DALLAS?You know those 16,000 hours a child will spend in a government-run school from kindergarten through 12th grade? If you’re a church leader or a parent, Ed Gamble has a simple request for you.
“I want the 16,000 hours back.”
Gamble, executive director of the Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools (SBACS), was in Dallas Oct. 15 for a “Christian School 101” workshop for laymen and church leaders interested in starting Christian schools aimed at training coming generations in Christian discipleship and a full-orbed biblical worldview.
Gamble was talking between bites at lunch in a Sunday School classroom at First Baptist Church of Dallas, explaining his history of helping launch and administer First Baptist Academy, a school begun in his hometown of Orlando, Fla., through First Baptist Church under now-retired pastor Jim Henry.
Gamble is quick to emphasize that his organization is not focused on denigrating public schools or calling for their boycott by Baptist parents. Nonetheless, a recent headline in a North Carolina newspaper proclaimed after a reporter attended a Christian School 101 workshop: “Baptists turning away from public schools.”
“We’re not trying to fan flames. We’re building lifeboats,” Gamble countered.
The goal of SBACS, he said, is promoting a model of Christian education centered on what Gamble calls a three-legged stool of “uniting home, church and school in Jesus Christ.”
“We need a different paradigm,” Gamble said, because the existing one isn’t helping Christian parents make disciples.
Baptism rates among teenagers in Baptist churches are less than half of what they were 35 years ago and the rate of formerly church-going kids who don’t connect with a church upon leaving home is more than 80 percent.
Gamble said K-12 Christian education can be to the 21st century what the Sunday School movement was to the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries.
“To turn the tide for the next generations, it must begin in the homes and the churches,” Gamble said.
TRONG>EDUCATION FOR ETERNITY
Christian School 101 is a two-day workshop facilitated by SBACS to teach pastors and laymen how to start a school. S.L. Sherrill, superintendent of a Christian school in Raleigh, N.C., told those attending the meeting the essence of Christian education is “explaining the process of life to the next generation ? and that Christ is preeminent in all things.”
“In Christian education,” Sherrill said, “we are educating for eternity.”
In his presentation on the philosophy of a Christian education, Sherrill said a kingdom education is a “lifelong, Bible-based, Christ-centered process of leading a child to Christ, building a child up in Christ, and equipping a child to serve Christ.”
Such a model, Sherrill explained, involves the home, church and school in the spiritual growth of the student by integrating a biblical worldview into every academic sphere.
“The Christian school makes an honest, concentrated effort to bring every class, activity, and administrative procedure under the control of biblical principles,” the SBACS definition states.
The school where Sherrill serves, North Raleigh Christian Academy, graduated 96 students who collectively earned more than $1.6 million in college scholarships last spring, he said.
Sherrill was the founding headmaster at North Raleigh, which started on only a few months notice and with no students or staff?only a dream of a group of Christian laymen and several churches combining their resources.
Unsuccessful at holding the group off a year before starting classes, Sherrill dove into his duties with the goal of attracting 150 students in only a few weeks before the first semester began.
After the inaugural meeting of interested parents, Sherrill said 279 students were enrolled and by the time classes started, the school had 401 students.
“You just don’t know what God can do,” Sherrill said. “He is able and he is willing.”
Today the school has more than 1,300 students.
“We had no idea what God was going to do. And we had no idea what the perceived need was.”
Sherrill admitted that some church-based schools are little more than a school with a weekly chapel thrown in, but the goal should be to integrate a biblical worldview into every subject and activity, he said.
“If your staff is well-trained in biblical integration, your school will be successful,” Sherrill said. “If teachers do that well, the kids begin to see the practicality of that?they begin to see God in science, in English, in math, in every sphere.”
Denny Gorena, pastor of First Baptist Church of Leonard, said he attended the workshop as part of preparing his church for a school it will begin in the fall of 2008. The church averages about 200 people on Sundays and will pre-enroll students beginning in January.
“It was something God laid on my heart and something I think we need to do,” Gorena said.
Since the first Christian School 101 workshop in January 2006, more than 15 schools have started in Southern Baptist churches that Gamble knows of.
Gamble said if pastors are expecting that church attendance?and perhaps discipleship at home if the parents are themselves mature believers?is enough to sustain a vibrant Christianity amid a post-Christian culture, they are naive.
More than 90 percent of Christian students attend public schools, he said, “and on any given Sunday, half those kids don’t even show up (at church). Ask any youth pastor,” Gamble stated.
As for costs, Gamble said the issue isn’t money; there’s enough of that. Instead, he said, “it’s a faith issue.”
If Christian education were a priority for churches interested in making disciples of the next generation, they would fund it just like everything else?though tithes and offerings?and charge tuition based on a family’s ability to pay.
This approach, Gamble said, would make it feasible for the children o