Adventist Education: Is It Optional?

A Must Read
In 2009 I was introduced to a book titled How to Kill Adventist Education. The caption really got my attention; and thus I obtained the book, and read it.
The author, Shane Anderson, an Adventist pastor, shows from studies and surveys how to kill Adventist Education, but more importantly, he shows how to give it a fighting chance.

A Growing Membership but a Waning School Enrollment
Pastor Shane explains at the time of his writing that while the North American Division (NAD) membership has grown by 79% (from 606,430 members to approximately 1,082,900) over a 28 year period, from 1980 to 2008, unfortunately, during the same period K-12 enrollment in the NAD decreased by 33% (18, 157 students). I imagine that this reflects a similar trend for other divisions of the world church. Locally, within the region of the Atlantic Caribbean Union, I see some similarities. As you probably did, I asked, “Why?” It was in examining this work that I noted some similarities between Shane’s findings and my assumptions. More so this is seen in the chapter of the book where Shane lists what he refers to as secondary and primary causes based on the NAD studies.

Looking at the Causes
The secondary causes arrived at in talking with parents point to tuition costs and poor marketing. However, Pastor Shane prefers to consider the primary causes, which I believe are essentially the main reasons for a decline in enrollment. He lists six of them:
1. A lack of passion among churchgoing members for being what he termed “conservative” Seventh-day Adventists
2. A misunderstanding of what constitutes biblical discipleship
3. Poor pastoral support of Adventist education
4. Poor parenting
5. The inroads of postmodernism, secularism, and “liberalism” in Adventism
6. Poor quality schools

Looking at these reasons objectively, one would recognize at least one or all of these as possible reasons for a decline in enrollment in the school(s) in one’s area. However, some would rather say that the jury is still out. Some of you will recall that there was a time when Adventist education got full attention and promotion by both pastors and elders. The truth is that is not the case today. Years ago, at least in the West Indies, it was rare for elders and pastors (and church officers in general) to send their children outside the church education system. It is not the same anymore. Could it be that the postmodern thinking has impacted our church? Could it be that there is a lack of passion among churchgoing members for “conservative” Seventh-day Adventism? Could it be that parents are listening to their children as opposed to the Word of God and the Spirit of Prophecy counsels? Then could it be that our current education facilities are inadequate? Is our academic offering meeting the needs of the students? As noted, it could be all or any of these; and we need to address them. I think we ought to start by refocusing on the purpose of Adventist education.

Purpose of Adventist Education
The primary objective of Adventist Christian education is to lead our young people “into a saving relationship with Jesus” (Anderson). Ellen White puts it another way by saying; “the primary purpose of education is to lead students to God for redemption” (Education, pp.15, 16). No wonder she penned that “the work of Education and the work of redemption are one” (ibid, p. 30). The goal is to bring every person “back to at-one-ment with God, his fellowman, his own self, and the natural world” (Anderson). Essentially, Adventist Education is not geared just to make scholars; however, when God’s blue print is followed, students will excel and achieve their potentials. Nevertheless, its main aim is to save our young people. But this can never take place without the aid of the Holy Spirit. So it is important that all stakeholders (the School Board, administration, pastors, elders, the entire school staff and church members) understand and accept this concept.

Not an Option but a must
When the true aim is comprehended, I would imagine that one will conclude that Adventist education is not an option but a must. Readers, when we take the position that it does not matter, or we pursue prestige and bypass God’s plan, how can we expect God’s favor? George Knight in one of his many works (Myths in Adventism) explains the church’s reason for spending millions of dollars to support Adventist education. “The answer . . . has of necessity a link to the purpose of Adventist education. If Adventist schools serve a sufficiently distinctive and important purpose, the achievement of that purpose is worth their cost. Establishing and clearly understanding the true object of Christian education is therefore crucial to the continued support and operation of Adventist schools. In fact, the most important educational understanding a Christian can arrive at is related to the purposes, aims, and goals of education. . . .”

For Adventist education to gain its rightful place, it is going to take a response to the six points noted by Shane Anderson. Yes, it will take school administrators, staff, union, conference and church leaders to buy into the idea and provide adequate funding. We cannot afford to lose our future (meaning our children). It will require members to see more than just the present world but the world to come. Yes, it will require patience to stay on course with what is outlined in God’s word and the Spirit of Prophecy writings. It will require conversion to God and Adventism.