World-class: Dangerous or Desirable? Part 2

Why Being Kingdom-Class is Important: This is article two of a multi-part series. You can read part 1 here.

In part one I defined kingdom-class as follows:

A kingdom-class Christian school is one that is among the best in the world because of the quality and impact of its educational program. It sets a standard of educational quality and innovation worthy of emulation by both non-Christian and Christian educators throughout the world. 

Its students are prepared for college and career in a globalized, connected, and competitive world. They are also prepared to use their God-given gifts in fulfilling both the Creation Mandate1 and the Great Commission. Its students’ lives are transformed, others are served, and God is glorified. 

A kingdom-class education includes the quality measures that constitute a world-class program but expands and deepens them to include a biblical worldview. A kingdom-class education educates both the mind and the soul and seeks to glorify God, not man so that we obey Jesus’s command to "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matt. 5:16

Defining an objective does not mean that it should be done. The fundamental question is: “Should we strive to be world-class, or more accurately, kingdom-class?” While for some the answer may appear to be a self-evident “Yes!,” for others the answer is less obvious. How we answer this question strikes at the core of our mission as Christian educational institutions. It is right, it is imperative, that we question the assertion that we should strive to create kingdom-class schools. There is much at stake.

I believe we should strive to be kingdom-class. I share my reasons below to strengthen the resolve of those already convinced, to convince others who harbor doubts, concerns, and honest questions, and to invite thoughtful dialog among all.

For God’s Glory

Glorifying God in everything we do is not restricted to our motives (See direction part 1 of this series for a definition) nor is it adequate to merely “give God glory” through our words. Glorifying God is an act, it is more than words, it includes the measurable quality (See structure part 1 of this series for a definition) of our work. Again, Jesus said:

Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matt. 5:16 Jesus said it is our works that give glory to God—not merely our words or intentions. 

The Apostle Paul tells us that every activity of life—including the most routine are to glorify God. His example is not of our words (although our speech is clearly included) but of concrete, basic biological activities, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Cor. 10:31 

Paul also tell us that:

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. Col. 3:23ff In the greek, heartily means exceedingly, abundantly above, very highly, or vehemently. We are to work this way because we serve “the Lord Christ.”

Both the motives AND the quality of our work are to glorify God. Half-hearted, luke-warm, “good enough” approaches to our spiritual and professional lives, or to the quality of our schools, do not glorify God; they are unworthy of our Creator and our Lord. 

Stewardship of our students’ God-given gifts and callings

We have been entrusted with the education and discipleship of eternal souls. It is self-evident that the education of eternal souls carries eternal consequences and requires nothing less than our absolute best—all of the time. 

Each of our students have been created, gifted, and called by God to specific vocations. A vocation(Latin: vocātiō “a call, summons”) is an occupation to which a person is specifically drawn or for which she/he is suited, gifted, trained, or qualified. The meanings of the term originated in biblical Christianity.

Our responsibility is to help our students identify their God-given natural and spiritual gifts and passions and to equip them for their future vocations as servants of God. Some of our students are gifted and called for rigorous advanced education and vocations. Our schools must be able to prepare these students, academically and theologically, for the elite universities of the world. Other students are gifted and called for different vocations; they too must be prepared academically and theologically for God’s call upon their lives.

Preparing our students for the broad-range of possible callings requires a kingdom-class education for all our students—regardless of their gifts and ultimate vocations.

Loving our neighbor

Jesus said the Second Greatest Commandment is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:31 There are many ways to interpret and apply this command but there are two that are germane to our discussion. 

Our students are our neighbors and if they know Christ, they are also our spiritual brothers and sisters. Think back upon your education. How do you wish every teacher and every coach had treated and prepared you academically, spiritually, and professionally? Would you wish to change anything? Could they have done better? 

We are obligated to teach, discipline, and love our students just as we would wish for ourselves if we were starting over. Nothing less is obeying the Second Greatest Commandment. 

The other way we obey this command is more indirect. Our students will graduate and engage in many different vocations. Regardless of the vocation—whether they are carpenters or cardiologists, they will be serving others through those vocations. The extent to which we prepare them will affect the extent to which they are able to “love their neighbors” through their callings. For example, the student who has been prepared both academically and spiritually to be a kingdom-class cardiologist will be able to more effectively serve and heal his or her patients—an act of love. The quality of our schools has a direct impact on how well our students are able to “love” their neighbors through their vocations and the quality of their work. Shoddy educations lead to shoddy work. Shoddy work is not loving to anyone it touches whether the home buyer or the heart patient. 

Ameliorating the curse

We and our students are called to use our God-given natural and spiritual gifts to ameliorate the effects of the curse, be they spiritual, intellectual, physical, mental, emotional, social, or cultural. A kingdom-class education prepares students to live lives of redemption, restoration, and slalom through their vocations and life activities. In his wonderful book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative CallingAndy Crouch offers a beautiful picture of what this looks like in practical terms. 

We are marvelously different enough from one another that the simple quest for each one’s intersection of grace and cross will take us to every nook and cranny of culture. For my friend Elizabeth the intersection of grace and cross is found in raising three children who sometimes tax her to the very limit, creating a family culture of forgiveness, play and prayer. For my friend Megan the intersection is indeed in Africa, far from her upbringing among privilege, connecting the worlds of American wealth with African orphans, and also connecting African hope with American emptiness. For Karl the intersection is found as an executive in a technology firm that creates new horizons of the possible, while also wrestling with the ways corporate life can constrain one’s hopes, dreams and fears. For my wife, Catherine, the intersection is found in teaching not just supremely gifted students but also students whose cultural backgrounds still bear the marks of an oppressive past, who began at a starting line far behind the children of privilege. For me, the intersection is found in finding ways to tell stories no one would otherwise hear from the margins of our world and contemporary Christianity, and in daily sitting down to the hardest job I have ever tried to do, risking words for things far too deep for words.

Frederick Buechner writes that your calling is found “where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” 

Blessing our parents

Like our students, our parents are our neighbors and if they know Christ, they are our brothers and sisters. We are to love them as ourselves. As a parent or grandparent, what is the ideal education I desire for my children and grandchildren? Is it not a kingdom-class education as defined above? That is the ideal we should strive with every fiber of our souls to provide for our students. In doing so we love and bless our parents and we obey and glorify Christ. 

Strengthening and sustaining our schools

Happy parents make healthier schools. The better our programs, the more satisfied will be our parents (our customers) and the more they will support and promote our schools. It is a virtuous cycle. And, the better our schools are, the more we increase the Marginal Value to our parents. 

Marginal value is the amount of benefit perceived by purchasing an additional “unit” of a product or service relative to other goods or services. Several factors influence marginal value: price and perceived value being among the most important. 

Marginal value can be understood as the calculation that parents make that an increase in tuition is worth more than other discretionary purchases. As tuition increases, parents make a calculation that the added cost is or is not producing an incremental value equal to or greater than the increase in cost relative to other educational options and purchases. 

If parents do not perceive the quality of education provided to be of more value than other options, parents will choose those options. In an educational market characterized by disruption and increased educational options (public schools, private schools, other Christian schools, online schools, charter schools, and homeschooling), our Christian schools must stand out as offering high and increasing levels of marginal value.

We increase Marginal Value when we improve the quality, depth, and breadth of our programs faster than we increase tuition! Striving to be kingdom-class while being sensitive to cost substantially increases marginal value, increases student retention rates, increases enrollment, and encourages financial support beyond tuition creating a virtuous and healthy cycle. 

People enjoy and are more fulfilled working for an organization striving to be kingdom-class

A school is only as good as its teachers and other staff. Top-notch people want to work for top-notch organizations. The better our schools, the easier it is to attract and retain top talent. The better people we employ, the more effective our programs. The more effective our programs, the greater the marginal value to our parents. This makes for happy parents and a healthier school, which in turn reinforces the virtuous cycle. 

I cannot think of a single reason to shoot for a lower target

I cannot think of a good reason to strive for anything less than being kingdom-class. We cannot all be kingdom-class in everything but we can all strive to be kingdom-class. 

As I stated previously, excellence is as much a journey as a destination. It seems presumptuous to claim that any of our schools have become genuinely world or kingdom-class. But, taking the journey is not an excuse for never arriving at our destination—even if only in some areas. No matter where we are on the journey, we can start where we are and relentlessly pursue our destination–for God’s glory, for the sake of our students and parents, and for the health of our schools.

2. Andy Crouch. Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (pp. 262–263). Kindle Edition