by Chuck Allen
How many times have you heard a well-intentioned speaker, pastor or evangelist say “the public school is the greatest mission field in our community?” What if I were to tell you that the schools in our communities don’t need us to treat them like a mission field?
Our schools are campaigning for a better tomorrow in our communities just like we are. Their mission to equip young minds and leave this world in better, brighter hands sounds familiar to our church staff meetings and strategic planning sessions. But somewhere along the way, the church saw the school as a church growth tool or a third world country lead by humanistic bobble-heads that teach our children not to pray, that God is dead and faith is too ancient to be relevant today. How did that happen?
I believe it happened when we lost sight of the realities found in our public schools. Those realities include potential educators that never started teaching because the income opportunity was too good to pass up in another industry. It includes counselors that have dedicated their lives to assist students and families in everything from academic growth to grief recovery. It includes administrators who have every decision and every directive questioned in a public forum.
How would we respond to the local school systems if they repetitively referred to our church as the greatest mission field in America? If we were to change our strategic plans toward being the school’s best partner, we might just find our own best partner.
When we approached our local public schools, my first task was to listen. I listened and heard that they needed help, but not for another gymnasium rally, club or prayer gathering. They needed help for families in crisis, affordable leadership training for staff, senior pictures for children that can’t afford the preferred studio. They needed a safe place to call when a 14-year-old girl discovers she’s pregnant or a family has been evicted. They needed food and long term help for children that don’t eat at home and survive on the breakfast and lunch served at school. They needed chaplains for the Flag Corp as much as the football team.
We are still just kicking up dust in the eight schools we serve, but we have become each school’s best partner. We have dedicated a full-time team member to serve our schools. The focus of our work isn’t to “earn the right to share the gospel,” it is to help serve a community partner in making our community better with hope for tomorrow! This didn’t happen in a few months. It has taken five long years of training our folks to help without credit, serve without recognition and love without condemnation. How about that? Jesus had it right all along. “If you want to be great, become a servant.” If you are willing to serve families, students, faculty and community, this is the place to start. While it’s hard work, the return on your investment is completely unbelievable.
Chuck Allen is pastor of Sugar Hill Church in Sugar Hill, Georgia, who believes in the power of healthy church-school partnerships. He is originally from Daytona Beach, Florida, and has a lifelong history of church and faith-based leadership. Chuck is married to Jenny and they have six daughters.
Join Chuck and Leslie Bolser from Core Essential Values at a breakout on Thursday at OC16 or visit them at the Core Essential Values booth during the conference to hear more about how churches and schools can work together.