“You see,” he dropped his eyes as he struggled to say the words, “you see, what I want is a school that . . . well, a school that does more than say it’s Christian. I want a school that puts Christianity into practice.” I was stunned. I’d interviewed a lot of parents who wanted their children to attend the Adventist high school where I worked. Often they expressed similar sentiments. But this was different. It was different because the man talking to me was himself a teacher—a teacher at a prestigious Christian school in our city. Surely he’d send his child to that school and enjoy a large staff discount? Why on earth would he come to us?
“I want my son taught by teachers who not only talk the Christian faith but model their Christian faith,” he continued. “I want the values of your school to become my son’s values. I want him to go to a school where Christianity is the cake—not just the icing on the cake!”
. . . there is overwhelming research that documents that home, school and church working together is the best way to pass on our faith. If that’s our goal we should not pass by Adventist education.
I’ve had similar conversations with many non-Adventist parents. Today we have people from the community flocking to our schools. But this only perplexes me. Why do so many parents in the community support Adventist education while many Adventist parents do not recognise its value? Why does the community value Adventist education higher than some of us do ourselves? What do they see that we are blind to?
In addition to the value and professionalism of Adventist education, there is an additional fact for all of those who desire their children to remain faithful. In the 1960s if a child came from an Adventist home, an average of seven out of 10 stayed in the Church. In the 1980s only five were kept and by the late 1990s just three out of 10 of our young people stayed in the Church. But there’s an exception to these rather dismal figures. You see, if the school is the only Adventist influence in a child’s life, then there is a 4 per cent chance of passing on faith. If the school and one Adventist parent work together the odds increase to 23 per cent. With the school and two Adventist parents collaborating, it rises to 38 per cent. If the home, church and school work together, then there is a 76 per cent chance of the child staying in the Church (Valuegenesis Study, 2012).
At the beginning of a North American Adventist study over 10 years with 1500 young people, 51 per cent were in Adventist schools. By the end of the study, 800 of the original young adults completed the annual survey. Of those 67 per cent who had been educated in Adventist schools remained Seventh-day Adventist Christians. Only 19 per cent of those educated in non-Adventist schools were still Adventists.
Adventist schools are not only critical in passing on our faith to our children, they are the most effective evangelistic outreach the Adventist Church has in Australia. How can I say that? Research shows the chances a person accepts Christ dramatically falls the older they get. We spend a lot of time and money trying to reach adults, who research shows are very reluctant to change their worldview. Our schools, on the other hand, specialise in fostering the spiritual growth of children. Where should we invest?
In 2014 in Australia, the Adventist school system baptised more people than the highest conference figure for the same period. Over the past eight years almost 30 per cent of our total baptisms were directly related to our schools. This includes 111 parents from the community, 41 teachers and 679 students from the community, and another 1122 from Adventist families.
I recently visited a number of Adventist schools. I was inspired as I listened to the journey that each principal envisaged for her or his school. It was gratifying to see the two-way respect that I saw between teachers and students. As I listened to a Year 12 class describe their teachers, they spoke about being respected, motivated and, above all, connecting them to God. One student from the broader community shared she had initially come to the school because it was convenient, but now she loved the “God atmosphere”.
A principal reflected with me, “God has done something special in this school. It is a sacred trust. We give our students hope.” Many of our schools now run a campus church on Sabbath. One principal stated, “Of the 160–180 attending our school church, at least 45 are from the broader community.”
Many schools also run a youth program on various Friday nights in the year. And all Adventist schools are focused on service with many of them now running an overseas service program in either Year 11 or 12, which have life-changing impacts on the students. One school runs a closing Sabbath food and games night once a month called “Pray and Play”. They have several hundred parents enjoying this community-building event.
The Adventist education you experienced a generation ago was carried out to the best of the system’s ability. However, after teaching for 35 years, I have witnessed significant intentional changes to be more professional and more focused on being thoroughly Adventist. And there’s something else about Adventist education that has changed: today Adventist schools provide first-rate academics. We have fewer schools in Australia than we once had but many more students. The schools we have are larger, better resourced and the standards are very high. Community parents are coming to our schools because they recognise the unique combination of a thoroughly Christ-centred learning environment with an uncompromising commitment to academic excellence.
But that only begs the question—why are less Adventists supporting Adventist education than previously?
Maybe some of today’s parents felt let down by the spiritual environment they encountered when they were students. But we can’t judge the present by the past. Things do change. Adventist schools have changed. The spiritual environment on our campuses today is extraordinary. Whatever our own experience, as noted at the outset of this article, there is overwhelming research that documents that home, school and church working together is the best way to pass on our faith. If that’s our goal we should not pass by Adventist education.
Maybe others consider the academic environment sub-standard. But with our graduates going on to study everything from law to medicine, engineering to astrophysics, there’s no reason to doubt the quality of Adventist education. We prepare our students to fly high. The community trust us to prepare their children for life. Why not trust ourselves?
Maybe others think our schools have too many students from other faith backgrounds. But why would we turn away people actually paying for their children to be given the values and faith at the core of our schools? And how can we look at the number of children giving their lives to Jesus and be anything other than delighted?
Seventh-day Adventist education in Australia has entered a golden age of spiritual and educational quality. The community sees what we have and they want it. If you haven’t looked at Adventist education for your children, maybe it’s time to take a second look.
David McClintock is the Northern Australian Conference education director and the secondary curriculum officer, Adventist Schools Australia. He has been a principal of five schools. His real passion is teaching Bible, even when he is principal.