As I see it, there are two different ways to do Christian school: the easy way, and the hard way.
The easy way involves setting extremely high behavioral standards before a world that is always watching. It involves setting very clear, very prescriptive rules that govern most aspects of the school’s operation, such as classroom conduct and dress code. Disruptive behavior is against the rules. The consequences of infractions are spelled out very clearly in the handbooks: a first offense brings a relatively minor consequence, followed by stronger consequences after a second offense, with subsequent issues resulting in school removal. Teachers, administrators, and parents faced with student problems have a relatively clear-cut, clean task: determine the facts of the particular issue, apply the prescribed consequences, and move on or out.
Order prevails in a school like this one. The students learn what it takes to get along, and they mostly do what is necessary to comply. They look good. On any given day, an administrator can take a visitor through the halls of the school and see cleanliness, politeness, control and compliance. Every day looks like a marketing brochure.
But, that’s not the way we’ve done it—we’ve done it the hard way.
The hard way is messy. It realizes that kids are created in the image of God, but marred by sin. Some of them are saved by the blood of Christ; others aren’t yet there. The hard way involves rolling up one’s sleeves and delving into the muck and mire of human depravity. It seeks to be a part of God’s redeeming plan in the lives of kids, but realizes that redemption is an ongoing process, and that guiding kids to the throne of Jesus and encouraging them to surrender their lives is exhausting work. Instead of following prescribed rules, the hard way looks like working with the kid, finding out what’s happening in his or her heart, praying diligently for the right rhythm of mercy and consequences, and restoration and restitution. It takes the long approach of staying with the kid, shepherding and stewarding his or her heart, maintaining the relationship even on those rare occasions when he or she can’t stay.
The hard way does not always look pretty. Sometimes, others see the “hard way” Christian school and say, “I thought you were a Christian school”, as if an inanimate object could be Christian or as if, somehow, the school has gathered together the only 300 or so teenagers on Earth who were born without sin natures. They see hypocrisy, as if every follower of Christ didn’t struggle with matching up what he claims to believe with how he actually lives every day of his life. The “hard way” Christian school lives within the tensions and challenges of being an “authentic Christian community”, which means, “messy people trying to love Jesus, often failing, always striving, seeking forgiveness and restoration”.
It doesn’t always look good on a brochure; as a head of school, I sometimes think the easy route would be cleaner and a lot more fun. But, the easy way is fraught with danger– it teaches kids to look good on the outside, no matter what’s going on inside. It teaches them that the way to earn God’s favor and those of others is to be a little moralist—do and say the right things, regardless of what’s in one’s heart, and maybe you can control others—even God—into doing exactly what you want. The hard way is the narrow way; it’s the way that teaches the Christian walk with all of its magnificent glories and struggles and blessings and failures and perseverance and falling short- in other words, abundant, overflowing LIFE. I’ll take the hard way.