In 1837, Friedrich Froebel opened the first kindergarten in Blankenburg, Germany. Not two decades later, the first kindergarten in America was started in Watertown, Wisconsin. Due to Germany’s practice of creating more complex words out of simpler ones, we get kindergarten from kinder, or child, and garten, or garden. So, these schools were designed to be gardens where children could grow to reach their potential.
Froebel based his school on ideas going back to Rousseau. While John Locke believed children to be tabulae rasae, or blank slates, Rousseau believed children were naturally good, and they were only corrupted when indoctrinated to the false values of a corrupt society. Still another view is that children are partakers in original sin.
So, which is it? Are children naturally good? Sinful? Neutral? In order to succeed, a school, whether a kindergarten or any other, must know what a child or a student is. The answer to that question will define the purpose and strategy of the school.
As we navigate our tenth year, the Board of Agape Christi Academy worked with the Champion Group, as well as the parents and staff of the school, to develop a new Purpose Statement that would more succinctly encapsulate the spirit of our Vision Statement. “Cultivating faithful leaders in the love of Christ” now joins our Vision and Mission as a directional charge for our staff, parents, and students.
Scripture is full of gardening word-pictures that reveal deep spiritual truths: sowers, wheat fields, vineyards, garden laborers, seeds, and barren trees are just some examples. While plants often will grow on their own, in order to bear the most fruit of the best quality, they must be tended, or cultivated.
Froebel was on to something in labeling his school a garden. If there’s one thing that children do naturally it’s grow. This is because there is a goodness in children due to the image of God in which they were created. They were created for a purpose and their bodies and minds will want to grow towards that purpose, but something will prevent them. The image of God is only part of their story. They also bear the image of their first father: Adam. (Once upon a time, children learned their letters through primers based on Biblical truth: “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.”) Living after the Fall means that, when left to their own devices, children will naturally grow in ways that are stunted or wayward or infirm. There is no way they can reach their potential or purpose without the intervention of Christ.
In teaching students, teachers and parents must labor with reliance on the Holy Spirit, who turns the fallow ground of hearts and minds into good soil, in order to bring forth good fruit in the lives of students.
The best plants are not only fruitful, but dependable. Many of us remember rope swings from our youth. Unless the tree that holds that swing is a faithful one, you can be in for a world of hurt. The faithful trees are the ones that give their fruit in season, year after year. The faithful trees provide shade from the harsh summer sun.
We want our students likewise to be consistent and dependable. By learning the tools of logic and rhetoric, they will be able to talk a good talk, but they need to be able to back that up by walking a good walk. Eugene Peterson termed this kind of character, “Long obedience in the same direction.”
Who is a leader? Do you have to be the President? A pastor? Someone in upper management? Do you need followers? If so, do they need to be real-world followers or does Instagram count?
You can find all kinds of definitions of a leader, but we believe a leader is an exemplar of the values and virtues of a particular way of life, and the outcome, or end, of that way of life.
Certainly a President is a leader, but so is the niece who leads in gratitude by sending a personal ‘Thank you’ note for a cherished Christmas gift. A pastor is a leader, but so is the widow who gives her last two coins in service to Jesus. The business manager is a leader, but so is the father consistently bringing his family to church each week, humbly trusting the Lord for the blessing of his family.
We do believe that there will be many graduates of Agape Christi Academy that go on to positions of leadership in government, sciences, business, ministry, and many other arenas. But true leadership is not simply conferred with a title; it’s about being someone who ought to be followed. So while not every student will be high-profile, they will all know what it is to lead in whatever sphere of life the Lord sets before them, that those who look to them and see their example will be inspired to greater faithfulness themselves.
“In the Love of Christ“
Without the love of Christ, all the work of cultivating could be preparing faithful leaders that lead in the wrong direction.
Cultivating in the love of Christ gives us our destination, our motivation, our modus operandi, and our source of strength. Without the love of Christ, loving others would not be possible. As John says, “We love because He first loved us.” It’s not just an academic topic, or the answer to a catechism question. We want students to be steeped in the love of Christ.
Though this Purpose Statement is new for us, the spirit and intention behind it go back two millennia. We are thankful for your involvement with Agape Christi Academy, and invite you to continue to join with us as we spend each school year, day, and moment, “Cultivating faithful leaders in the love of Christ.”