Often we think of the secular college as the turning point where Adventist young people leave the church. Our young adults go off to public university, and when they return home we have a hard time recognizing them as the sweet Christian youth we sent off into the world. Statistically, many of our young people who go to these public universities end up leaving the church.
While Seventh-day Adventist universities help to stem the tide toward this trend, that solution is not enough. In their book, Already Gone, Ken Ham and Britt Beemer’s research showed that, across denominations, the majority of those who leave the church in college began their walk of doubt much earlier in life. Of those that leave, having gone through the public educational system, 40 percent made the choice to leave during elementary and middle school, 49 percent made the choice to leave dur ing high school, and only 11 percent made the choice to leave in college. While we may see the fruit of young people’s choices in the college years, the vast majority of them are making the choice to leave well before they get to college. In other words, before they leave us, they are already gone.
These statistics are the reason why Seventh-day Adventist education—early childhood education, elementary education, academy, and higher education—is of vital importance in the fight to keep our young people in our church and in a positive, passionate relationship with Jesus Christ. Why is Seventh-day Adventist education so important in this struggle? It all comes down to a battle of worldviews.
During teacher preparation courses, Seventh-day Adventist teachers are taught that the mission of our schools is to recreate the image of God in our young people (Education, p. 15, 16) and to perpetuate the church by training our young people to be workers alongside Jesus (“Education for What? Thoughts on the Purpose and Identity of Adventist Education” by George Knight). With this goal, this worldview in mind, Adventist teachers enter the classroom every day in an effort to provide high-quality education that will not only prepare students for life, but also solidify them in their relationship with Jesus Christ, as they integrate faith with learning.
Secular education has also always had its own goals. While I have no intention of villainizing public education, the fact is that their goal is to shape the future of the country’s citizenry (“On Public Aid to Christian Schools in the United States: A Reformed Christian Perspective,” by Young Taek Kang, Journal of Research on Christian Education, vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 169-186), a noble goal, but the general population’s view of what the citizenry should become is based on a view that is in opposition to our own.
Every week students attend school for approximately 35 hours. The worldview to which they are exposed in their formative years will have a lasting impact on the way they think, the way they view the world, and their relationship with Jesus Christ, all with eternal consequences. We have a job to do to make sure we are providing the highest quality education that will also enrich our children’s walk with Jesus, beginning when they are young, and continuing through college. We must work together for the sake of our young people before we look at them and realize they’re already gone.
Jeremy Garlock is the New York Conference superintendent of schools.