Christian Schools: Praise, Lament, Hope
an interview with Ed Noot and Dave Loewen ◊
Darren Welcome! As many of you know, organizationally we’re part of an exciting transition right now with our esteemed Executive Director, Ed Noot—some would say retiring, some would say abandoning, or moving on to more coursework, as it were—and we’re excited for him.
What that means for us as an organization is that we have a new Executive Director.
I’m Darren Spyksma, Director of Learning for SCSBC. I’m sitting today with Ed Noot, outgoing Executive Director, and Dave Loewen, incoming Executive Director.
We are spending a bit of time this morning chatting about what we feel strongly about when it comes to SCSBC, to Christian education, and our long-term hopes for Christian education.
This interview is an opportunity for our community to get to know Dave a little bit more as he takes on this new role.
So, gentlemen, you both have a history together and a history with Christian schools. Both of you are obviously passionate about Christian education.
Ed, why don’t you start us off. Talk a little bit about your story with Christian education, how you first engaged with SCSBC, and where you’ve seen both the organization and Christian education bring value here in BC, but in other places as well.
Ed I’m entering my 38th year of Christian education and never really envisioned that I’d be retiring from this position. I didn’t really pursue this kind of leadership opportunity. I worked in SCSBC schools at Vancouver Christian, Abbotsford Christian, and Unity Christian.
I think early on I began to recognize that SCSBC offered a lot of support and encouragement and guidance for schools, and maybe was critical to the success of the Christian School movement in British Columbia. Early in my career I had the privilege of sitting on the board of the Christian Teachers Association (CTABC), now Christian Educators of BC (CEBC). I was nominated to be their representative on the SCSBC Board. Lee Hollaar was the Executive Director at the time and just had a sense for the breadth and depth of the work that was happening at SCSBC.
So, I’ve been a big fan of the organization and count it a real privilege to have worked here for nine years.
Darren Great. Thank you. How about you, Dave?
Dave I’m entering my 29th year in Christian education and for my first job I was hired by Ed and Henry Contant. I see that God has a sense of humour as he’s forced me back to do some more learning from Ed—which I’m excited about!
I think of SCSBC in terms of the people that have represented it. So, as a young teacher and young administrator, it would have been with Lee Hollaar where I first experienced a significant interaction with SCSBC, being mentored and inspired by Lee to be involved in Christian education at a deeper level, to care more deeply about it, and then move into leadership.
That would be the way that I think of SCSBC. I often think of people like Lee Hollaar, kind of drawing me towards Christian education, which wasn’t part of my childhood. Lee, Henry, and Ed would be reasons why I’m inspired by SCSBC. And also reasons why I am intimidated about this job, to be honest!
I’ve worked as a head of school at three schools: Abbotsford, White Rock, and Surrey, and have used different resources from SCSBC. But I’m not going to promote Ed and Henry’s book, because I’m not getting any royalties!
Ed Neither am I!
Dave When I think of the word, “flourishing,” I think one of the things I see SCSBC doing is finding ways to help. Schools flourish when someone comes alongside. In my experience as a head of school, often that’s happening behind the scenes. When you’re on the phone with a head of school or a board member, I just say, “look, here’s what I think; give Ed a call!” There’s just so much behind-the-scenes work that happens there that eventually plays out and manifests itself in good things for kids in the classroom.
That’s my connection to SCSBC and how I see it and why I’m grateful to be part of it.
Darren That’s good! You talked a little bit about being intimidated. Do you mind just talking a little bit about where that comes from?
Dave Well, I’m not nearly as good a golfer as Ed but I’m pretty sure I’m better than Henry! So, maybe that helps a bit. But yeah, all of us are different. I have huge respect for Ed. I wouldn’t normally say that in the same room as him but I’m gonna take a risk and be a little uncomfortable right now; we’re different people and so I have to figure out how to take what’s good, what Ed has done well, and be myself in that role and learn that there’s things that may not be as natural to me but I need to step forward and carry on well.
That’s part of the neatness of this transition this year that I’m excited about. Ed and I have a good friendship and, in 16 years of not working at the same school, we’ve maintained that friendship and probably got closer. So this is exciting for me to be back working together again.
Darren Is there something that stands out—and I’m going to get back to you, Ed—but I’ll put Dave on the spot first. Is there a specific challenge that you’re looking at that you’re thinking this is a challenge that SCSBC has, is facing, that we just need to be aware of?
Dave Probably more than one, right? At three in the morning, what am I worrying about?
I think it’s no secret our schools are struggling with some of the cultural divisions we’re experiencing within Christianity right now. For me, I look at it and think, how do we center people deeply in the gospel, not sort of knee-jerk liberalism or knee-jerk conservatism, but actually what’s the Jesus story? And not in a cheesy, loosey-goosey way but what does the gospel call us to be that isn’t the culture? What’s the clarity around our school-specific mission/vision and how do we make sure we play that out? How do we make sure our policies and our practices manifest that well?
I think that’s the big challenge for us, the biggest one—and I’m sure there’s often a million micro-practical ones—but that jumps to my mind.
Ed I concur with Dave. I think he pretty much nailed it.
SCSBC has four pillars: community, advocacy, service, and vision. I think early on in the John Vander Hoek/Harro Van Brumellen days there was a pretty big focus on vision and worldview and understanding what is Christian education. In the last decades, under Henry Contant’s leadership and my own, we’ve worked hard to expand our service profile and we’ve added a lot—more staff and more services. But I think the pendulum needs to swing back to core vision. Who are we?
If someone were to read The Link articles I’ve written over my tenure, you’d see a distinct thread about Christian schools not being in isolated bubbles—they’re connected with society. Our vision and mission have to be vibrant and have to be one of connectedness and they have to be externally focused. The time is right again for SCSBC to re-
emphasize that role and really be a leader in helping Christian schools shape and refine their vision.
Darren Great, thank you. We do see a lot of pressure from outside Christian circles about value. And I think that’s speaking to the value we bring beyond educating students to the ‘common good’ or just flourishing of all.
There’s a lot to celebrate about Christian education. There’s a lot of reasons to celebrate the history of the organization in the history of Christian education. Is there one story or thing that is an example for our readers that summarizes, “I want to celebrate this about Christian education” or “here’s an example where I’ve had the opportunity to see it as a leader”?
Ed I’ll jump in. Our oldest school, Vancouver Christian School (VCS), founded in 1949 by recent Dutch Reformed immigrants. It is alive and well. VCS is a thriving, flourishing place, but it is so different from what its founders could have ever imagined it to be. Now serving 800 students K to 12, +/- $20 million building and a community that looks very different from the community that founded it. There’s a whole new generation and a whole new group of ethnically diverse families in Vancouver that have said, “We value Christian education!” I think they’re living the original mission and vision. Somehow the school has maintained its core vision, even though there’s been so much change in the community and in the organization. It’s a pretty dynamic kind of experience that I celebrate, and that’s true for many of our schools in Metro Vancouver.
Dave I was thinking of a similar story, as you were talking. I am thinking that the Christian schools in SCSBC have the opportunity to dig deep into the Abrahamic blessing: blessed to be a blessing. It’s easy to use that language when you’re a cloistered community where everyone thinks and looks and acts the same way. But we’re so diverse now, within those individual schools like Vancouver, but also within the Society of Christian Schools in BC, there’s great diversity. I don’t think that was there when I started. SCSBC schools were pretty similar. And now in school to school—a White Rock Christian and a Vancouver Christian and a Centennial Christian—they’re all different. I think that’s beautiful.
One of the examples that often grabs my heart is the story of Duncan Christian School (DCS). DCS is doing Christian education in Duncan. They have a high First People’s population that’s part of their community, and they’re being intentionally different. They’re not doing Surrey Christian education there and White Rock is not doing Centennial Christian education or Unity Christian. I look at what happens at Unity Christian School and the richness of some of their tech Ed programs that fit with the community that values that highly. It’s very different than what happens at Richmond.
So, all of those stories—they’re a beautiful, rich, and diverse tapestry that exemplifies this core idea of what we’re called to do.
But Duncan is one that I’ve watched change from a school founded similarly to VCS and now is very different. And I think it’s beautiful.
Darren I love that you chose Duncan because I was part of the second graduating class. There were 14 of us and there wasn’t a whole lot of diversity in our graduating class at the time. So, it’s exciting to see them embrace their broader community and reflect their community for sure.
Dave And really learning to be the gospel in a specific context, which is not just generic, but a bold statement of “this is who we are and where God has placed us.” I love that story!
Ed I think the increasing diversity is something that we both sort of touched on, but another aspect that I am really celebrating is the attention we’re paying to our buildings. When Christian schools started, I was a student at Edmonton Christian. It was a concrete building with some windows, a hallway, classrooms shooting off of it. It was not very imaginative or very aesthetically pleasing. It certainly wasn’t designed around learning in any significant way. It was very much designed around functionality and affordability. We’ve had so many schools that have built recently and the creative design and the intentionality around space is amazing! God is the God of aesthetics as well. It’s a luxury in some ways to be able to do that, but I really celebrate the creative design and detailed attention to aesthetics that we just didn’t see in decades past.
Darren Great stories. It is hard to be a Christian leader, and to lead well in Christian communities is always a demanding call. And whether it’s the pandemic or it’s other things that are bubbling up, I feel like we’re in a season where it’s particularly challenging. And that makes me sad. I wonder if there are specific laments that you have around our present time and how it impacts Christian education? And your wisdom to say: this is what we need to do about it. I’m sure we’d love to hear the hope side of the lament. Is there something that makes your heart ache around Christian education that you’re hoping as a community we can respond to?
Dave I would go back to what I mentioned earlier—the temptation to be divisive. As I look at our schools, I can’t help but reflect that they’re being watched in their communities and so, what are we to be known by? The theologian Michael Gorman talks about this idea of “cruciformity.” If the people around us have a sense that our love for them is self-sacrificial, that we might even give our life for them, then that is the thing that provides us with authority to engage in those problematic issues differently than if we start with a sense of certainty, or in judgment.
My hope would be that our schools would be beacons of that, places that are caring, that love their community well, and are seen that way. And hopefully that would give us the authority to (when we need to) take a stand on specific issues and that we would be respected because of our posture.
That’s my lament: I think we need to get our act together—you know, the Christian life is a love story, and we’re supposed to be lovers. Shane Claiborne often says, “we need less people who believe in Jesus and more who follow him.” Can we follow together in a posture of humility, recognizing that there’s more than one faithful expression of the gospel?
My hope would be that we find a way together, for the sake of the Kingdom, for the sake of our witness and testimony in all our communities, that we are seen to be people who even in the midst of difficulty, have a posture towards each other that is unselfish.
Ed I’m older than Dave, so I get to lament twice. And I do share Dave’s lament very much.
Dave Well, as long as he doesn’t lament about Dave!
Darren Or Darren for that matter!
Ed One of my laments is, and it’s connected to what Dave was saying, but I just feel like biblical literacy is at an all-time low and I feel like people aren’t willing to do the hard work to understand the scriptural narrative. We’re not steeped in it the way we could or should be or I would hope that we would be. Too often we have a very shallow, literalistic, kind of proof-texting understanding. I think we’ve fallen into a kind of lowest common denominator fundamentalism in some ways, and it grieves me, especially because many of our schools come out of a strong Reformed tradition that has a much richer understanding of scripture and of hermeneutics. I feel that has been diminished and I lament that.
My second lament is how we measure success. I think we’ve not thought as creatively as we can about what it means for us to be successful. So academic achievement, academic awards, and academic prestige become important indicators of success. Enrollment growth and the ability to build the kind of buildings I was just talking about and acquire land become benchmarks of success and I think that’s misguided. We can think more creatively and more authentically about: What would be markers of us as a successful Christian school in the light of our mission and vision? I lament that we haven’t really cultivated that in the ways we could.
Darren Now some hope to follow those laments.
Ed SCSBC can maybe play a small role in terms of trying to equip educators around biblical literacy. Maybe that’s a space we need to step into. I do love the way SCSBC has partnered with other organizations, so again, I would hope that we would partner with Christian colleges and universities and other places in an effort to try to enhance literacy. Regarding the success one—again—it’s a vision; it’s a question of vision and understanding. I think SCSBC can lead and guide and nudge schools to think creatively about that. That is part of why, as I passed the torch to Dave, the vision pillar of SCSBC really needs to stand out in the next number of years. We really need to help schools understand what they are all about and measuring their success is part of that.
Darren Gentlemen, that’s great. I was a little worried about giving Ed the last chance to express a hope because I knew it would feel a little bit like a to-do list for you and me, Dave. It does feel a little bit like that, but that’s ok—no pressure—it’s good.
It’s been a delight to get together. Ed, your leadership has again and again just been a great example for all of us and we appreciate that. Dave, we are excited about what you bring.
One of the things that the organization has seen is that every leader is different, and every leader has brought who they are, and God’s been faithful with that, and I’m excited about that for our future and the work we get to do together.