number nine(this is a recurring weekly series on the fifty events that shaped the course of my life and the person i’ve become along the way.  welcome to my therapy.)

this one’s a little longer.  sorry.

in my first year, the leadership of the church that i served in huntington beach made a bold move.  they began the process of creating a school as part of the ongoing ministry of our church.  we already had a pre-school, so for many it seemed like the next logical step.

organizational documents were drawn.  a board was selected.  a principal (headmaster) was hired.  recruiting students/families began.  our building was reconfigured.  equipment and supplies were purchased.  and within a year or so, they were off and running.

i remember questioning the leadership team on their goals and priorities for the school.  they said they were concerned about what was happening to children in the public school.  in my youthful self-righteousness, i countered with saying all they cared about was what was happening to their children in the public school.  (i may have been right in my assessment…but i missed the mark entirely when it came to christlikeness!)

i said if they really cared about kids, for every kid that could pay the tuition, we should offer tuition to a kid/family that couldn’t afford it.    that didn’t go over so well.  i’m afraid lines were starting to be drawn.

by the time our first son was eligible to be enrolled, the school was firmly established and had experienced steady growth.  as the youth pastor of the church, i had already encountered numerous “conflicts” with the school over building and equipment usage, scheduling, and the youth group kids constantly going where they weren’t supposed to be.  church kids…what are you gonna do with ’em?

i wasn’t necessarily “at odds” with the church school, but it was definitely bumpy at times.  we were all still family.

but things became different when we were offered a full-scholarship for our son to go to the church school (a perk of being a pastor on the staff).   it was the first time we were confronted with what we believed about the public/private school debate on such a personal level.

this was an era of major debate and political wrangling over the school voucher issue.  the public school system in california was under civic assault from angry parents and angry teachers.  gang influence was spreading.  test scores were down.  massive budget cuts were gutting the rich educational history of the state.  and private christian schools were starting to pop up everywhere.

so we studied the issues.  we sought counsel.  we listened carefully to the debate.  we looked deeply into god’s word.  we prayed…  and then we decided to enroll our son in the local public elementary school in our neighborhood…right next to our church building.

i didn’t set too well with a number of people in our church family…especially those who were deeply involved with the school.  i get it.  to them, it felt like a “slap in the face”.   it was a rejection of significance.  but to us, it marked the moment that would define our family life and our focus of ministry forever.

my youth group was full of public school kids.  it was my “mission field”.  how could i not be part of it with my own blood?  to us, it was incarnation.  to have withdrawn our own would have felt like rejection.  so we dove into the public school with our whole hearts.  we accepted it as an extension of our ministry…warts and all.

i totally affirm the responsibility…and the right… for parents to make the wisest choice for the education of their own kids.  some choose private schools.  some choose church schools.  some choose home schools.  but for us, it was never just about our own kids.  it was about the community.  it was about those who couldn’t afford specialized education programs.  it was about those who didn’t have parents with flexibility and education.  it was about standing up for them.

did we sacrifice excellence in education for our kids, so we could be martyrs on the altar of public school rescue?  no way!  our kids never suffered.  they had some of the most fantastic and dedicated teachers that any kids have ever had (especially during our years of life in a super low-income neighborhood.  those teachers should be granted sainthood.)

our boys grew up with a great understanding and appreciation of different cultures.  they were forced to deal with really difficult people and develop problem-solving skills at really young ages.   they had to learn quickly how to say “no”,  when confronted with evil.  there is very little that is “safe” about the public school these days.

but it was where we dove in.  it forced wanda and i to be active participants in our son’s social and educational development.  we didn’t just send them to school.  we invested ourselves in those same schools.  those schools became family to us.  we became part of them.  they became part of us.  and it definitely changed our prayer lives…for the better!

all because of a decision we made when offered a free private school education.  who would have guessed?

did our kids turn out perfect?  nah.  but we have two boys that are really good public school teachers…who both married public school teachers.   and we couldn’t be prouder.

over the 38 years of youth ministry,  i bet there are 15 or 20 kids who grew up and entered church ministry as a career. and i bet there are 150-200 who entered public education as a career, with a desire to influence the lives of kids and make a difference in the communities they serve.  and we couldn’t be prouder.

apples don’t fall far.


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