Stories & Commentaries

Learning and Loving for Eternity

Blackmer stock photoWow, what time is it? It seems that just a short time ago I was the youngest principal in the room, and later the youngest conference associate superintendent. Wasn’t it only yesterday that I was looking forward to trying to implement change and innovation with the Adventist school system?

I just glanced at my watch and realized that my first day as a teacher was more than 40 years ago. I am no longer the “young buck,” but rather “the establishment,” the gray-haired sage. When did that happen?

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on a long career and attempting to ascertain what I did that was truly important during those years. I’ve determined that although meetings and policies are a vital part of our educational process and, in time, often result in needed systemic change, what really is important are the people who touch our lives, and lives that we hope we have touched along the way.

I am almost finished organizing the list of breakout meeting presenters for the 2018 NAD Teachers Convention to be held in Chicago on August 6-9. It is amazing and heartwarming to see on that list names of students I have taught and teachers I have connected with who are now leading out and making a difference in God’s work of education.

Here’s the reason the Adventist Church supports Adventist education: not only to help students grow and develop into fine citizens who can support and encourage families, but also so they can develop lifelong and eternal relationships through which God can speak to and through them. Adventist education is more than sharing knowledge with students; it is teachers and administrators having a personal relationship with Jesus that is infectious. This allows students to see in us the Jesus we ourselves love, so they, too, will desire a close relationship with their Savior. Even though I can reflect on my ministry and see many instances in which I believe I made a positive difference in a student’s life, unfortunately, I also see times when my witness wasn’t what it should have been — and I will always remember those instances with regret.

Throughout the decades the church has garnered lots of statistics that indicate, among other positives, that the longer children are in Adventist education, the longer they tend to stay in the church, the better the chances that they will pay tithe, and the higher probability they will marry another Adventist with similar beliefs and values. Adventist education undoubtedly plays a major role in the lives of those who choose to attend our schools. But it also plays a significant role in the church as a whole.

When I was an associate education superintendent I conducted a conference study that revealed that churches connected to a school through a constituency had higher tithe and membership growth compared with churches that were not involved with an Adventist school. Every year more that 40,000 young people are baptized into the Adventist Church worldwide as a result of Adventist education. This is the equivalent of adding one large conference to the church every year!

Yes, there are struggles and challenges involved with keeping a church school alive and well. But throughout my 40 years in Adventist education I have seen again and again that in districts with a strong pastor-principal team-oriented approach, the struggle is less intense. Church-and-school-shared ministry is the way forward in developing strong churches and strong schools.

What time is it? It’s time that we collectively strengthen our commitment to our children, both those in our schools and the children and families that have made other choices. Every Adventist child deserves to know Jesus as their personal Savior within the context of the Adventist worldview. Where is a child or young person going to learn about the biblical Adventist teachings of the sanctuary message, the remnant church, or the role of Ellen White?

Yes, we have Pathfinders, Sabbath School, family worship — they all play vital roles. Yet sometimes these are not enough. If our children do not attend Adventist schools, where these values are mapped into the curriculum, they may not learn the biblical principles that define the Adventist worldview as being unique, or have the educational role models they need to lead them to develop more fully their own personal relationship with Jesus.

As I reflect on my career I can celebrate God’s rich blessings and the lives that are different today because of the dedicated and committed teachers we have in the Adventist school system. I look around at the administrators who are committed to ensuring that the whole child is developing mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. And I look forward to having the youth we have trained take charge of this church, it’s message of hope and wholeness, and share that message with a world that is begging for light.

I can tell you from an old man’s perspective of 40 years working for the church, that God is still in charge. I am confident that He who began a good work in His children will “carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6, NIV).

— Larry Blackmer is vice president of education for the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.