Summer 1998

Volume 17, Issue 2


Dr. Bruce Lockerbie is Chairman and CEO of PAIDEIA, Inc. (pie-day-ah), a team of consultants working with schools, colleges, seminaries, churches, and other public interest institutions. He is also Chairman of the Olympus Group, which offers counsel on sports-entertainment events and programming. He holds two degrees from New York University and for thirty-four years served on the faculty of The Stony Brook School in Long Island, New York. Upon leaving the school, he was the Thomas F. Staley Foundation Scholar-in-Residence.

Lockerbie is author, co-author, or editor of more than three dozen books whose topics range from aesthetics and biography to family living and popular theology. His most recent volume is Dismissing God: Modern Writers' Struggle Against Religion. A frequent lecturer, he has also contributed hundreds of articles and essays to various publications.

Q. Is it true that church-goers are giving less to the church than in recent years?

A. Yes. Studies by George Barna and others indicate that the Baby Boomer generation is not as generous as earlier generations in support of worthy causes, whether they be Christian ministries or the United Way. Church contributions, while continuing to rise, in actual inflation-dollars have been dropping since the late 1960s as a percentage of after-tax income. It is true that huge sums of money are being given, but in relation to earnings it is not enough. For example, Bill Gates has given 200 million dollars to worthy causes in the last four or five years, but out of his 4.5 billion fortune, that's not a big expenditure. The same is true in proportionate terms with regard to individuals within congregations.

Q. Why are people giving less?

A. Among the reasons is the loss of spiritual instruction due to the clergy's lack of courage in addressing both moral issues and money issues; they tend to skirt direct statements about right and wrong. Rather than drawing on Scripture, tradition, or theological learning, pastors give church members the same kind of common sense psychological advice that could be attained almost anywhere. Also, many pastors simply avoid preaching about money because they know that it will create anxiety in the congregation.

Q. What can be done about the problem?

A. Preachers should quit saying "I'm O.K., you're O.K., and begin preaching from First Corinthians 8 and 9. They should be citing the authority of Scripture as to why giving is not optional. It's not a fee we pay in order to belong to the church. Think about it this way: What do we say to the members of our families on Christmas morning? "I love you, but of course I have no gift or token of that love." Not many of us would chance that approach, would we? If we love God, we will show it somehow. And what better evidence of our love for Him than by generous giving, according to our means, which is what St. Paul urges?

Q. Are Christian schools having trouble finding donors?

A. Not when they become enlightened to the realities. We have found that Christian school leaders have not been trained well in the areas of gaining financial stability and support. Their studies have been heavy on curriculum, philosophy of Christian schooling, and the integration of faith and learning. But they have not learned how to raise money. We have people all over the country who lament the fact that they must raise money and don't know how to.

In addition, many of those raising money are doing it in antiquated ways, with bake sales and chocolate sales. Younger board members are seeing the problem. They typically sit quietly at board meetings for a number of months, then finally say, "If I ran my business the way we run this school, I couldn't afford to send my children here because I'd be bankrupt." People then begin to see how foolish they have been. Instead of bake sales, school leaders need to ask people to support their mission. Large donations don't come from candy sales.

Q. What would you like to see happen in the future concerning Christian education?

A. I would like to see a re-emphasis of awe and reverence in worship and a disappearance of "feel good religion." People who arrive in heaven in their blue jeans and short shorts are going to be struck suddenly by the necessity to fall down prostrate before the throne. We dress up for our employers from Monday to Friday, but come Sunday morning, it's only the Lord of the Universe, so anything goes. It's not so much formality, but a recognition of our place before God. I recognize that the prodigal son didn't put on a tuxedo to come back home. But once back, he bathed, shaved, and shed his "pigsty" appearance. It seems to me that meshing rigorous, biblical exposition is increasingly hard with a "feel good" mood in the congregation. The preacher is at a disadvantage when everything else, including the nature of the music and the frivolity, connotes a club meeting rather than entering into the sacred presence of a thrice-holy God who is a consuming fire.

Q. How do you feel about private education versus public education?

A. Some people are called to the work of public education. There is a place in our society for it. Certainly common and special grace are at work in the lives of those who are consciously committed to being witnesses in the work there.

The goal of public education is to produce literate, thoughtful, and perhaps even caring citizens. But public education is merely a mirror that reflects society. It does not determine the nature of society. The reason that the Ten Commandments are not on the walls of schools in certain states is that they are not on the walls of homes either. Put another way, insolence in the classroom begins at the breakfast table at home. Children who are well-mannered at home do not suddenly become terrors at school.

Public education is, in fact, on the rocks and for the same reason that society at large is on the rocks: we have come upon a period when it is no longer fashionable to include God in the equation. That's what my new book Dismissing God intends to show. Using the example of writers over the last 150 years, I trace the decline from faith to skepticism, to unbelief, to militant disbelief, and on to cold contempt for the very notion of faith. What is true in literature is also true throughout the arts -- and mirrors what is essentially true in presumably sophisticated homes and families. So we should not be surprised that unruly kids and horror stories come out of public schools; but independent schools will not be immune if they too treat God in a dismissive manner.

Even so, people seem to be forsaking public schooling in droves. For the first time, the census of 2000 will show a very substantial increase in the number of children now enrolled in non-public schools. For years it has been between nine and twelve per cent, but in the next census it will be very much closer to fifteen to seventeen per cent.

There are very good reasons for the existence of private schools. Public schools must, of necessity, educate the entire populous that shows up. It must adjust its resources to address the very brightest and the most limited. The vast middle, the ninety per cent which constitutes the nice kids who are simply going to school, are often treated as though they were one lump. That's partially because of the size of the population and partially because one can give only so much attention with the tax-based funding of the school.

An independent school exists because it has a mission -- to educate the particular type of students it chooses to admit. It does not say, "We exist here to educate anybody living within the immediate two square miles." They do not deter children from succeeding at the level at which they are capable of succeeding. So an independent school can target its services to the sort of student it wishes to have. The better the school, the more closely it will fulfill that mission

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Last updated 2-1-1999.