Jon Kuhrt, on his excellent site Resistance & Renewal, blogged yesterday a great post on the problem of maintaining our Christian distinctiveness in our work in charities, schools, hospitals, public service organisations – when these have been founded as Christian organisations. His analysis is excellent, and the model he proposes is of great use to us as leaders of church schools.
As a school we are heading for a time of transition, with my departure, and the departure of other senior Christian leaders and teachers at the end of this summer. This renders a level of threat to the school, particularly as there is also the likelihood that whoever takes over the school as an interim headteacher may not have the same commitment to or understanding of the Christian faith or even the school’s Christian identity. The school has weathered this before, and effective pastoral leadership built on a strong theological base has rescued it. Maintaining strength in this area is a key priority, and I charge the diocese with the job of supporting and growing the school to maintain it!
We have to begin from the position, I think, that the principalities and powers have a vested interest in reducing, confusing and undermining the effectiveness of church schools. We have certainly seen this in Milton Keynes, where they are poorly understood by the leadership of the Local Authority. Their distinctive purpose in the world of education is not really respected, and this is not always helped or explained by the Diocesan Boards of Education. Heads like me, trying to develop a theologically robust way of doing school, seeing faithfulness to Jesus’ kingdom as more important than serving the needs of the powers, may as well be on another planet. It is all too easy to assume, as I wrote in an earlier post, that what we want for our children is the same as what all schools want. Well, it is not. It is quite a bit different, and it is this we have fought for, and this that has (in the eyes of the Local Authority) made us highly suspect.
Jon’s analysis therefore is of great use. He begins by citing examples of familiar organisations whose Christian distinctiveness has been lost because Christians had lost the understanding of the Christian roots of the organisation. He uses two models to demonstrate an implicit demonstration of our faith and a more explicit demonstration of that same faith. Governors at Christ the Sower will be treated to an exposition of these two models when we meet as a Foundation and Admissions Committee next week (sounds arcane, but is VITAL!). We function very much on the explicit model – I suspect previous leaders may have used a more implicit one. The explicit one is far more robust and enables a proper level of dialogue (rather than acquiescence) to the existing powers.
At its core, Jon argues, the explicit model has a proper Christian spirituality: prayer, chaplaincy, theological robustness and argument, an articulated ethos and strong leadership, and a clear relationship with the church. These constitute the powerhouse of the work, the structures and the motivation that create a strong identity as a Christian organisation, and it is these that provide for the fruitfulness – the distinctive, Christian fruitfulness – of the organisation: good practice, inclusivity, professionalism,empowerment, social justice, quality of care, welcome and acceptance and the commitment to those we serve (Jon has clients here, but in our context, children and parents).. Only then can we robustly engage with regulators, councils, funding agencies, etc. Using this model he argues that Christian organisations need five qualities in order to swim against a “secularising current” – the social entropy of our day, tending eventually to disorder, compliance and instrumentalism:
1. Conviction: “those in leadership (trustees or management) need to have a strong, personal faith. But also they need conviction that faith is relevant to the needs of those you are serving rather than ‘just something we do in church.’” This, I think, is an area where hitherto we have done well, but it needs sustaining by those who will carry the flame for Christian leadership over the next few months.
2. Commitment: “time and resources need to be given to this area and Christian organisations need to ‘go the hard yards’ of committed engagement.”…Again, we have resourced chaplaincy well, but investment in Christian leadership models, active commitment to prayer and stronger engagement from the churches will all help.
3. Connection: “the explicit faith needs to connect well alongside the good practice of complex…work and not jar with them”….Being clear about the relationship between belief and practice, about our strengths and why they are very relevant to the world that our children and parents live in, and maintaining strong links with other schools, primary and secondary, will be a key in this. Working well with the LA, as difficult as they have made it for me personally, will be a key resource for the school.
4. Creativity: “we can’t just rely on old methods…we need to be creative – listening and responding to … needs, shaping what we do around their preferences. Time spent prayerfully in the implicit domain helps us see opportunities for faith to be made explicit.” Learning new ways of bringing our faith to life within the school should not be too much of a problem, but there are challenges simply from time, We dare not let a reduced spiritual and ethical focus be the result!
5. Confidence: “most of all we need what Leslie Newbigin described as ‘proper confidence’ in the gospel. Its a confidence that means we reject having any hidden agendas or coercive activity but that we can also face down secular opposition gently and assertively. We need a confidence in the work of Christ and in its relevance for each and every person.”
I think that these concepts, re-focused on the work of a church school (Jon works for the West London Mission and is focused on that particular area of service), would provide for us a really helpful structure as governors and leaders and those in our associated churches think hard about the way ahead for Christ the Sower over the next 12 months.
There is much more to say about this, but this is a useful starting point, that represents our Christian identity properly and fully to the work we have to do.