What if our schools were thriving, rather than just surviving?
In Mark 10:17-27 Jesus encounters “the rich young ruler” who says he desires eternal life. Jesus reminded him of the basic requirements. The young man dutifully checked all these off. Jesus lovingly looked at him and told him that he lacked one thing. That was to give up what he had been trusting in. As we know, the young man walked away sad because the cost was too great.
So many (most?) Christian schools are afraid of making significant change, even the ones that are struggling. Maybe the ones that are struggling to survive are the least willing to change for fear that they will go completely out of business. Some believe it is their Christian duty to “suffer for the Cross” as if poverty is a badge of honor.
There is the fear of upsetting the apple cart and losing forward momentum. There is the scarcity mentality that says there are just so many resources and good stewardship requires living on the financial edge.
Maybe school leaders of struggling schools believe it is a sign of faith to wait on the Lord to rescue them.
Whatever the reasons, there are Christian schools closing at an unprecedented rate at a time in this country where we need strong Bible-based schools more than ever.
First Key: Decide that “good enough” or “surviving” is not God’s design for your school
- Desire to be a school that is strong, sustainable and one that glorifies the Lord. In doing so the leadership can also develop and articulate a “larger vision” of what the school can be. As this vision gets fleshed out be humble enough to know that you cannot know everything that needs to be done. Declare that many things can and should change; there can be no sacred cows. However, any changes will not violate the principles on which the school was founded It does mean that we must recognize that “the way we have always done it” is not acceptable unless it is scrutinized. Wise leaders are teachable and they are willing to learn. Even as the hard of school and board chair are ready for significant change. there must also be the desire to be unified as a leadership team. This means that we must be prepared to do the hard work of achieving a new consensus that is not one person’s interests over another’s, but one that seeks the best. Don’t be afraid to set big goals that, when achieved, will cause you to look back and say that the result was worth the big investment and that you can see the Lord’s hand in guiding the entire process.
Second Key: Determine to invest the time and resources
- Open up all the processes and people to review. There is plenty of history that has brought you to the place where you are. Make yourself and the school an open book to the partner or team with whom you have chosen to work. From the beginning it is wise to involve all key people (administration and the board) in the process so that everyone is a part of the process. Ultimately, the board owns the process and the results, so they must be stakeholders and agree to have the success (or failure) of this initiative rest on their shoulders. Meaningful change does not come quickly. In the past tips and quick fixes have been tried and found lacking. Going to conferences and workshops are profitable, but rarely will this participation result in large and substantive change. Choosing to change the trajectory of the school will not take just calendar time, but personal time from many leaders. Similarly the financial resources are not usually not budgeted, but they must be invested. Look for a visionary leader on the board, in the donor pool, or even in the community to fund the effort Look to spend the cost of a well-paid employee over the course of a year. Look at these funds in terms of new students, i.e Five new students at $7,000 will equate to the cost of the investment. However, the five new students keep paying year after year.
Third Key: Depend on the Lord and His timing
- Changing culture takes time. As with any entrenched situation, we did not get here overnight, either. We must trust the Lord to superintend the change process. It will not occur as fast as we desire. The formal process of effecting major change includes setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) goals. These are identified early on and used to keep the total project on track. To launch the project the school will want to employ an “on-boarding” step which details the initial steps that must be taken to collect data, identify the people and processes that will be involved and some of the deliverables in the first two to three months. Even with a systematic process we should recognize that the Lord may re-direct or bend the direction of the improvement plan as it progresses. For example, a re-design of the fundraising program may require going back upstream to work with the board in their understanding of their fiduciary responsibilities and their own theology of giving. One of the results of the change process is the ability to see the need for change and to mobilize to effect that change.