I am entering my 14th year of ministry at Redeemer this May. We view it as one of God's greatest acts of grace to us having us in this place. One of the main reasons I was excited to come to Redeemer in 1997 was their effort to establish a school soon after the church began. I couldn't believe a 60-member church was going to start a Christian school (named Westminster no less!).
We knew this is the place we wanted to be. Every year with Redeemer and Westminster has been more enriching than the year before. Now we are coming to another exciting transition.
Our church school, Westminster Christian Academy is going to merge together with another Christian school starting next fall to form "Heritage Christian Academy". It will still remain under the oversight of Redeemer, but it will be bigger, two campuses, and have a whole new level of excitement and anticipation.
I speak and write often on the subject of Christian Education and worldview training, but in this post I want to share why this school is so important to my family.
My wife Shari grew up in an evangelical home, went to a bible-believing church, and attended a solid Christian school from later elementary through to high school. I grew up in a morally upright Roman Catholic home, attended Mass regularly (and then some), and attended Western NY suburban public schools all the way through.
Shari doesn't remember a day when Christ was not her Savior, although she does remember being prompted to "pray the prayer" to be sure she was saved. I remember being terrified of God most of my early years. Like many (if not most) Roman Catholic youth, I heard no clear, biblical explanation of how I could be right with God. Basically I needed to keep coming to Mass, confession, stay respectful, give some money, etc. I lived in constant palpable fear until I heard a clear explanation of Christ's totally sufficient substitution for me on the Cross given by a baptist preacher in an outdoor bible club across the street from my house at age 12 or so.
I think it's fair to say Shari's struggle with sin has primarily been internal battling legalism and being judgmental. My struggle with sin has probably been more external (though I battle those things too) battling various sins of the flesh. We were both believers as young people, but floundering a bit with how to mature. We both had solid Christian mentors who pointed us toward Moody Bible Institute for college. There we met friends and were exposed to teaching that started to shine the light of grace on our view of God, His Word, and His dealings with us and the World. We were both Christians, but there was a "grace awakening" starting to happen as we grew. We met at Moody when Shari was a freshman and I was a junior. I was very sure I wanted to marry her early on in our relationship. I had never met someone like her. She was perfect for me in every way, especially in her spiritual journey.
By the time we met I was pretty well reformed. By reformed I mean that I had come to grasp the doctrines of God's sovereign grace. Or better put- the doctrines of grace had grasped me. The words of Ephesians 2:5-10 came alive:
"Even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."
The realization that my salvation was by God and for God radically changed my outlook on my life and purpose. Understanding that true biblical grace means God having mercy on me and taking me as His own child because of the work of Christ on my behalf, despite my actually deserving His wrath, continues to stagger me each day. Amazing grace never gets old to me. God's love for me, a sinner, because of Jesus and not based on anything I could do or have done, is truly a sweet sound.
I started to understand biblical grace toward the end of college and so did Shari as we prepared to marry. After marrying we lived in Wichita as Shari worked on her Elementary Ed degree at the local state university. Boy was that an eye opener about current educational philosophies and practices. She student taught at one of the area public schools just before graduating in 1995 . It was during those two years in Wichita we began to really discuss how we would disciple our children some day, if God would so bless us. Our individual experiences combined with studying the bible, and observing the choices and practices of people who already had children fueled and formed our thinking. We became members of a local PCA church where the doctrines of grace were faithfully preached helping us to continue to grow in grace. At Evangel PCA we were the youth sponsors helping to disciple junior high and high school students.
We moved to St. Louis in 1995 for me to attend Covenant Seminary. Shari got her first teaching job as second grade teacher at West County Christian school. The first year in St. Louis brought us to a new level of consideration of God's grace. I think we grew more together and in Christ in our first year of seminary than any year prior. The formal study of God's Word, the preaching we received at our new church, our need to be more dependent on one another being far from any family, and God's faithful work on our hearts made us fall more deeply in love with God's grace. At Covenant we started to think and pray about having children more earnestly. It became clearer to us that God works very powerfully in the lives of families. We could see that a chief manifestation of His grace came through His work in homes and to children in that context. We also observed how fruitful the community of grace was in nurturing homes. A strong, healthy alliance between the church and families seemed to really bolster the spiritual formation of young people.
In this light the verses we spent quite a bit of time considering are given in the context of community yet focused on the task of Christian families-
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."
Please notice the corporate call this is- "Hear, O Israel (the church)". Then the specific focus on teaching our children in the home and "by the way". One thing we were convinced of, we weren't going to give over the training of our children to unbelievers. I know many committed Christians disagree with my rigidity on this point, but I just can't reconcile the call to discipleship illustrated in this passage (and Ephesians 6) with putting our children in schools that oppose God (remember, without the fear of God, there is no wisdom or knowledge/Proverbs 1:7). Beyond the unbelief and humanistic religion promoted in state schools, we lose 9,000 hours of discipleship time between K and 8th grade when we have them there. Shari and I have never been zealots about how you choose to fulfill Deuteronomy 6 (Christian School/Home School/whatever), but we we are pretty settled sending them to unbelievers for such precious hours couldn't be our plan.
Don't get me wrong, we have never believed or suggested that solid believing students can't come through public schools, we know several who have. Further, we're not saying that sending your child to a Christian school or home schooling them will guarantee spiritual strength and a victorious Christian life- we've seen several students from those practices struggle greatly or have seemed to fall away all together. By and large, however, having a strong partnership between church-family-and school can be a very powerful spiritually nurturing influence in a young persons life. We've seen that many times over. Think of the mandate of Deuteronomy 6 and be honest about your plan to obey what God has said.
So, in 1996 when I was reporting to my Presbytery in Kansas, I met the former pastor of Redeemer after he gave a report of the new church school they had just started in Overland Park. The church was only a couple years old itself, less than 60 people attending, and they bought land and started a school. "How crazy", I remember thinking. "How cool", I also remember thinking. After giving his report, he mentioned needing an intern for the summer. I made a beeline to him and inquired about what he needed. Long story short, Shari and I moved to Overland Park for the summer of 1997 between my second and third (last) year at seminary to do a three month internship and have basically been ministering here ever since. Summer intern to assistant pastor to associate pastor to senior pastor. The time has ripped by. I remember turning 25 my first summer at RPC. I turn 39 this August. Wow.
In 1999, a year after arriving at Redeemer, we had our first child. Our church school, Westminster, was in it's third year with 40 students or so. I was involved at Westminster in quite a few different ways. I taught some, I was the gym teacher (basically we played dodgeball every day), I led many of the weekly chapels, and did whatever I could do to help and promote the school. Each year my involvement grew as did my appreciation for Christian education. At the same time I came to learn how sensitive the developing and running of a school is, not to mention we were trying to bring a church plant to some kind of maturity. It was a struggle, I won't kid you. It still is. I understand why many pastors and churches don't endeavor to plant and grow a church and a school. I quickly learned that a school does not grow a church. It just doesn't. It seems people have all sorts of convictions and ideas about how they'll school their children. It also seems very easy to offend people when talking about the subject, another reason why many pastors and churches don't try to tackle a school ministry. I have learned alot about Christian Ed., parenting, priorities, philosophies, over these years. I still have much to learn.
But back to the main point- our oldest son started kindergarten 6 years ago at Westminster. The same sister in Christ who watched him as a baby for us on Tuesday afternoons was his first teacher. All three of my sons are now at Westminster (they all had Jenny for kindergarten as well!). I cannot tell you how truly grateful we are for what Westminster has meant for our family and the effort to carry out Deuteronomy 6. Shari and I cannot disciple our children alone. We lack in so many ways, but God gives us His community. He gives spiritual gifts to his church and I want my children to have access to the benefits of those gifts. Westminster has been one way for that to happen and we have seen amazing spiritual growth in each of our boys. Church-family-school in sync. It's been so very encouraging. Perfect? Without flaws? No challenges? Of course not. What church, family, or school do these describe?
All the previous build up and background was to say that Westminster has exceeded all we dreamed about and discussed before having children. It has provided the exact help, encouragement, and reinforcement, we hoped for. It has been a crucible for sanctification as our boys learn to get along with others who are the same in some ways, but very different in others. They are confronted with all sorts of neat spiritual growth-spawning stuff and we love it, even the challenging community stuff that is inevitable. I could go on and on.
So, as the Westminster epoch ends and the Heritage era begins, I want to give public praise to God for what He has done in our lives through the one and for what He'll do in the future through the other.
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage! -Psalm 33:12