Christian schools seen for cultural impact
ATHENS, Ala. (BP) -- When pastor Dusty McLemore was called to Lindsay Lane Baptist Church in Athens, Ala., 20 years ago, he had a vision to start a Christian school. That vision lay dormant until the doors of Lindsay Lane Christian Academy opened in 2009.
Two years earlier the church had built a two-story, state of the art children's building complete with an auditorium, and during the week the first floor was occupied by a daycare, but the top floor went unused. The church's leadership knew it was time to revisit that initial vision.
But where would they start? Eric Pugh, minister to families at Lindsay Lane Baptist, headed up a team and contacted Ed Gamble, executive director of the Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools.
"We had a great conversation and he offered advice and help in every way possible," Pugh told Baptist Press.
Gamble recommended the Kingdom School Institute, led in part by Glen Schultz, author of "Kingdom Education" and headmaster of Sherwood Baptist Academy in Albany, Ga. Pugh attended the institute's training session in 2008.
"It was everything and more than I imagined," he said. "It was so effective in explaining how to start a school, how to improve a school and how to grow it."
Leaders from Christian schools at the conference recognized that Lindsay Lane Baptist was just learning the terrain and reached out to help.
"They gave us advice and prayed for us and kept in touch with us," Pugh said. "So we got a lot of support out of that first institute."
The first year of its existence, Lindsay Lane Christian Academy offered kindergarten through sixth grade, but parents wanted more. Meanwhile, the only other Christian school in the community -- offering K-12 and full facilities -- had become interested in merging with Lindsay Lane.
In fewer than 40 days that summer, the two schools consolidated into Lindsay Lane Christian Academy, which now offers accredited schooling for preschoolers through 12th grade. Enrollment for the coming school year is 330 students, Pugh said.
"It serves as an outreach to the community. We don't refuse anyone into the school," he said. "We've had a Hindu family and other faiths. Many students have been saved since it began four years ago."
Gamble now is inviting church leaders nationwide who are thinking about starting a Christian school to attend the Kingdom School Institute at the Dallas-area Prestonwood Christian Academy in Plano June 19-21.
This year's institute will be especially helpful, he said, because the Christian School 101 Workshop, sponsored by SBACS for years and typically held as a separate event, will be presented in conjunction with the institute.
"People who attend the workshops will receive the best training available for pastors and Christian school leaders for starting and/or strengthening their school," Gamble told Baptist Press.
Modules for every role within a Christian school will be offered, he said, and leaders interested in starting a Christian school based on the Kingdom Education philosophy will attend the general sessions and then will attend the Christian School 101 session.
"Only about 2 percent of Southern Baptist churches have a school. Compare that with Catholic churches," Gamble said. "Nearly every Catholic church has a school, and it's very difficult once Catholic children attend a Catholic school to get them to quit being Catholics."
Gamble believes the Christian school movement within the Southern Baptist Convention will be one of the central compelling means of church growth and discipleship for SBC churches in the 21st century.
"If only 2 percent of our churches have a school and 20 percent decided to, then we'd be educating somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of America's schoolchildren in Baptist schools," Gamble said.
"What difference would that make in our culture? When you think about it, a kid is in school 2,100 minutes a week and he's in church maybe 120 minutes a week. If he's getting any discipling at home, it isn't much and it certainly doesn't compare to the discipling he's getting in a secular school. And 90 percent of our children attend a secular school," he said.
The Kingdom School Institute will explain to pastors and other church leaders not only how but why they should start a Christian school.
"We offer the nuts and bolts and the come-alongside help so that churches can start successful schools," Gamble said.
The movement, he said, is about creating "a new public school system."
"It's not a public school system in the same sense as the current one which is owned by the public and in which Christians increasingly have no input," Gamble said. "Rather a school system which is owned by our churches and open to the public."
He also calls it "Vacation Bible School on steroids," alluding to the impact a church can have on a child's life by exponentially increasing the amount of time spent on the child's education.
Pugh, of Lindsay Lane, advised that before attending the Kingdom School Institute, pastors should assess the needs in their congregation. If there is not a need for a Christian school in their particular setting, then he encourages them to support other Christian schools.
"Christian education to me personally is a must for Christian families to prepare their children for what they're going to face when they go into college and the adult world," Pugh said. "It gives children a biblical worldview."
Churches can start their schools small.
"There's no requirement. They can begin just kindergarten or K-3, whatever level they feel they're capable of doing," Pugh said, adding that leaders should reach out to those who already have charted the territory.
A church in a neighboring county contacted Lindsay Lane, and the academy's leaders helped mentor them in starting a school, he said.
"They started in a church K-4, and we were able to pass on to them what we had learned, and they're doing well," Pugh said. "Someone helped us, and we helped them, so it's very biblical. There will be someone else in your area that will be happy and honored, I'm sure, to help mentor you through the opening of a school.
"Certainly contact Ed Gamble and go to Kingdom Institute to receive the support and training that you need to do it right," Pugh said.
Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. For more information and to register for the Kingdom School Institute, visit kingdomschoolinstitute.org. For more information about the Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools, visit www.sbacs.org. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).