June 17, 2017

An Education that Leads Up to Heaven

Over one hundred Seventh-day Adventist educators from five major world church regions recently met in Slovenia for the second global conference on Adventist education. After the first conference in Rwanda last February, the second of four planned Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) conferences took place in Rogaška Slatina, Slovenia, from May 30-June 4, with 114 educational leaders and administrators from Europe, Middle East, and North America.

Attendees participate in the LEAD Education Conference in Slovenia. [Photo: Gordon Bietz]

Following a plan endorsed by the world church Executive Committee in October 2016, these international conferences seek to establish measurable goals to increase the number of schools and Adventist students and increase retention and academic excellence. According to their stated goals, they also work to develop educational resources for alternative models of education and identify innovations which may serve to enhance the affordability and sustainability of Seventh-day Adventist schools.

“The Education Department of the world church, in collaboration with the various world regions, has been authorized to develop a guiding philosophy and a worldwide, regionally responsive plan for Seventh-day Adventist education,” said Lisa Beardsley-Hardy, education director of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, when explaining the rationale for these regional events. “At these conferences, participants formulate educational plans that incorporate local, national and regional priorities and objectives.”

The event began on May 30 with a recorded message from world church president Ted N. C. Wilson, who called every teacher and educational administrator to “stand for the right.” Reflecting on the experience of some Bible characters, Wilson called participants to “be counted faithful as Daniel and Moses.” “Don’t be like Zedekiah,” he said, “who, though he had no fixed purpose to do evil, he was also without resolution to stand boldly for the right.”

Adventist Education and Youth Retention

Several presenters at the event tackled some of the challenges Adventist education is facing while discussing some possible solutions.

Drawing on sociological and demographic data in the US and UK, Harvard University professor David Williams identified some of the reasons why many church members, especially among the growing non-Caucasian groups, find it challenging to send their children to Adventist schools.He suggested financial models and other innovations that will help remove barriers to access so that more students will be able to attend a Seventh-day Adventist school and benefit from the academic, social and spiritual advantages of doing so.

World church education director Lisa Beardsley-Hardy addresses attendees at the LEAD Education Conference in Slovenia. [Photo: Gordon Bietz]

“There must be a renewed commitment to academic as well as spiritual excellence in all of our schools,” Williams said. “We need an increased awareness among church members of the centrality of Christian education to youth retention.”

World church associate director of education John Wesley Taylor also emphasized the strong correlation between becoming and remaining a Seventh-day Adventist and attending an Adventist school. He based his comments on data from seven earlier research projects. After listening to Taylor, many participants agreed that these data need to be made widely available to parents, pastors, and church leaders at various levels.

Vice-president for Education in the North-American region Larry Blackmer concurred with Taylor and others. “Research has shown that students who attend Adventist education are two to three times more likely to remain in the church,” he said.

Where We Are, Where We Want to Be

Using the metaphor of a bridge, Blackmer explored the concept of Adventist education serving as a bridge from where we are to where we want to be. “We are on a sin-sick planet; our goal—where we ultimately want to be—is with Jesus in heaven,” he said.

To move from where we are to where we want to be, we must cross a bridge, Blackmer said. The challenge is to stay on the bridge, and not be carried away by what is under the bridge. “What is under the bridge, in the case of Adventist education, are philosophies and peer pressures in public schools and other Christian schools,” he said.

“The conference focused on ensuring that Adventist education remains distinctly Adventist.”

By way of example, Blackmer mentioned football games on Friday nights, boyfriends and girlfriends who don’t have a connection to God, secularism in the classroom, or evolution taught as fact. “These ‘rivers’ of philosophies and circumstances can wash our children downriver and not allow them to reach the other side of the bridge: heaven,” he said.

Positive Interactions

As in the previous conference, one of the highlights of the event was small group discussions and networking. “Group work focused on strategies for preschool and kindergarten to grade 8, secondary, and tertiary education,” shared Beardsley in a written report sent to Adventist Review.

Beardsley also wrote that every one of the ten groups reported on their discussions, and certain major themes were identified. “These included strategic planning, funding, communication, the role of the local church and its education secretary, service learning, role of teachers, and professional development for leadership, governors or boards, and teachers,” she explained.

These and other exchanges showed that Adventist education is on track to face some of the challenges of the 21st century, as it strives—in Blackmer’s words—“to define ways to stem the philosophical drift away from biblical foundations.” He summarized the major emphasis of the events in simple words: “The conference focused on ensuring that Adventist education remains distinctly Adventist,” he said.

The third international conference, planned for educators in the Inter-American and South-American church regions, will take place in the Dominican Republic from August 7-11.