In my previous blog article on “The Need to be Equipped, Part 1: Biblical Examples and William Wilberforce,” I unpacked the inner logic of the first part of Clapham School’s vision. If Clapham School exists to “equip young men and women to intentionally serve Christ,” then purposeful servants of Christ must need to be equipped.
And however we may object, citing God’s ability to do anything—He can make children of Abraham from the very stones by the Jordan river, after all (see Luke 3:8)—nevertheless, biblical examples and the lives of great Christian leaders, like C.S. Lewis and William Wilberforce, prove that God normally uses a lengthy educational equipping process to prepare his servants to fulfill their callings. And so, we should embrace God’s ordinary means of grace by investing in this sort of equipping education for our children.
Today I’d like to take this issue to the next level, again building off some of the thoughts I shared at our 2019 Fall Benefit. The first issue is around how we should prioritize our support of Christian causes and ministries. And the second is a surprising analogy taken from Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code where he explains the three ingredients of world class excellence and explores what he calls “talent hotbeds.” A talent hotbed is the incredibly unlikely phenomenon of large numbers of world class performers—whether in tennis, soccer, classical music or Renaissance art—arising in the same time and place. Read on to see what these two issues have to do with the vision of Clapham School.
Prioritizing our Resources
First, discussing William Wilberforce and thinking about all the Christian causes and ministries that the 18th century Clapham Circle started and supported puts me in mind of a second objection to the need to be equipped. And that is the question of why we should prioritize supporting the equipping education of our children rather than other important Christian causes and ministries. In a way, it almost seems selfish to focus so many resources there, especially given how blessed we are already in this culture. Part of this issue is a uniquely modern one, since the secular state has decided to mandate public education funding through taxes, meaning that unless you choose a government-run school (which often carries with it pluralistic values and modern methods) you have to pay double for school: once to the government through taxes and a second time for the private school’s tuition. It may be an understandable policy move on our government’s part, but it feels like sort of a bribe to accept modern educational ideology.
This issue of whether or not to prioritize funding a classical Christian education for our children is not an unreal one to me personally. Given our limited means, my wife and I think very carefully about how to use our God-given resources. I would wager that for many the price-tag of a private school education feels like a major sacrifice of other possibilities. And that might include some reallocation from other deeply important Christian causes and ministries. At least one line of thinking might argue in favor of supporting the causes and ministries rather than our children’s education, and settling for some cheaper option.
But this objection ultimately resolves itself into a false dichotomy. Resourcing our children’s education and the great Christian causes and ministries of our day is not an either-or scenario. Pouring resources into the equipping of our children may be exactly what needs to happen if we are to have the leaders and entrepreneurs of those same important Christian causes and ministries in the next generation. I think of it in terms of the well-known saying, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.”
The need for future servants of Christ to be mentored in an intelligent service-oriented way of life fuses support for causes and for equipping in a manner that I find compelling. Education is not just about academic attainments. It is about equipping students for a life of service to Christ. And the service does not have to wait until they are equipped. The service is part of the equipping process. For example, Jesus sent out his 12 disciples and the 72 on service trips to proclaim the kingdom and heal the sick on multiple occasions, before he commissioned them to go out into all the world. A life of service as families and as the Clapham community, including giving to and volunteering in Christian causes and ministries, is a necessary part of the equipping education that Clapham seeks to provide. It’s not an extra or an add-on. It’s part and parcel of what we’re after here.
This is why the Winter-wear drive for refugees in our midst, service trips and student leadership are central to the vision of Clapham School. But this idea makes me wonder whether there is more that we could do and be to embody this vision better and better?
The Clapham Circle as a Hotbed of Service for Christ
In addition to the “teach a man to fish” analogy, I think another analogy that catches the spirit of this vision comes from Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code. In his book he unpacks the three ingredients that lead to world class talent in any area:
- the type of deep practice that leads to the formation of myelin around our neural networks, spurring incredible growth and development;
- the ignition of passion in the culture of the youth, such that they can sustain focus on that deep practice over the long haul in spite of the obstacles;
- the training of master coaches who know how to push each individual student to realize their potential.
Daniel Coyle also discusses some notable examples of talent hotbeds, like the futsal-playing Brazilians who averaged many times more touches of the ball than other soccer players around the world. Or there was the classical music camp that had its students learn challenging musical pieces chunk by chunk and produced a large percentage of the most notable world-class performers. The incredible flowering of artists during the Renaissance is another historical example of this common phenomenon.
As I was reflecting on all these ideas and learning more about the Clapham Circle of 18th century Britain, a group of loosely connected families who in just a couple generations changed the world as we know it through advocating for the end of the slave trade and slavery in Britain and its worldwide dominions, who improved education, urged prison reform, sent Bibles and missionaries around the world, and founded countless other causes and ministries. And in a flash of insight it hit me that the Clapham Circle was a like a talent hotbed, except not because of incredible achievement in a particular talent or skill. Instead, they were a hotbed of service to Christ, where in one time and place, God did an amazing work through a small group of his people, who were all very different from one another and gifted in various ways, but who joined together to advance the cause of Christ in their culture. That is the vision of Clapham School.
What would it be like if our modern 21st century school community could become the type of place, like the Clapham Circle of old, where our equipping education and the culture of our families were such that purposeful servants of Christ were sent out into the world to cultivate His goodness, truth and beauty in ways that would have a substantial impact on our world? An aspiration as large and far-reaching as this should humble us all and put us on our knees to pray that the Lord would accomplish what only He can. “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1). May the Lord build up the Clapham School community through our equipping efforts, we pray!