time. Doing so shows respect, gives them time to vent, and may reveal something important to learn.
Speak the Truth--In Love
Humility does not mean that we ignore sin or false accusations. It is sinful to ignore the truth in order to avoid conflict. Sometimes we need to confront the parent or the employee with their sinful behavior. For example, the dad who is acting inappropriately during an athletic event, the teacher who responded disrespectfully to a student, or the parent who was verbally abusive to a teacher must be confronted and corrected. Ignoring sinful behavior in the school corrupts the school's culture.
HOW we speak the truth, however, is extremely important. We should be clear and candid but gracious even if we have to confront the sinful behavior of others.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. (Eph. 4:15)
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Pro 15:1)
The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. (Pro 16:21)
Turn the Other Cheek, Go the Extra Mile
Remember, LIFE AND MINISTRY ARE NOT ABOUT US! When we remember that we are to "be living sacrifices" (Rom. 12:1-2) it is easier not to take personal offense when dealing with conflict. Every action we take and every response we give, or don't give, reflects upon God's glory, His kingdom, the testimony of the Gospel, the reputation of our schools, and our leadership.
When dealing with angry or unreasonable people, it is helpful to remember Jesus' instruction:
And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Mat 5:41-48)
We can demonstrate going the extra mile in our schools with a strong bias for "yes." In other words, unless the request violates an important policy or foundational principle our bias should be to say yes. While it is not always possible to agree, it is possible to agree to requests more often than we like to admit.
One of the keys to saying "yes" is to avoid the "convenience" trap. That is, if we are not vigilant we can too quickly say no because saying yes would require sacrifice and inconvenience. Remember, sacrificial service not convenience, is Christ's example for our lives and ministries.
Take a moment to reflect on the following verses.
But when Herod's birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, "Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter." And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother.
And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus. Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.
When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves." But Jesus said, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." (Mat 14:6-16)
Note several things:
1) Jesus has just been told about the beheading of John the Baptist. His natural human response upon hearing this terrible news is that he sought solitude, perhaps a quiet place to grieve the loss.
2) Jesus is inconvenienced. The inconsiderate and insensitive crowd follows Jesus--demanding more of his time and energy--notwithstanding his own desire for solitude.
3) Jesus does not feel sorry for himself, he does not ignore the needs of those around them, and he does not complain--instead--he gives of himself yet again in order to serve them. Rather than feeling sorry for himself he has compassion on them!
Responding versus Reacting
Stop! Pray! Think! When confronted by an upset parent or employee, when reading a brusque or mean-spirited email, or when listening to an angry diatribe on the phone, do not immediately react. Wait. An immediate emotionally driven response does not reflect the Fruit of the Spirit and will be counter-productive.
Rather than responding immediately take a moment to say a silent prayer. Then reflect on the issue before responding to it.
For example, I will often compose a response to an email and then set it aside for several hours or for a day. Inevitably I find myself revising the email being careful with the words I choose to ensure that my response is not emotional, is clear and gracious, and deals with the facts, not the emotions surrounding the issue.
I often employ Paul’s “sandwich” style as found in his Epistles. You are probably familiar with his style. He starts out with a compliment or praise, moves to instruction/correction, and closes with praise or positive acknowledgment. Here is an example from I Corinthians.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge-- even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you--(1Co 1:3-6) …
… But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ … (1Co 3:1) …
… The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen. (1Co 16:23-24)
Do not ignore the matter! It will not go away. Whatever the issue—address it. Dr. Kynerd, our current Chancellor and former Superintendent, has given me very wise advice. He counsels, “Under promise and over deliver.” Reflect on the benefits of this statement for a moment. What are the potential benefits if we under promise, over deliver, and always follow-up? Conversely, what are the consequences if we over promise and under deliver?
Fruit of the Spirit
Cultivate the Fruit of the Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:22-23)
When dealing with conflict, ask yourself the following questions:
- How will my response reflect love?
- How can I find joy in this situation for myself and for the one who is upset? (“count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. Jas 1:2-3)
- How can I show kindness EVEN if I am being “abused”?
- What good deed/work can I perform in this situation?
- How can I use this situation to demonstrate faithfulness to my Lord, to my calling and to my students, parents, and staff?
- How am I reflecting gentleness in my response as I seek to “speak the truth in love?”
- Am I demonstrating self-control or am I reacting?
Keeping Authorities Informed
With the exception of gifts, people do not like surprises! If you are dealing with an issue that is likely to come to the attention of a board member, the pastor, or others in positions of authority—inform them in advance of the situation.
I routinely give my board chairman and/or the pastors a “heads-up” on situations that may percolate. Doing so is a courtesy to them so that they are not caught off guard. It also fosters trust and gives you the opportunity to seek advice. There is NO DOWNSIDE to this proactive communication!
Likewise, if there is bad news share it with the school board forthrightly. Don’t sweep things under the rug, don’t pretend everything is fine if they aren’t. You owe it to your board and others to keep them fully informed of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Making the Hard but Necessary Decisions
Sometimes an effective response may be require a parting of the way. For example, an employee may have to be dismissed or a parent may have to be told that the school can no longer serve him or her. This should be a last resort measure but it may be necessary.
Over the years I have had to make the unpleasant decision to terminate an employee or to tell a parent that his behavior is such that the school can no longer effectively serve his family.
Such decisions should only be made after much prayer, hard work, and longsuffering. The highest levels of integrity must be maintained. But failure to make these hard decisions is a failure of leadership.
When you make these hard decisions remember that you do not have the liberty of defending yourself to others. With the exception of those with authority over us, we must not share information regarding the circumstances of our decision with others in order to justify ourselves. We also do not have the liberty of gossiping (sharing something that is true is still gossip!). The Scriptures are clear—“Love covers a multitude of sins.” This does not mean that sin is swept under the rug—it means that we protect the reputations of our protagonists even if doing so causes others to question our leadership and decisions. Again, this is NOT about us.
- Conflict cannot and should not be avoided
- Use humor to diffuse anger
- See conflict as an opportunity to disciple and/or to be discipled
- Be humble
- Speak the truth in love
- Turn the other cheek, go the extra mile
- Respond—don’t react
- Demonstrate the Fruit of the Spirit
- Keep the appropriate authorities informed
- Make the hard decisions
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Well, I thought it was about time that I get into this blogging thing. I started out with Twitter, which allows me to participate in "microblogging". It's been a great way for me to share my daily thoughts with others and connect to a community of followers in my local area and around the world. If you have a Twitter account you can follow me at twitter.com/karimosbacker. I decided I would finally jump into the world of "grown-up blogging", so here I am. I'm not sure exactly what it will look like or how I will even have enough thoughts to fill up pages, but I figure I'll take up my little piece of cyberspace to share some of my thoughts...
God and texting. These two things may seem to have nothing in common with each other what-so-ever. In a literal sense that may be true, but today I realized that they have so much more in common than I ever took time to notice.
When I got back from class today, I ate my 3-times-a-week bagel from Einsteins (bacon, egg, & cheese on honey whole wheat--greatest meal ever invented), and then I decided to take a nap on this National Napping Day. I was sleeping very well, had a very in depth dream, but then I woke up abruptly thinking that my phone had made that little noise that indicated that I had received a text message. This happens often and I think that most everyone can identify with this. It almost seems as if we are all programmed to hear our phones go off no matter what. It may be the strangest phenomenon in the world today. I bet most of us will admit that we not only hear our phones go off from any room of the house (even if it's on vibrate), but probably even in a raging tornado. We have subconsciously tuned and strained our ears to listen for every pitiful little sound that comes from that little device that seems so essential to life. I may not hear my mom yell at me from the kitchen, but you better believe that when the music is blaring, the hairdryer is on, and my phone is in another room in between the couch cushions, I'll hear it.
I believe the reason we are so in sync with our cell phone sounds is because we have learned to anxiously wait for it. We know that when we hear that beep, it means that someone out there has taken the time to write us a personal message. They have taken the time to ask us a question, pay us a compliment, or to just chat. Though it may seem silly to think about, everyone deep down has to admit that hearing that beep and receiving a personal message makes us feel really great.
Texting has also become an essential part of our everyday lives. It has become necessary for businesses, fast communication, blogging, social networking, and even relationships. I was once in a short relationship in which I only interacted with the guy occasionally face-to-face and through text messaging. Not one single phone call ever. (Hey guys, how 'bout a friendly phone call every once in a while :)) Without a doubt it has revolutionized how things are accomplished in our world today.
As I woke up from my great nap today, sure that I had received a text message while I was asleep (to my disappointment I had imagined the entire thing), I suddenly realized: Why don't I ever text God?? Now let me be clear, I do not mean to say that in any way that seems trivial or that dumbs-down the importance of the Lord by comparing him to a text message, but I think that it is an interesting connection to make. What if I were to spend as much time in contact with my Savior as I do with my friends? How would my life be different? Sure, it's easy to pray to the Lord right when I wake up in the morning or right as I'm drifting off to sleep when my mind is the most empty that it will be all day, but what if I really stayed in conversation with the Lord all day. What if I were to take the time to send him messages like I do with all of my other relationships? What if I were to send him an "I love you", "Thanks for everything you do", "I really need help with this, can you please help me today?" "I'm sorry that I said that, will you forgive me?" "I'm really busy, but I'm going to make some time for you, when can we get together?" "I'm lonely today, where are you?" And how awesome would it be if we learned to listen for him like we do for that faint little beep from our cells!! If we listened for an "I love you too", "I forgive you", "I will never leave you!" like a little vibration on our hearts.
I'm so happy that I woke up this afternoon thinking I had a text message. Just last night I was thinking about how so often I only pray to the Lord a few times a day and how I needed the Lord's help to keep me in contact with him all day. Thinking about prayer this way makes it seem so much more manageable to be in constant communication with our Lord no matter what! If I can take time to text message friends 30 or more times a day, I can certainly speak to my Savior just as much and hopefully more.
I pray that you and I would learn to "text" our Lord more often. After all, we have unlimited texting.
"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Posted by Dr. Barrett L. Mosbacker at 3/19/2009 10:40:00 AM
January 31, 2009
Please note: Due to technical errors created by Google, I have been forced to repost this article in order for the pictures to be viewable. I apologize for the double-post. Unfortunately, this Google created error is showing up on many of my previous posts. I am looking into moving the blog to a better platform. Thank you for your patience.)
We are in danger of becoming increasingly irrelevant and non-competitive. If we do, we will lose students.
Historically, our competition has come from free public schools, charter schools, and homeschooling. Our new competition is coming from technology enabled courses offered by public schools, colleges and universities, and virtual schools, including virtual Christian schools. This development is changing the educational landscape and the school market. The current recession is likely to accelerate this change.
Public schools are adopting interactive technology and distance learning (D.L.) at an accelerating pace. Moreover, there is an increasing number of online virtual schools in higher education and in K-12 education. These options make virtually (pun intended) any course available to any student anytime, anywhere. Students and their parents are no longer restricted to brick and mortar traditional schools to have access to high quality fully accredited courses.
The Explosion in Distance Learning
Alabama, not historically known for innovation or high quality education, is leading the nation in connecting every public school in the state to online asynchronous courses and synchronous courses offered through video conferencing and other interactive technologies. Every student in the state now has access to a wide range of courses, including honors and AP courses that have historically been only offered to students in larger schools in wealthier school districts. The image below shows some of the courses offered through Alabama's Access Program.
To view a short news clip from Fox News about the Access program, click here.
As reflected in the Alabama Access Program, distance learning is exploding. According to Drs. Horn and Christensen (authors of Disrupting Class1) of the Harvard Business School, public education enrollments in online classes have skyrocketed from 45,000 in 2000 to roughly 1 million today. It is projected that by 2020 over 50% of high school classes will be available online1.
The Florida Virtual School (FLVS) reflects this explosion in D.L. Founded in 1997, FLVS currently enrolls 63,675 students in grades 6-12. Enrollment is open to public, private, and home school students.
FLVS offers more than 90 courses—including core subjects, world languages, electives, honors, and over 10 Advanced Placement courses. FLVS courses are accepted for credit and are transferable. Florida Virtual School is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and courses are NCAA approved. FLVS also offers AP Exam reviews in April, even for students who did not take the course through FLVS.
Drs. Horn and Christensen outline four reasons why distance learning will continue to grow:
Distance learning technologies will keep improving.
Distance learning provides the ability of teachers, students, and parents to select right learning pathways for differentiated learning thus customizing the education to the learning preferences and needs of each child.
The looming teacher shortage caused by the retirement of baby boomers will propel schools to move to distance learning to gain access to hard to hire teachers in math, science, and other subjects.
The cost of distance learning will fall significantly.
Distance Learning Is and Will Disrupt the Traditional Classroom and School
I highly recommend Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns by Drs. Christensen, Horn, and Johnson. For a good overview, click on the play button below to watch a video podcast interview with the author, which runs approximately four minutes.
The short video below from Harvard Business School provides useful background context to Dr. Christensen's book. A key concept in this video is winning not by doing it better but doing it differently.
The key concepts in the video sound very familiar in our schools.
The Stimulus Plan is to Include $1 Billion for Ed Tech in Public Schools
According to Edweek2, the Obama Administration plans to spend $1 Billion for Ed Tech. The House Democrats' "American Recovery and Reinvestment" plan includes "$1 billion for 21st century classrooms, including computer and science labs and teacher technology training."
The House Democrats' plan overall includes $41 billion to local school districts, including $1 billion made available through the Enhancing Education Through Technology (E2T2) program, which last year was just $263 million. From the House Democrat's proposal:
We will put people to work building 21st century classrooms, labs, and libraries to help our kids compete with any worker in the world.
Such developments have the potential to make public schools more competitive with Christian schools.
Competition from an Unexpected Source-Virtual Christian Schools
I can already hear the rejoinder "but we provide a Christian education in a Christian environment. This type of education cannot be replicated by technology."
It is true that neither distance learning nor any other technology can perfectly replicate the experience of community that one finds in a brick and mortar school. Warm human interactions, prayer in the classroom, chapel services, the excitement and lessons learned through athletics and fine arts are life changing and life enriching experiences that can only occur through face-to-face human interaction.
However, it is naive to assume that these rapidly developing technologies do not pose real challenges to our schools--and real opportunities.
1. The number of parents theologically and philosophically committed to Christian education is relatively small. Given the growing shallowness of Christianity in the U.S. and the evangelical church in particular, this number is likely to grow smaller.
As I noted in a previous post, for many parents, the "Christian" in education is not as important as "quality" in education. Many of our parents enroll their children in our schools for reasons other than the development of a biblical worldview, which frankly, most of our parents do not understand because their entire educational experience was secular, not Christian. They may have a Christian heart but most have a secular mind.
Once having experienced the benefits of Christian education, some of our parents come to a deeper understanding of and commitment to the philosophy of Christian education. Most, however, do not start with this understanding and many never acquire it.
Based on formal and informal surveys that I have conducted with parents over the years, I find that parents enroll their children in our schools for the reasons outlined below. Although survey results vary, in general the order provided below reflects the priorities of parents when deciding to enroll their children in a Christian school.
- A sense of security and safety
- Christian atmosphere (meaning good values, nurture, and protection from the "world")
- Academic quality
- Relatively small sizes
- Christian worldview
The essential question for us is "can distance learning replicate the above benefits of Christian education?" I believe that it can--at least partially and most importantly--well-enough for many of our parents. I believe this will become increasingly true for several reasons:
Younger parents will be much more knowledgeable and comfortable with online learning (many will experience it first hand in college). Online learning will not have the stigma that it does for many of our current parents, administrators, and teachers.
The notion of community is changing due to social networking sites like Facebook.
Rising tuition may make Christian education increasingly unattainable for many.
Technology will continue to improve resulting in enhanced synchronous interaction through high speed embedded video-conferencing technologies like Wimba.
Moreover, it is interesting to reflect upon how many of the reasons cited by parents for enrolling their children in a Christian school can be at least partially met through online classes.
- Security and safety is provided when students are at home with parents taking coursework online.
- Christian students interacting live with a Christian teacher does provide a Christian atmosphere, albeit in a more limited fashion. Moreover, our students view social interactions differently than we typically do. For them, interaction through social networks and other technologies IS social interaction and quite natural. As evidence, all you have to do is watch a group of teenagers together. They spend as much time texting their friends as they do interacting with those directly in front of them.
- Academic quality can be maintained when highly qualified teachers are teaching using interactive asynchronous and synchronous technology such as video-conferencing, chat rooms, Skype and similar programs. In fact, sometimes the quality can be better! It is now possible and relatively inexpensive for students to take online courses from instructors with Masters and Ph.D.'s, e.g., from India. For an example, click here.
To put this into perspective, consider the following information provided by one online provider of tutoring services.
- The small class size speaks for itself.
- A Christian worldview can be taught by using Christian teachers and Christian material. Sitting in a traditional classroom is not necessarily required. For example, Reformed Theological Seminary offers theological degrees through distance learning. As I was researching material for this article I discovered a video that I did not know existed by my own pastor outlining the benefits of distance learning for theological training.
To the extent that parents believe that they can provide their children most of what is available in a traditional Christian school by combining distance learning, homeschooling, and extra-curricular programs through community programs, we run the risk of experiencing enrollment declines. As technology improves, our younger more technology savvy parents may choose options other than the local Christian school. They will make a cost benefit assessment something like this: "I am willing to get 80% of the benefits of a traditional Christian school for 50% of the cost." The graphic below, which I developed for a workshop I recently conducted, illustrates the calculation being made by parents.
This leads to the next development in the market--the Virtual Christian School.
2. There are a growing number of Christian Virtual Schools such as Sevenstar Christian Academy. Schools such as Sevenstar offer online classes taught by Christian teachers, primarily to students of Christian parents. This is a new development that adds another player in the Christian school market.
As an experiment, I did a simple Google search for "Christian school distance learning". Here is what came up (note there are more than 10 pages of search results):
3. The recession is creating significant challenges for our parents. These challenges may affect parents' decisions regarding the enrollment of their children in a Christian school.
- Many of our families will experience job losses for one or both spouses.
- Many families will receive little or no pay increases, some will experience reductions. On the other hand, most of our schools will raise tuition.
- Employers are shifting health insurance premiums to employees and increasing co-pays thus reducing family disposable income.
- Families have lost wealth making paying for college more difficult or impossible. Some parents will decide to forego paying K-12 tuition to save money for college.
- Families are worried about retirement. Some may reallocate tuition to retirement accounts.
- Grandparents may have less disposable income to assist with tuition.
- Many families will focus on reducing debt and saving money.
4. The availability of high quality academic courses through both Christian and public schools, along with the recession, may encourage more parents to homeschool their children.
Although the explosion in distance learning poses challenges, it also presents a significant opportunity. Consider the potential benefits of D.L. for our schools:
- Distance learning provides a vehicle for extending our school ministries by enabling our schools to offer Christian education to students who do not have access to quality Christian schools or whose parents cannot afford it. Distance learning provides the opportunity to expand the Christian school market in ways hitherto not possible.
- We have the opportunity to form strategic alliances to offer courses to our students that we otherwise could not afford to offer as individuals schools, e.g., Chinese, astronomy, etc.
- A new revenue stream is created by enrolling new students but without the added cost of new facilities and auxiliary services.
- Extending our educational ministry impact to international students along with the opportunity to connect our classrooms with classrooms in other countries thus fostering cross-cultural understanding and deepening our students' interest in world affairs and missions.
These are just a few of the potential benefits of this revolution in technology and learning. The question is "how are we going to respond?" As I see it we have three options:
1. The proverbial ostrich approach--deny the reality of what is already occurring. Adopting a smug, but in my humble opinion misplaced, confidence that D.L. is a fad or at most a niche phenomenon that will not materially affect the educational marketplace or our schools.
2. Adopt a theological superiority complex that in effect relegates distance learning to a sub-Christian status because it lacks the traditional definition of community. I call this the "Christian Luddite Syndrome" or CLS.
3. Prayerfully and creativity determine how we can redeem this new technology for God's glory, the advancement of His kingdom, and for the benefit of our schools and students. In short, we don't have to throw out the baby with the bath water. Whatever the shortcoming of D.L., we can and should work to redeem the technology to make it all that it can be in service to the mission of Christian education.
Can we keep up with our competition and should we care? I believe the answer to both questions is an emphatic YES. We face both a challenge and an opportunity. Our response will determine which it will be for our schools.
An African Proverb provides an insightful summary of where we may find ourselves as Christian schools:
Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up.
It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.
Every morning a lion wakes up.
It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle.
When the sun comes up, you better start running.
You Are Invited
I am currently working on a major distance learning initiative that will involved several Christian schools in the U.S. and overseas. If you would like to learn more about this initiative and your possible involvement, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
1. Christensen, C., Horn, M., and Johnson, C., Disrupting class (2008): How disruptive innovations will change the way the world learns, McGrawHill, p. 91Click to read full article>>>
Posted by Dr. Barrett L. Mosbacker at 1/31/2009 09:26:00 AM
By Dan Krause
Try this experiment. Ask an ardent supporter of public education what’s wrong – from a
philosophical, societal good point-of-view – with private Christian schools. Chances are, a
top reason you’ll hear is that Christian schools “cherry pick” the wealthiest and highest
functioning families in the community, leaving public schools to pick up the pieces with lower
income (and therefore lower functioning) students. Of course students in private schools
do better, they’ll say; these same higher functioning students would do well - if not better -
in public schools. Ipso facto, it’s not what private schools do that makes them successful, it’s
the students private schools attract. Public schools, by societal decree, have to service
everyone, and therefore cannot achieve the same stellar results as private schools.
Let’s evaluate this argument two ways: (1) as a statement of reality, and (2) as a statement
As a statement of reality, it is our experience, working with hundreds of Christian schools
across North America, that many in fact do “cherry pick” economically. However, it works
both ways. Some private Christian schools attract higher income families, and many others
tend to attract mostly middle and lower income families. We’d estimate that the number of
the later actually exceeds the number of the former.
Attract lower income families? How could that possibly be? It’s really fairly simple. The
conventional way most Christian schools operate is to charge too little tuition, and offer too
little needs-based scholarships. The leaders of these schools struggle heroically to provide
high quality education on a shoe string, conquering often staggering operational deficits year after year. With the best of intents, they are blissfully unaware that their artificially low
tuition rates actually turn off higher income families, who wonder how the school could
possibly be high quality or professional.
Even if the school is high quality and professional, these same higher income parents
question how the school could possible be fiscally stable, a good long-term bet for educating
their children. More often than not, their concerns are dead on. This year (2008) alone,
over 60 ACSI schools in California closed their doors forever.
In micro-economics 101, when price decreases, demand increases. In Christian school
economics 101, we often see “low cost leaders” losing students year to year. As I write this,
I’m traveling on a plane from a northern community where the lowest priced Christian
school in town, a Lutheran school, lost 55 students from ‘06/’07 to ‘07/’08 – 225 to 170.
The Roman Catholic school in the same mid-sized town charges about twice as much tuition
as the Lutheran school - and offers copious financial aid – is doing just fine enrollment-wise.
From the point of view of what we see in hundreds of Christian schools, two conclusions
seem fair. (1) Parent’s perception of program quality is more important in enrollment
decisions than price. Because of (1), charging less than the cost to educate a child is counterproductive in maintaining a robust enrollment. Why? Because the lower price diminishes the perceived quality of the school.
As a statement of ministry philosophy, we could hypothetically ask what Jesus would do,
whether or how Jesus would target ministry by socio-economics. Our ardent Christian
school critic might ask us – wouldn’t Jesus focus on the poor? Or perhaps - wouldn’t Jesus
operate in such a way to reach out to every person in the community?'
The good news is – we don’t have to speculate on what Jesus would do, we can study what
He actually did. The answer to both of the above questions is clearly and decisively: NO.
No, Jesus did not reach out largely – or even mostly – to the poor. He ministered to the
Donald Trumps of his day, including Matthew, the rich young ruler, and Zaccheaus.
Importantly, Jesus invited himself over to Zacheaus’s house – not vice versa. Surely the
Roman Centurion was upper or at least middle class in those days. Jesus did not turn him
away, but instead gave him the highest compliment for faith recorded in the New
The thousands that Jesus miraculously fed on two separate occasions seem more middle
class or lower middle class than penniless on the street. The disciples clearly imply that they
had somewhere to go if Jesus dismissed them – but it was a long walk, up to a whole day.
Yes, Jesus did also minister to the destitute – lepers, the paralytic, the man at the Bethseda
pool, demoniacs immediately come to mind. Clearly, Jesus served people in all economic
No – Jesus did not reach out to every member of his community equally. The question is
crucial to Christian schools, many of whom believe that their Christian school should in fact,
serve everyone in the community. This philosophy is a major justification for keeping tuition
artificially low – “anyone can afford our tuition.”
Clearly, Jesus did target His ministry, specifically to the lost sheep of Israel. Consider John
4:1: “Now he had to go through Samaria.” Apparently, he didn’t want to go. Jesus was
Samaria-phobic, our politically-correct Christian school critic might insert, or even
Canaanite-phobic. (Remember, “It’s not right to give the children’s food to the dogs.”) Of
course Jesus wasn’t ___phobic anything. He wasn’t against any particular people group – he
just focused. Besides concentrating on the Israelites, Jesus was concerned about the sick –
both physically ill, and sick at heart.
Many others target their ministry efforts as well. Rick Warren, the author of the mega-hit,
The Purpose Driven Life, felt called of God to start a church for people who felt they didn’t
need God. The success of his ministry to “Saddleback Sam” is proof enough that he got his
call right, even though it was the exact opposite of the type of Israelite Jesus felt called to –
“only the sick need a doctor.” Many of the greatest churches in America also clearly
targeted an audience, such as Bill Hybels at Willow Creek or Robert Schuller at Crystal
Cathredral. Decades ago, as he started his ministry, Schuller personally made hundreds of
house to house visits in Orange County, California.
So how do we bring the realities of Christian school economics in line with the ministry
philosophy of Jesus? Four possibilities are common:
The bottom line is this. Jesus clearly did not target by economics, but 3 of the four usual
models for tuition and financial aid (B, C, D) have the effect of targeting low income, high
income, and middle income families respectively. Only A – full cost tuition with significant
financial need, gives us the best opportunity, the best ability, to minister to families across all
socio-economic levels, rich, poor, or middle income. Of the four choices, (A) seems the
Posted by Dr. Barrett L. Mosbacker at 1/31/2009 09:25:00 AM
By Mark Kennedy, ACSI Canada
As enrollment declines continue to plague Christian schools across the continent we sometimes look to churches for support and for students. But the response is often discouraging and occasionally downright frigid. We are sometimes made to feel like sideshow performers blundering onto the stage at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre during a performance of Hamlet. We feel out of place, not wanted. One part of the body seems to be saying to another “I don’t need you!” and the whole body is suffering as a result.
Has the North American church not noticed the stream of young people leaving its hallowed halls permanently? Do pastors and other church leaders never stop to consider that the reason their own children are turning from the faith may be because 2 to 3 hours of weekly Christian training is no match for 35 hours of educational indoctrination in a secular worldview?
Well, we could respond to those many non supportive evangelical churches by isolating ourselves from them, at least in our thinking and too often we have done exactly that. After all we didn’t reject them- to begin with at least.
But that kind of approach is self destructive in the long run because of one uncomfortable truth – we are them. The Lord has not designed the body to be divided and we need to show, not just say, that we are a part of the church.
Along the lines of ‘showing it’ here is an idea from the grade 11 class at Brantford Christian Collegiate : extend the World Concerns Conference to serve kids in Christian schools, public schools and church youth groups and let students from our Christian high schools run it. I think we’ll give it a try for the 2009/2010 school year.
Working with student planning committees we will aim for 2 or 3 localized World Concerns Conferences in Ontario and the same number in the Maritimes. It is just one idea and it may not work but it certainly has merit. And it begins to show the church that we are on their side.
What else can we do to show that we are a legitimate part of the church? If we need ideas maybe the best source would be our senior students, like the grade 11 class at BCC. It is worth asking.Click to read full article>>>
Posted by Dr. Barrett L. Mosbacker at 1/31/2009 09:24:00 AM
By John Stonestreet, Summit Ministries
No, nothing on environmentalism in this article. I actually find it quite unfortunate that the long standing idea of Christians being "earthy" is so often redefined as being "green" today, amidst those Christians who have embraced the contemporary fearmongers take on climate change. Inconclusive science, Darwinian assumptions, and faulty perspectives on the Biblical teaching of human beginnings and ends are all at work here.
Still, much more common and at least as unfortunate (perhaps even more so) is the idea that Christians are not to be "earthy" at all. This comes when "earthy" is misunderstood as "worldly" in a way which separates the spiritual and physical in a sort of pseudo-gnosticism. This is something quite prevalent among contemporary Christians and owes its origins more to Greek philosophy than to Biblical teaching.
In the Christian economy of things, the division is not between the spiritual and physical (which God pronounced "very good" in the Garden), but between Creator and Creation. The Creator is sovereign, and He created a world in which physical and spiritual co-exist as a metaphysical whole (especially the imago dei: "...and God formed man out of the dust of the ground [physical], and breathed into him the breath of life [spiritual], and man became a living soul [imago dei])."
What has brought these thoughts to mind is a particularly intriguing, though brief, article in the latest Touchstone (April 2008, p.7) in which Peter Leithart recalls that many early pagan critics of Christianity, including Alcinous and Celsus, accused Christianity of being too "earthy." In pagan spirituality, one had to transcend the physical in order to commune with the gods and goddesses which were of a higher, spiritual reality instead. Of course, in a theistic worldview, God is the ultimate highest reality as creator, with created things being both spiritual and physical. And then, the story goes, God enters the created realm by becoming man!
For these pagans, it was a scandalous thing that God had not only created the physical as good, but had also become flesh (the ultimate endorsement of the physical as legitimate reality!)! This meant that truth, beauty, and goodness were not merely disembodied concepts existing outside of the real world of the human predicament. Leithart writes,
Instead of ascending past sensible things to the intellectual realm to find God, Christians said that God could be found in this world, since he had made himself known in flesh, and continues to give himself in water and wine, bodies and bread.
According to Leithart, the pagans complaint was that "those early Christians (were) so earthly minded they could be no heavenly good." It is unfortunate that this critique could hardly be leveled against us today. While we build insulating churches complete with our "Christian second life" versions of arcades, bookstores, coffee shops, restaurants, support groups, bands, radio stations, and clothes, the things of earth become strangely dim - and we like it that way.
We do Christianity injustice by our modern-day dualism. The Christian life is not about valuing the spiritual over the physical, it is about embracing the Lordship of the Creating and Redeeming God of the Universe over all realms of existence.Click to read full article>>>
Posted by Dr. Barrett L. Mosbacker at 1/31/2009 09:24:00 AM
January 3, 2009
I love dessert. One of my favorites is pecan pie. When I sit down to enjoy a piece of warm pecan pie Ala Mode there are two things that I am careful to do: 1) I eat slowly savoring each mouth watering morsel and 2) I am very careful not to waste a single crumb. My dog can lick a plate clean but he has nothing over me when it comes to getting every last morsel of taste off of my plate! (yes that is my dog--like father like son!)
When it comes to my dessert, I do not waste it!
Are We Wasting Our Lives and Ministry?
Dessert is trivial when compared with one's life and ministry. One of my fears is that my efforts will be wasted. I sometimes ask myself, "in the end, will all of my hard work and long hours, the stress in dealing with upset parents and the occasional recalcitrant employee, and the energy expended in creating a world-class Christian school prove to be for naught? What if the only thing that I have achieved is the creation of a great product--superior students, excellent staff, and an outstanding school--but I have not borne fruit? What if I am doing many good things but ultimately not the essential thing? What if I am building and running a very efficient factory rather than planting and cultivating an orchard?"
If I build a great school and produce great students but those students do not grow to love and obey Christ and if they do not learn to love their neighbors--and if the fault lies with me because I failed to do what was necessary to produce spiritual fruit rather than creating a great product--then I will have ultimately failed in my calling. I will have wasted the ministry entrusted to my stewardship. That would be tragic.
Distinguishing Produce from Product: What Does Fruit Look Like?
To ensure that we are cultivating produce and not merely producing a product we need to be clear what produce or fruit is. What does authentic fruit look like in a Christian school?
In answering this question I would like to expand upon the typical definitions, which include producing students who: Love Christ, evangelize, raise godly families, and who are serving in a local church. All of these are essential evidences of spiritual fruit in the lives of our students. Unless these things are true we clearly have not produced the desired fruit.
Nevertheless, I would like to offer a broader understanding of the fruit we desire to produce -- an understanding that incorporates and expands upon our typical definitions so that the spiritual completely engulfs the secular.
Below, for lack of a more creative title, is what I call the "Educational Pyramid" for Christian schooling. The limitations of a blog article do not permit a comprehensive treatment of each component of the pyramid so a concise summary will have to suffice.
Each block of the Educational Pyramid builds upon the other. Beginning with the foundational understanding that Christ is the source and object of knowledge, the biblical doctrine of mankind's general call to exercise dominion and stewardship over creation is realized through each individual's vocational calling. (for more information on this subject and the Creation Covenant, click here and see below.1)
Discovering and preparing for one's calling requires the development of a comprehensive course of instruction and co-curricular and extra-curricular programs. Fulfilling one's calling for God's glory and in fulfillment of the Creation Covenant requires that one's time, talent, and treasure, realized through and arising from one's calling, be consecrated to God and to loving one's neighbor.
Consecrating one's time, talent, and treasure through the dedication of one's vocation to God's glory and in loving one's neighbor inevitability leads to cultural transformation as Christians function as salt and light in this world.
More specifically, each block of the Educational Pyramid provides a rich framework for an expansive understanding of Christian education and for defining more comprehensively what we mean when we say we are striving to cultivate fruit, not merely create a product.
Christ is the ultimate source and object of all knowledge. There is no knowledge, no truth, no harmony, no beauty, no freedom--nothing apart from Christ. He is quite literally the Alpha and the Omega of existence and therefore of knowledge.
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Rom 11:36, ESV)
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Col 1:13-18, ESV)
Covenantal Mandate—General Call to Dominion and Stewardship (Gen. 1:27-30, 2:15)
Man has been called to the twin duties of exercising dominion and stewardship over creation. This is the raison d'être of his existence—to glorify God by engaging in creative and redemptive acts of dominion and stewardship over creation under the Lordship of Christ. To subdue and rule implies the sovereign exercise of control—the subjugation of creation to man. Cultivation is a stewardship activity—the process of preserving, nurturing, and improving creation for the purpose of increasing its beauty and benefit to man.
To aid him in this task, man invents tools--some simple like a shovel, some complex like a computer. Some are cognitive like literature or mathematics. Some are artistic like sculpture, music, or architecture.
If the exercise of dominion and stewardship over creation for God's glory is the raison d'être for our existence, then preparing students to use the tools required for doing so must be an important component of the Christian school’s curriculum. Students who graduate from a Christian school lacking fundamental skills and understanding in theology, science and technology, in the humanities, or in the arts will be handicapped in their efforts to glorify God through the redemptive exercise of dominion and stewardship.
Calling—Preparing for Vocation (Exod. 28:3, 31:6)
The general call (Creation Covenant) is personalized by God’s calling and gifting of individuals for specific vocations. Our ultimate goal is not to prepare students to be "successful" as defined by Western culture, it is to assist our students in discovering God's gifting and calling in their lives even if fulfilling that calling means they will make less money and not climb the ladder of "success". For a summary of the definition of vocation as I am using it, click here or see below1).
The doctrine of calling provides the theological and practical basis for providing a rich curriculum that encourages and stimulates the cultivation of the varied interests and aptitudes of our students. This is typically accomplished by offering standard and advanced courses and electives in the sciences, the arts, and the humanities. Our curriculum must be deep and broad enough to help students discover their interests and gifts (which are usually indicators of calling) and to prepare them to pursue their callings through higher education and work.
Our prayer and hope is that our students will consecrate their gifts, knowledge, and skills in service to God and in loving their neighbor. Paul reminds us that, “whatever we do, whether we eat or drink, we are to do it to the glory of God.” For most of our students, this is an abstract concept.
Using Our Gifts for God’s Glory: Making the Abstract Concrete
To make this concept more concrete for 21st century students and to help them grasp what it means to consecrate themselves, their gifts, and their vocations to God, consider the following questions for class research, discussion, and debate:
- How do we use computers and other technology for the glory of God?
- How does the Christian’s use of such technology differ from the non-Christian’s, or does it?
Similar questions can be asked about most any subject from history to physics. By answering such questions our students will gain a more concrete and practical understanding of what it means to consecrate one’s work and life to the glory of God.
Using Our Gifts for Loving our Neighbors
Continuing with the technology illustration, consider that computers are great tools for problem solving, communication, modeling, research, and information storage and retrieval. As such, they can be used to aid man’s efforts to fight disease, speed communication, improve engineering designs and safety, make space exploration feasible, improve efficiency in the generation of power, and a whole host of activities too numerous to list here. All of these activities are redemptive in nature, i.e., they contribute to the alleviation of the consequences of the curse and promote the welfare of our community and world. Used in this way, computers become instruments of love.
Again, this same approach can and should be used for every subject we teach. For example, how can an understanding of history be used to love our neighbors? How can becoming proficient with a musical instrument be used to love our neighbors?
A Powerful, Living Example
One of my favorite quotes comes from Dr. Francis Collins, a committed believer and the father of the Humane Genome Project and as such one of the world's leading scientists. Here is the statement he made standing beside President Bill Clinton when the announcement was made that the Humane Genome had been mapped.
"The human genome consists of all the DNA of our species, the hereditary code of life. This newly revealed text was 3 billion letters long, and written in a strange and cryptographic four-letter code. Such is the amazing complexity of the information carried within each cell of the human body, that a live reading of that code at a rate of one letter per second would take thirty-one years, even if reading continued day and night. Printing these letters out in regular font size on normal bond paper and binding them all together would result in a tower the height of the Washington Monument."
For the first time on a warm summer day six months into the new millennium, this amazing script, carrying within it all of the instructions for building a human being, was available to the world …
Without a doubt, this is the most important, most wondrous map ever produced by humankind…we are learning the language in which God created life. We are gaining ever more awe for the complexity, the beauty, and the wonder of God’s most divine and sacred gift …
It’s a happy day for the world. It is humbling for me, and awe-inspiring, to realize that we have caught the first glimpse of our own instruction book (Ps. 139:16?), previously known only to God” (Dr. Francis Collins, A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief: The Language of God, (Free Press, New York), 2006, pp. 2-3
Is this not how we want our students to fulfill their callings for God's glory and in loving their neighbors? Does this not represent produce (fruit) and not merely a product? Is this not for what we strive so diligently?
Just as Francis Collins is doing, our schools should be designed to prepare our students to make positive contributions to their community and culture through personal witnessing and discipleship, scientific and economic progress, the acquisition, and dissemination of knowledge, and the amelioration of human suffering. As Christian educators we have the opportunity to teach our students to use their learning for the glory of God and the good of our neighbors, not merely as Francis Schaeffer once put it, "for their personal peace and affluence."
This is why Christian schools are so important--and why we must bear fruit and not merely produce a product.
Education in general and Christian education in particular can exert a powerful influence on our students and in turn, on the quality of our national life. To be sure, there are other powerful forces shaping our students and culture. The media, technology, and politics, to name a few, but it is the quality of the education received by those who will start families, fill pulpits, develop our technology, create our entertainment, and pass our laws that will shape the character and quality of each individual and in turn the quality of our national life.
Consequently, few callings allow one to contribute more directly to the shaping of lives and to the welfare of a nation than Christian education. Like raindrops falling into a pond, Christian educators shape lives and “drop” them into communities. Each life creates ripples—some small, some large—that radiate into the community affecting it for good or bad. Like a constant rain, the drops fall year after year all contributing individually and collectively to the national pool of talent and character that ultimately shapes our nation’s character and determines our national destiny.
So How Do We Ensure That We are Cultivating Produce, Not Making a Product?
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (Joh 15:1-5, ESV)
Without attempting to exegete this passage, let me simply suggest that to abide in Christ so that we may bear much fruit means at least the following:
I find that I must guard myself against living like a "practical atheist." That is, if I am not diligent about prayer I can find myself working harder than I pray. If I do I may be productive but I will not bear fruit!
Take a moment to read the following wonderful statement on reliance upon God. As you read through this substitute preacher/preaching for teacher (administrator)/teaching/administrating. (You can download this in PDF format by clicking here or read it online at Christian Classics Ethereal Library.)
The Letter Killeth
During this affliction I was brought to examine my life in relation to eternity closer than I had done when in the enjoyment of health. In this examination relative to the discharge of my duties toward my fellow creatures as a man, a Christian minister, and an officer of the Church, I stood approved by my own conscience; but in relation to my Redeemer and Saviour the result was different. My returns of gratitude and loving obedience bear no proportion to my obligations for redeeming, preserving, and supporting me through the vicissitudes of life from infancy to old age. The coldness of my love to Him who first loved me and has done so much for me overwhelmed and confused me; and to complete my unworthy character, I had not only neglected to improve the grace given to the extent of my duty and privilege, but for want of improvement had, while abounding in perplexing care and labor, declined from first zeal and love. I was confounded, humbled myself, implored mercy, and renewed my covenant to strive and devote myself unreservedly to the Lord.—Bishop McKendree
THE preaching that kills may be, and often is, orthodox—dogmatically, inviolably orthodox. We love orthodoxy. It is good. It is the best. It is the clean, clear-cut teaching of God’s Word, the trophies won by truth in its conflict with error, the levees which faith has raised against the desolating floods of honest or reckless misbelief or unbelief; but orthodoxy, clear and hard as crystal, suspicious and militant, may be but the letter well-shaped, well-named, and well-learned, the letter which kills. Nothing is so dead as a dead orthodoxy, too dead to speculate, too dead to think, to study, or to pray.
The preaching that kills may have insight and grasp of principles, may be scholarly and critical in taste, may have every minutia of the derivation and grammar of the letter, may be able to trim the letter into its perfect pattern, and illume it as Plato and Cicero may be illumined, may study it as a lawyer studies his text-books to form his brief or to defend his case, and yet be like a frost, a killing frost. Letter-preaching may be eloquent, enameled with poetry and rhetoric, sprinkled with prayer spiced with sensation, illumined by genius and yet these be but the massive or chaste, costly mountings, the rare and beautiful flowers which coffin the corpse. The preaching which kills may be without scholarship, unmarked by any freshness of thought or feeling, clothed in tasteless generalities or vapid specialties, with style irregular, slovenly, savoring neither of closet nor of study, graced neither by thought, expression, or prayer. Under such preaching how wide and utter the desolation! how profound the spiritual death!
This letter-preaching deals with the surface and shadow of things, and not the things themselves. It does not penetrate the inner part. It has no deep insight into, no strong grasp of, the hidden life of God’s Word. It is true to the outside, but the outside is the hull which must be broken and penetrated for the kernel. The letter may be dressed so as to attract and be fashionable, but the attraction is not toward God nor is the fashion for heaven. The failure is in the preacher. God has not made him. He has never been in the hands of God like clay in the hands of the potter. He has been busy about the sermon, its thought and finish, its drawing and impressive forces; but the deep things of God have never been sought, studied, fathomed, experienced by him. He has never stood before “the throne high and lifted up,” never heard the seraphim song, never seen the vision nor felt the rush of that awful holiness, and cried out in utter abandon and despair under the sense of weakness and guilt, and had his life renewed, his heart touched, purged, inflamed by the live coal from God’s altar. His ministry may draw people to him, to the Church, to the form and ceremony; but no true drawings to God, no sweet, holy, divine communion induced. The Church has been frescoed but not edified, pleased but not sanctified. Life is suppressed; a chill is on the summer air; the soil is baked. The city of our God becomes the city of the dead; the Church a graveyard, not an embattled army. Praise and prayer are stifled; worship is dead. The preacher and the preaching have helped sin, not holiness; peopled hell, not heaven.
Preaching which kills is prayerless preaching. Without prayer the preacher creates death, and not life. The preacher who is feeble in prayer is feeble in life-giving forces. The preacher who has retired prayer as a conspicuous and largely prevailing element in his own character has shorn his preaching of its distinctive life-giving power. Professional praying there is and will be, but professional praying helps the preaching to its deadly work. Professional praying chills and kills both preaching and praying. Much of the lax devotion and lazy, irreverent attitudes in congregational praying are attributable to professional praying in the pulpit. Long, discursive, dry, and inane are the prayers in many pulpits. Without unction or heart, they fall like a killing frost on all the graces of worship. Death-dealing prayers they are. Every vestige of devotion has perished under their breath. The deader they are the longer they grow. A plea for short praying, live praying, real heart praying, praying by the Holy Spirit—direct, specific, ardent, simple, unctuous in the pulpit—is in order. A school to teach preachers how to pray, as God counts praying, would be more beneficial to true piety, true worship, and true preaching than all theological schools.
Stop! Pause! Consider! Where are we? What are we doing? Preaching to kill? Praying to kill? Praying to God! the great God, the Maker of all worlds, the Judge of all men! What reverence! what simplicity! what sincerity! what truth in the inward parts is demanded! How real we must be! How hearty! Prayer to God the noblest exercise, the loftiest effort of man, the most real thing! Shall we not discard forever accursed preaching that kills and prayer that kills, and do the real thing, the mightiest thing—prayerful praying, life-creating preaching, bring the mightiest force to bear on heaven and earth and draw on God’s exhaustless and open treasure for the need and beggary of man?
A Few Practical Practices
I have a very long way to go in improving my prayer life but by God's grace I have made a habit, not a perfect one but a consistent one, of doing the following, which I offer to you with the hope that these practical suggestions may encourage you in your prayerfulness so that you and I might bear much fruit.
- Start each day with prayer. I pray that God will "bless the work of my hands each day." I take this prayer, believe it or not, from a statement by Satan concerning Job "Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land." (Job 1:10, ESV) My interest in not possessions but God' blessing on my labor. I do not want to labor in vain.
- Pray at the beginning of each meeting and prior to small and large decisions alike. By prayer I do NOT mean a formalistic, ritualistic, obligatory prayer said before the start of meetings because this is what is expected. I do not mean a mere habit. I mean sincere short prayers that recognize the need for divine wisdom, God's kind providence, and the truth that "Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. (Psa 127:1, ESV)
- I often receive prayer requests by email. In order to be faithful to pray, as soon as I read the email I stop to pray for the request. If I do not pray then I am likely to forget. Likewise, if someone asks me to pray for them at school or in church, I try to immediately say a silent prayer so that I keep my word that "I will pray for him or her."
- By God's grace I try to make a habit of continuous, silent, short prayers throughout the day as issues arise, needs become known, opportunities present themselves and decisions have to be made--even in how best to respond to an email. I sometimes pray before responding to emails in which I am asked for a decision or when frustration is being expressed, "Lord, help me to respond with grace, truth, and in wisdom." Paul instructs us that we are to "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit." (1Th 5:16-19, ESV)
The Study of God's Word
It is disingenuous and self-deluding to expect God to grant wisdom if we are not willing to gain the wisdom and understanding that He has already given to us in His Word. To neglect God's word is to neglect God's primary instrument for our sanctification and the source of divine wisdom and understanding. Move beyond the five-minute devotional--read and study God's word so that you nourish your own soul and have something to give to others.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psa 119:98-105, ESV)
They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. (Joh 17:16-17, ESV)
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:2, ESV)
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, ... (Eph 1:16-17, ESV)
The Worship of God and the Fellowship of the Saints
One cannot grow in wisdom, cannot abide in Christ, and cannot bear fruit apart from the Worship of God and the fellowship of His people. Just as an ember will grow cold when removed from the flame, so too our souls will grow cold if not nourished through worship and fellowship.
But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." (Joh 4:23-24, ESV)
Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb 10:25, ESV)
How Are You Doing?
If you are like me you desire to cultivate fruit in the lives of your students, your staff, and your parents. We do not want to reach the end of our work and our lives and look back and simply see a "product."
Anyone can create a product. Look around you--there are many unbelievers who are doing great things-building great products and companies, establishing great schools, making great scientific breakthroughs, exploring space, and curing disease.
The difference is that you and I are called to bear fruit, which transcends product making. Products of any sort will end with this present world. Fruit will abide forever.
- How are you doing in abiding in Christ?
- How is your prayer life?
- Are you studying God's word and not merely having a five-minute devotional?
- Are you consistent in worship and when you are in church, are you worshipping your Creator and Redeemer or are you attending church?
Don't waste your life building and running a school or teaching a class. Cultivate an orchard.
Without Christ we cannot bear spiritual fruit. "As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me."
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God's fellow workers.
You are God's field, God's building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw-- each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1Co 3:6-15, ESV)
1 Vocation Defined, from Wikipedia
The word "vocation" comes from the Latin vocare, meaning "to call"; however, its usage before the sixteenth century, particularly in the Vulgate, refers to the calling of all humankind to salvation, with its more modern usage of a life-task first employed by Martin Luther.
The idea of vocation is central to the Christian belief that God has created each person with gifts and talents oriented toward specific purposes and a way of life. Particularly in the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, this idea of vocation is especially associated with a divine call to service to the Church and humanity through particular vocational life commitments such as marriage to a particular person, consecration as a religious, ordination to priestly ministry in the Church and even a holy life as a single person. In the broader sense, Christian vocation includes the use of ones gifts in their profession, family life, church and civic commitments for the sake of the greater common good.
The idea of a vocation or "calling" has been pivotal within Protestantism. Martin Luther taught that each individual was expected to fulfill his God-appointed task in everyday life. Although the Lutheran concept of the calling emphasized vocation, there was no particular emphasis on labor beyond what was required for one's daily bread. Calvinism transformed the idea of the calling by emphasizing relentless, disciplined labor. In the Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536), Calvin defined the role of "The Christian in his vocation." He noted that God has prescribed appointed duties to men and styled such spheres of life vocations or callings. Calvinists distinguished two callings: a general calling to serve God and a particular calling to engage in some employment by which one's usefulness is determined.
The Puritan minister Cotton Mather, in A Christian at his Calling (1701), described the obligations of the personal calling as, "some special business, and some settled business, wherein a Christian should for the most part spend the most of his time; so he may glorify God by doing good for himself." Mather admonished that it wasn't lawful ordinarily to live without some calling, "for men will fall into "horrible snares and infinite sins." This idea has endured throughout the history of Protestantism. Three centuries after John Calvin's death, Thomas Carlyle (1843) would proclaim, "The latest Gospel in this world is, 'know thy work and do it.'"Click to read full article>>>
Posted by Dr. Barrett L. Mosbacker at 1/03/2009 11:19:00 AM