The first Adventist school in Australia commenced in two houses on St Kilda Road, Melbourne in 1892. The Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, July 1, 1892 records the fervour of the times:
“This move ranks among the most important steps we have hitherto taken in this country. Nothing that has yet been done for the cause in Australasia is designed to impact the efficiency and tone of our work as this school should do. Its influence will be far-reaching in many respects.”
Our Church fathers would be amazed at the far-reaching impact Adventist education has had in advancing the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church across Australia. In 2022 there are close to 17,000 young people on 48 school campuses. They are nurtured by 1244 teachers and more than 100 chaplains and counsellors. Parents have reported that they love the caring, safe, values-filled school communities Adventist education offers.
The focus on mission continues to be strong in Adventist schools. When Avondale School commenced in 1897 The Bible Echo and Signs of the Times noted:
“The great aim of the school is to lead the student to God. All that will be taught and the methods of teaching will be to reveal God to the students, and thus make them acquainted with the character and dealing of God.”
Today our stated purpose is the same—to reveal Jesus within the context of an authentic Adventist worldview.
At the end of August 2022, more than 100 church and school leaders came together to prayerfully consider how best Adventist churches and schools could form stronger partnerships to reveal Jesus and nurture the many students and families in our schools who value what we offer. The following declaration was unanimously voted at the consultation and is a statement that ushers in a new chapter of partnerships between churches and schools:
“Consultation 2 affirms the role of Adventist education as an integral ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Further, we acknowledge that the focus of Adventist education must remain clearly set on Adventist identity, mission and quality student outcomes.”
Of the 17 recommendations endorsed at the consultation, two spoke to the importance of partnership between churches and schools:
That strategic focus be given by the Church Limited Boards and School Boards of Directors to create vibrant partnerships between schools and their campus-based and/or local churches.
Encourage conference executive committees to develop strategies that ensure churches and schools work closely together to nourish the continuing faith journey of students and their families.
For those who have an Adventist school nearby, what are the opportunities to grow in partnership? Let me share a number of real-life scenarios for prayerful consideration.
Lyn is a lady who has recently faced a challenging divorce. She has a six-year-old daughter and has moved to a location where an Adventist school is nearby. Lyn is impressed by the school and enrols her daughter. Her daughter loves the school and her teacher and comes home each day singing Christian songs and thoughts. Soon her daughter, Kristy, is asking if she can join her friends at Sabbath school. Lyn agrees to take Kristy to Sabbath school and hopes to find kindness and support in the Christian community. How can the church family encourage, nurture and support seekers such as Lyn and Kristy?
Tony and Samantha have two active boys attending an Adventist school. The boys hear their school friends talking about camping adventures and fun with their dads. Tony and Samantha learn about the local Pathfinder club and are keen for their boys to experience the great outdoors and form meaningful friendships outside of school. How can the Pathfinder club nurture Tony and Samantha and their boys?
Ingrid’s daughter, Isabelle, is attending an Adventist school and is appreciative of the vegetarian menu offered in the canteen. Ingrid wants to know more about a healthy plant-based diet and offers to volunteer in the canteen. How can the school and local Adventist church support and encourage Ingrid and Isabelle on their journey to live a balanced, healthy lifestyle?
Ellie has joined the teaching team at an Adventist school. She is not an Adventist but loves the caring, supportive approach of the staff and is drawn to know more about the beliefs and lifestyle of her Adventist colleagues. Ellie seeks out the school chaplain and loves learning more about the Adventist church. Her chaplain studies with her and she joins her peers at the local Adventist church. What can the church community do to nurture and support Ellie in becoming a baptised member of the church? (It is noted that over 100 teachers have come to the Adventist Church through this approach in the last decade).
Pino and Mary are Adventists with a young family. They are finding it hard to make ends meet financially. Many of the church families who send their children to the local Adventist school speak highly of the nurture, care and strong academic program. Pino and Mary would love their three children to be able to attend the local Adventist school, but finance is an obstacle. How could your local church partner with the school to ensure that Pino and Mary’s children are able to enjoy the benefits of an Adventist education?
Kylie and Ian have their two boys enrolled in an Adventist school and sent the following note to the principal:
“I’m not sure if you are able to help me, or perhaps point me in the right direction. Since starting at your school L has become increasingly interested and committed to religious instruction and we have decided to support this by joining a church service each week. Neither K or I are religious and have no idea where to start. Are you able to support in any way? Do we need to call ahead, and where do we go from here? Is there a local church you could recommend? Sorry to sound so ignorant, this is all very new to us. Thanks in advance for your help.”
How would your church go about welcoming and supporting Kylie, Ian and their boys into your community and nurture their interest in seeking to learn more about Christ?
It is important that we consider ways to address each of these scenarios if we are going to progress stronger church/school partnerships. Each week hundreds of parents sit in school chapels and call it their “church”. Adventist education is revealing Jesus to these parents and their children. They love our schools, and we want to see them love our God and our Church as well.
It is fair to say that many schools and churches have tended to drift apart as the reliance on church support has decreased. Adventist Education is seeking to strengthen our partnership with our local churches to ensure there is a seamless transition from our Adventist school community to our Adventist church community. The opportunities are endless—prayer groups, mothers’ groups, Bible study groups, walking groups, craft groups to name but a few.
The mission of our Adventist schools has not drifted, rather it has shifted. Let’s start working together, planting the seeds of discipleship, and praying for the Holy Spirit to guide our churches and schools as they work together in the modern-day mission field, our schools.
Dr Daryl Murdoch is Adventist Schools Australia director.