Communities of Grace
by Ed Noot, SCSBC Executive Director ◊
A quick survey of SCSBC school mission statements reveals a strong focus on foundational theological concepts such as:
- students are image bearers of God who are uniquely gifted
- our world belongs to God
- students are nurtured, taught and discipled on the foundation of God’s word
- students are equipped for service in the Kingdom of God
- our schools seek to be transformative
Articulating these beliefs in our mission statements is entirely appropriate and I have often advocated for their inclusion as I have been involved in reviewing school mission statements over the years. However, it strikes me that one important foundational theological concept is often missing. That concept is grace.
Grace may be assumed in our mission statements when we talk about being communities of learning and the like. But sometimes an assumed value can be easily ignored. The choice of Boards as Communities of Grace for our recent leadership conference is an attempt to elevate the notion of grace from an assumed value to an explicit value in our schools. Dr. Bruce Hekman, one of the authors of Schools as Communities1 has done much to enhance this discussion in and among our Christian schools.
Grace is a richly nuanced notion that may be the most foundational theological concept of Christendom. Grace has been defined as, the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.
As Christian educators, administrators, board and committee members, we rest in the “free and unmerited favor of God”. This belief shapes who we are and how we view ourselves and the world. It defines, or perhaps more accurately, re-defines our very being. If this value is so central to our identity in Christ then it must necessarily be reflected in our interactions with others. And if this value is central to the Christian life, then it is necessarily central to the organizational life of Christian schools.
Our schools are putting this value into action. I celebrate stories of how students, parents and staff members have experienced free and unmerited favor through a Christian school and how the school has bestowed blessing on them through various interactions. These stories abound in your school communities and ought to be celebrated and shared.
I’m sure we also are aware, however, of stories in our schools that are marked by a distinct lack of a graceful disposition, personally or corporately. These are grievous instances when we are not at our best in terms of reflecting the marvelous grace that shapes us.
I’m struck by initiatives in the public sector that seek to form student / staff character in the public (secular) realm. Once such initiative is being spearheaded in the Abbotsford Public District – http://wjmouat.sd34.bc.ca/students/character. Initiative such as this identify key character traits and seek to nurture them in the school community – hallelujah! A theological version of grace cannot inform these initiatives, but a secular definition of grace can and does. Grace in this context might be defined as elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action. I celebrate and support these initiatives and hope to see great success in programs such as the Abbotsford Public District Character Initiative.
An initiative such as this reminds us of the importance of being intentional and explicit about our core values. If grace is a core value in our schools, perhaps we could become more intentional about articulating what this value means in terms of specifics such as:
- curriculum – positive behavior / anti-bullying curricula
- discipline – discipleship / restorative justice
- policies – athletics / admissions / employment contracts
- admin procedures – staff evaluations / leadership practices
- parent relations – communication / engagement
- board and society interactions and relations – governance with grace
Although the New Testament gushes about grace, Paul is also careful to warn us about cheap grace or sloppy grace. Romans 6:1 addresses this. “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” (NIV). At the recent Christian Teachers’ Convention in Langley, Syd Hielema reminded us that whenever we talk about grace we run the risk of making it cheap and easy when it is “in-the-trenches hard work.”
In The Message, Eugene Peterson goes on to say that through baptism we are, “raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we are going in our new grace-sovereign country.” (Romans 6: 3-5). What a rich and beautiful image! Because of grace in our own personally lives, we become citizens of a new world order, a light-filled and grace-sovereign world.
How can our schools become more and more marked by grace? The Ministry of Education conducts school inspections to monitor our compliance with Ministry guidelines. This process holds us accountable. SCSBC teams sometimes review school programs, leadership teams or board governance. These reviews audit our procedures and practices and seek to advance organizational well-being. Many of our schools have undergone a financial health review in the interest of ensuring best practice is being followed in the areas of financial management.
What might it look like if we conducted a “Grace Audit” in our schools? What if we were to audit our school communities with a view to more fully embodying an elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, and action based on the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners, so that we may personally and corporately bestow blessings?
This may provide an enhanced lens for advancing our mission and it may provide us with new avenues of shaping our educational communities in the identity of Christ and it will undoubtedly allow us to embrace the fullness of life that God desires for us.
May we be blessed to be a blessing as we journey together.
1 James L. Drexler. Editor. Schools as Communities: Educational Leadership, Relationships and the Eternal Value of Christian Schooling. (2007). Purposeful Design Publications.