The Years Ahead: Lutheran Schools in the Texas District
WOW! Looking back on a hundred years of God's blessings through the Gospel proclamation in Lutheran centers, schools, and high schools is truly an awesome opportunity to recall all the lives touched and all the children of all ages who will spend eternity with the Lord of the Universe - sometime in part because of Lutheran schools and - sometimes dramatically as a direct result.
WOW!! God has a great desire for our Lutheran schools to continue to significantly touch many lives in the next hundred years. [There is nothing more significant than sharing God's victory in Jesus Christ.] My grandmother is 103; she was just three when the Texas District began in ministry. I wonder if we have any three-year-olds out there in the Texas District that will have the privilege of witnessing the next 100 years of God's blessings through Lutheran schools?!
Oh there will be lots of changes. One thing, however, that will remain a constant is God's unconditional love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Lutheran Schools will remain, by God's power GRACE PLACES. Places where students, families, and faculty & staff members share and grow in God's forgiveness, grace, and love. Come along for a look at what might be just around the corner. God may well be calling you to a part of this journey in some small and/or mighty way. Your prayers and thoughts are always invited and welcomed. Lutheran schools are great places to grow because they share CHRIST.
I. Why do Lutheran schools exist? What is their purpose? Lutheran schools and early childhood centers exist to share the greatest news of all that God loves us and in Jesus Christ offers His forgiveness and eternal life to all who by the power of the Holy Spirit accept that wonderful free gift.
One of the tremendous blessings and advantages of Lutheran schools is that students are generally attending these schools for more than 30 hours each week. The opportunity to touch lives in significant ways is profound. Students share their growing faith with their families and in their neighborhoods. Students' lives are touched by teachers, coaches, other staff members, and their peers.
The question has been asked, "Do Lutheran schools exist for nurture or outreach?" What will their purpose look like in the future? Lutheran Schools exist for both nurture and outreach. Students and teachers alike continue each day to grow in their faith. In some cases students come to accept Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit directly through being in a Lutheran school. Students of all ages have come to accept Jesus through our Lutheran schools. In addition students are equipped by the Word in Lutheran schools to share their own faith with others. Often this begins with their own families. It continues with friends and neighbors.
II. Which function will be more important or most important for the future? As it appears that our society as a whole is moving more and more away from being a Christian society both functions will remain vitally important. In a society where Christmas can in many places no longer be publicly acknowledged and in a society that continues to hold up more and more values that are decidedly non-Christian and in a society where all "beliefs" are given equally weight or value - Lutheran schools will need to continue to be places where both nurture and outreach are evidenced.
Ideally our Lutheran schools should be reinforcing what is taught in Christian homes by God-fearing fathers and mothers. The Lutheran school works best when it is an extension of the Christian teaching and modeling that takes place within the home.
As our society seems to move farther from that ideal, Lutheran schools will continue to be places where eternal truths are taught and modeled by Christ-centered teachers.
In the direction our society appears to be heading (in a decidedly non-Christian direction) it will also be a large challenge to continue the kind of support that is needed for Lutheran schools - both in terms of numbers of students and also in terms of the people and financial resources.
One pastor has remarked that, "Survival for our Lutheran schools will require a great amount of prayer, submission to God's will, business savvy, and creative approaches."
Who is on the bus (staff) in terms of pastoral leadership, principal leadership, faculty and staff leadership and in terms of the parents and students that a school serves will be more critical than ever. The margin for error in ministries will be smaller in the years to come. We will need to be God-led and very intentional. A shared unity of purpose will be essential for ministries and for schools to impact lives.
In January of 2006 in the Texas District we had seven high schools, 43 elementary/middle schools, and 135 congregations with preschools/early childhood centers. Our schools and centers served over 18,000 students and their families.
Nationwide from 1989-90 to 2001-02 private school enrollment in kindergarten through 12th grade increased from 4.8 million to 5.3 million Of those 5.3 million students 83% of them attended Christian schools. During that time period of Lutheran Church Missouri Synods schools increased nationwide over 15%. That increase in enrollment in LCMS schools and in all non-public school association has abated in the last few years.
High School Ministry Of the seven Texas District Lutheran high schools in the year 2006 three were located in the Houston area, two in the Dallas area, one in Austin, and one in San Antonio. Three of the seven Lutheran High Schools have all started in the last eleven years. The Council of American Private Education (CAPE) is projecting a growth rate for students attending private high schools of well over 10% in the next decade.
Our high school students are involved in numerous ongoing service projects in their local communities, nationwide, and even internationally. Helping students to grow and develop as Christian leaders is one of the significant goals of our Lutheran High Schools now and in the future years.
Professional learning communities will expand to all the discipline areas helping our teachers to remain on the cutting edge in assisting our students to develop their God-given potential. The strong base of administrator leaders will welcome new faces but will continue to enjoy the synergy of support and creative planning that continues to evolve.
At the time of this writing there are discussions in at least three areas for potential Lutheran high schools. What will the future hold? Only the Lord knows for sure. We do know that when there is unity of purpose to do His will and Christians with a common purpose come together powerful results can happen in ministry.
Early Childhood Ministry - Early childhood centers are found throughout the Texas District. Numerous congregations have begun early childhood ministries during the last decade. Congregations have used early childhood ministries as a powerful way to share the Gospel. The more brain research that is completed the more is understood how much young children can learn. Many congregations understand the great ministry blessings involved in early childhood education. Many young students have come to know Jesus Christ for the very first time as a result of attending an Early Childhood Center. Families and friends are impacted by the witness of young children as they share Bible verses, songs, prayers, and other resources.
More and more public schools are seeing the value of education in early years. In the future public schools will quite possibly offer more classes for preschool age children. Each center will need to evaluate the impact upon their ministry as various public school districts make policy changes regarding the ages they serve. If the present is an indicator for the future some of our centers will experience an initial enrollment dip as the new options for parents open up; the enrollment will stabilize where parents come to know even more fully the excellence and caring they receive in their Lutheran early childhood center. In the future our early childhood ministries will continue to grow in the ways and opportunities they serve families.
Elementary/middle school - Lutheran elementary and middle schools have been part of Texas for over one hundred years. By God's power they will be part of Texas for the next hundred years. New Lutheran schools will open in new areas as population centers shift. There will also in some cases be larger schools. Some of these will be current schools with excellent faculty and staffs led by exceptional administrative teams that have a unity of support from their congregations who recognize the value of sharing God's Word with students each day. Middle schools will become more diverse in their offerings. Extra curricular opportunities of many kinds will continue to expand to challenge the unique gifts that God gives to each student. Tuition rates will continue to grow in many schools. Additional funding methods will be explored. Financial assistance to families of all income levels will make it possible for Lutheran schools to continue to serve all families who desire a Christian education. K - 12 schools may become more common place. In 2006 we have two such Lutheran schools in Texas. Both of those schools have become K - 12 schools in the last decade.
Accreditation - In the future, our Lutheran Schools will continue to be accredited. The accreditation process will quite possibly still be through the Lutheran School Accreditation Commission (LSAC) in conjunction with the National Lutheran School Accreditation (NLSA) with a reciprocal relationship with Southern Association of Colleges and School (SACS). Both SACS and LSAC are associations that are recognized by the Texas Private School Accreditation Commission (TEPSAC) which is recognized by the Texas Education Agency Commissioner of Education. Accreditation will remain an important process for our Lutheran Schools in the future.
Concordia University Partnership - The partnership between the schools of the Texas District and Concordia University is a vital one. Concordia will remain a powerful force in supplying teachers for both Lutheran schools and also for public schools. Graduates from Concordia will continue to be placed in our Lutheran preschools, elementary and middle schools, and high schools. More and more of our teachers will be completing their masters degree through Concordia as the Concordia graduate program continues to increase in the coming years. The beautiful new location of the Concordia campus will be an asset in scheduling the professional growth seminars and for the ministry of Concordia in Developing Christian Leaders.
Some of the changes - - - in the last decade we have seen more and more home school families. In addition to the traditionally strong centers of Catholic schools and Lutheran Schools we have seen and will seen more Christian schools of a variety of types around the areas covered by the Texas District. In the 1990s and continuing into the 2000s more and more rhetoric coming from the public school sector began appearing that was anti-Christian schools One could speculate on why this increase in negative rhetoric is growing and there might be a variety of reasons. I believe that type of negative feeling on the part of public schools toward Christian schools will continue. One exception will be from those public school teachers and administrators who send their own children to Christian schools. A second exception will be from those dedicated public school teachers who themselves are Christians and also understand that Christian schools are not the enemy. In general we will see public schools themselves making an even bigger separation from anything connected to Christianity.
Lutheran Schools will continue to deal with the countrywide phenomena of more and more broken homes. This will stretch our abilities to deal with all related challenges coming from those situations. It will also be great opportunities to be in ministry.
Due to the crunch financially in all businesses, large and small, ministry margins remain tight. Tuition rates will continue to rise in order to fund excellence. Net tuition incomes (actual tuition dollars minus financial assistance given) will become an important part of the planning process. Additional funding sources will be required to make our schools places of excellence.
George Barna in his book, Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions, 2003, talks about the importance of the church investment in ministry to children. Barna speaks in general about the application to children's ministry, but his five principles are directly applicable to ministry to children in Lutheran schools. The following are taken from pages 102-104: 1) praying by teachers for their students individually by name for specific needs, 2) teachers as a team praying for the students of their schools, 3) intercessors by volunteers who faithfully pray for the teachers and students, 4) the ministry to students and families is lifted up by congregation frequently, and 5) the fifth avenue of prayer comes from the parents. God promises that He will answer our prayers. He invites us to come to the very throne of God with our smallest and our greatest needs. Lutheran schools proclaim our victorious Savior and Lord.
Lutheran Schools in the year of our Lord 2006 are great blessings from the Lord. They are places where forgiveness and grace are lived out every day. They are led by Christ-centered administrators, pastors who are men of vision, faculty and staffs who deeply care about the students, both the students' temporary earthly journey and also the eternal destination of their students and families. Lutheran schools in the future will remain committed to educating students for eternity because they share the GREATEST NEWS EVER. As things rapidly change, now and the in the future, God's love in Jesus Christ is the one constant that Lutheran schools will continue to proclaim.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Dr. Bill Hinz
Director of School Ministry
Texas District, LCMS