A Blog is an opinion rather than an article. While CSM teaches through its articles and books, the CSM Blogs are efforts by CSM consultants to struggle with difficult ideas in Christian education and move to some kind of clarity. Please read any CSM Blog in that light.
Younger Brothers and Christian Schools
In The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller tells the story of his new church in New York that he began in the late 1980s (p. 76 ff.). He says that he expected to find secular people in it who had never been connected to that faith life before and he did. He says that he expected to find believers who were looking for a church home and he did. What he did not expect to find were what he calls the “younger brothers” – those who were from a faith-filled background but were escaping from their “older brothers” in the church, those who were continuously and righteously indignant. Keller says that these younger brothers had been driven from Christ by an equation of the gospel with religion.
This could, of course, lead me in many directions. But my primary interest now is in Christian schools. And I am interested in how the “younger brothers” may find it hard to go to church, but may experience the gospel through the witness of their Christian school, often mediated through the experiences of their children.
Many Christian school leaders are now asking me questions such as:
- How should I respond if a gay couple shows up wanting to put their child into the school?
- How should I respond if a student ‘comes out’ while they are in our school?
The older brother has very clear answers to these types of situations – our beliefs and our understanding of Scripture are opposed to these lifestyles and we cannot tolerate them. The older brother always has very clear answers because he is RIGHT and the other is WRONG. He has led a chaste lifestyle while the younger brother has consorted with prostitutes; he has worked hard in the field while the younger brother has wasted his inheritance.
We might think of the younger brother now as the Millennial. Barna Trends 2017 states (p.224 ff.) that millennials say that they don’t need church. Of the 20% who say that going to church is important, most say that they go to church to be closer to God (54%), some say it is to learn more about God (31%), even fewer say that they go to be part of a community (14%), and a tiny number go because they see the church doing good in the world (8%).
Now I am very much in the older brother camp in the sense that I never squandered my inheritance, go to church every week and on Festival Days, have a hard time with 21st century morality, am opposed to abortion, and am generally seen by my children as pretty old fashioned. But I have a lot of sympathy for the younger brother because of the hypocrisy I have personally experienced. I was in a church that refused to pray for the Pope when he was shot, a church that was opposed to homosexuality but turned a blind eye to adultery and pornography, a church that opposed abortion but never raised a finger to aid single mothers, a church that helped many in far-off lands and burnt out its own workers at home.
What does this have to do with the Christian school? I believe that the Christian school now has to take on Gospel leadership in our world. I don’t see the church institutionally as capable of it – its leadership has shown itself to be frail; its pews are greying and emptying; our Christian schools that used to be supported and funded by their local congregations now have to go it alone; more and more church schools are finding that the church is often apathetic if not hostile to them as Christian schools; priests and pastors refuse to endorse the Christian school either from the pulpit or at the church door. 73% of Americans identify as Christian and only 31% practice in any formal sense.
The Christian School is now the cutting edge of Jesus’ prayer: Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. For us, the moralizing of the older brother gets in the way of welcoming the child (let the children come to me for of such is the kingdom of God). For us, the wastrel younger brother is the father and mother of the child who walks through our door (children should not save up for their parents but parents for their children). For us, both older and younger brother can be brought into the community of Jesus through the embrace and welcome of the Father who leaves his house to run to the younger brother on the road and leaves his house to go the older brother coming in from the field. The Christian School must be the Father’s hands to a lost generation and the voice of love, hope, gratitude, gentleness, perseverance to all children from whatever brother they proceed.
The institutional church has become politicized, vulgarized, moralized, despondent. As Christian School leaders we cannot afford to go down the same path. We must be the light to the next generation to encourage them with the words of Jesus: Come, all who are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Apparently, the most underlined or 2nd most underlined passage of the Bible today (identified through electronic readers) is Philippians: do not be anxious about anything but in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Yes, we live in a generation where anxiety runs rampant amid luxurious living and a safe environment for most of us. The institutional church has failed to answer the deepest needs of this generation and the Christian School must take the leadership role.
When a child comes into our school, let us not ask where the child came from. Let us rejoice at the opportunity to witness about a God who comes to us and says, do not fear. Let us rejoice at the opportunity to tell the story of a baby at Bethlehem who grew up and challenged the society of his time to a new way of living, one of love and forgiveness, even from the cross. Let us rejoice that this child is a unique child of God from his mother’s womb, and even before, whom God is calling and whom we have the privilege of standing next to for 8 or 13 years, nurturing that child’s mind, spirit, and heart.
Let’s stop asking dumb questions and ask really good ones. The best one is: How old are you? You are welcome in our school! We will surround you with the love of God and your mind will be renewed to witness to a fallen world of the generosity of a God who calls us to be His heirs and the recipients of His promise.