Education doesn’t end after the final bell has rung, or even after graduation, but is an ongoing process of developmental growth. However, schools are meant to be a powerful partner in this learning process. Adventist mission I Will Go, has set 10 objectives for 2020 meant to “Strengthen Seventh-day Adventist institutions in upholding freedom, holistic health, and hope, through Jesus and restoring in people the image of God.” Our schools are institutions which hold one of the most important missions of all, which is to nurture and guide the growth of the next generation. In this episode of ANN InDepth, Dr. Lisa Beardsley-Hardy, the Director of the Education Department at the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, joins hosts Sam Neves and Jennifer Stymiest to discuss the mission field of Adventist schools.
Adventist schools, as many Christ-centered schools, are meant to be a safe space for growth and development. Yet when it comes to transforming them into mission focused institutions, attention mustn't be given only at the later stages, but from the beginning. In order for us as a church to foster mission mindedness in small children, the aspects of mission must be explored and broken down into its most basic and beautiful parts. Mission-mindedness is a development of character fuelled by faith. Teaching children to grow in their love of God, that they are valued no matter their academic proficiency, and allowing emotional and social growth are crucial according to Beardsley-Hardy. Removing the restrictions that enforce gendered expectations is also important. Promoting female literacy that will equip her no matter her choice in adulthood, be it motherhood or careerhood, is crucial in mission development, encouraging the biblical truth that profession and marital status do not define contribution to the mission field. By the same token, not allowing boys time to engage in skills that have healthful and productive outlets such as helping in the household, spending time outside and more, but isolating on social media, gaming, or non social activities, leads to poor academic engagement. Allowing a child to begin social, emotional, spiritual, and mental development promotes a holistic growth that will contribute to academic success. Having schools encourage growth beyond academics requires a partnership with parents and the child. In this way, removing the fear based motivation to succeed academically, or avoiding the dismissal of “problematic” or “rowdy” children, shows that their developmental personhood exists outside of academics.
Here lies an issue that I Will Go, seeks to rectify. Those preparing for ministry, often receive exemplary theological preparation, but no practical preparation. This is what prompted I Will Go missions, to interview faculty, conferences, unions, prisons, missionaries, and students to ask what they look for in pastors, chaplains, and missionaries. In these sessions, asking practical questions from people in the field reveal that knowledge goes far beyond the academics of theology. Knowing is one thing, but living the gospel through administration, personal relationships, provision of counseling, financial management, and more, is another.
Academics and ministry must feed into one another in an applicable sense. “We said that the beauty of the zebra are the stripes we need to press together. Academics pressing together with ministry. We need to work together, and pressing together in an integrated, articulated fashion makes a thing of beauty.” says Beardsley-Hardy.
So what about the first Adventist school? Could that structure be of any use when it comes to maintaining mission focus? Multiple answers could be given, when asked what the first Adventist school was. However, the beautiful and grass roots answer is one that is fitting of Adventism’s original defiance to remain within an institution. Sabbath school was the first Adventist school. It is a unified school that has a sense of connectivity which spans across multiple languages, ages, and continents. Beardsley-Hardy shares “We've got over 21 million people, that's a huge school, and every week we are studying the same curriculum and that binds us together as a Seventh-day Adventist people, united in mission in a way that that cannot be underestimated.” This beautiful universality is something that goes beyond brick and mortar institutions because it is grounded in the unchanging truth of the gospel. Its resplendent consistency can be attributed only to the reality that God’s word, saturated in love, truth, and salvation, can withstand translations, a pandemic, and changing times. When asking how our schools can be more mission focused, the answer is found in the first school.