Growing a School Culture that is Mission Minded | Sandra Scott

6 July 2022

Culture... hard to define and even harder to quantify. It is rarely ‘written down’. And yet the culture of a place is undeniably visible and quickly experienced. In short, culture is ‘the way we do things around here’.  CSA’s website expands, “In a Christian school, this is about Kingdom Education – having Christ at the centre, holding all we do together and giving it purpose and reason. Culture is captivated in our stories, our interactions, processes, mission … [in] shared assumptions, values, beliefs and practices that govern the behaviours exhibited and approaches taken in a Christian school.” [1] 

Most Christian schools profess to be mission-minded.  But how is a mission-minded culture experienced and recognised? What descriptors would you ascribe to a ‘mission-minded school culture’?

God's Mission... profoundly simple. Redeem all of creation. Establish His Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. Reconcile all peoples to Himself. On earth, Jesus was a man on a mission! He had a purpose which He intentionally fulfilled. Even as a child, Jesus said, “I must be about my Father’s business.” (Luke 2:49) And then He passed the baton to His followers, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Despite our inadequacies and imperfections, Jesus has passed that baton to you and to me. “As Christ’s ambassadors and God’s fellow workers, we believe that Christ’s mission is our mission, and as such, followers of Jesus are called to participate in God’s redemptive plan of healing, renewing and restoring all things”. (CSA Proclaim Statement) [2]

In Christian schools... is our huge privilege and responsibility to grow and nurture a mission-minded culture in which a new generation can experience the joy, fulfilment and even the self-sacrifice of taking their place in a story far bigger than anything they could otherwise imagine. But it won’t just happen! So how do we do that?

Here are some suggestions.

1. Assess your current school culture.

 Now that the pandemic ‘hibernation’ we’ve all endured has come to an end, it’s timely to consider how you will re-invigorate your mission-minded culture. Did you find new ways to be mission-minded or did you by default become self-focused? How aligned are your school vision and mission statements with what actually happens from day to day? Have they drifted apart? We know that culture deeply influences outcomes and that many parents intentionally choose schools with a mission-minded culture. A whole-school missional focus requires committed leadership. However, knowing that culture isn’t dictated by one person, effective leaders help their staff at all levels make the connection between what drives them personally and the school’s missional purpose. 

2. Tell your school’s stories.

 Culture is communicated through story. Inspire and challenge your students. How did your school come into being? How has your school participated in ‘the Father’s business”?  Celebrate the stories of your graduates who are making a difference to the cultures of their workplaces and communities. Challenge your staff by asking them what over-arching narrative are their students hearing that is different from what students at the state school down the road are hearing. As good and honourable as they may be, instill a desire for something far bigger for your students than NAPLAN results or ATAR scores or a well-paid career.

3. Integrate a mission-mind.

 Avoid a ‘curricula / extra-curricula’ dichotomy, where mission only fits into the extra-curricula category. Such dualism eventually requires students to choose one or the other. If you are loving your neighbours by planting trees in the local park or singing Christmas carols at the nursing home or cooking meals for homeless people, do it as part of your Science or Music or Food & Hospitality curriculum. If you are loving your nation by participating in a reconciliation breakfast or attending an ANZAC event, do it as part of your History or Civics curriculum. And if you are planning an overseas mission trip or sister school zoom connection, consider aligning it with Geography, or Languages other than English, or the Asia and Australia’s Engagement with Asia Cross-Curricula Priority. After all, our teaching and learning programs are not ends in themselves, nor is academic rigour per se diminished by a mission-minded approach. The Australian Curriculum provides ample opportunity for the development and inclusion of mission-minded units of work. Check out the CSA Christian Studies 2.0 Service Learning Companion Document for a myriad of practical ways in which a mission-minded culture can be infused into all aspects of school life. CSA’s many God’s Big Story resources are also well worth investigating.

4. Live the mission.

Jesus said, “I am preaching the good news of the kingdom AND I am showing the good news of the Kingdom. (Luke 7:22-23) Behaviour, not knowledge, defines culture. Be a servant-hearted person full of grace and generosity. Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8) The New Testament Christians were marginalised in their society but lived out their mission in imaginative and joyful ways. Look for ways to be a genuine blessing to others. A number of our schools have been supporting Ukrainians affected by war – whether by welcoming refugee students or by holding fund-raising events to support schools in war-ravaged regions. People recognise real love when they see it up close. Relationship is key. Cultural change happens moment by moment, through personal interactions and experiences. By living the mission, you are modelling to the whole school community that ‘this is the way we do things around here’. This is ‘our way of being’. This is our culture.

5. Balance the risks

A school culture that is mission-minded requires bold leadership. It may be messy, it may involve complications and it undoubtedly requires highly committed mission-minded staff members. It may require financial investment and professional learning opportunities for staff. However, there is no growth in a place of comfort and safety. In our schools we have a unique opportunity to equip students to carry the presence of Christ wherever they go. We can empower young people to step out of their comfort zones and become locally and globally active citizens. Partnering with experienced mission-minded organisations and existing local agencies is a great starting point and CSA can help with that if required.

In conclusion...

......wherever you are on the ‘mission-minded culture’ continuum, the above suggestions are merely catalysts for further conversations around growing and maintaining a thriving mission-minded culture in Christian schools. Culture-building in any organisation is a process, and must be built and nurtured not only by leadership, but by every staff member. You can start small, but do start somewhere! And in one hundred years, if our schools are defined by a uniquely recognisable Christian culture, then we have done something good.

An opportunity...

Registrations are now open for the CSA National Leaders' Summit in Cairns on Aug 31-Sept 2.

If you are thinking of attending, you will have the opportunity to meet and hear the stories of two very inspirational and dynamic growers of mission-minded Christian school cultures. Mai Le is Founding Principal of Golden Dream Academy in Vietnam and Ces Tajale is Country Director of ACSI Philippines. Places at the conference are filling fast.

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