“Not necessarily, but you never know what God has in store.”
This was my response to the final question posed by the Vice Principal of the Christian school where I had just applied for a job. The question was whether or not I envisioned myself serving in the ministry of Christian education for the long haul. My answer was both honest and truthful. Honest because I did not envision myself in Christian education in a long-term capacity, at least at the time I was interviewed. Truthful because I really did acknowledge that God can change and often does change the course of a man’s life (see Prov 16:9). At the time of my interviewed, I had recently left the church where I had served as a pastor for several years and was currently searching for the next pastoral opportunity. In the interim, however, I knew that I needed a full-time job to support my family, and this was one of the places willing to interview me. Three weeks later, I was hired. About two weeks after that, in August of 2013, I began what I thought would be a temporary season as a Christian school educator.
It’s March 2023. Exactly as I would have hoped back then, I’ve been back in pastoral ministry for the last nine years and have loved every minute of it. But I never expected I would still be in Christian education. Yet, here I am. And I intend to stay. For over the last decade, I have become convinced of something that I simply wasn’t aware of back in 2013.
I have become convinced, both biblically and experimentally, that one of the strongest bridges between the world and the church is the Christian school.
I’m not saying it is the strongest bridge. I don’t like to use superlatives unless Scripture uses them. I’m not saying that it is the only bridge. There are several different avenues through which the church can reach the lost. I have great respect for preaching crusades, street evangelism, and philanthropic efforts, to name a few. But when vocational ministers heed the words of Paul to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:5 to “do the work of an evangelist,” for whatever reason working as a teacher at a Christian school isn’t seen as a viable long-term option.
During all of my years in seminary, not once did I hear a professor or a chapel speaker encourage us to pursue ministry at a Christian school as either our long-term vocation or as an extension to our pastoral ministry. And yet, for those vocational ministers who have a true heart for missionary work and evangelistic endeavors, I suppose it’s historical irony in my life that I simply don’t know a lot of men who have specifically chosen to work at a Christian school as a way to fulfill their duty to do the work as an evangelist. At least, not as a long-term option.
It truly is ironic that those who desire to be missionaries and usher people into the kingdom of God would unknowingly neglect—if not outright dismiss—one of the most effective ways to bring non-Christians into contact with the truth of gospel and the Word of God.
In this article I hope to make my case that the Christian school is a uniquely effective method of carrying out evangelism. Below are the reasons:
Reason #1: The Age Group Targeted (Eccl 12:1; Prov 22:6)
Without a doubt, the gospel of the forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to all creation and, by implication, every demographic and age group (Col 1:23). Let the church share the good news of Jesus Christ with children, college students, young professionals, young married couples and parents, the middle-aged, and senior citizens. Let no church pigeon-hole itself and “specialize” in reaching one particular age group, lest the church body become misshaped. That said, it is a well-known statistic that a large majority of Christians will have come to Christ during the years of their youth. I am not putting God in a box with this statement. God can save people at any point in their lives. I’m just speaking of the reality of how God has practically administered things in his greater redemptive work. It’s the same as saying that the majority of married people tied the knot in their twenties, and that statistically the chances of getting pregnant and having a healthy baby decreases after you hit thirty. It’s not putting God in a box; it’s understanding how God, in his ability to do anything, has practically chosen to do things. Should it be any surprise then, that in Ecclesiastes 12:1 Solomon exhorts, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, ‘I have no delight in them.’” The worldview and habits that a person develops during his youth years tend to stay with him for a lifetime (Prov 22:6). Effective evangelism will seek to reach the youth, and tell me where else as a minister of God will have the platform to interact with youth to the same volume as you find in a school setting.
Reason #2: The Sheer Volume of Interaction and Word Exposure (Acts 17:17)
Tanning doesn’t happen by being under the sun at sunrise, but rather between the hours of 10am and 2pm. And even then, tanning won’t happen through a ten-minute exposure, but exposure that last for hours and even several days at a time. When it comes to sunlight exposure, the level of tanning is directly correlated to both level of intensity and duration of exposure. The same is true when it comes to the ministry of the Word.
To be clear, there is no evangelistic program, no matter how well-crafted and well-staffed and well-funded, that can in any way guarantee the salvation of any person. Paul is clear when he says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” (1 Cor 3:6-7). God alone can save a person. Period. I’ve seen enough of those emotionally manipulative evangelistic events where young people are coerced into “making a decision” to follow Christ, and they need to stop. Exhorting young folks to follow Christ? Yes. Manipulating a profession? No.
Truly grasping and acknowledging the sovereignty of God in salvation means respecting the fact that he and he alone can break open a heart to receive the Word with saving faith. Nevertheless, we have a duty, and our duty is to plant and water. Whether our planting and watering results in growth is out of our control, but ministers of the gospel must plant and water. And anyone with even the slightest green thumb knows that planting and watering—particularly the watering—is more than a one-time treatment. It’s for this reason that Jesus told his disciples in their proclamation of the gospel to stay in both a city and a house that receives them (Luke 9:4). The initial reception did not always guarantee true salvation (cf. Mark 4:16), but the disciples were to remain there for some time and cultivate the soil.
Paul did similar things in his missionary journeys. His missionary effort in Athens was described this way: “So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present” (Acts 17:17). This venture into a local synagogue not an aberration for Paul, but rather a pattern of his ministry. When he went to the Bereans, he taught them daily and they examined the Scriptures daily (Acts 17:11). When he was with the disciples in the school of Tyrannus, he reasoned with them daily (Acts 19:9). It’s not just about the intensity of the exposure to the Word, but the duration. And that is precisely one of the reason why Christian schools can be an effective platform for evangelism.
Over the last fifteen years, I’ve served as both a youth pastor and a school educator. As we speak, I’m serving concurrently as both (yes, it’s just one of those unique seasons). I love the opportunities I’ve had to minister the Word of God in both roles, and both roles are truly noble ministries. However, the level of interaction with the youth and exposure to the Word between the two settings cannot be compared. As a youth pastor, I saw the students twice a week—on Fridays and Sundays—for an average of about ninety minutes each time. That’s three hours a week. At the Christian school, I’m with the students up to ten hours a day for five days a week. That’s fifty hours a week. The math is simple: you can do a whole lot more planting and watering in fifty hours a week than in three. The Christian school is one of the few settings in which one can minister and interact with non-believers in a truly evangelistic and Word-sharing manner daily and with that level of frequency. Because of this, as a Bible teacher I can cover so much more of the Bible with students during Bible class in school than during Friday Night Bible studies and Sunday School. And while I am absolutely all for international short-term missions trips that run week-long VBS programs, sports camps, and English camps to reach out to children and youth, when it comes to sheer volume of interaction and Word-exposure, it doesn’t compare to working at a Christian school.
Reason #3: The Doors Opened by Credibility of Scholarship (2 Chron 9:1-9)
For the record, I am not a proponent of natural theology. I hold firmly to the conviction that while every person has an intuitive knowledge of God’s existence and moral will through both the creation and the conscience, I believe that theology can only be deduced from the revelation of Scripture and that only through the proclamation of the Word can a person come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ (Rom 10:9-14). To add to this, the Scriptures are clear that God does not need or use the wisdom of this world to save, for who the world considers as its academic elite are often deemed as foolish in the eyes of God and vice versa (1 Cor 1:21-25). Let this be said, loudly and clearly.
However, Christians can only proclaim the gospel when the door to the Word is opened (Col 4:3), and one of the ways in which God open doors is through credible academic scholarship. In other words, all things being equal, a non-Christian will be more willing to listen to a preacher and teacher of the Word who is also skilled in other areas of scholarship. When there’s proof that you have a proper understanding of the works of God, the more willing they will be to listen to you with respect to the Word of God. This truth is illustrated in the lives of both Solomon and Daniel. In Solomon’s case, his wisdom and knowledge in a multitude of disciplines—zoology, botany, literature, history, and music, to name a few—opened the door for the Queen of Sheba and several other rulers to seek him and listen to him (1 Kings 10:1-10). In Daniel’s case, his superior scholarship and spirit of wisdom opened the door for him to proclaim God’s truth to the Babylonian and Persian king as well as increased governmental influence (Dan 1-2; 5-6). Let no one underestimate the doors that academic credibility can open for the proclamation of the Word of God. And there are few places that open such doors to youth than the Christian school.
In a Christian school, students don’t just get to hear their teachers teach the Bible. They get to hear their teachers speak knowledgeably in the realm of U.S. history, world history, physics, biology, chemistry, calculus, statistics, literature, art, and music. Just like the pagan kings of the earth were able to hear Solomon speak on a variety of topics, so also non-Christian youth in Christian schools have opportunities to hear their teachers display skillful scholarship in a variety of academic disciplines. And the more truthfully and skillfully they hear a Christian speak about God’s works, the more willing they may be to hear him speak of God’s Word.
Reason #4: The Depth of Relationships that Christian Schools Foster (1 Cor 13:2)
So long as Christ is proclaimed, whether out of good motives or impure motives, we as Christians can rejoice. The apostle Paul would agree, as he said to himself (Phil 1:18). But Paul also said in 1 Corinthians 13:2, “If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” And love, by implication, is relational. Thus, all things being equal, evangelism in the context of real relationships (sometimes termed relational evangelism) is more effective than what is commonly referred to as cold evangelism (though the Lord can certainly use the former). Perhaps that’s why John Maxwell once said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. And there is no context in which genuine love is extended to non-Christians on a daily basis and in such a large volume than the Christian school.
I remember one particular instance when a former student of mine ended up disclosing to me a number of things that he was struggling with that were both deeply personal but also required immediate help and intervention. I asked him if he had disclosed what he had shared with his parents, to which he said he hadn’t. I asked him if he had disclosed those things to the psychologist that his parents had been having him see once a week, to which he said he hadn’t. I then asked, “So why are you willing to tell me these things?” His response: “Because you’re my teacher.” Eye-opening it was, as it revealed to me just how much trust some students are willing to place on their teacher. Locus parentus is indeed a real thing. And such is precisely because of the relational nature of the teacher-student relationship (with appropriate and professional bounds of course). As a teacher, you end up being more than just a lecturer, homework-giver, and test-administrator. You end up being their coach, their counselor, their care-giver, and really—as locus parentus puts it—their onsite parent. The level and nature of love and care that teachers must provide for students is simply different than in any other professional relationship, making the teacher-student relationship a wonderful and effective context for evangelism.
Reason #5: The Freedom to Preach and Teach the Scriptures (Col 4:3)
The majority of the world is unbelieving (Matt 7:13-14). This holds true for both adults and students. When it comes to the latter, and particularly in the context of schools, the majority of students in both school settings (Christian and non-Christian) are unbelieving. I remember one colleague of mine who used to work a large Christian school in the city, and she would tell us how everyday on the last day of school she would see the garbage cans filled with Bibles—thrown in by graduating seniors who wanted nothing to do with the Bible that was (supposedly) taught to them in the school during their middle school and high school years.
This colleague’s testimony is not an anomoly. While a Christian school must require their staff to be Christians, a prudent and discerning Christian school knows that the majority of the students who attend their school—including those who are pastors or ministers’ children—are unregenerate. And to the unregenerate we have a duty to proclaim the gospel and the whole counsel of God. As Christians, we need God to open these doors. Paul understands this, as he tells the Colossian church to pray for him “that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ” (Col 4:3). And one of the doors that God has swung wide open is the opportunity to speak the Word of God boldly to non-believing youth in the context of the Christian school.
A middle-school student once asked me, “What is the most illegal thing you’ve ever done?” He was expecting me to share something related to drugs and alcohol. I responded, “Teaching your Bible class.” He looked at me perplexed at first, and then after a few seconds nodded his head. If I taught the same content as I did in their Bible class to students at a public school, I would likely get fired. If I taught it in certain countries, I would either get thrown into prison or outright executed. Christ himself warned that the world will hate his disciples because they hated him first (John 15:18).
The United States, though perhaps founded on Christian values, is becoming more and more intolerant of forthright biblical teaching, both culturally and politically. While we are called to be bold in our proclamation of the gospel and the truth of the Word no matter where we are, it is at the Christian school where these opportunities are most accessible. Not only are Christian school teachers permitted to share the gospel and teach the Bible to non-believers in the classroom, they are required to, and students (and their parents) agree by contract to sit under such teaching. I recall a non-Christian high school student who told me, “Even though I’m not a Christian, I understand that, being at a Christian school, I have agreed to be taught what the Bible says.” That student was correct. At the Christian schools where I’ve served, we’ve had families from all kinds of non-Christian religions and worldviews—Buddhist, Hindu, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Agnostic, and Atheist, to name a few—send their children to Christian schools and sign a legal agreement permitting their child to be taught the Bible in accordance with the school’s statement of faith. Christian school educators are in a unique position because under their educational oversight they have non-Christians who by legal contract have agreed to be taught the truth of the Bible. In a nation that is slowly closing its doors on the gospel, talk about an open door!
Conclusion: It’s Not About Church Versus School
To say that reaching youth at Christian school is a more effective way of evangelizing youth than other programs that the church has traditionally used for outreach is not saying that, when it comes to evangelism, we must choose between the church and the school as institutions. It’s not about church versus school. It’s about the church ministering through the Christian school to fulfill its mandate from Christ to evangelize the lost. Let the church along with the seminary then truly make the most of the opportunity (Eph 5:16) by encouraging some of its gifted saints to minister at Christian schools and further equip the ones who are there to more effectively carry out their ministry (Eph 4:12). As our Lord Jesus entered the synagogues to preach the gospel of the kingdom (Matt 4:23), let us enter the schools and do the same. The lives are there and waiting. The harvest is plentiful. But where are the workers?
It is my prayer that many reading this will say, “Here am I. Send me!”