On April 26, 2004, T.C. Pinckney and Bruce Short submitted a resolution to the Southern Baptist Convention’s resolution committee which, in essence, pointed out some of the problems involved in what they saw as a growing philosophical conflict between the teachings of Christianity and the daily education provided in the public school system. The resolution itself was never brought to the floor of the convention, and an amendment added into another resolution to attempt to put some of its content into form failed.
At the time, I was opposed to the SBC making a statement like that. In 2004, I was an administrator in a Christian school operated by a Southern Baptist church. I thought the resolution was too heavy on what was wrong with the public school system, and only vaguely pointed to the existing available alternatives. If even half of Southern Baptists with school aged children pulled them out of government schools, there would not be room for more than a fraction of them in the few Christian schools operated by Southern Baptist churches, and most of those would be far to costly for most families to consider. If Southern Baptists are going to address this issue, I thought, they should do it in such a way as to look at making their own Christian day schools affordable and accessible to their own constituency.
I think the time has come to revisit this resolution.
We are in the middle of a crisis, with no apparent solution, relating to the loss of young people from our churches. This resolution cites research which shows that 88% of children raised in the churches of the Christian faith leave the church at some point after their 18th birthday. The resolution correctly attributes at least part of this problem to the education that students receive in public school. Had I not spent time as a teacher in a public school classroom myself, I might have trouble swallowing that. But after 14 years as a teacher and administrator in three different Christian schools, I believe that a Christian school classroom is an effective means of discipling young people. Spending 6 hours a day, 180 days a year in an environment where the gospel message is integrated into the curriculum, and the philosophy of education is based on the fact that God is our creator is a ministry tool that we are not using to stem the tide of young people leaving the church.
If this resolution is presented again, I would like to see it include encouragement to Southern Baptist churches to find ways to start their own Christian schools. I haven’t seen any research to show that students who attend Christian schools, particularly the “thoroughly” Christian schools the resolution mentions, are any less apt to leave the church between their 18th and 23rd birthday, but my own observations would lead me to believe that the figure of those who do leave isn’t anywhere close to that 88%.
Home school is also a viable option, but it is not for everyone. In fact, home school is probably only feasible for less than 10% of families. And at the moment, only about 5% of Southern Baptist churches operate a Christian day school of any kind. The challenge that we face in this area of ministry is first to get enough churches involved in starting schools to make a difference, and second, to find ways to finance them so that they are affordable for the average families in our churches. There are some successful models of this, and we have both the infrastructure and the organization in place to help churches do this. It grieves me when I see church buildings standing empty for 90% of the time during the week, and Christian schools struggling with capital campaigns and tuition increases to pay for building their own campuses.
I would also like to see a future resolution acknowledge our existing Christian schools, as well as the Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools, SBACS, which is an organization still in its infancy, but which is working tirelessly to make education the realm of the church once again.