Presented to the Oak Hill Board by Brian G. Daigle on 8 August 2020
Leadership can be a lonely place. It can be a place of quiet darkness, a place of isolation, a place of abandonment, even a place of contempt. But this should not surprise us, for the zenith of leadership, the zenith of headship, was found in our Lord Jesus Christ, at the pinnacle of his earthly ministry, suffering and ultimately his crucifixion. Upon the cross he was utterly alone, utterly forsaken, taking the sins of the world, leading a sinful world into the graceful bosom of the Father, and at the apex of that ministry, he was alone, derided by all, mocked, isolated and lifted high, and a contempt to those around him.
Leading a company, leading a school, leading a family, leading a church are sometimes no different. We may labor to feed the sheep, to be at the tip of the spear, to be the first into battle, and yet we find ourselves least of all. This is indeed the paradox of the cross. At the greatest moment of human history, the greatest sacrificial act in all the cosmos, we find the punishment of a criminal. At the crescendo of God’s story, we also find the nadir. And so what are leaders to do, sinful leaders like us, weary leaders like us, insecure leaders like us, to do when we step into leadership positions? The inevitable is not far off: the first must become last; the king must become a servant. But what motivates us on this journey of leadership, knowing we will make hard decisions individually and collectively? The answer, in brief, is the joy set before us.
Hear the letter to the Hebrews: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)
What then is the joy set before us in leading a school? What is the joy set before us in being at the spear tip in education reform in our city and our churches and even our families? What is the joy set before us when we give to a school more than we get, when the road gets tough, when our feet slip or our hands grow tired or our minds grow faint? What is the enduring motivation we have for stepping into and remaining in leadership positions as Christian men? In sum, the joy set before us is the glory of Jesus Christ. More specifically, the joy set before us is our work to provide an education that is both a help and a covering.
I have wrestled over the last many years to find the best metaphor for what classical Christian education is. And I have found many helpful insights. But none is so potent, so clear, so convicting as a quote I read last year by Calvin Seerveld in his book On Being Human. He states.
“Neighbourhooding is a glorious gift to human nature: the opening to give to and receive from one’s fellow human what is needed….Any seasoned teacher knows that teaching means you wash the feet of your students. In line with the texts before us you could also understand and describe teaching, or Christian leadership of any sort, as a kind of neighbouring, where you bind up the wounds, the traumata, of the younger generation who come to you, having been damaged at home or in earlier schools. Blessed are those who neighbor the poor people who have lost their way and become captives or have been damaged in the arts, or in the marketplace, or in the minefield of politics. And it is a wonderful occupation to be anointed by the Spirit of the Lord to bring healing and comfort to those with need, to give good direction and to announce the coming jubilee and judgement for music, commerce, family relations, philosophy—you name it.” (Calvin Seerveld, On Being Human, p. 63-67)
This is it. This is the joy of the work set before us: to be good neighbors, to be a help, to bind up the wounds, to heal the broken, to assuage the scorched. Classical Christian schools do this for teachers who were previously in corrupt schools, bad education. Classical Christian schools do this for students in previously rough academic situations. Classical Christian schools even do this for parents, providing a vibrant and strong community of Christians working together to mature from what has come before in each of our lives. This is most certainly true in these times, when the wounds of our Christian brothers are deep, when a post-Christian nation has cornered or circumscribed or cut Christian culture, the wide and vast expression of Christian belief and practice in every area of life. There is a biblical image which best captures the help classical Chris
“In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him. And he turned him unto his disciples, and said privately, Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them. And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise. (Luke 10:21-37)
The wounds of our Christian brothers are many, and so neighboring, as Seerveld describes, is an important need of the hour, and it is an important function of a classical Christian school. It is, therefore, to be on the forefront of our minds as those who have been called to lead classical Christian schools. If we are to continue our good and laborious work in classical Christian education, neighboring, being a present help in times of need, must be one of the joys set before us.
The second important motivation for classical Christian leaders, especially administrators and board members, is not just our responsibility to be a present help in times of need, but also to see our work as providing a covering. If we go a bit higher, we could say we are doing the providential work required of us in Christian community, of working to provide something for the Christian families and Christian students with whom we partner. But what is this thing we are providing?
“And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples. And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? (Luke 11:113)
The fathers in our cities, the mothers in our churches, the grandparents in our communities, God has placed upon them the divine responsibility of giving their children fish rather than serpents. This is true spiritually and it is true academically. But where is a faithful Christian father to go? Where is the stream of academic trout that would satisfy his children and fulfill his duty as a Christian father? One important answer is the classical Christian school. What a school like Oak Hill does is not just provide the opportunity for neighboring, but the opportunity for providence, and this particular providence, in a post-Christian nation, takes the form of a covering. A classical Christian school is a shelter for our children amidst the culture wars. It is a covering for our fathers and mothers amidst the onslaught of materialism and secularism. It is a bulwark to keep back the mighty waters of secular scientific humanism, into which the children of God would be undoubtedly swept if we do not stand firm in the faith. It is, therefore, to be on the forefront of our minds as those who have been called to lead classical Christian schools. If we are to continue our good and laborious work in classical Christian education, providing and covering, being a covering in times of greater hostility toward our Lord Jesus Christ, must be one of the joys set before us.
I believe it is true that the head of school has three parts to him, equal in importance and potential: he must be a CEO, a scholar, and a shepherd. And he must be growing in these three at all times and with prudent balance. Similarly, the board at a classical Christian school must be growing in three important roles: we are to be men and women who are generals, philanthropists, and counsel. As generals, we are to lead our work of helping and covering with strategy, courage, and forethought. As philanthropists we are to lead our work of helping and covering with sound investments of time, energy, and resources. And as counsel we are to lead our work of helping and covering with wisdom, eloquence, and mercy. And ultimately, we are to look at the Prototypes of types, the Images of images, the only Model that will sustain our imaginations and bolster our wearied minds: our Lord Jesus Christ. To reiterate Hebrews: “For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.”