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A Garden Analogy for Christian Education

Written on November 27th, 2015

While attending the recent Christian School International (CSI) board meetings as the representative from the OACS, I was blessed to listen to a devotional led by fellow board member, Carolyn Cooper. Carolyn is based in southern California and comes to the board as a teacher voice. Her devotional captured my imagination as I trust it will with you. Here it is!

Julius de Jager, OACS Executive Director

When I was in grad school, one of the projects that stands out most to me is one in which we were asked to develop an analogy for Christian education. I chose a gardener for my analogy, and, while all analogies fall short at some point, I still feel like it holds up.

The gardener or farmer tends to his plants, wants them to take root, cares for them. He celebrates the successful growth, and adds fertilizer and extra time and care where plants are not thriving as they should. The gardener also must rely on forces outside of himself: the weather, where exactly the seeds were sown, critters or pests within the garden.

The gardener and farmer continually aim to grow a successful crop, and the teacher aims to grow successful Christian students. The gardener continually learns new ways to do things: a better irrigation system and fertilizer, news ways of rolling hay, and keeping crops healthier.

If we extend the analogy further, I can’t help but wonder what CSI’s role would be within the garden. How do we see our role? Perhaps more importantly, how do the gardeners, the educators, see our role?

Perhaps CSI is like an almanac that provides some helpful information. Perhaps we are the toolshed that has helpful tools for the gardener to tend to his garden. Or another nearby helpful gardener or shop owner who has been at it a little longer, knows a few more tips and tricks, and seeks to help to gardener.

Whatever the case, we are in this for a very distinct purpose. This is outlined for us in Ephesians 4, starting at verse 11. “It was he [that is, Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, [for what purpose?] to prepare God’s people for works of service, [why?] so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

It’s lofty. It’s tough.

It’s also one of the things I have appreciated most about CSI schools. As an educator, and now as a mom considering the education for my oldest child, I have seen the value of not just Christian education, but CSI Christian education in particular. I think most of you are familiar with the CARDUS study from a few years back. One of the main results of the study showed that what a school focused on, whether academic development or faith development, is what it was successful in. In other words, if a school cares about the moral development of students or raising good American [or Canadian citizens], they put effort there and tend to succeed there. If the focus is on academic performance or students going to elite universities, they usually do. Here’s the thing: in most cases, it was one or the other. And I think CSI schools tend to be an exception in that they care about both. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Students that become Christ-followers should also be good, moral citizen and care about their education.

Ephesians 4, to prepare God’s people, isn’t a new goal of education. It’s not a new challenge. There may be some new obstacles, but even much of what we face in education today isn’t all that new. I read the last issue of Christian Home and School a while back. A few articles in particular struck me by their familiarity—they were written a few years back, but still strike a cord with what’s going on in 2015.

One article entitled “Salaries…Ouch” pointed to how tough it is to get good teachers on staff when schools had to offer lower salaries. A few administrators took some interesting measures to get teachers, like one superintendent who promised each prospective teacher two pairs of nylons upon arrival to the school. But isn’t the issue of compensating our teachers a topic still happening around board rooms today?

Another article from 1960 talked about how to provide better homework for students. An article from 1989 about racism being alive in Christian schools. A 2001 article about helping kids cope with tragedy. The issues that our schools deal with on a daily basis are the same as 50 or more years ago.

I don’t say this to discourage you. Rather, I hope it’s an encouragement. As a parent, I feel like the world we live in is a scary world to raise a child. I worry for so much that my kids will be confronted with. But, if we are still tackling similar issues, sometimes with a slightly different face, but similar nonetheless…doesn’t that mean the Bible is as relevant today as 50 years ago? Or 1000 years ago? Can’t we still find hope and calling in Ephesians 4? This is our task as educators, so let’s continue on.

And as CSI employees and the Board of Trustees, let’s keep ourselves relevant to our schools. Let’s help schools and school leaders as they navigate through Common Core demands, handling political issues of immigration and sexual orientation. Let’s help schools and school leaders develop ideas on financial sustainability, create purposeful comprehensive curriculum based on mission, and navigate diverse school populations.

Let’s be on the forefront of preparing disciples of Christ, who have a thirst for knowledge and a heart for Christ. Let’s be sure that as schools cultivate the growth of our students, that we are gardening with them.

Prepared by Carolyn Cooper, CSI Board Member.