By Milton V. Uecker, EdD
Part 2 of 8 part series (2005)
Leading students to “kingdom living” starts with a clear statement and understanding of the school’s mission and vision. The typical mission statement often implies an education that prepares students academically, provides growth in Christian character, and enables the student to live a life that glorifies God. If the school is to train for kingdom living, this goal should be clearly implied within its mission. A phrase within a mission statement, however, does not fully describe what the student will be like upon completion of the program. A fuller description should be found within the school’s vision. It is within the vision that phrases like “prepared academically,” “Christian character,” and “a life that glorifies God” are explained. If schools are to lead students to kingdom living, then Dallas Willard (1998, 302) would challenge educators to be intent upon making disciples. Willard’s vision might therefore include his statement that the school will bring students “to the point where they are daily learning from Jesus how to live their actual lives as he would live them if he were they.”
The vision-a description of the school’s purpose in terms of what it hopes to accomplish and be known for-provides the basis for the school’s desired or mission-driven outcomes. It is this set of outcomes that is the basis upon which school leadership can assess the degree to which the school is accomplishing its mission and vision. What will the student who is a disciple know, do, and value? The leader must be able to identify not only the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values of a disciple, but also the resulting behaviors. It is this set of behaviors that verify the nature of the change in the student. Robert Coles (1998, 16), in his book on how to raise a moral child, states that too often we speak of character in terms that are nouns. He argues for changing character traits from nouns into verbs, that is, clearly defined behaviors that are demonstrated as a result of a given character trait.
Turn nouns such a generosity, kindness, thoughtfulness, sensitivity, compassion into verbs, words of action…Take those nouns that denote good moral traits…try to convert them into verbs: tasks to accomplish, plans for action, to be followed by the actual work of doing. An imagined plan or plot is a mere prelude to a life’s day-to-day behavior, yet over the long run of things, the sum of imagined plans turned into action becomes one’s “character.”
An example for a typical kindergarten lesson might be helpful. Children are exhorted to do the following:” “Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth” (Ephesians 6:3, NASB). Do little children know how to honor? They must be shown what children who honor do. Teacher and children together not only brainstorm actions that honor, but they might even role-play or practice these.
Kingdom living, resulting from spiritual transformation, must likewise be communicated in terms of “tasks to accomplish and plans for action” if students are to begin the “actual work of doing.” Examine your student outcomes. To what extent do they characterize a disciple? Do the outcomes reflect a balance between the cognitive and affective? Are the expectations age appropriate? Are there goals related to both the head and the heart-not to just what a student knows but to what he or she is becoming?
The intentional leader must be willing to objectively consider the level to which the mission and vision are being accomplished. An assessment plan is an important strategy toward leading students to kingdom living. It is through assessment that the leader understands the effectiveness of current practices, and the adjustments that may be needed within the program in order to assure continued or even greater effectiveness. George Barna (2003, 123) believes that “we have lulled ourselves into complacency regarding the spiritual growth of our children. That self-satisfaction is enabled solely because we have no objective measures against which to compare our subjective feelings.” Do we have objective evidence that we are accomplishing our desired outcomes? Barna gives an example in which 74 percent of pastors interviewed claimed that their church was doing an excellent or good job in giving children a biblical worldview, when in reality only 5 percent of churched children who are born-again have a biblical worldview. Even though transformation is ultimately the work of God, the conditions and practices that prepare and nurture children have been given to the parents and the school. Honest assessment provides the feedback needed to be about this task more successfully.