ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–A “Florida Baptist Kingdom Education Summit,” billed as an historic meeting of pastors, state convention leaders and Christian school administrators, was held in Orlando May 11 with a goal to “help to energize our school movement and help focus it on how we can help churches grow,” said organizer Ed Gamble, executive director of the Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools.
The gathering — believed to be the first of its kind — was a pilot project of SBACS and the Florida Baptist Convention that may become a model for similar meetings in other state Baptist conventions. Gamble told the group he currently is negotiating with another convention for its own summit.
Jointly sponsored by SBACS and the Florida convention, the meeting at First Baptist Church in Orlando attracted about 80 Florida Baptists involved in or interested in possible involvement in Christian schools.
SBACS, founded in 1979, is an ad hoc group of Christian schools affiliated with Southern Baptist churches, claiming about 100 member schools among approximately 650 schools based at SBC churches.
Stating that “children are God’s homework assignment to parents,” Christian schools leader Glen Schultz and other speakers at the summit called for reuniting the home, church and school in the common task of educating the next generation of Southern Baptists.
Gamble said the Southern Baptist Convention infrastructure can be easily adapted to promote more aggressively Christian education for children in elementary and secondary schools.
Citing the Baptist Faith and Message statement of Southern Baptist beliefs, Gamble called the article on education a “mandate” for Southern Baptists on the matter of “Kingdom education.” The article, which has remained relatively unchanged since its original adoption in 1925, states: “… the cause of education in the Kingdom of Christ is co-ordinate with the causes of missions and general benevolence, and should receive along with these the liberal support of the churches. An adequate system of Christian education is necessary to a complete spiritual program for Christ’s people….”
Referring to the SBC as a combat vessel in the culture war, Gamble said, “The battleship is there, the guns are on the deck, the bullets are in the magazine; the only thing is, she’s tied up at the harbor. I want to see her shoved away from the quay and engaged in the conflict at sea. … If we awake the SBC to the power of education to strengthen our churches and enhance them, all of the sudden we have the capacity within the next 20 years by the grace of God to change the way things are happening.”
Gamble also cited SBC President Jack Graham’s call for Southern Baptists to “look more seriously at establishing Kingdom schools” as further evidence that the denomination is positioned to advance Christian education as never before.
During an address to the SBC Executive Committee in September 2002, Graham said that while he previously believed it was OK for others to start Christian schools, “I now believe that it is time [Southern Baptists] look more seriously at starting at the earliest years in developing disciples and empowering Kingdom growth through education.”
In a November 2002 interview with the Florida Baptist Witness newsjournal, Graham repeated the call for starting Christian schools, noting, “Kingdom schools are not a reaction to public schools” and that choosing between Christian, home and public schools should be a “matter of prayer” for each parent “as it fits the need and the place in the life for that child.”
Professional golfer Lee Janzen and his wife, Bev, parents of a fourth-grader at First Baptist’s school in Orlando, told summit participants they endorse Kingdom education in order to instill a biblical worldview in their child. In live remarks to the group, Bev Jansen said, “If we had to battle what the public schools are teaching our children, I don’t know if we would make it. … We have got to join our schools and our churches and our homes.”
In videotaped remarks, Lee Jansen said, “Years down the road if we had a school at every Baptist church, just think how many more kids will be taught properly…. [T]hey’ll be able to defend their faith.”
He added, “I’m challenging you to step up and do something that’s going to have a positive impact on not only your church, but your community, your town, your state and your country.”
In brief remarks at the Summit, John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida convention, said the convention’s priority of developing and strengthening churches is what “brings us to the table today, to see if there is a way that we can network with each other to strengthen our churches” through Christian schools.
In an interview with the Witness, Sullivan said the Florida convention division directors will study during their upcoming planning retreat what the state convention may do further in the area of Christian schools.
Several summit participants told the Witness they hope greater attention would be paid to Kingdom education throughout the denominational structure and said they were pleased by the participation of Sullivan; Glen Owens, associate executive director; and Jim Chavis, director of the church development division.
Ed Johnson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Ocala, said, “I do think our state convention should be studying how to have a proactive role in the encouragement of Christian education.” Jimmy Dale Patterson, pastor of Central Baptist Church in Sanford, suggested that the convention consider adding a staff member to “encourage, educate, support and network Florida Baptist churches considering or already involved in Christian schooling.”
While Johnson’s and Patterson’s churches do not currently sponsor schools, Patterson said he attended the summit because his church is strategically located for one and he wanted to gather information about a possible future recommendation to start a school.
James Kibelbek, pastor of First Baptist Church in Port Charlotte, said a task force should be established to “investigate the possibilities of how to further develop an awareness to the need of Christian education as well as ways to assist in providing financial assistance to this vital ministry.” Kibelbek, whose church sponsors a Christian school, noted that other denominations — especially the Catholic Church — have seen the value of church schools. “Our denominational leaders/servants as well as our more visible pastors need to take the lead,” he said.
Don Roberts, administrator at Grace Academy in Sebring, told the Witness, “We don’t need to pull back from the missions that we’re already doing, but we need to add to that our outreach in helping to get Kingdom schools going in our local churches to reach our youth.”
Gamble praised the co-sponsorship of the summit by the Florida convention, noting, “We need the legitimacy and acceptance for Christian schooling that partnering with a state convention brings in order to make Christian schools a mainstream part of our Southern Baptist life.”
PARTNERSHIP WITH CHURCHES
Contrary to the fears and beliefs of some that Christian schools are a distraction from the main purpose of the church, Bob Brooks, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dunnellton, told the summit, “We don’t look at [church funding for his school] as competition; they complement each other. We function as one ministry.”
Brooks said his church’s school has played a vital role in the congregation’s growth, accounting for 60 percent of their growth in the last year.
“It’s one of the greatest evangelistic outreaches that we have,” Brooks said, noting that the church also has grown to 25 “FAITH” evangelistic teams in the current year and plans to have 50 next year.
Jim Henry, pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando, listed recruiting new families for the church as one of the benefits the school has provided since its founding in 1987.
Although his children were educated almost entirely in public schools, Henry told the summit all of his grandchildren now are enrolled in various Christian schools. “If I had to do it over, I wish if I could have been 10 years earlier, we would have had a Christian school all of our children would have gone there.”
Glen Schultz, director of LifeWay Christian School Resources, told the summit Southern Baptists must think of Christian schools in a new way. “If the school is a ministry of the church, that is the church,” he said noting that helping Southern Baptists to understand this reality is “going to take a big paradigm shift.”
Schultz, concerning his work at the SBC’s LifeWay Christian Resources, explained, “We do not consult with churches to start Christian schools in my office. We consult them to expand ministry to include schools.”
Rafael de Armas, director of missions of Peace River Baptist Association and pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista de Port Charlotte, said his church’s support for Christian education has actually resulted in greater missions support.
In comments originally sent to The Orlando Sentinel responding to an article about a resolution on public schools that two leaders are seeking to be considered at the Southern Baptist Convention, de Armas said his church anticipates paying tuition for 12 students in the upcoming school year. Although that obligation accounts for nearly half of the entire church budget, the small congregation of 43 has seen its offerings grow during the unique experiment in supporting Christian education.
Gamble told the Witness that Christian schooling is experiencing significant growth among Southern Baptists, with at least one-quarter of the SBC’s 650 schools having been started in the last decade — and “this pace is quickening.”
While Southern Baptists have focused on making “converts,” Gamble believes that they have done a poor job of making “disciples.”
“The church needs disciples to advance its work, not just converts,” he said. “What we’re seeing in our low growth rate in our denomination is that winning souls alone is an ineffective strategy…. The solution is to reconfigure the boot camps — that is, take ownership of the education of our own children.”
James A. Smith Sr. is executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, on the Web at www.floridabaptistwitness.com.