This week, I had the opportunity to attend an extraordinary conference of Christian educators from all over the world.  Leaders involved in Christian schooling from Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America gathered in San Diego to encourage each other and discuss the state of Christian education. I left inspired. I also left humbled, as multiple educators told me they often read this blog.

With that in mind, this week I not only wanted to encourage my school families who most often read what I write, but those engaged in the noble work of preparing the next generation of Christ’s Church to impact the world.  Whether it’s the kids in our schools, or those in our homes, we’re all a part of that most important of all projects.

Anyone who is paying attention sees the world changing around us, and that Christians are increasingly exiles in what David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, calls “Digital Babylon,” a world very different from the one in which my generation was raised. If you study the Old Testament and the Babylonian Captivity, you’ll see that the Jews very much wanted to return to Israel, their homeland. And yet, the Lord encouraged them that return was not His plan for them. Instead, they were to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jer. 29). The Lord encouraged them not to listen to the false prophets who called them back to Israel, but to move forward in the land of their exile.

Our culture and our world has indeed changed around us, and the Church has to change to meet the need of those dying for the life-saving power of the gospel. I deeply believe that God wants to grow His Church in North America, and each one of us as members of that Body, into something greater than ever before: more Holy Spirit-filled, more discipleship-focused, reflecting a Revelation 7 vision of a diverse yet unified Church of all the nations, more globally-focused as well as attentive to our own communities, and dedicated to being uniters and reconcilers in a divisive culture, drawing people to Jesus and to each other.

And, the way He will accomplish this transformation, the only way He ever transforms us and brings about such change in our lives, is through hardship and challenge. Because that’s the only way we ever grow. I believe that’s God’s vision for the Church in our part of the world, and therefore for our school and for Christian schools, generally.

Grace, and other Christian schools, are uniquely qualified in ways other schools aren’t, to prepare the generation of believers currently on our schools to lead the Church I’m describing. Based on recent Barna research soon to be released, Generation Z faces pressures that are both unique to their era, and universal to the human condition. According to Barna, they are searching for identity, asking “who am I?” They are fighting anxiety, prevalent in any age but exacerbated through digital technology and social media- these issues are forcing them to ask “how should I live in today’s world?” Technology and media havethem more connected than ever before, yet paradoxically facing greater isolation, forcing them to ask, “am I loved?” This generation is perhaps the most ambitious of any of the past several, wanting to make a positive impact in the world and believing they can, causing them to inquire, “what’s my purpose?” And, finally, they want to know “what matters beyond me?”

Only the gospel is poised to provide satisfying answers to these questions, and, based on Barna’s research, resilient disciples of Jesus in Generation Z are secure in those answers. They know their identity is rooted in Jesus Christ, that they are sons and daughters of God, deeply loved and satisfied in Him. They are able to discern their times, looking at life through a gospel lens, and having the ability to apply what they believe to how they live. They are more likely to be engaged in meaningful relationships, because they realized they are loved by God and that their love for others is an expression of that love. They understand that they are called by God to serve Him through their gifts and abilities, and they either have a clear vision for what that may be, or they are prayerfully seeking that vision. And, they have a mission, realizing that they are, as D.A. Horton says, the trailer for the movie that is the Kingdom of Heaven, disciples who make disciples and point the direction to the way things were and will be again.

Only Christian schools, working together with Christian families, have the time and exposure to kids necessary to come alongside families and provide the bandwidth to counteract the cultural pull against the gospel’s countercultural message. Churches are an absolutely essential and God-ordained vehicle for discipleship, but Kinnaman, as well as writers Russell Moore, Ross Douthat, and countless others have recognized that the few hours a month kids are in church or in youth activitiesare ordinarily inadequate in and of themselves to create resilient disciples. Furthermore, kids need a holistic perspective of faith, seeing that it pertains to all of life, and only by seeing God’s Word and His truth woven into every aspect of creation, as a Christian education does, can they have an integrated (as opposed to disintegrated) view of all of life as faith and ministry.

Besides being singularly equipped to prepare kids to be resilient disciples, only Christian schools are set up to ready students to lead the next-generation Church. In a world where discussions around ethnic redemption and conciliation are either ignored in unhealthy and unhelpful ways, or engaged in means inconsistent with biblical notions of dignity, the image of God, and the redemptive use of power, only the gospel provides a lens that truly captures a vision for healing and restoration, because it’s rooted in the way God created and intended us to be. Likewise, only Christian schools can help students capture a vision for using their God-given gifts and abilities to be used on mission for His glory, as uniters and reconcilers, because they viewthemselves and those around them as eternal beings, created by their Father, worthy of curiosity, respect, dignity, and love. These perspectives lay the groundwork for a broader, global focus on Christ’s work throughout the world in a way that nothing else can, and only Christian schools can provide theseviewpoints to students every day, in everything they do.

Our role as Christian educators in ensuring our schools equip our kids to be the Church is to be intentional- intentional indesigning our curriculum and instruction so that every practice equips the students in their classrooms to this calling. We have to ensure that we’re not confusing academic rigor with heavy “sit and get” (which actually rhymes when you’re from Texas) pedagogy, pen-and-paper assessments (only), and curriculum that fails to engage our students in deep thinking, learning, and collaboration, and that falls short of giving them a vision for how what they’re learning anchors to who they are as image-bearers and what they are called to be and do as God’s stewards. We have to remember that education in a Christian school is discipleship, and requires engaging, shepherding, and stewarding our kids’ bodies, spirits, emotions, and hearts, as well as their minds. Education in a Christian school is our lives on theirs; the 80s, 90s, and 2000s are over, and we have to do the hard work of training ourselves to unlearn and learn whatever is necessary to equip this particular generation of student for this particular culture.

As parents, we have to be deeply engaged in their lives, but realize that “deeply engaged” means in appropriate ways. We have to care about education, that they’re educated according to God’s calling on our lives and our responsibilities as their parents, who are charged as their shepherds. We have to be very hands-on when they’re little, and begin to back off as they get older, asking God for the wisdom to know when to intervene and when to step back and let God work in their lives (that’s really hard to do, and requires mentor parents and a community, like a Christian school, to help and guide us). We have to model what we want to see, and we have to be the Church that we want them to someday lead. Most of all, we have to pray- pray that God will move in their hearts and lives, pray that God will give us wisdom, and pray that He’ll cover our shortcomings with His grace (I promise you He will).

It’s easy to see the world changing around us and be anxious, worried, or intimidated. Whatever we imagine “normal” to be, things won’t return there. But, the Church of Jesus Christ wasn’t built for “normal.” It wasn’t built to flourish in peace and prosperity. It was built to thrive in the midst of challenge, trials, and, yes, suffering.  The greatest days of the Church of Christ in our part of the world is still ahead, and I believe the children in our schools right now will lead it. By God’s grace, we’ll have the courage and strength to lead them.