Mennonite Education: What Could Be

What possibilities await conservative Anabaptism? What challenges should be anticipated? This booklet explores five dimensions of the conservative Anabaptism community, calling attention to challenges and opportunities within each dimension.


It is not enough to know what we don’t want for our children’s education. We must thoughtfully and deliberately paint the picture of what we do want. 

My intended vocational path did not include teaching until I turned 20. After accepting our church school’s offer to teach for a year, I discovered the challenging and rewarding opportunity to invest in the church of Christ through education. Over the next 30 years I grew in conviction that our schools are an integral component of a strong church community. I am deeply grateful for the energy, creativity, time, and money that has been invested in Mennonite schools over the years. God has used this investment for the good of the church. Additionally, I am excited about the opportunity to build on this investment by exploring what God might want to do in and through our schools. This paper is a contribution to that opportunity.


There are great cultural forces vying for our children’s allegiances and loves. No tepid response will effectively counter the allure of video games, the internet, movies, and the prevailing value system. It is imperative that we collectively mobilize overwhelming resources to invest in the character and capability of our children.

We have the opportunity to offer a compelling contrast to a world that sacrifices its youth on the altars of convenience and the happiness of parents. This contrast may be illustrated in:

  • Communities of church, home, and school concertedly bringing energy to nurturing children who love God, love His world, and love all that is true, good, and beautiful. 
  • Communities dedicating their best people, their greatest innovation, and their utmost intention to developing youth into compassionate, capable servants poised to do His “will on earth as it is in heaven.” 
  • Communities that are bringing an unyielding resistance to the trivial, the mind-numbing, and the merely amusing. 
  • God-loving, Jesus-following, vibrant, compelling, globally aware conservative Anabaptist communities equipped to fully participate in the creation mandate and the great commission.

The church is the focus of God’s kingdom activity. Godly training of our children is a shared responsibility of church and parents. Rather than each family working independently, the church takes responsibility to define a biblically congruent, shared vision of godly training and provides resources for parents to pursue that vision. Parents take responsibility to implement that vision with their children in ways that contribute to the success of all involved families. (The church pot-luck is analogous to this shared responsibility.) 

The Christian school can be an integral ally of the home and church as we nurture children who are delightfully curious, creative, and productive; humbly capable, knowledgeable, and skilled; and passionately devoted to God, His church, and disciple-making. 

How could our schools become an even more vital asset to the church and home in this effort?

  • How can conservative Anabaptist day schools significantly contribute to the health of our communities?
  • As we look to the next 50 years, what may God want to do in and through Mennonite schools?

It has been many years since the first visionaries insisted that Mennonites should have our own schools if we wanted to keep our children’s hearts. That initial vision and energy is waning and needs to be renewed by fresh vision. This vision must have more to do with what we do want for our children rather than what we don’t want. 

This presentation is intended to fuel conversation and not to end it. It is intended to suggest some possibilities, and not to exhaust them, to describe what is and what could be rather than to prescribe exactly what should be. As we talk with each other, and as many take up the burden of these questions, perhaps God will move through our people to effect new life in Mennonite schools. 

To add fuel to this conversation, I will attempt to:

  • Frame some questions that will allow us to re-envision school from the perspective of Anabaptist beliefs and values.
  • Consider several major biblical passages that should undergird and shape the answers to these questions.
  • Offer an assessment of the educational needs and opportunities conservative Anabaptists are facing.
  • Offer ten presuppositions that could guide the re-envisioning of schooling.
  • Offer ten ways Mennonite schools could be reconfigured to more effectively strengthen the home and church.

Questions to Ask

If Mennonite schools are to promote Mennonite values more ably, we will need to do the hard work of re-envisioning all aspects of schooling. To this end, Mennonite education should be shaped by Christ-centered, biblically congruent, situation-specific answers to the following questions:

  • What attitudes, knowledge, skills, and commitments should we cultivate in children? 
  • What kind of environment is ideal for nurturing children? 

The first question asks us to define the ends of training and schooling, while the second calls us to reconsider the means.

  • The first question asks us to paint a picture of the ideal eighteen-year-old that has been shaped by our homes, churches, and schools. What are his values? What are his capabilities? What does she know? How does she live?
  • The second question requires thoughtfulness about the kinds of environments that are life-giving, inspiring, and nutritious. These environments are so alive that the growth pressure is almost unavoidable. How can we shape places to grow that actually nurture lush, healthy, fruitful growth? 
  • A farmer does well to ask how he can prepare the soil to maximize yield along with identifying the characteristics of a mature crop. The two questions are distinct but inextricably linked. If maximum yield is desired, the soil is prepared and cultivated differently than it is for a merely weed-free field. 

The answers we seek are Christ-centered. The answers are sourced in a commitment to love God, love brother, love neighbor, love enemy, do the will of God, make disciples (Matthew 28), and nurture the earth (Genesis 1).

The answers we seek are biblically congruent; answers that originate in and align with the tenor and teaching of the Scriptures.

The answers we seek are situation specific; answers that honor and capitalize on the values, realities, and sensibilities of conservative Anabaptist communities (both as a larger movement and as local churches).

The Biblical Imperative

There are many passages in the Bible that speak directly to the questions of shaping the next generation and many more that offer implied answers to these questions. I have come to see what I will call the Shema passages from the Old and New Testaments as foundational to a Christian framework for training children. We will begin with these. For each passage chosen one or more implications for godly training is offered.


Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, 

(A) that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, 

(B) that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, 

(A) by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. “Hear, O Israel: 

(C) The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 

(D) You shall love the Lord your God 

(E) with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today 

(F) shall be on your heart. 

(G) You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall

(H) talk of them when you sit in your house, and 

(I) when you walk by the way, and 

( J) when you lie down, and 

(K) when you rise. 

(L) You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and (

M) they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 

(N)You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. […] 

(O)When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.

Deuteronomy 6:1-21

The primary purpose of the church and home (and by extension
the school) is to nurture:

  • Obedience to God (A)
  • Fear of God (B)
  • Understanding of Reality centered in God (C)
  • Love for God (D)

There are two primary items to “hear” and “teach”

  • The Lord is One: This is a God-sourced and sustained world (beliefs – thinking) (C)
  • Love the Lord: God is the ultimate and perfect object of our love, of our values and desires. (D)

Loving God involves training our mental, physical, and emotional intelligence (knowledge & skills). (E)

Training our children to understand and love God in this way involves:

  • Being: these words shall be on your heart – they must be imbedded in the teacher’s life and thinking (F)
  • Teaching: teach them diligently (G) 

Effective Teaching (teaching that forms and not merely informs; that trains the will, the body, the emotions, and the mind) includes:

  • Integrating the teaching into daily relational rhythms (H, I, J, K)
  • Integrating the teaching into body practices (L, M)
  • Integrating the teaching into the learning environment (N)

Telling stories of God, including personal stories: Telling or hearing stories produce effects similar to the experience itself. (O)


And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

Luke 10:25-37

A secondary goal of the home and church (and by extension the school) is to nurture love for our neighbor. This includes equipping with skills that allow us to serve our neighbor and training the will to see our neighbor as more important than ourselves.

Our neighbor includes anyone who is needy: the voiceless, the powerless, the poor, the hungry, the slave, the widows, the children, the rich, and the educated. Godly training equips people with the knowledge and skills necessary for pursuing the best interest of the needy.


My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you, delivering you from the way of evil, from men of perverted speech, who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness, who rejoice in doing evil and delight in the perverseness of evil, men whose paths are crooked, and who are devious in their ways. So you will be delivered from the forbidden woman, from the adulteress with her smooth words.

Proverbs 2:1-2:16
  • Godly training involves becoming thoroughly versed in God’s revelation.
  • Seeking, searching, struggling, and submitting are components of becoming wise. Godly training encourages and rewards inquiry, curiosity, seeking, and understanding.
  • The goal of godly training is relationship with God. “The fear of the Lord” and “the knowledge of God” speak of relationship.
  • Godly training results in the ability to avoid dishonest gain, evil paths, and sexual failure.
  • Ultimately, wisdom is conferred by God. (See also James 1)

I Corinthians

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

1 Corinthians 8:1-3

Godly training aims to shape the love of a person toward God. The accumulation of knowledge is submitted to this end.


“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. “

Genesis 1:26-31

Godly training prepares children with the attitudes, skills, and knowledge to multiply in, care for, and enjoy the created world

The Psalms

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

Psalm 127:1-5
  • Godly training continually returns to ultimate trust in God.
  • Children are a gift, a reward, a legacy, and an opportunity for overcoming evil in the world with good.


Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Ephesians 6:1-4
  • Godly training is the responsibility of the parents.
  • Godly training involves discipline (body/will) and instruction


And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20
  • Godly training prepares people to obey, and to value, the great
    commission to develop the knowledge, skills, and commitments
    of a disciplemaker.
  • Godly training assumes (requires) the presence of teacher. God
    is present with us as we are present with those we are teaching.


Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. (Proverbs 13:24) 

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6) 

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. (Proverbs 22:15) 

Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol. (Proverbs 23:13-14)

 The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. Discipline your son, and he will give you rest;  he will give delight to your heart. (Proverbs 29:15-17)

  • Godly training is disciplined, fosters self-discipline, and disciplines.
  • Godly teachers are disciplined, cultivate discipline, and discipline.

2 Peter

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:3-8
  • Godly training is training toward conversion, in conversion, and beyond conversion.1
  • Godly training includes the intentional pursuit of moral virtue and knowledge, self-control, persistence, godliness, familial love, and agape love.
  • Godly training results in fruitful service.


And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:11-16

The body of Christ (the church) is the context for training as servants, maturing as persons, and growing in submission to Christ.


For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Colossians 2:1-3
  • Godly training continually points to Jesus.
  • The sincere search for wisdom results in knowing Him.
  • Knowing Him is vital to knowing anything else.


Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

James 3:13-18

Godly training results in humble fruitfulness.

2 Timothy

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:14-17

Godly training is anchored in and aligned with the Bible.

Opportunity & Need

The biblical vision for training and nurturing generations of people who love God and their neighbor is fleshed out in the context of real communities, each one with unique opportunities and needs. What are the current characteristics of conservative Anabaptist communities that should be considered when formulating pictures of what could be?

First, conservative Anabaptist families and churches have demonstrated a widespread ability to raise children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. This provides a platform of great potential. While there are many and troubling exceptions, there is reason to be grateful for the grace of God that is evident among us. Any educational development should build on the existing grace. 

Second, conservative Anabaptists need additional focused, effective training in a broad range of disciplines. This need arises from a number of factors.

  • The increasing expectations for church leaders and church life require training (e.g., Bible study, theology, discipleship, and people care).
  • As we become less agrarian, to function in the 21st Century we need training in the use of technology and in specific vocational pursuits.
  • In addition, obedience to Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations requires preparation. Preparation is not only needed to serve effectively (e.g., the desire to bring healing does not make one a doctor. Preparation does) but preparation is also needed to anchor servants in sound doctrine.

Third, conservative Anabaptists are at a defining moment (a crossroads, a reorientation) in the role and function of education. This claim arises from a consideration of the current challenges to traditional schooling as well as the potential for innovation.

We begin with the challenges that are often cited as making traditional Mennonite schools difficult in some settings and unsustainable in others. 

  • The high cost of traditional schooling: Tuition for single worker homes is difficult in the best of times. What will happen during a recession?
  • The availability and acceptability of non-traditional schooling alternatives like home school or cyber school.
  • Changing family culture: The breakdown of authority structures has serious implications for traditional approaches to schooling. It is increasingly difficult to maintain a healthy, disciplined, and inviting school culture (especially with teenage teachers).
  • Technology: As our children become more accustomed to electronic experiences, traditional schooling will be harder to maintain.
  • Lack of a positive vision for community based education: The original impetus for Mennonite schools arose from concern with the negative influences of the public school. The resultant energy is in decline. More and more parents are asking why we are spending this kind of money and energy when there are cheaper alternatives.
  • Dissatisfaction with the status quo of Mennonite schools: Conservative Mennonite schools have not always provided safe and healthy contexts for children to learn. We have not always done well in managing bullying, crude language, and disrespect. We have not always done well in providing rich, engaging, and motivating learning environments. It is difficult to build support for schools without a positive culture. (An important question to ask is: “Are these challenges which are fixable by fine tuning the existing approach to education?”)

Not only are there significant challenges facing traditional Mennonite schooling but the opportunities for innovation are abundant

  • Technology: The technological developments of the last thirty years are changing what is possible educationally. Online content along with tablet readers could eliminate textbook usage. Some learning tasks that take significant teacher time can be handled by computers (e.g., vocabulary and spelling review and testing). Collaborative learning situations involving homes and schools are enabled by software. Record keeping, testing, and review can be handled electronically.
  • Range of materials: With the advent of the internet and homeschooling, there has been an explosion of new resources for teaching and learning. These resources open many new possibilities for how learning could take place. In addition, hundreds of years of older materials are once again available. This diversity is an opportunity to ask whether there are ways to do school that are in greater alignment with our intentions.
  • Economic stability: While many Mennonite schools have struggled financially, it is also true that we live in a time of relative economic prosperity. We have the funds to do what we want. If we want, the opportunity is here to invest heavily in the curriculum and philosophy that can undergird an approach to training that fits who we are. This is not merely paying the teachers and buying the books for next year, but investing in the schools of the next twenty years.
  • The proliferation of home-school and other non-traditional approaches to education (e.g., self-paced and online curriculums) have opened the doors to rethinking the how of education. For example, the home-school movement has reinforced the value and need for parental anchoring and involvement on education. The increased openness and flexibility gives a window for considering new directions or at least an altered path.

This convergence of opportunity and need may create the conditions that allow for shifts in our educational approach that are more in line with the beliefs, values, and desired outcomes of conservative Anabaptist churches and homes.


An intersection of the biblical directives and the characteristics of Mennonite communities suggest a number of foundational premises. These premises can undergird, guide, and protect any refocusing of our schools.

The big two

  • Godly training has as its primary purpose nurturing love for God. The primary purpose should not be to form smart people or successful people.
  • Godly training will be anchored in the presence of godly, wise, and skilled persons. Godly training will never be fundamentally divorced from a teacher.

Three more

  • Godly training involves formation of the whole person. It is not merely or primarily the accumulation of information. Godly training includes:
    • Vocational Training: skills and understanding directed toward particular work • Biblical Training: a rich vocabulary about God
    • Personal Training: general life skills, knowledge, and understanding
    • Affective Training: forming the will and emotions to align with reality
  • Godly training prepares people to work in the created world for the glory of God. Godly training actively counters the tendency to divide life into sacred and secular categories.
  • Godly training involves a cooperative effort of home, school, and church and not merely the home and school. Godly training is a community-affirming (rather than a fragmenting) function.
    • Parents have primary and final responsibility for the training of their children within the context of the church community. 
    • The church provides corporate direction and support to families (shared purposes, methods, personnel, resources, and spaces).

And several specific to Mennonites

  • Mennonite training should capitalize on the realities of conservative Anabaptist schools (e.g., average of thirty students, multi-grade rooms, students with a strong work ethic
  • Mennonite values and vision need to drive Mennonite approaches to training. Mennonite schooling does not need to look like traditional or contemporary American schools.
  • Mennonite training should emphasize the practices that embody and inculcate Mennonite values. These may include stories, singing, Scripture, and service work.
  • Mennonite education should maximize local contexts (home, workplace, church) and minimize the need for artificial learning environments (e.g., classroom, college).
  • Mennonite schooling should follow the dictates of the state whenever it does not call for disobedience to God.

Ten Possibilities

There are many ways to reconfigure Mennonite schools along the lines described here. In an effort to seed our imaginations and explore the range of possibilities, I offer ten proposals which could strengthen the home and church.

  • Business Curriculum: A majority of graduates from Mennonite schools will likely be involved in business. We could develop and offer rigorous training in business knowledge and skills in grades 7-12. This curriculum would cultivate a kingdom context and Christocentric focus for work, money, and business. The curriculum would aim to form business people who love God in, with, and through their business. 
  • Servant Curriculum: James says that people with understanding will be recognizable by their humility and service. It is consistent with Mennonite values to make a concentrated effort to form graduates who have a global vision of needs, a local commitment to addressing needs, and the skills to make a useful difference. This course could span all twelve grades. Skills developed could include public speaking, discipleship, evangelism, carpentry, small engine repair, survival training, fasting, physical training, foreign language, organization, time management, CPR, first aid, and teaching Sunday school. It should explore creative ways to address genuine needs as part of the course. It could include training and experience in interacting with the poor and homeless as well as people who are of different race, age, IQ, culture, or profession from their own.
  • School/Homeschool Hybrid: The debate between the traditional and home school approaches rarely considers a middle road. Perhaps it would be preferable for some communities to repurpose the school to serve as a facilitating body rather than sole provider of academic instruction. In this partnering approach, the home and school would both be significantly involved in K-12 instruction. However, the center of the educational process would be moved from the school to the home. The majority of the school week would be spent at home in reading, thinking, writing, research, and problem-solving. A school/homeschool hybrid increases the time a child spends at home compared to traditional schooling. This would allow maximizing teacher interaction in areas of import and minimizing the organizational demands that can best be home based. Home and school have vital roles in godly training. Schools can focus on the universal (breadth); Home can focus on the individual (depth). The school however is often needed to facilitate the home’s efforts. If a hybrid model is to work, parents must be willing to invest significant time, energy, and money in the training of their children. Additionally, a wide range of curricular materials would need to be developed to enable this cooperative approach. 
  • Conventional/Self-Paced Hybrid: The self-paced approach to curriculum and schooling unveiled in the 1970’s gave hope to small Mennonite communities that they could have a Christian school. The demands of offering six or more classes for twelve grades simultaneously are seemingly beyond the capabilities of two or three teachers. And when you only have thirty students distributed across the twelve grades, you can only afford two teachers. However, over time the deficiencies of the self-paced model have become increasingly apparent. The most glaring is the minimization of the teacher in the process of learning. Some portions of subjects can be adequately learned in a self-paced approach while other portions rely heavily on teacher presence. A thoughtful, rigorous effort to develop a curriculum that attempts to capture the strengths of each approach may still enable the small school to operate, but now with greater academic integrity. 
  • Formative Stories: The stories we tell powerfully shape our beliefs, and values. It could have far-reaching implications if we make the effort to compile a canon of stories with embedded Anabaptist sensibilities told in ways that capture children’s imaginations. These stories could then provide a consistent and unifying educational framework. James K. A. Smith writes, “It is crucial that the task of Christian education and formation is nested in a story—in the narrative arc of the biblical drama of God’s faithfulness to creation and to his people. . . . All the work of the Christian school needs to be nested in this bigger story—and we need to constantly look for ways to tell that story, to teach in stories, because story is the first language of love. If hearts are going to be aimed toward God’s kingdom, they’ll be won over by good storytellers.”2  
  • Music Curriculum: Mennonites value singing. We could, if we desired, graduate students who were not only prepared to sing well and skillfully lead others in worship, but able to compose new songs as well. Our schools can strengthen our ability to worship through church singing for another generation. Mennonite schools are uniquely positioned to develop students much further in the art of singing than schools from other traditions (and much further than we currently do). Perhaps this is a gift and responsibility that God wants us to develop. 
  • Bible Curriculum: While Mennonite curriculum providers have worked hard to produce Bible curriculums, there are still many areas of theology, Bible, church history, and Christian living where we have not produced materials from an Anabaptist perspective. For example, many of our schools use church history and worldviews materials from Reformed publishers. Additionally, there remains a deficit in substantive integration of an Anabaptist-Christian understanding of the Scriptures and the academic subjects. 
  • Unbounded School: Many of our communities have a school. The physical infrastructure to offer elementary and high school education is in place. Perhaps it would be a better use of the investment (land, building, equipment) if we were to extend the offerings of school for both older and younger people. The greater flexibility could also include educational opportunities from morning to night, all year long.
    • Adult education: This could be leveraged to offer additional training opportunities like night school, adult literacy, foreign language classes, music school, business classes, etc. Perhaps the school can partially replace the farm in the life of our communities. The church can be a place where the church comes together to work, to teach, to pass on life skills and values, to eat, to play. Additionally, it may provide non-threatening avenues for engagement with the unchurched. 
    • Family support and resources: We could expand the purpose of the school to be a hub of learning that assists the home in offering compelling alternatives to the movie/gaming/surfing fixation by providing resources like a library of learning equipment (e.g., potter’s wheel, telescope, microscope, loom), a read-aloud library for parents, and family field trips.
  • Christian Education Administrator: A primary key to the success of any school is the person who is given the authority and responsibility to make it happen. Would it be helpful for churches to select carefully (and by careful I mean a process similar to that used to ordain a church leader) a godly, skilled, wise, trusted community statesman/educator to the full-time vocation of implementing the church’s educational priorities, including the school? It will be vital for this person to be a primary teacher in the school and not merely an administrator. There is probably no more effective way to pursue a positive vision for the school than to vest in a person a mandate, resources, and authority.


If conservative Anabaptist schools are to be a valuable asset and ally of the church and home, it is imperative that we find sustainable solutions to the very real challenges of training our children. This will involve cultivating a vision that goes beyond not wanting our children in the public schools. I doubt that we will find these solutions without devoting large reservoirs of energy and resources to forming schools that are genuinely Christ-centered in methods and outcomes.

This pursuit is not without risk. While avoiding education altogether is an unbiblical and impractical option, ignoring the dangers of education is also unbiblical and destructive. These dangers can be minimized by:

  • Anchoring education in the local church community and homes,
  • Tying education to older, godly, wise, and capable people who are submitted to the church, and by
  • Developing quality curricular resources that align with our beliefs and values.

This is a vision for training that starts with the church. It begins with churches that actively embrace their role to enable a wide range of training opportunities and expectations. It continues with those churches supporting the responsibility of the home while providing a community context for training. This is also a vision for training that places primary responsibility on the home to provide deeply nourishing relationships and environments for children to flourish in their God-shaped orientation. From this context, the school can take its appropriate place as a ministry of the church, acting as the hub of the church’s equipping efforts, connecting homes and teachers and community resources. Together, the church, home, and school can make the needed effort to mobilize overwhelming resources to invest in the character and capability of our children.

Questions for Discussion

  1. As we look to the next 50 years, what may God want to do in and through our Christian school?
  2. If you were designing our school from the ground up, from a thoughtfully Christian perspective and purpose, how would it look different from what is?
  3. Do you agree with these statements:
    1. Godly training has as its primary purpose nurturing love for God. The primary purpose should not be to form smart people or successful people. 
    2. Godly training will be anchored in the presence of godly, wise, and skilled persons. Godly training will never be fundamentally divorced from a teacher.
  4. What are the greatest challenges to operating our Christian School? How can we address those challenges?

This article is the third part of a compilation of essays titled “Where To?”

Work Cited

  1. Paul Zehr, Mennonite Education – What is it? Manuscript
    released March 15, 1982.
  2. James K.A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 160.