Choosing a school for your children is one of the most important decisions you will make in your life. Only the home and church affect the upbringing and therefore the future of a child as much as the school he or she attends. Think about it: from kindergarten through twelfth grade, a child spends more than 16,000 hours in school, and that doesn’t count homework, studying with school friends, or extra-curricular activities organized and managed by the school. Sleeping is the only other single activity that will consume as much of your child’s time during that season of life.
Hopefully you are very discerning when deciding with whom you should trust that much of your child’s time. For Christian parents, a Christian education is likely the first priority, which eliminates most of the other education options from the start. But even with that priority established, in a city like Pensacola you are still left with lots of Christian options. Sorting through them all can be a chore, depending upon what other priorities your family may have already established. There are lots of similarities among Christian schools, but even more differences—some obvious, but some subtle and requiring a close look. One difference I would like to explore briefly is the difference between evangelistic and covenantal (or discipleship) schools.
First, let’s look closer at our terms. When we see the word evangelistic, we should think evangelize, preach the Gospel, share the good news of what Jesus has done for sinners. This may lead us to think a school that isn’t evangelistic doesn’t preach the Gospel or talk about Jesus. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, in some ways covenantal schools can be more Gospel centered than evangelistic schools because they are freer to go beyond preaching the Gospel to teaching students how to live the Gospel. But I am getting ahead of myself. The main takeaway from this closer look at terms is that both evangelistic and covenantal schools preach the Gospel of a crucified, resurrected, and ascended Jesus.
Evangelistic schools enroll non-believing students of non-believing parents right alongside students who come from strong Christian homes and churches. These schools endeavor to preach the Gospel to lost families through the education of their children. An important part of their mission is to work toward the conversion of those students who are not hearing the Gospel at home and are not even engaged in a church. It’s hard to find fault with such a mission; after all, Christians are Great Commission people. We are to be about spreading the Gospel to make converts.
The evangelistic school model does come with some drawbacks, though, especially for Christian parents. Perhaps the most obvious drawback is that your children will be attending school with many students who do not believe what they believe about the Triune God—just like at a public or other non-Christian school—which automatically creates a divide within the school community. This is somewhat counteracted by the fact that the authority, the school, does believe what you and your child believe; still, an important part of the school’s mission is to cater to the non-believers.
What I am calling “cater to” brings up another potential drawback in evangelistic schools: much time that could be spent teaching children who are being raised in a believing home how to live the Christian life is instead spent teaching them how to be saved. I am a firm believer that Christians should, as Jerry Bridges says so frequently in his book Disciplines of Grace, “preach the Gospel to ourselves every day,” but children who are being raised in a Christian home and a solid church where they are saturated in Gospel teaching and Gospel living daily can be taken beyond a salvation message and on to training in living the Christian life. That’s what they get at home and church, so why not give it to them at school? But the evangelistic school cannot easily spend a lot of energy on such training because they risk leaving their non-believing students behind.
On the other hand, the covenantal school only enrolls children of believing parents. These schools will usually require a written Christian testimony from parents and a reference from the family’s pastor. The school community therefore is made up of students from Christian homes who regularly attend strong churches. In the covenantal model, the school comes alongside the home and church to reinforce what its students are already learning there. The Gospel is preached, yes, daily, but not usually with an altar call or invitation. The focus is on helping students understand the kind of life God calls His people to once He saves them. The mission is to help students learn to love God with their whole heart, soul, and mind. The drawback, of course, is the possibility a student could be hard-hearted toward the faith in spite of his home, church, and school. Remember, there are always a large number of such students in an evangelistic school—that is by design—but in a covenantal school, such a child will usually convert or leave. The community is a distinctly Christian one, after all, and a student antagonistic to the faith will himself be miserable and will make the community miserable as well. The two will not stay together long. The mission of the covenantal school is one primarily of discipleship, not evangelism.
At the risk of over-simplifying, the summary goes something like this: evangelistic schools spend a large portion of their resources trying to convert students from unbelieving families in a school community made up of believers and other students who may be antagonistic to the Christian faith. Covenantal schools spend a large portion of their resources teaching and training students from believing families how to live the Christian life in a community of people who believe the same things about God and who sign a statement of faith binding them together.
As you do the work of deciding what kind of Christian school to send your children to, know that Pensacola has both kinds—evangelistic and covenantal. If a distinctly Christian school community sounds right for your family, you should look closely at covenantal schools. Trinitas Christian School is a covenantal school. We labor daily alongside our families and their churches to teach our students how to live the Christian life. Our desire is that our students would love God with all their hearts, souls, and minds, and their neighbors as themselves. If that sounds like what you want for your children, let us set up a tour for your family today.
Mr. Ron Gilley