Hynes Sight October Edition (2022)
Covenantal vs. Missional Christian Education
This is an enormous topic on which an entire book could be written. What follows therefore are only a few reflections on how I have seen this discussion play out over my many years in private, faith-based education. The important take-away is that the discussion is far from dichotomous, as there are many variations on how these two philosophies play out in Christian education.
I attended Catholic school from 1978 to 1983. In those days, it was pretty common that virtually every kid in my school was from a Catholic family. I am sure the same would have been true of Jewish families at Valley Torah High School down the road, and Christian families at LA Baptist across town. In fact, faith-based education, no matter what the faith, emerged as a covenantal movement, whereby families of faith wanted their kids educated in a school that correlated with their own religious values and beliefs; entering into a covenantal relationship. Yet, even in those days, covenantal schools very likely let a few kids in who did not share the religious faith of the school. Does this mean that in such instances these schools are no longer covenantal? I would argue it does not. At its core, a covenantal school is a school that asks every family who attends to enter into an agreement that they will respect and abide by the schools’ value system, regardless of their personal faith. In so doing, each family agrees to place themselves under the authority of the schools mission.
There are multiple aspects of a covenantal Christian school, but three stand out. First, such a school hires only solid Christ followers to work there, no matter what job they perform. Indeed, this is the very definition of a Christian school, that all employees are Christian and share a common biblical worldview. Secondly, a covenantal Christian school makes it clear to all families in attendance who they are, what they teach, and why they teach it. Families in turn must agree to respect this and, as said, place themselves under the authority of the school’s leadership. Oftentimes this is paired with the desire to extend an education to only Christian families, requiring the family to sign statements of faith upon admission. This is an admirable aspiration, but is wrought with challenges primarily due to the fact that we are dealing with people we do not know and as such we are left to simply trust what they say. Even for those in Christian education with giftedness in discernment, it is nigh impossible to know the truth of a complete strangers’ salvation in a brief interview. Furthermore, families who want to get into the school will often know what to say to achieve their goal, thus placing them in a situation where they are made to lie. Therefore, I would argue that a covenantal Christian school who does not demand a faith statement for families does not automatically make them missional. In fact, it all depends upon how they manage the third important aspect of Christian covenantal education.
The third, and most challenging aspect of a covenantal Christian school is in how they manage families and students once they are enrolled. The leadership of a covenantal Christian school must be willing to break ties with any family who at any time breaks the covenant entered into upon admission, whether they are Christian or not. I would argue that the criticism often expressed over missional Christian schools is because this has not traditionally been done well. Missional Christian schools who do not ardently defend the covenant they have entered into with their families, begin to experience mission drift and are therefore righty criticized by the Christian world.
Here at Westside, we are covenantal in that we enter into a covenant with each and every family who chooses to attend. If this covenant is broken, we part ways with this family. Yet, we are missional in that we may enter into such a covenant with a family who does not profess to be Christian. In this way, we are taking them under our wing and exposing the gospel message to them. Furthermore, the fact that a non-Christian family is willing to enter into a covenant with a Christian school while not professing Christ themselves, tells you a little bit about where they are in their spiritual journey – one that is searching, open, and ready to explore. In my experience in Christian education, many such students and family members end up accepting Christ at some point during their tenure at the school.
As I mentioned at the outset, the discussion of covenantal versus missional is not a dichotomous one, and could be examined ad nauseum. If you have further questions or concerns about Westside and where we stand on this issue, please reach out to me personally, or better yet, attend one of my Head of School coffees scheduled for November 15th and December 6th at 9AM in the library. Reminders will be sent out.
Dr. John Hynes
Head of School