October 16, 2015

Unprecedented Summit to Address Challenges of Adventist Education

Read the related news commentary, “Adventist Education Can Learn a Lesson From Sabbath School,” by General Conference education director Lisa Beardsley-Hardy

, news editor, Adventist Review

The Seventh-day Adventist Church will hold an unprecedented three-day summit on Adventist education next year as it grapples with challenges such as low enrollment and high costs at some schools and seeks to ensure that all embrace the unique approaches of the church’s original educational model.

“This will be an extremely important meeting,” church president Ted N.C. Wilson said in announcing the summit at the Annual Council business meetings this week. “It will be a meeting like you’ve never attended before.”

The summit will take place on Oct. 5 to 7 under the auspices of the LEAD conference, an event that kicks off the Annual Council and whose theme centered on cultural awareness this year.

But in a sign of the importance that the Adventist Church is placing on the 2016 gathering, its first session will be held in the morning rather than in the evening and a range of senior Adventist educators, many of whom do not usually attend Annual Council, will be invited to participate.

The state of Adventist education has increasingly taken the spotlight as some schools in North America have struggled amid low enrollment figures and high costs. Mount Vernon Academy closed in Ohio this year after sinking about $1.5 million in debt to the local church conference. Meanwhile, the 31 schools in the Oregon Conference got an unexpected lifeline when a group of anonymous donors gave $2 million to pay off their debts and award scholarships to scores of students.

To Educate Is to Redeem

The main goal of Adventist education is to restore the image of God in all students, a redemptive purpose that encompasses Adventist and non-Adventist students alike, Lisa Beardsley-Hardy, the Adventist Church’s top education official, told the Adventist Review earlier this year.

“I’m not concerned that there would be students of other faiths or no faith at our schools. But I am concerned if we have teachers of no faith because they can’t achieve this redemptive purpose,” said Beardsley-Hardy, director of the General Conference’s education department. “The single most important thing that we need in our schools is committed, converted Seventh-day Adventist teachers.”

Wilson made similar remarks at a conference of educators and theologians last summer, saying teachers who are not “champions of Creation based on the biblical account” should not call themselves Adventists or work in church-operated schools.

The concern about Adventist teachers is one of the motivators for holding the 2016 education summit, Wilson said Thursday.

“As the Adventist education system has grown, it has developed challenges internally and from external sources,” he said in an e-mail interview. “We now see some schools expanding to the point where they are drifting from the important factor of having all faculty as members of the church because the school has grown so large. On the other hand, we see some schools closing for lack of enrollment and high costs. Among all the positive blessings from the Seventh-day Adventist school system, we also see signs that a return to some of the basics of the original educational model is needed.”

Church Should Nurture Schools

Wilson said the Adventist educational system was invaluable to the church and must be nurtured and cared for by everyone within the church — all the way from local elementary schools through secondary schools to tertiary and university education. The Adventist Church operates more than 7,800 schools, colleges, and universities with more than 93,000 teachers and 1.8 million students around the world, according to the website of the General Conference’s education department.

“The Seventh-day Adventist Church is indebted to its educational system for so many of the mission and organizational advances of the church,” Wilson said. “It was God’s plan to establish a very peculiar and special educational system that would produce workers and creative ideas for the proclamation of the three angels’ messages announcing Christ’s soon return.”

He said the Bible and the writings of Adventist Church cofounder Ellen G. White provide foundational principles for the Adventist educational system.

“This is a heaven-sent blessing that is incalculable,” he said. “The Spirit of Prophecy model is exceptional and explains that the ‘foundation of all true education is a knowledge of God.’”

The education summit, which will be held at the world church headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, will bring together members of the General Conference Executive Committee, all college and university presidents, members of the International Board of Education, members of the International Board of Ministerial and Theological Education, and members of the Adventist Accrediting Association.

A summit steering committee has been established with Michael L. Ryan, an assistant to the Adventist Church president, as chair, while Ella Simmons, a general vice president of the Adventist Church, is the vice chair, and Beardsley-Hardy is the secretary. Subcommittees will function ahead of the event with the participation of many people from various institutions and organizations.

Wilson said the summit would encourage even greater confidence in and conviction about the value of the unique approaches of Seventh-day Adventist education.

“The summit will be designed to elicit from all leaders a renewed commitment to this very important part of our church and evangelistic mission,” Wilson said. “We want to re-affirm God’s great plan for Christian education as outlined in the Spirit of Prophecy as we prepare young people and all of us to proclaim Christ’s soon coming.”