ORLANDO — A historic meeting of Florida Baptist Kingdom Education Summit was held earlier this month on May 11 with Southern Baptists pastors, state leaders and Christian school administrators, jointly sponsored by the Southern Baptist Association of Christian School (SBACS) and the Florida Baptist Convention. The event was believed to be the first of its kind, held as a pilot project of SBACS and the Florida Baptist Convention with the hope to launch similar meetings across the nation. It is highly possible that the summit will be soon held in other states.
According to Ed Gamble, executive director of the SBACS, the summit was held hoping to energize school movement and help churches to grow.
Christian schools leader Glen Schultz and other speakers at the Summit called for reuniting the home, church and school in the common task of educating the next generation of Southern Baptists emphasizing that “children are God’s homework assignment to parents.”
The summit was held at First Baptist Church of Orlando and about 80 Florida Baptists involved in or interested in possible involvement in Christian schools gathered.
Gamble noted that although Christian schooling is experiencing significant growth among Southern Baptists, he believes the schools are doing poorly in discipleship.
“The church needs disciples to advance its work, not just converts,” he said. “What we’re seeing in our low growth rate in our denomination is that winning souls alone is an ineffective strategy. … The solution is to reconfigure the boot camps—that is—take ownership of the education of our own children.”
Calling it the “mandate” for Southern Baptists on the matter of “Kingdom education,” Gamble cited the article on education in the Baptist Faith and Message at the summit, which was adopted in 1925:
“… the cause of education in the Kingdom of Christ is co-ordinate with the causes of missions and general benevolence, and should receive along with these the liberal support of the churches. An adequate system of Christian education is necessary to a complete spiritual program for Christ’s people. …”
Referring to the Southern Baptist Convention as a combat vessel in the culture war, Gamble emphasized education as an important tool to enhance churches. He said:
“If we awake the SBC to the power of education to strengthen our churches and enhance them, all of the sudden we have the capacity within the next 20 years by the grace of God to change the way things are happening.”
Gamble also cited SBC President Jack Graham’s call for Southern Baptists to “look more seriously at establishing Kingdom schools” as further evidence that the denomination is positioned to advance Christian education like never before.
In brief remarks at the Summit, John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, said the Convention’s priority of developing and strengthening churches is what “brings us to the table today, to see if there is a way that we can network with each other to strengthen our churches” through Christian schools.
Many of the pastors at the summit supported the idea of strengthening Christian schooling. As Gamble praised the sponsorship of the summit by the Florida Baptist Convention, he said: “We need the legitimacy and acceptance for Christian schooling that partnering with a state convention brings in order to make Christian schools a mainstream part of our Southern Baptist life.”
Ed Johnson, pastor of First Baptist Church, Ocala, said, “I do think our State Convention should be studying how to have a proactive role in the encouragement of Christian education.”
Jimmy Dale Patterson, pastor of Central Baptist Church in Sanford, said that support from the Florida Baptist Convention “will greatly facilitate the development of existing churches, one of Dr. Sullivan’s three goals for our state.”
Patterson also suggested that the state Convention consider adding a staff member to “encourage, educate, support and network Florida Baptist churches considering or already involved in Christian schooling.”
James Kibelbek, pastor of First Baptist Church, Port Charlotte, said that a task force should be established to “investigate the possibilities of how to further develop an awareness to the need of Christian education as well as ways to assist in providing financial assistance to this vital ministry.”
Kibelbek, whose church sponsors a Christian school, noted that other denominations—especially Catholics—have seen the value of church schools. “Our denominational leaders/servants as well as our more visible pastors need to take the lead,” he added.
While there are some opposing views toward Christian schools as they are seen as a distraction from the main purpose of the church, Bob Brooks, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dunnellton, addressed the Summit participants, “We don’t look at [church funding for his school] as competition; they compliment each other. We function as one ministry.”
Brooks noted that his church’s school contributed to about 60 percent of church growth in the last year.
“It’s one of the greatest evangelistic outreaches that we have,” Brooks said, noting that the church has grown to 25 FAITH evangelistic teams in the current year and plans to have 50 next year.
Jim Henry, pastor of First Baptist Church, Orlando, listed recruiting new families for the church as one of the benefits to the church its school has provided since its founding in 1987.
Glen Schultz, director of LifeWay Christian School Resources, said that Southern Baptists must think of Christian schools in a new way. “If the school is a ministry of the church, that is the church.” Helping Southern Baptists to understand this reality is “going to take a big paradigm shift.”
Schultz added, “We do not consult with churches to start Christian schools in my office. We consult them to expand ministry to include schools.”
Professional golfer Lee Janzen and his wife Bev, parents of a fourth-grader at First Baptist, Orlando’s school, participated in the summit and supported the idea of endorsing Kingdom education in order to instill a biblical worldview in their child.
During the meeting Bev Jansen said, “If we had to battle what the public schools are teaching our children, I don’t know if we would make it. … We have got to join our schools and our churches and our homes.”
Lee Jansen said, “Years down the road if we had a school at every Baptist church, just think how many more kids will be taught properly … they’ll be able to defend their faith.”
He added, “I’m challenging you to step-up and do something that’s going to have a positive impact on not only your church, but your community, your town, your state and your country.”
Founded in 1979, SBACS is a group of 100 schools that are affiliated with Southern Baptist churches.