Be Watchful…

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. I Peter 5:6-9, ESV

The 2022-23 school year is the 68th year of operation for Midwestern Christian Academy. The vision for establishing a school where students would receive the ministry of Christian discipleship along with and integrated into their daily learning experience came from the congregation of Midwest Bible Church. Chicago was one of the places where the influence of the secular, humanist school of thought became embedded in public education early on, and the establishment of MCA in 1954 means that the school has been around longer than 90% of all Christian schools currently in existence in the country.

The fact that we live in a democratic republic with a constitutional guarantee of religious liberty is a blessing to Christ’s church. We are able to preach and teach freely, and even though we often complain about the culture and society around us, the fact of the matter is that, compared to the “brotherhood throughout the world” of which the Apostle Peter speaks, we have an open door in front of us. The same guarantee of religious liberty for all Americans means that faith is a matter of individual conscience, and that the practice of any religious belief, or no religious belief, is a protected individual right.

Thomas Jefferson, in addressing the issue of religious liberty while considering how the constitution would handle matters of faith, said, “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say that there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket, nor breaks my leg.” So he, along with James Madison, who were both influenced by groups of Evangelical Christians, specifically Baptists, who were opposed to having the government establish a “state church” that would have restricted their churches, determined that the government would not become involved in the licensing or ordination of ministers or sanctioning churches, or in promoting or restricting religious beliefs.

That leaves Christians free to compete in the marketplace of ideas. And as public education has evolved and changed over the years, and has become a forum for this kind of ideological competition, Christians recognized the need for schools which would support and undergird the ministry of the local church, as well as help preserve their denominational identity. The Catholic Church discovered this in the 19th century, as the massive establishment of parish and diocese schools for students in all school grades led to increased interest in the priesthood and in church service. Most of the expense for operations was funded by the church, which committed a fourth of its income to Christian education in its schools, and by teaching staff made up mostly of priests and nuns, who worked under a vow of poverty.

Evangelical Christians did not really see the need for establishing Christian schools until the 1950’s, when the “marketplace of ideas” in public schools came under the influence and control of humanists who had taken over teacher education programs in most colleges and universities in the early half of the twentieth century. But unlike the Catholic schools, most Evangelical Christian schools have had to rely on parent support through tuition, and on contributions from individuals, to operate. Establishing schools was a good idea, but the lack of church and denominational support has meant that fewer Evangelical families have been able to put their children in a Christian school, and the higher cost leaves some families without that option.

Christian schools operated by Evangelical Christians reached a peak in the late 1990’s, in terms of total enrollment and number of schools. By that point, they were a major provider of trained volunteers entering the pastorate and serving in ministry or going to the mission field. And they were having a major impact in other ways. But the point was reached when tuition rates began getting out of reach for an increasing number of families, expenses were increasing, especially payrolls, and Christian schools began to close across the country, slowly at first, but then, by the time the 21st century rolled around, the closings began to increase. According to ACSI’s membership data, by 2020, half of the Christian schools that had been in existence in 1990 had closed, and enrollment in the remaining schools was down by 43% from 1990 totals.

The lion has been roaring and devouring for a while now.

It’s not a coincidence that with the decline in Christian school influence, American Evangelical Christianity has experienced a sharp decline in evangelism, membership and attendance, and in the ability to provide resources and funding for overseas mission work. The number of individuals seeking to enter vocational ministry or go to the mission field has also steadily declined. The enemy knew exactly where to attack. And while tuition increases have caused enrollment decline, internal conflict within school communities has been one of the primary reasons for school closures. That’s exactly why Peter tells us to be “sober-minded and watchful.” Everyone in our school community, administration, school board, teachers, staff members, parents and students, has been made a responsible steward for this ministry. The expectation on those of us who are Christians, who know the gospel, the scriptures and are submitted to the Holy Spirit’s leadership, is responsible to be sober-minded and watchful with regard to the ministry of Midwestern Christian Academy.

Count Your Blessings, Name Them One by One…

Sustaining the operation of a Christian school in a city like Chicago is difficult. Ironically, it has been the gentrification of neighborhoods in the city that has led to the closure of most of the Christian schools that existed prior to 2000. Property values are soaring, and while that means housing gets renovated and the value of homes and businesses increases, the amount of personal income required to invest by buying the property leaves little room for school tuition. A majority of school-aged parents now are members of the millennial generation, among whom fewer than 20% claim affiliation, membership or affinity with any Christian church or group. And the kind of schools they are looking for tend to be philosophically progressive, socially liberal and organized around educational specialties.

MCA has survived, and is actually experiencing a comeback from a difficult time in its prior history for several reasons. Members of the school community need to be aware of the blessings that God has provided to us, which include:

  1. A debt-free facility that has recently been renovated and updated, financed by the sale of property belonging to the church. As a result, we have no lease or mortgage and we pay only our utilities and maintenance. This saves our parents at least $2,000 per year in tuition costs.
  2. A qualified, certified faculty, several with advanced degrees and multiple years of service, who work for salaries that are half of what their counterparts make in public education, and who get less than a third of the benefits provided to public education employees. This adds another $2,500 per year in savings to the tuition cost.
  3. A regular stream of contributions, along with donors who support the school when there is a larger need, such as renovation of the gym, or who provide financial aid to those who qualify. This saves families an additional $500 to $1,000 in tuition expenses. Financial aid is especially helpful, since it helps enrollment reach numbers that spread out the cost of operation and makes the per-student tuition cost less than it would be if those students could not attend school here. The closer our enrollment gets to capacity, the less the cost per student in tuition.

The average tuition at a private school in Chicago now is over $13,000. That includes some schools which are at the high end, around $35,000 per student per year, and schools like us, who are at the low end, averaging less than $5,000 per year per student, when discounts and scholarships are factored in. In our part of the city, MCA has the lowest total cost per student, including tuition and registration fee.

Being a good steward also involves having a personal and family appreciation for the work that is done here each day. As a Christian community, we have expectations when it comes to the way we conduct business and interact with each other. Conflict over decisions and practices within a Christian school is the leading cause of school closure. “The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness,” says James. “It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Let those of us who have been given stewardship of this ministry be watchful of what we say, which is where trouble starts.

At the beginning of this school year, we achieved some of our long term goals for MCA. We’ve been fully accredited, a recognition of our school’s long term academic and spiritual excellence. We reached the milestone of 200 students in enrollment and actually moved beyond that number. We have been, as Peter says in the verse cited at the beginning of this article, “exalted” by God. And we have already seen the prowling of the roaring lion at work. But Peter says, “resist him,” by remaining faithful. That’s our commitment.

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