Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness. Psalm 115:1 NRSV
When I came to MCA in the summer of 2018, the main building was in the process of a complete renovation. Standing in the doorway, I looked up and could see all the way to the far wall on the second floor, through the studs in the walls. It was the second day of July, and school was going to start in just seven weeks. Having a completely renovated facility would be a blessing, but at that point, it didn’t look like the building would be done by the first day of school. As it turned out, we had to delay for a couple of weeks, but we opened the day after Labor Day and went to school in a much improved facility which has been a real blessing to us.
Much like the building, the school community was also undergoing a renovation that began in the summer of 2018. I Peter 5:8 says, “Discipline yourselves and keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around looking for someone to devour.” MCA, as one of the few remaining Bible-believing, independent, Evangelical Christian schools in the city of Chicago, was definitely in the enemy’s sights. Christian schools have, as one of their expected outcomes, raising up generations of young students who are equipped to grow in their faith and take the experience with them when they graduate. MCA has a legacy that goes back 67 years, influencing and inspiring literally thousands of students who impact their world for Christ. Stopping that would be a victory for the adversary.
The twenty-first century has not been a good time for Christian school education anywhere. After two decades of growth and expansion, enrollments began to decline in the late 90’s. Several factors were identified, including increasing tuition costs, greater availability of alternatives to public schools like online education and charter schools, and the aging and declining church membership among Evangelical churches in the United States. The number of school-aged children in the attendance of Evangelical congregations in 2020 was half what it was at the turn of the century. The median age of an Evangelical church in 2020, according to the “Handbook of Religion in America,” was 65 years of age. And the overall attendance in churches in the US that identify as “Evangelical” either independent or identfied with a denomination, has declined 18% since 2010.
Prayer and Stepping Out In Faith are Keys to MCA’s Recovery
The enrollment decline, which brought about a subsequent decline in operating revenue, and the issues surrounding events at MCA prior to the fall of 2018 would have caused most Christian schools to consider closing or at least significantly downsizing. But MCA has been one of the ministry callings of Midwest Bible Church for 67 years. Knowing that recovery might take several years, the church took a step of faith and invested significant funds from a property sale into the renovation of the school building. That investment was covered by prayer.
In answering that prayer, God provided by calling on his people, uniquely gifted spiritually for the tasks they would perform on behalf of MCA and in a way that can only be explained by calling it an answer to prayer, brought all of these gifts and resources together to rebuild the ministry of Midwestern Christian Academy. If we looked at all that had to be done, including getting the building done in 2018 before school started, a human evaluation of the situation would have been “impossible.”
“With men, this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26
Building a Secure Foundation
In my own experience, things tend to work out best when we get on board with what God wants to do and then get out of his way when doing it. Discerning his will through prayer, what appears to be an obstacle that cannot be overcome turns into progress. Sometimes, a step of faith is the only way to discern God’s will, not knowing how that will turn out ahead of time, but trusting that things will happen according to God’s plan.
MCA needed a time of spiritual healing. Moving forward with recovery required first making sure that the people God was calling to serve in this process were on board with it, and that those who had been discouraged or wounded had received a ministry of spiritual healing. Parents needed to be able to see that their children would be in a spiritually and academically beneficial environment, and that the school would be able to provide them with the education they were expecting and that we promised to deliver.
The foundation needs to be secure before the construction can begin on the structure. Once staff turnover was stabilized, and those who were serving were committed to MCA as a ministry calling, God continued to move in answering prayer. A stable staff, especially the teachers in the classroom, is essential to the stability of the whole school and we have been blessed in this regard.
Accreditation: The Recognition of Excellence
Progress has been slow, a good test of the virtue of patience, but progress has happened. MCA had applied for accreditation in the spring of 2017, but because of administrative issues, had not started the self-study process. Some grace from the accreditation commission as a result of the viral pandemic, more prayer, the principal’s familiarity with the process as a past visiting team member and member of the commission, and a staff that didn’t hesitate to jump in, not knowing how extensive the process or how much work was involved, led to the full accreditation of MCA this January.
Going through the accreditation protocol, and evaluating where the school met the standards, and where it didn’t, and then developing plans to improve in order to meet the standards contributed tremendously to the recovery process. That’s really one of the main purposes of accreditation. When we started, it looked like another impossible task, a mountain to high to climb. But we took it one step at a time, seeing the value and progress behind each of the 80-some odd indicators. We made changes that we saw needed to be made. Even up to the weeks prior to the visiting team arrival, there were still some aspects that appeared bigger than they were.
And then, right before Thanksgiving, appropriately, there it was. We have cherished every single moment of this experience, from hearing the visiting team’s recommendations, to the letter from the commission announcing our accreditation to the arrival of the “official” certificate which we have framed and is hanging in the office. I hear a chorus in the background singing, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…
Turning the Proverbial Corner
The foundation was laid, staff turnover was at a minimum and we had two years in which over 90% of our current students opted to re-enroll for the following year. But we were still struggling with enrollment. The complications of the viral pandemic, which we had not anticipated, were an unknown factor in whether we would start seeing the numbers we needed to see.
But the Lord is faithful. He will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one. 2 Thessalonians 3:3
For three years, we had been laying a foundation that included planning strategies to get the word out about MCA, to encourage new families to enroll. As it turns out, by laying the foundation and providing a quality academic education in a sound, spiritual environment, parents talk about MCA to their fellow church members and family members. And God answers prayer. Not only did 95% of our current families decide to re-enroll their children in the fall of 2021, but the parents of 60 other children also decided to enroll. We completely filled second grade, and had to create a second Kindergarten class to accommodate the increase. God has blessed the our labor with abundant fruit.
Our early enrollment plan, which we implemented this year in order to plan ahead and secure qualified teachers for expanding classes, has been an overwhelming success. We will need new classes on several grade levels. Now we are praying that God calls and equips those teachers, wherever and whoever they are, to fill those positions. We are anticipating a total enrollment in excess of 200 students next fall.
The Gym Renovation
There isn’t anything that has happened on this campus illustrating how God brings spiritual gifts and personal talents together to achieve his purpose better than the gym renovation project. For years, the church and school had plans to build a full-sized gymnasium/classroom facility next to the church’s educational building. The price tag was high, and the resources just never seemed to materialize. We have a gym on the north side of our campus, build in the 30’s, once a church auditorium and overhauled twice, but not recently.
Prayer, once again, brought a vision into clear reality. God wasn’t finished with that building yet. Still structurally sound, it needed a new roof, and a facelift, but good stewardship made a renovation a more practical use of resources than trying to build a new one, and it has created a facility that will meet the church and school needs for decades to come.
The cost was still in God-sized territory. But just as he has done with everything else that has happened here, when the step of faith was taken, God provided. Someone from Midwest Bible Church and MCA’s past, who played in that gym as a boy, used his spiritual gifts and the place where he serves to bring people together to provide the funding to cover the cost of the renovation. It was really miraculous to see how people, many of whom knew nothing about our school and some who don’t even live in Chicago, were led to give to this project, including a foundation that gave to the gym and helped pay for the parking lot.
Trust Me, Try Me, Prove Me Says The Lord and Count Your Many Blessings
Growing up in a Southern Baptist church, I was raised singing hymns in church, accompanied by piano and organ. Words from a couple of those old hymns come to mind when I think about what God is doing here at MCA.
Trust me, try me, prove me saith the Lord of hosts and see if a blessing, unmeasured blessing, I will not pour out on thee. That, of course, is taken from Malachi 3:10.
When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed. When you are discouraged thinking all is lost. Count your many blessings name them one by one. And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
And one of my favorites of all time:
To God be the glory great things he has done. Who loved he the world and he gave us his Son. Who gave us his life an atonement for sin. And opened the lifegate that all may go in.
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the earth hear his voice! Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the people rejoice. O come to the Father through Jesus the Son. And give him the glory great things he has done.