Jay Blogs – Led by Love

Word love on wooden table.

Two weeks ago, I was asked to give the graduation address to a group of aspiring leaders in Christian schooling called Leadership U, organized by ACSI, our accrediting body.  I recently rolled off as board chair, I’m past board chair so now I do jobs like that- it’s kind of like being Vice President. A baby-kissing position.  

I was asked to speak on change and resilience. At first, the topic seemed like a paradox to me- aren’t change and resilience two separate things? After all, one is about becoming something different, and the other is about staying the course. But, as I thought about it, combining change and resilience is what all good Christian leaders (maybe all good leaders, period), and all good Christian organizations, like our school, do. 

If you really want to stand the test of time as a leader or a Christian school, you have to be able to change, because the culture and world around you are changing. Kids are different, families are different, and the context in which we live is different than before. If we can’t change, we cease to be able to serve our community, or as my new favorite quote from the military, shared with me by my friend Karla, goes: “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance a lot less.”  Our faith is about transformation. Our school theme last year was about being transformed, citing Rom. 12:2, “and do not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” 2 Cor. 5:17 tells us that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” Change is a part of who we are. 

Change is scary for most people, because it involves putting to death ways, often comfortable ways of doing things, and becoming something or someone new. Which often means trial and error, and failure, and people hate to fail, no matter how much we say failure is good, because we don’t want to look stupid. 

The thing that holds us all together in the midst of change is resilience, holding fast to what is true, and not having that change about us. I Cor. 15:58 tells us to “remain steadfast, always abounding in the work of the Lord. So, that in the Lord, your labor is never in vain.” Paul tells us in Phil. 4:8 that “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

So, as I was thinking about the way change and resilience comes together in the Christian life, it reminded me of one of the things I love so much about Grace, and why, through God’s grace, we’ve lasted 50 years. We’ve been what our community needed when it needed it, while never departing from leading with Jesus.

In the early 70s, it was love that led a group of young families from Grace church to create a school that would partner with parents to raise their kids to know and worship the God they loved. From that desire, Grace Community School was born. 

In the 1980s, when Tyler boomed, then busted as oil, real estate, and banking collapsed, and this school nearly closed its doors, it was love that caused the few people left behind to fall on their knees and ask the Lord how to save it, then to respond to him by doing the hard work to build a true school community, one that didn’t do school to kids but with them, that loved them and their families, that laid a foundation that grew and never faltered. Creating a community of love- a place where people hold together through pain and trials, and illness, and heartache, and death. We love each other well. 

In the 1990s and early 2000s, as our school grew dramatically, and as people across our country were concerned about the quality of American education, it was love that caused this school to do the hard work of getting education right, of becoming recognized as an outstanding academic institution, one that taught kids to read and write and think well: a high-quality, Christ-centered education, building a reputation that would grow beyond our city to national and international levels. 

In the years leading up to and beyond the COVID pandemic, as the community around us changed demographically, it was the question that God asked our leaders and me, “Do you love all the children I love?” that cut us to the core, because the answer at that time was “no, not really,” and led us on a journey to create access and belonging for families that don’t look like mine, with different cultural backgrounds, and academic need, and economic need, because God loves these families, too, and being the school that “teaches Jesus” and loving like Jesus loves required it. So, Grace became a school and a people that stand for unity under the gospel  in a surrounding culture where divisiveness and tribalism is rampant. 

When COVID shut down schools, and we didn’t know what kind of threat this new disease posed, love required our teachers to step into what was then unknown territory, because education is discipleship, and that discipleship is life-on-life, incarnational, and because love required taking risks to love children well. Therefore, our kids didn’t suffer the post-COVID academic drop, and they knew and know they are loved. 

And, now, this small town where my grandmom lived and that provided refuge for me as my parents split up when we lived in Dallas, this town I fell in love with then and came to as a young, newlywed lawyer 30 years ago next month. This is not a small town any more. I don’t know if you just saw on the USA Today website, but Tyler was named as the #1 city to live in Texas by USA Today. We have a new medical school arising from the ground over by UT Tyler. I believe that the recent elections demonstrated that school choice in Texas is an idea that a majority of Texans support, and it is coming. People are coming from around the country, and they will continue to come, and this place will grow, and they will need this school community to serve them and to bring the gospel of Jesus to their kids. 

The school board and the elders have been working together on a comprehensive master facilities plan to build out all our campuses to meet the needs of our existing families, and of those who are coming. There are Christian education deserts in communities all around Smith County and East Texas, and our board has been looking at how we can partner with churches and other organizations in those communities to bring the outstanding Christian education Grace provides in order to give every child in East Texas access to outstanding Christian education. And, the board is looking at expanding the educational and spiritual formation program on these campuses to continue to meet the needs of our kids as our community grows. 

Last Friday night, I had dinner with a beautiful young lady and her handsome husband. She is a former student, and I had the honor of marrying them. Married life hasn’t been easy for them, but through their mutual faith in Jesus, they’ve walked the hard road together, and God has been faithful to draw them closer to each other and they have pressed more deeply into him. Both are deeply engaged in their church, located in a large city in this state. The husband has a ministry to high school boys, while the wife works with small children. As Ashley and I enjoyed being in their presence, I rejoiced for 50 years of being what this community needs, sending out people like this into the world- men and women, loving Jesus, his disciples, faith integrated into every aspect of their lives, loved by Jesus and loving him through being on mission where they work, live, and play. 

50 years of God’s goodness, change and resilience combining to make disciples of Jesus. Glory to the Lord.