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A case for Christian elementary and secondary schools
Friday, April 24, 2009

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--I am truly amazed at the excellence of many of our Christian colleges and universities. I serve as a trustee of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and we have remarkable students from around the world and a first-class faculty to train them. Several times throughout the year we send out graduates who will elevate the professionalism in their respective fields but also who will transform the world with the message of the Gospel.

But in celebrating accomplishments like these, I now wonder if our focus in the evangelical community should shift at least in part from training our children during the transition to adulthood to placing greater emphasis on training up a child in the way he should go. I'm not advocating the neglect of what we have already established in higher education, but simply a course correction in an area that seems to have suffered neglect -- the protection and nurturing of the spiritual health and growth of children and adolescents. In far too many public schools throughout the country our children are being bombarded with secular reasoning, situational ethics and moral erosion.

To be sure, our Christian colleges and universities enroll young people who might not know Jesus Christ, and we have created an environment that supports their coming to know Him. However, our Christian colleges and universities are more like havens that offer refuge and refinement to young Christian men and women and less like magnets that attract the unchurched.

There are a number of biblical precedents for moving to bolster our investment in Christian elementary and secondary schools. Prime among them is Proverbs 22:6.

But even in the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8) there is a biblical principle about preparing the soil for receipt of the seed. And of course Christ is referred to as the "tender shoot" and what we know about Jesus' upbringing, we're left with the impression of God nurturing Him in preparation for what was to come.

Do not misunderstand; I believe the primary responsibility for raising children is charged to parents. However, it is undeniable that the church is charged with training parents and working with them to ensure tender shoots survive when moved from the greenhouse to the harshness of the natural environment.

To be sure, there are a number of areas where Kingdom education at this level would be a welcome alternative to public schools. Many of our inner cities are suffering from failed families and failing students. In Baltimore, Md., for example, schools are experiencing dropout rates up to 60 percent; 70 percent of teens are sexually active; and, the city has alarming rates for crimes, sexually transmitted diseases and out-of-wedlock births.

In such areas, Kingdom schools would serve as a central ministry among a myriad of ministries that would help families recover from the chaos that now exists and help them establish Christ in the home.

However, Kingdom education should not be a reaction to public education.

In the Nashville area for instance, we are blessed with a number of school systems staffed with faithful Christian educators and administrators. Homeschooling is vibrant here, too.

Instead, Kingdom schools, K-12, should be built as an intentional ministry of churches and local associations to aid families with their Kingdom responsibilities for raising children in the admonition of the Lord. Why shouldn't we have at least one Christian school in every association that merges dynamic biblical principles with academic excellence? At minimum, a number of Southern Baptist churches in the same association could band together to create an outstanding Christian school for the area. In our voluntary fellowships with each other, Southern Baptists still have shown themselves uniquely structured and resourced to take on such a challenge. Elementary and secondary education is an area we can add to how we cooperate in missions and ministries.

The focus should not be to abandon public schools, but to be certain not to abandon our biblical responsibility to come alongside parents in training up a child in the way he should go. Can we ignore the enormity of this need any longer when our children so desperately need to be fortified with strong biblical precepts as well as history, grammar, literature, civics, math and science? In recent days, two questions have weighed heavily on my soul. If Southern Baptists don't do it, who will? If we don't do it now, do we risk forever losing the opportunity to build schools for God's glory and the future of our children, grandchildren and the land we love?
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Morris H. Chapman is president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee.

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