When the bell rang and Hillcrest students ventured down the halls to the Chapel they kept walking and ventured down the sidewalk to the Comet Cafe. Inside they found Mr. Garvin, Hillcrest's Chapel Coordinator, shouting out numbers and pointing students to tables. Students plopped backpacks beside their chairs, flipping pages in their Bibles to John 15, as the senior leaders welcomed them to their huddle time, a monthly happening at Hillcrest Academy.
What if we rethought college plans for students who are undecided. Instead of encouraging students to explore a college setting, helping them find a church in the process, what if we directed students to find a church, and then choose a college.
Hillcrest's interim-president last year was first called into church ministry when Harland Helland glided up the stairs at Hillcrest to pull Joel Egge and a couple of his friends to Minot, North Dakota. The group of friends found a college in the area and helped plant a church that is now thriving, serving the community with a Christian day school. The church of the Lutheran Brethren hold a number of stories like this, and in looking to the future Hillcrest is finding significance in stories of the past.
Last Friday, Fifth Act Church Planting advocate Ryan Nilsen visited a Hillcrest chapel. He wasn't there to meet with Hillcrest's full student body. Instead he was waiting to gather with the twenty-plus students who are a part of Hillcrest's Evangelism Club, calling the group to consider an alternative view as they look to complete their general studies in college.
Nilsen encouraged the group to consider joining a church planting initiative, serving by being hands and feet in the communities surrounding the various churches that are working to reach their communities. The Evangelism Club is studying how to do outreach, preparing themselves with conversation tools that they will exercise on the light rail and in coffee shops in the Minneapolis area in March and April.
Nilsen fielded questions from the group as they envisioned what it might be like to be in New York City, Chicago, or other large communities for the sake of the Gospel and on mission to plan churches to impact local communities. Nilsen was impressed to hear that the school had such a vibrant club that was meeting to be equipped to share the Gospel through conversational evangelism.
As the group continues to meet there is an encouraging momentum that is building. Students are looking at their college experience as a mission endeavor, and the training they're receiving in the Evangelism club is equipping to engage their world now, and preparing them for their mission fields in the future that for some will involve planting churches in large cities to the glory of God.
If you aren’t familiar with the term “Gen-Z,” you need to get acquainted. This is the newest, up and coming group of young people in our midst--those just turning 18 years of age and younger. Like every generation before them, they have qualities that make them distinct, fraught with unique challenges but housing enormous potential for impacting their world for good.
With many of Hillcrest's faculty holding certified teaching licenses, and a number of others holding advanced degrees, Hillcrest has embarked on an initiative to certify all of their teachers on a national banner.
The Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) is certifying Hillcrest's faculty in a process that has involved the group engaging in over 20 hours of ongoing group training. The Hillcrest faculty applied for certification by submitting credentials and transcripts from their teaching experience and past schools of study to warrant acceptance into the national certification. After ACSI granted passage into their program, the Hillcrest staff began engaging in the specialized training components from ACSI that narrow the focus and provide unique benchmarks that align with Hillcrest's overall mission.
The teaching and training sessions included studies into the development patterns of a student, marking a special way of seeing the students from a growth mindset. It also included guided study into the design and structure of the classroom, ensuring that the full picture of Scripture comes through in the academic and character training inside Hillcrest's classrooms.
The program focused on enhancing Bible-based schools to reflect a grace-based approach to their instruction. Special resources showed how Christian schools are markedly different from secular schools in their approach, namely in the way the school approaches the student, specific subject matter, and the student's family in a way that reflects the design of God revealed in the Bible.
The training sessions spilled over into the dormitory staff for a series on grace-based training and correction. Special seminars by Paul David Tripp opened conversations in small groups that reflect the nature of Hillcrest to treat each student as made in the image of Christ, finding helpful ways to guide students to live lives that reflect God's image as they grow in their knowledge and dependence on Christ.
Through the entire training project the staff and faculty were led to consider how they bring in the entire story of Scripture through their classroom, helping students see their identity as an image bearer of God, understanding that their image and the world around them has been marred by sin, that Jesus Christ has redeemed their image and and the world, and that there is a future redemption for all of mankind and creation in Christ Jesus.
The faculty spent a significant amount of time in reading groups as they worked to create foundations for the capstone of Hillcrest's year-long professional development and national certification initiative, a thesis on the philosophy of Christian education. The comprehensive papers will be submitted by each faculty member to describe how their unique classroom training engages the values and marks a difference in how they approach their subject matter from a distinctly Christian perspective versus a secular explanation of mankind and the universe.
Mr. Garvin was careful to tell students that fasting and prayer doesn't make one more acceptable to God. God's love transcends willingness, devotion, and ability. However, he noted that many in the school have expressed a desire to grow deeper in their relationship with God and their dependence on their Savior. In turn, Hillcrest is humbly teaching disciplines to many students who are willingly seeking God. The next 21 days is developing a virtue in students to seek God through fasting and directed prayer.
The Shepherds in Jesus's birth story likely saw Christmas differently than we might think. We covered that a few weeks ago. Today, however, we look at something a bit different. January 6 marks Epiphany, and while very traditional believers will commemorate the holiday, it is a church holiday that few celebrate. It might be good for your student, a celebration that might pull your family in to see Christmas in a more whole and encompassing light.
For the Levitical shepherds, Jesus's birth may have drawn a line to atonement. There are a lot of prophecies for those trained in the Scriptures to see Jesus as the savior for the Jews. Epiphany is a widening of Christmas. A manifestation of Christmas for the biblically illiterate.
Epiphany celebrates the magi's meeting of Jesus. Epiphany means manifestation, in Greek the word is synonymous with displaying and presenting. When the Magi venture from Persia to Jerusalem following the star they are looking for a special presentation from the earth to something special. They were seeking a king of Kings who was having his presence announced by natural wonders.
Magi are found throughout scripture. They're people who study the world and phenomenons, working to give man perspective in moving to the future aided by study of the earth. In the book of Esther the wisemen were regarded as princes, people whom the king brought into his court to help rule.
The magi's intense study of the world led them to Jerusalem. The religious culture and royal court would make it a natural place for a god-king to emerge from within the city, but their journey continued after meeting Herod. Their hunt for the truth of the earthly phenomenon led them onward.
In following their study of truth to a cave in Bethlehem the magi gave the child-king-Christ a hoard of gifts. The practice resembles actions from the queen of Sheba in 1 Kings 10 where she traveled over barren lands to visit Solomon and said, "In wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard."
The wise men were in search of wisdom, working to make sense of the phenomenons of the world. Students today do much the same in school. Studying the natural processes in earth, students grow equipped with knowledge to recognize special movements in history and the ordered processes of the universe. These studies build their significance in the world, helping students see where and how they fit into the historical paradigms and natural orders and processes of the universe.
When the magi encounter Jesus in the manger they have little context for the bandages Jesus is wrapped in, that were used on new born sheep to keep them without blemish for the atoning sacrifices in the temple. However, they recognized that the wisdom and knowledge they had in studying the world led them to a place that was unifying the phenomenons they studied. This Baby was being celebrated by the universe the magi studied. All explanations of the universe let them to what they found in the manger.
For young people, they may not have the Bible background to draw lines to Jesus from the Old Testament. However, they likely have knowledge of the universe and an affinity to research the incredible God-ordained shouting of the stars at that time to announce Jesus' birth. They may come, as the magi, having explored other points of knowledge. They may have a sense of unity found in social movements, celebrating freedom fighters as the unifying force in humanity. But, when they follow the inspiration to end the slave trade, or the backroom plots to terminate Hitler's human experiments, they will find those heros of old with a reverence for the Baby born in the manger.
The wisest knowledge of mankind points back to an incredible reference point in Jesus Christ. As your students explore wisdom and knowledge to gain understanding of the world, lead them to celebrate Epiphany. A manifestation of the power of God wrapped in a universe that announced His birth to welcome Him as the King of kings, the savior of more than simply the Jewish and Biblically literate. He is the savior of the world.
This week Hillcrest watched a list of students go from 38 to 11. The list held names of those who have a 70% or lower in any one class. While some might think the move was a simple academic improvement of the student body, the reality is that the movement of students off the list has more to do with virtue than necessarily gaining a few points for a correct answer in a class.
These statistics reveal 96% of Hillcrest students are attending two year or four year college programs, including students who are actively seeking direction through gap year programs. Hillcrest Academy continues to hear from students and parents alike that their school program is equipping students for college life, but more importantly to lead their life as students who know Jesus and are making Him known in the world.
Take, for example, these lovely ladies who come to us with vast life experiences and insight from decades of church work, nursing, parenting, and grand-parenting. The smiling faces of people like Marilyn Ewan and Grace Kvamme welcome students at the Comet Cafe--dispensing hot beverages and Skittles with equal parts wit and humor--providing a crucial element of companionship that spans generations.
"No one gives grace better than a parent who humbly admits that he desperately needs [grace] himself."