You may or may not know this, but I’ve been a PhD student for nearly five years now. Five. Long. Years.  I am nearing completion of the process, putting the finishing touches on my dissertation. I’ve learned that nothing is more boring than PhD candidates talking about their dissertation. People ask what my dissertation is about, kindly making conversation or expressing polite interest. When I explain it, their eyes understandably glaze over, much the way mine do when someone mentions tax reform or Kendrick Lamar.  I get it.

Even though the title of my dissertation is boring, the subject is not. You see, it’s about Christian education.  And, after 15 years of working in this field, I’m convinced that few things provide more hope to our country or our world than teaching Jesus to our kids.

I’ll preface what I’m about to say by noting that God doesn’t lead every family to Christian education. People should pray diligently about how to educate their kids, and then follow God’s calling on their lives, respecting God’s calling on other’s lives, as well. But, if God has called you into it, make sure He’s calling you out of it with equal force, as well. Both are callings.  And, if you’re praying now about what you should do for the first time, I’m humbly offering the following as some things to consider.

First, I’ll address what Christian education is not. It is not public school with teachers who are Christians. It is not a charter school run by people who are believers. It is not even a private school with a nonsectarian mission. While those who are called by Christ to educate kids within those school contexts are called by God to do great, noble work for which they should be prayed over and commended, what they’re doing is not Christian education. It legally or by mission cannot be. That’s not intended to offend or be dismissive of great work; it just is. Several of my families are, or have been teachers at other schools that do not have a distinctively-Christian mission, and they will tell you they cannot do what we do. It’s an apples and oranges comparison.

A true Christian school is set up to think, create, feel, design curriculum, present lessons, disciple kids, and partner with parents in a completely different way. If you believe God is the author of life and the creator of everything that is, this means that He has a perspective, something to say about everything in life: not just relationships and living in a moral way, but about things like language, and math, and science, and music, and every aspect of human endeavor. When the Apostle Paul says, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” (Rom. 12) he doesn’t mean just know facts about God; he means let what you know about God, revealed in His Word and through creation, transform the way you look at everything in life. That’s what a Christian school is about: helping kids think that way. And, no other school is set up to do it. It can’t.

Being a Christian school impacts not just what is taught, but where it is taught.  As one of my PhD professors told me, “context is everything.” The “where” is not everything, but it is really, really important. In a Christian school, school community members are unified in living according to God’s Word as his or her standard. Notice, I’m not saying, “everyone lives according to God’s Word all the time.” This school is an imperfect place, because you and I are here. As the gospel teaches, we are not perfect people; but, we are perfect-able: failing, repenting, and asking the Holy Spirit to help us love and be holy.

This means we love, even when we don’t feel like it. We love even when it’s hard, even when a student, or a parent, or a teacher, or an administrator, or a sick, or injured, or difficult community member is hard to love. We love because we’re family, commanded by God to love and hang together.  Teachers feel that love, and it allows them to share, and collaborate, and innovate, and explore in ways they might not otherwise. Students feel that love, and they are more secure in who they are, more willing to try harder, more willing to ask questions, to take academic risks, and to express themselves.  When kids know they’re loved, they’re more open to being disciple, to being conformed to the image of Christ.  It provides a medium in which great learning and great living happens. This is the beauty of learning together in Christian community. Only a learning community joined by the gospel can love this particular way.

This school isn’t paradise. It’s not perfect. No family, or church, or community is. Perfection is a unicorn; always taunting and enticing, yet always eluding those who try to chase it. But, for those who have chosen it, who have committed to be a part of it, pray for it, support it, and fight for it, not as an idol, but as an act of worship of the God they love, most days it’s pretty great.  Sure, it’s an investment, but one you can most likely afford (just ask us), and as a father of three, two of whom have graduated, it’s the best investment we ever made. Because “what,” “where,” and “who” make all the difference in the world.

Jay Ferguson writes regularly on his blog, The Head and The Heart.