The Seventh-day Adventist Church is preparing Adventist young people to be passionate and ready for the work that God has laid out for them to do. The most effective method of preparation set in motion by the Adventist Church is the Adventist school system.
Some question whether Adventist schools are meant to protect Adventist children from the world or to reach out to the unconverted. In order to fully understand the mission and purpose of Adventist education, we must examine several factors:
- the various roles in the upbringing of an Adventist child,
- the Adventist school’s mission as it relates to the church’s overall mission,
- the school’s mission for both Adventist and non-Adventist children, and
- the effects of the Adventist teacher upon the students in the Adventist school.
Raising a Child: The Functionality of Adventism
The child is the locus of the three defining influences in a child’s upbringing: the parents, the school, and the church (see diagram). When one of these influences is lacking in a child’s life, there is a greater strain and responsibility upon the remaining two.
Parents. The parent is the first and foremost influence upon a child, especially in their early years. A child receives their inherited character from the parent, and it is the parent who can shape the child’s character for better or for worse. Thus the parent holds the greatest weight of responsibility in the child’s life.
School. Once children begin school, they will spend more time with their teachers than with their own parents, giving the school and teacher the next greatest influence. The teacher is in a unique position as the point of reference between the threefold influences, being a connection between the school, the church, and the parents. The teacher is a representative of the church, just as the school is to promote the practice of Adventist beliefs and values in a safe environment where children can feel trusted and responsible for their own actions and choices.
The teacher holds the greatest weight of responsibility in shaping the child’s ability to reason. This is why parents choose to send their children to church schools, knowing full well that the teacher can shape the child’s perception and acceptance of the church and our beliefs.
Church. The church, in turn, reinforces what a child learns through Sabbath school and supports the school and parent spiritually. It is essential that the church supports the school, just as it is essential that the school teaches and promotes the church’s beliefs. The pastor acts as a bridge between the church and school as a complement to the teacher in the Adventist system, sharing many of the same responsibilities in ministry.
The church is the driving force behind the entire structure, with the school being the greatest direct influence the church can have on a child. Since the church’s system of biblical beliefs is the basis for the entirety of the child’s spirituality, we need to look at the state of the church in relation to Adventist education.
The School’s Mission and the Church’s Mission—A Disconnect?
The nature and mission of Adventist education is a topic of disagreement, which reflects the internal state of the church itself. The church is to be both an outreach to those who have yet to be converted and a source of spiritual growth for those already in the faith. Yet the Adventist Church wrestles with the mission of Adventist education as it did more than a hundred years ago: is the church school to be a protection from the world of iniquity or a mission within the world?
It would seem that in the general church member’s perception, the mission of the Adventist Church has been separated, or perhaps completely lost, from the mission of Adventist schools. “The church is asleep,” wrote Ellen White, “and does not realize the magnitude of this matter of educating the children and youth. ‘Why,’ one says, ‘what is the need of being so particular to educate our youth so thoroughly?’”
To this question Ellen White answered, “What selection should we be able to make out of the numbers of our youth? How could we tell who would be the most promising, who would render the best service to God?” (Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students [CT], 43).
We cannot judge the outward potential of any child or youth. “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7, NKJV). As a denomination with unique beliefs and doctrine, we have a responsibility to encourage each young person to come to the point where they want to know and love God. Once they have formed a personal relationship with Him, He can guide and direct their lives according to His purpose.
The church should be a place where young people can come to be supported in their spiritual walk with God, regardless of whether or not they are Adventist. This is the mission of the church, and this is the true mission of Adventist education.
There should be no question as to the mission of an Adventist school. Adventist schools are the church’s ministry to children and youth, and they have an urgent responsibility that must be implemented and strongly supported into the future.
If ever we are to work in earnest, it is now. … The responsibility resting upon parents, teachers, and church members, to do their part in cooperation with God, is greater than words can express. To train the young to become true soldiers of the Lord Jesus Christ is the most noble work ever given to man. (CT 166)
The young who need to be trained fall into two camps: the Adventist children and the non-Adventist children. Will we minister to one group and neglect the other? Here is where the church has forgotten its mission and is divided upon the role of Adventist education.
The School’s Mission to Adventist Children
The church, as the greatest component in the Adventist child’s upbringing, yields the most productive output for its children and youth in its schools. In Adventist education, we teach an Adventist worldview in all subject areas, not as a preference on the part of the teacher, but as a requirement.
The distinctive characteristics of this Adventist worldview, built around creation, the fall, redemption, and re-creation, are derived from the Bible and the inspired writings of Ellen G. White. The aim of true education is to restore human beings into the image of God as revealed by the life of Jesus Christ. Only through the guidance of the Holy Spirit can this be accomplished. (The Core of Adventist Education)
As the Holy Spirit works through teachers and in students, the children will grow in all areas that we desire to foster spiritually, physically, mentally, and socio-emotionally. Adventist children need to know what they believe as Seventh-day Adventists and the reasons behind their beliefs in the face of a world drifting further away from Bible truths. When firmly grounded in the truth, Adventist youth can do their best work for the Lord.
The School’s Mission to Non-Adventist Children
If Adventist schools accept non-Adventist children, church members may be concerned for the influence of these children on their Adventist peers. Ellen White states, “The church has a special work to do in educating and training its children that they may not, in attending school or in any other association, be influenced by those of corrupt habits” (Child Guidance, 312).
Ideally, Seventh-day Adventist schools should contain more Adventist children than non-Adventist children. However, many Adventist schools are operated by smaller churches in smaller communities, where that ideal may not be possible when the church school is growing due to the enrolment of non-Adventist children.
In either situation, children who may wrongly influence their classmates are to be kept in check. The role of the Adventist teacher is to be a safeguard through their management of student behaviour in the classroom as well as the atmosphere of the school.
Adventist education provides a most powerful influence on the lives and minds of children who do not have the opportunity of a Christian upbringing. It is they who are most vulnerable to the snares of Satan and his host of angels. “Every school should be a ‘city of refuge’ for the tempted youth, a place where their follies shall be dealt with patiently and wisely” (Education, 293). These children have need of Adventist Christian influence in their lives now more than ever. Every child has the potential to do a good and great work for God.
In an Adventist school, Adventist children are witnesses to non-Adventist students. Ellen White counsels:
Let them give teachers their sympathy and cooperation. Let them take firm hold of the arm of divine power, determining not to turn aside from the path of duty. Let them harness their wrong habits and exert all their influence on the right side. Let them remember that the success of the school depends upon their consecration and sanctification, upon holy influence they feel bound to exert. (CT 265)
Adventist children can influence others for good. The reputation of the school is dependent on their behaviour and success. Adventist students tend to be among the best-behaved students within our schools. Adventist students who are connected to Jesus will uplift the mission of the church in the community.
Jesus Christ, the Restorer, is the only remedy for wrong education, and the lessons taught in His word should ever be kept before the youth in the most attractive form. … When properly conducted, church schools will be the means of lifting the standard of truth in the places where they are established; for children who are receiving Christian education will be witnesses for Christ. (CT 174, 176)
However, the fact that students are Adventist does not instantaneously make them role models to other students. Adventist students are obligated to be role models, but the behaviour of the student is not a reflection on the Adventist Church’s influence, but rather on the child’s parental upbringing. Non-Adventist students can exhibit more respect for church beliefs and interest in church doctrine than Adventist students who disregard such things out of indifference or presumption.
It is therefore the influence of the Adventist parent that most impacts the school, rather than that of the church itself. Parents need to know that it is they who mould their children to be representatives of Christ, and although the teacher can accomplish the same to a limited degree, to a larger extent the child’s character and behaviour are the parent’s responsibility.
Children who have not received a right education make much trouble. … If the children are disobedient and unruly, there is all the more need of strenuous effort. The fact that there are children with such characters is one of the reasons why church schools should be established. The children whom parents have neglected to educate and discipline must be saved if possible. (Child Guidance, 304)
This quotation indicates that through their approach to discipline, Adventist teachers can play a key role in influencing students for eternity.
The Effect of a Christian Teacher’s Discipline
Discipline in the context of Christian education does not refer to punishment but is defined as “training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character” (Merriam-Webster Online). Christian discipline takes the character of the child and other influences into account. Often the children who are the most undisciplined are the ones who were not taught firm boundaries and consequences for behaviour at home.
“It is the most unfortunate, those who have a disagreeable temperament, who are rough, stubborn, sullen, that most need love, compassion, and help. Those who try our patience most need our love” (CT 267). Love is the element of Christianity that has the most influence upon the heart, and it is the method by which Christ draws us to Himself. This means that every behaviour and difficulty of each student must be dealt with in Christian love and kindness.
Ellen White states, “Our teachers are to bind the children to their hearts by the cords of kindness and strict discipline. Love and kindness are worth nothing unless united with the discipline that God has said should be maintained. Students come to school to be disciplined for service, trained to make best use of their powers” (CT 265).
A well-structured classroom and firm discipline with children are essential in the Adventist school. It is up to the teacher to maintain discipline and to prayerfully determine which methods of discipline are right for each child. This can be done only by the power of the Holy Spirit working in each teacher.
Teachers are at the forefront of the battleground of spiritual warfare, being intimately involved in the life and character of each student. Christ must remain at the centre of each teacher’s life and work, because “the work of our schools is to become more and more in character like the work of Christ. Only the power of the grace of God working on human hearts and minds will make and keep the atmosphere of our schools and churches clean” (CT 250).
Rescuing Children from Satan
In the light of present truth, we are living in a time when children and youth are most vulnerable to Satan’s attacks and snares. They are the future of the Adventist Church. Satan is working tirelessly and quickly to capture those with the potential to do the greatest and best work for God.
We as a church need to stand for the youth, to “stand at our post as minutemen, to work for these youth, and through the help of God to hold them back from the pit of destruction. … While you…are unconscious of his work, Satan is gathering an army of youth under his banner; and he exults, for through them he carries on his warfare against God” (CT 47).
We are called to protect the youth of this generation that they may do a great work in the closing scenes of earth’s history.
In the near future many children will be endued with the Spirit of God, and will do a work in proclaiming the truth to the world, that at that time cannot be done by the older members of the church. The Lord would use the church school as an aid to the parents in educating and preparing their children for this time before us. Then let the church take hold of the school work in earnest and make it what the Lord desires it to be. (CT 167)
Adventist education was created as a ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to children and young people inside and outside the church. Let us work with true earnestness and faithful prayer for children and youth in their formative years that we may raise up a generation of young people fit to labour for the harvest of the kingdom of God.