Adventist Education has a proud reputation for academic excellence. If you are anything like me, that statement caused a visceral reaction in your soul. Most people, in the system, are only referring to the institutional, brick and mortar schools where less than half (42%)* of Adventists enroll their children. Rarely does this statement include the approximately 4% of kids who are home educated. But academics shouldn’t be our only metric, should it?
Several years ago, when my wife and I were starting a church in Colorado, we participated in the Christ-centered, biblically-oriented, Focused Leader program that enabled us to discover our core values and personal vision statement. During that process, I discovered my core values. Not surprisingly, leadership, teamwork, adventure, and excellence were near the top. Interestingly, relationships also popped up. Of course these values correspond well for a church planting pastor, but I initially wrestled with the correlation between excellence and relationships.
In The Church (uppercase = The Bride of Christ), excellence seems to take a back seat to relationships. For instance, often aging LOLs (little old ladies) often continue to be church pianists well past their prime, simply because we don’t want to offend anyone by asking a younger, more qualified musician to play the piano. We see this fear of offending in all areas of the church, often at the expense of excellence. How can I, as a leader and innovator, possibly reconcile this dichotomy?
A few years ago I found myself pastoring in a rural, multi-church district with a small school. One night, after a presentation by the conference education superintendent espousing the stellar standardized test scores of our students, I asked a question. “How are we doing in the area of discipleship?” There was a long, pregnant pause in the room. A few months later, in addition to being the pastor, I was asked to be the interim principal of the school. I continued to ask this question – and I still ask it. Sadly, I’ve never received an answer.
Excellence is measured in many ways. Institutions tend to measure easily measureable data – bodies, buildings, and bucks. It is easy to measure membership and attendance, the size and cost of our capital projects, especially buildings, and how much money we receive, spend, and save. It is much more difficult to measure relationships, discipleship, leadership effectiveness, and quality of services. But not impossible.
Although institutional Adventism has not yet established appropriate benchmarks to measure the quality of discipleship, relationships, and effectiveness, that doesn’t mean that we don’t know it when we see it. This is why we’ve chosen to home educate our children.
In addition to quality education, we choose to pursue excellence in family dynamics, discipleship, and to provide many other opportunities for our kids. Home educating allows us to let our boys run free in the outdoors and not be confined to an indoor desk. Our girls can be free of the societal pressures and bullying that force them to grow up too soon. We parents, who choose this option for our kids can prayerfully model a walk with Jesus that is tailored to their individual needs.
Since learning my own core values, I’ve learned that excellence isn’t just about measureable metrics, task completion, or high academic standards. More bodies, bigger buildings, or better balance sheets are not the only measure for excellence. For me, and many of us, happy, spiritual, and strong kids are what we desire. More than anything, our focus is not about propelling our kids into a high-paying career. Our focus is that our children walk with Jesus – always. This is true excellence.
* Note: Data above is from an unpublished email detailing stats from an unnamed conference education department.