Partnering with local schools provides an opportunity for churches to live as missionaries in their own communities.
By Daryl Crouch
“We need churches. We need the community. Please don’t give up on us.” That was the appeal in a recent conversation I had with a director of schools in my home state.
Jeff Luttrell, the director of schools in Wilson County, Tennessee, recently said to a group of church and community partners, “We need this partnership. We cannot do this without you.”
Every child in your community attends school. The majority attend public schools, but others attend private schools as well as homeschool co-ops or tutorials. Each of these children are created by God to know Him, experience His grace, and live for His glory.
Current social, cultural, and church trends, however, take a toll. Approximately 80% of Tennessee residents, for example, are not connected to a local church. One in 4 children in our local public schools qualify for free lunches. Family structures are unstable. Loneliness is an epidemic. And opioid use and addiction continue to ravage individuals and families.
Recognizing the needs in schools
Our neighbors, rich and poor, are buckling under the weight of spiritual lostness and all the brokenness that comes with it.
That means the child entering the school building each day is likely carrying more than textbooks on her back. She is not ready to learn. Instead, she’s hungry for food, attention, encouragement, hope, and love.
Partnering with local schools provides an opportunity for churches to live as missionaries in their own communities by offering practical help and lasting hope to educators, students, and families every day.“Partnering with local schools provides an opportunity for churches to live as missionaries in their own communities by offering practical help and lasting hope to educators, students, and families every day.” — @darylcrouch Click To Tweet
Before going to the local principal’s office to offer your services, however, it’s important to remember brokenness is a relationship problem that is only remedied through meaningful relationships. Schools are not a project to fix. They are a relationship to build, nurture, and deepen.
Consider these seven steps for developing a school partnership near you:
1. Begin with prayer
The apostle Paul wanted to go to Asia, but the Holy Spirit prevented him in order to send him to Macedonia.
“During the night Paul had a vision in which a Macedonian man was standing and pleading with him, “Cross over to Macedonia and help us!” After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:9-10, CSB).
There are likely several schools in your community, and all of them need help. Many factors will influence what school you reach out to, but seeking the Lord and listening to Him must come first.
2. Determine to serve
Jesus came not to be served, but to serve and to give Himself as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). So, begin by asking educators what they need, and commit to working that plan. We may think we know what they need, and we may think we know what we want to do. But our priority is to do what principals and teachers need the most to serve their students and families.
So, first determine to serve. Sit down with the principal and ask, “What can we do to help you be successful.” And then allocate church resources of time, attention, staffing, and money to do whatever is needed.“Sit down with the principal and ask, ‘What can we do to help you be successful.’ And then allocate church resources of time, attention, staffing, and money to do whatever is needed.” — @darylcrouch Click To Tweet
3. Establish a relationship at the district level
It may be tempting to begin with the principal of a school near you or one you already know. But principals are responsible to the director of schools.
In order to establish a viable partnership, make an appointment with the director of schools first. Share your desire to serve educators and students. Then ask what factors are most important at the district level. What are the opportunities and challenges schools face? What’s the best path forward?
These conversations build trust, provide insight, and open doors.
4. Prepare volunteers to meet the needs of the school
Good intentions are not enough. Educators operate in a world of systems, processes, and measurables. There are rules that help students and faculty stay safe. The school board and state have established policy guidelines and academic standards.
When volunteers step into a school, they are stepping into a key institution in the community that has many stakeholders.
To serve students and educators in the best possible way with the opportunity we have, we must do our homework. When we prepare well, we serve well.
5. Earn trust
We love God and our neighbors. We are motivated by Jesus to volunteer our time and money. That is good, but it is not enough. Schools are familiar with groups that say they want to help but in reality, have their own agenda. Educators know what that feels like and how that distracts from their mission.
Dr. Henry Cloud recently said, “Trust is fuel.” Everything runs on the rails of relationships, and trust is the fuel that moves the relationships forward. But trust requires faithfulness over time.“Everything runs on the rails of relationships, and trust is the fuel that moves the relationships forward. But trust requires faithfulness over time.” — @darylcrouch Click To Tweet
Therefore, be patient. Give the school the opportunity to know you and trust you. Do what you can with the opportunities you have and keep the long view in mind. Be faithful in the small things. They tend to open up to greater things.
6. Be a culture-shifter
School principals and teachers are responsible for a broad scope of responsibilities from feeding kids, to responding to family crises, to nurturing students’ mental health, and then to educating them. Whatever is happening in families behind their front door at home is on display in the school building every day of the school year.
The emotional drain on educators is real. Many school districts have trouble recruiting and keeping good teachers.
When churches show up, it is a breath of fresh air to schools. Your consistency over time, your genuine friendship, your kindness to overlook offenses, your generosity to meet needs, and your ministry of presence change the culture in the school. It’s life-giving.
7. Publicly champion the school
Education is a current lightening rod for controversy. The challenges are significant and substantive. But when you get involved in local schools, churches will find the overwhelming majority of educators are doing amazing work. There is much to celebrate.
Find ways to publicly champion local schools, students, and educators. Recognize them and pray for them during worship gatherings. Speak well of them with friends. Cheer for them in the public square, and model God’s grace for the world to see.
A friend of mine recently said, “You can’t change what you don’t love.” Paul said without love, all we say is just noise (1 Corinthians 13).
Partnering with schools gives churches the opportunity to love our neighbors well, build relationships for gospel witness, join the mission of God in our communities, and move us all a little closer to the life God created us to live.
For permission to republish this article, contact Marissa Postell Sullivan.
Daryl Crouch is the executive director of Everyone’s Wilson, a network of gospel-loving churches working together for the good of the community. Prior to this role, he pastored churches in Texas and Tennessee for 28 years. He and his wife Deborah have four children.
If you want help taking your next step in creating a vibrant church-school partnership, please reach out to Daryl Crouch here.