Work in the Kingdom and Kingdom Work

Consider this my contribution to a broad discussion that is occurring among classical Christian schools. The question concerns how our schools are to be adequately funded. There are, of course, many ways to go about this, but let me limit my discussion to two very common options. The first is the tuition/tithe donation model, and the second would be the full tuition model.

If a school has a cracker jack development office, then they can have upwards of 15% of their budget funded by donations. If they opt for the full tuition model, then 100% of their budget would be covered by the tuition payments. Left out of the equation would be donations for capital improvements and so forth. Logos School currently follows the tuition/tithe donation model, which I greatly prefer, and for the reasons outlined below.

The basic question has to do with what a Christian school is. Is it a business, or is it a ministry, or is it a hybrid? I would argue that when it is functioning properly, it will be necessarily a hybrid, and should therefore receive hybrid funding.

On the one hand, it is a business, and should be funded by those families who are receiving the services rendered. Such a school teaches a number of subjects that are primarily oriented toward things which are the responsibility of the family to provide — calculus, say, or typing and PE. On the other hand, it is also a ministry — Bible classes, integrated worldview thinking, Greek, choral music, etc. These subjects mean that it is appropriate for it to be funded by the tithe.

In the Old Testament, the tithe was paid to the Levites, who in turn paid their tithe to the priests and the Temple service. The Levites were given 48 cities, and their responsibility in those cities was teaching. They were responsible to teach the Law, and to teach music, and so forth.

Having said this, a quick distinction should be made here between donations and the tithe. Alumni of some secular school like Harvard might be fond of the old alma mater, and may want to give money to sit on top of the kajillions that they already have, which is certainly lawful — but it wouldn’t be a lawful use of the tithe. The tithe needs to go to kingdom work, not to lawful work. An automotive repair school is lawful work, but shouldn’t be maintained by the tithe.

If a school shifts to a full tuition model, they are saying, in effect, that all of their instruction is to be paid for by tuition, and may not therefore be supported by a tithe. If a Christian opens a successful widget factory, and he runs it as a successful business, and all the employees are Christians, and the sale of the widgets pays for everything, then it would be inappropriate for him to receive any gift that was someone’s tithe offering. It would be fine to receive a gift, but not a tithe gift. It is work in the kingdom, but not kingdom work.

The same kind of thing applies one layer out. One of the reasons our church has a Christian Education Fund is in order to help parents fulfill their basic covenantal obligations in providing a godly education — and this is an appropriate use, by the church, of tithe money that has been given to the church. We are supporting the work of modern day Levites, who are working in conjunction with private teachers who are serving parents who are doing their job. Kingdom work and work in the kingdom is going on side by side.

Now it would be fine for the church to use a Deacon’s Fund for something that has nothing to do with Levitical ministry — remedial dental care, say. But if a school goes to a 100% tuition model, then the almost certain result will be that it has become a high end private school option, and the deacons really ought to be looking for other options that would fulfill the basic obligations, but without the gold plating. So let me address that for a moment.

A financial rule of thumb for ordinary folks is that they ought not to spend more than 28-36 percent of their income on their mortgage. Let’s take a figure on the lower end of that that range, and call it 30%. In Latah County, where I live, the average income is around 35K annually. This means the average mortgage ought to be in the neighborhood of $10,500. Now suppose some of these folks have their four kids in a private classical Christian school, at the astoundingly low rate of 4K a child. That’s is 16K for the batch, and 6K above what they are paying for their house. It also leaves them with 9K for the year to spend on everything else — stuff like food and gas.

And a school that has its tuition as low as 4K is almost certainly functioning on the tuition/donation model. Suppose they went to a full tuition model, and let us say that we try to keep the tuition for their 4 kids at the same level as their mortgage — 30%. If the tuition were raised to 8K per child, then that would be 32K annually. If that is 30% of their income, then their income would have to be around 100K annually.

Now someone with that income is in the top third of American wage earners. And remember that this needs to be the new average income of the average family sending their kids to this school — unless, of course, the parents involved are going with the zeitgeist and have only 1.2 children. But in either case, you have a very different school than the one you started with. You have a school that for two cents more will become a simple prep school. The deacons aren’t going to want to spend tithe money on a Cadillac school, and the average donations of tithe gifts will also dry up, as they ought to.

One other thing, lest anyone think I have given way to the egalitarian snark that likes to envy the rich, and which begrudges wealthy parents the right to educate their children. Not at all. I actually believe that such parents are just as obligated to provide their children with a godly education, and if the cost of living in their town is bumping up against the ceiling, and they need to pay teachers who have to live there too, I have no problem with their tuition being much higher than ours is. I bet their eggs and milk cost more too. In certain wealthy communities, that is the way it has to be.

But most classical and Christian schools are not in that situation, and I believe in many circumstances it is very difficult to strive to get into such a situation without selling your soul.

More on this subject later.

Theology That Bites Back



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  • carole

    It’s not even Thursday!  Pastor am I reading correctly that bringing up children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord is solely the parental responsibility or are you saying it is equally the church’s responsibility?  Are Christian and Classical schools assisting the parents or are they too fulfilling a responsibility?  Ultimately, I really just want to pin you down on why your prefer a school to homeschool…

  • Eric Stampher

    So how did bible or choral music class get cut from the family’s responsibility and move to the church?  Isn’t understanding calculus correctly a worldview effort?

  • Eric Stampher

    Why not simply tithe to the deacon’s school ministry? — helping those on the edge of affording the ministry of Christian calculus and Bible class?

  • Matt

    I’m not Pastor Wilson, but I’ll offer my two cents. The responsibility to raise the children is the parent’s and the church/school can assist as delegated by the parents. Eph 6:4, Deut 6:7 and most of Proverbs would give the responsibility to the parents. At the same time, the Bible has no quibble with delegation when appropriate (Exodus 18, Jesus sending out the disciples, etc.)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      As to the last question, I’d suggest that one reason is that a school institution is a far more efficient use of resources. I (as well as a gaggle of brothers and sisters) were homeschooled from kindergarten to college and my wife and I are enrolling our children in the local classical Christian school. Homeschooling was a great option when my parents did it twenty years ago but I believe a classical Christian school is a far more efficient use of resources for most people. That being said, if there were no good school nearby we would certainly teach our children at home. I believe Pastor Wilson has said as much in one (or more) of his books on education

  • carole

    Thank you, Matt.

  • Tim H

    Why does a school need to take a stand on tithe vs donation? Don’t ask, don’t tell. It’s hard for me to imagine any school refusing a donation, even if they have the “full tuition model.” But why have that as a model in any case, except as a way of worst-case planning?

  • albrevin

    I send my kids to a Classical Christian school in my hometown. Pastor Wilson helped it get started, btw. Great school and a hybrid-lite model. Tuition costs have gone way up and the school has set itself up more as an elite prep school. 
    Question? My wife and I pay a tithe to our local church. On top of that, we are paying + $30,000 for 3 kids at the school. We’ve tried homeschooling one at a time to lower the bills, but that has not gone that well. (plenty of reasons which I won’t divulge but it just has not, our family does better with us being reinforcers of what they learn at their school). Now, the question, would it be biblical/god-honoring to take some of the tithe money we’re paying to our local church and use that to fund the kid’s Classical Christian education?

  • Ronnie

    Pastor Wilson,
    I understand you to be saying that the deacons need to make sure that tithe money is going to something genuinely Christian and a good Christian school will make the tuition as low as possible to serve a greater percentage of the community. The deacons also have an obligation to spend wisely, and so good value for the money spent is a factor (not a Cadillac school but a Honda Accord school?). Is this the gist of it?
    When one is foolish enough to try and create a classical Christian school, how do you put this into practice? You are never certain of the number of tuition checks you will receive, but you know that teachers will expect to be paid, the building rent will come due, and a few supplies will likely be required. Unless the school is a direct mission of a single congregation, how do you function outside of the tuition based model? There are enough unknowns with the tuition model to create mild panic attacks. How do you also make sure your tuition will be in the deacon acceptability zone?
    The truth is that good Christian education is expensive. I know many Christian parents who choose to homeschool simply because they can’t afford the Christian schools. I live in one of the poorest areas of the country and the average private middle school tuition is 8K+ per year.
    What is your opinion of University Model School approach as an option to lower tuition? This kind of hybrid approach requires much more from the parents, but because the classroom hours are fewer, the salary costs are reduced and the tuition can be somewhat lower.

  • David

    Doug, when you say at the end of the post, “more”, I hope that includes a clear explanation of how you separated PE and Bible class. Generally,  if I want my kids to participate in some sports activity I enroll them in a local Club and pay the fee for the privilege. Bible class I would have understood as a parental task which the church supports as part of its ministry. You seem to view Bible class as a service rendered and PE as a parental task. Any chance you got those wrong way around? 

  • carole

    So I think I get it.  Biblical and choral instruction is a shared responsibility but these could be met by Sunday school education or Bible study through out the week, whereas Mathematics, Science,  while still requiring instruction in a Christian worldview, are solely the responsibility of the parents.  Therefore, a church is not compelled to open a day school, but it would be within it’s duties if it chose to do so.  I have heard you and Nancy speak about opening Logos, and I thought I understood you to say you came to that decision based on your daughter’s needs, not as a pastoral duty.  So I still wonder why you chose not to homeschool instead.  Did you consider that as an option?  Was assisting  your flock also part of your decision? Or do you think there is a benefit other than sharing resources to a group school?  If a family had a Classical and Christian school available, would you advise them to be part of it rather than homeschool or do you see them as equal options?

  • Sarah C.

    I have an idea for lowering the building cost of schooling (which is typically 40% of tuition). Instead of building a huge facility that is only used 9 months of the year, build a neighborhood with a shared yard and fields. The students would meet in specially designed classrooms in the host homes. There could be one large assembly space and gym for a church to also use. I haven’t run any numbers, but the more shared expenses, the cheaper for all. If anyone wants to discuss more, let me know. Our school is not yet ready to build.

  • Patrick

    Thank you for this, Doug. Have you written more extensively elsewhere about your definitions of, and distinctions between, kingdom work and work in the kingdom? It would be helpful for me to review before trying to understand your thinking on education.

  • Brian G. Daigle

    Speaking from our own experience, and a bit of ‘research’ (because this word has tons of clout in modern education), we are going into our third year of a classical Christian university model school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a city which perhaps has the most Christian schools per capita of any city in the United States. With my wife and I having run the gamut in teaching in and being around Christian schools of all sorts, there are a few important points that are central to this discussion: 
    1.Tails can wag dogs, especially the stupid dogs which chase their tails in a circle. Schools confuse adjuncts for essentials and therefore the essence of a good education (much more a good Christian education) is lost, but not without big donors, playing politics, and flashy words like “college prep”. Base endorsements from local churches and ‘proof texts’ don’t hurt to assist in tail-chasing.   
    2.A diamond-bedazzled tail costs more than the dog. The tail which ends up doing the wagging costs more than the dog ever did. Tuition shoots up and the flashy words are again flashed (“college prep!”). Athletic prowess and popular prowess overshadows true learning and before you know it, you hire a basketball coach with a clean background check who can read well enough to stand in as a 5th period bible teacher. “Today, students, we are going to talk about Saul’s perseverance and how that will help us beat City High, a great Goliath, in tonight’s homecoming game!” 
    3.Christian churches have more vision for pop youth groups than legitimate Christian education. Chris Schlect wrote a great little primer on this, Critique of Modern Youth Ministry. Local schools will not become what local churches have not already become. If we expect our local Christian schools to be what they ought to be, local Christian churches must first showcase those attributes and values. One of the effects of this is that Christian families have taken Christian education as an option rather than a necessary response to a covenant-keeping God, or worse as merely a way to escape the failing public system. Another effect is that to keep doors open, football fields painted, teachers fed, and heaters running, schools must increase tuition, which could be mostly mitigated (or at least alleviated) if all local Christian churches allotted just 1% of its tithe to assisting a local Christian school, or if local Christian churches rented their classrooms (not used during the week) for weekly educational purposes, as several churches have done for us here in Baton Rouge. This has significantly decreased our overhead and therefore kept our tuition at almost 70% lower than the average private tuition in Baton Rouge (appx. 8K). There are great benefits for both Christian schools and Christian churches for having a close, supportive relationship which extends beyond finances.     
    4.If Christian schools expect local tithing/donations to offset bills, schools (we) must be better stewards of our money. Boards, and especially parents, must do a better job at considering what type of pork floats around in school hallways, sucking tuition dollars (overpayed administrators who don’t teach, overpayed athletic coaches, hired teachers who don’t teach, facilities and materials that are not necessary to a good education, curricula decisions that are half-court “Hail Mary’s” rather than well-reasoned, sound decisions, et cetera). Bloat from rigor mortis is not the same thing as growing in the Lord.   
    I am close to finishing an article called “Ecclesial Kredemna: Classical Education as Bridal Ramparts”, due out in a few days, which will attempt to offer further explanation and remedy to the issues here. Thanks, Doug, for adding your initial thoughts.   

  • Dave

    Eric, every subject under the sun is given by God for instruction.  Calculus is a God given part of education.  Some heathens are better at teaching it than Christians, but the subject itself is from God.  Trying to separate subjects into different world views is a huge problem in education now and is one reason why Christians were pushed out of public education.

  • Jane Dunsworth

    Choral music class? Something that is learned for the purpose of doing something in community was obviously never intended to be a strictly a “family function” in the first place.

  • Brett Flenniken

    Doug, thanks for the post and for all your helpful writing on CCE.  I serve in a local church as a deacon and also serve on the Board of a Christian and classical “study center”: students meet for classes 2 or 3 days per week rather than 5 days a la traditional day school.   Two local churches (including the one in which I serve as a deacon) are tremendously supportive by providing classroom space at rates well below what we’d pay in the open market.    That said, I don’t think I’m convinced from Scripture that funds from the church collection should be used to fund Christian schools.  If that were the case, would it not follow that churches should establish and operate schools…and not just simply fund them?  Your argument that lack of such funding makes CCE schools less accessible is compelling…and puts an onus on those of us with means to contribute more as individuals.  And finally, any thoughts on why such  differences in funding between Protestant and Roman Catholic schools?

  • David C Moody

    Pastor Wilson:  first of all, you make some good points.  If parents are going to have five children, it is going to cost a lot for Christian school tuition, and it’s going to be very difficult for a normal Christian family to put all their children through an elite private school with high tuition.  Second, I think that Christian schools should keep their costs low, that it is not unlawful for a church to use some of its tithe to finance a Christian school, and that it is possible for a school to run all of its costs as well as its growth solely from the tuition costs.  But, in order to do this, we have to think outside of the box and develop things that many Christian schools don’t have.  Here are some options, and they don’t all have to be followed, but could:  (1)  Christian schools could open their preschool up to younger ages; with the increase in broken homes in our communities, preschool is becoming a way to reach those broken homes with the gospel and with a better education.  Preschools can be run on a profitable basis without taking government funds.  Some of that profit could be used to finance the older ages.  (2)  Christian schools can combine grades if those grades are small; for elementary ages, one teacher can reasonably teach 40 children.  If first grade has only 20 kids and second grade has only 20 kids, then those grades should be combined.  If K5, 1st, and 2nd has 40 combined children, then combine those three classes.  A teacher can be paid more; parents can be charged less; and students can still learn just as much.  (3)  In middle school and high school, classes can really be combined.  If a high school has 100 students, those students can be put in an auditorium for history, Bible, and literature classes.  Math and science may need to be taught to the different grades at different levels, but those other classes can be on a 4-year rotation.  One teacher teaches history, Bible, and literature.  That teacher can be paid more, and the cost for high school tuition can be significantly reduced.  A high school with 100 students could be taught by a maximum of three teachers.  (4)  A Christian school could find ways of producing curriculum, serving homeschoolers, having afterschool programs, etc.  Christian schools will have to go back to the model they had 200 years ago.  All of the baseball fields, football fields, science  classrooms, large facilities, etc., etc., will not be practical until they build up to that point.  Finally, I think that Christian schools who operate with donation money tend to rely upon the donation money, and as such they do not build up a savings (endowment).  Any entity, whether it be a business, a family, a school, etc., has no future if it doesn’t save for the future.