Several times in the past year I have had the privilege to rub shoulders with Wheaton Academy headmaster Gene Frost and glean ideas and philosophy from him. One phrase he uses that resonates well with me is “mission-appropriate students.” By that he means that his school is interested in attracting and working with students whose mindset predisposes them to flourish within the mission and culture of his school.
Dr. Frost gives an example of two incidents which illustrate what he means. In one, some students had gotten into some pretty serious trouble, but had come clean, admitted their offense, repented, and placed themselves under accountability to avoid similar problems in the future. They were dealt with in mercy, realizing that they had gone through a valuable learning experience. In the second incident, a student violated a fairly small school standard but showed a cavalier attitude toward the situation. That student was confronted with the school’s mission and challenged to change his attitude or face dismissal since he was out of step with that mission.
That brings me to consider the mission of Westlake Christian Academy: “To provide for Christian families a Christ-centered education that disciples our students to honor Jesus Christ in thought, word, and deed.” At the center of that mission, both textually and philosophically, is the verb “disciples,” which perhaps more than anything captures the driving force of this school. We are bent on making disciples of Christ. If we succeed in producing Ivy league scholars, division 1 athletes, or world-class musicians, unless those graduates are first and foremost followers of Christ, we have failed. Westlake betrays its very reason for existence unless discipleship remains the central focus of all we do.
What does it mean?
In using “disciple” as a verb, we are going against the grain of modern usage. In fact, spell check marks it as an error. Dictionaries note that using the word as a verb is archaic. So be it. We have found that it best and most succinctly describes what we are about. The noun form of the word translated “disciple” in the New Testament, mathétés, shows up 263 times. The verb, mathéteuó, is only used four times, but in each, it expresses the central focus of the church. This is especially true of the Great Commission to the church in Matthew 28:19, where there is an imperative verb—mathéteutheis—surrounded by a cluster of supporting participles. There Christ is commanding the church—His disciples—to make disciples (or as we would put it, to disciple people), which involves going, baptizing, and teaching. So, even though modern usage does not widely support “disciple” as a verb, we can derive comfort and authority from knowing our Savior himself used it that way in one of the most critical passages to the church.
Discipling—making disciples—involves three entities. First, there is the one who carries out this imperative, which for our purposes would be the combined human resources of our school—faculty, staff, parents, and fellow students. Then there are the ones who are being discipled—primarily the students, although in a sense, our entire community is at once discipling and being discipled. Finally, and this is critical, there is the one to whom the disciples are being pointed. God intends that the end product of discipleship is conformity to the image of His Son—that disciples would be like Christ in thought, word, and deed.
So what makes a mission-appropriate student at Westlake?
Philippians 2:5 challenges believers to “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” In other words, have the same attitude that Christ had. The passage goes on to tell us what that looks like: laying aside personal gain and glory for the sake of others, being willing to suffer if necessary, not thinking of ourselves and our rights. In short, humility. Of course, this goes against the grain of fallen human nature, especially in our narcissistic western culture. This is where the gospel comes in.
Unless God is working in a person through the power of the gospel, having the mind of Christ is impossible. But Christ died for our sins, not just to eliminate the penalty for them, but to deliver us from their power as well. Keeping our thoughts centered upon our own unworthiness and spiritual impotence while constantly remembering what our mighty Deliverer accomplished for us is the mechanism for true transformation. This is the only way a person can transcend the selfish pride which gnaws at the soul of every human being and begin to live generously, lovingly, considerately.
Students who have a desire for that kind of thinking and are willing to humble themselves and submit to God’s authority will thrive in the culture of Westlake. Author Rick Horne, in his book Scorners and Mockers, shows the enormously destructive influence of individuals who constantly resist God’s pull on their lives. Those are the very ones who, over time, reveal themselves as ill suited for life in a community of grace, as much as we might wish to rescue them.
No doubt, even the most mature among us will stumble from time to time, often in spectacular ways. Indeed, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” (1 John 1:8). But the gospel life is one of admission, repentance, learning, and progress. That’s how mission-appropriate students respond to failure, and that’s what moves us to disciple such students with mercy and forgiveness. But mercy scorned does not give us much to work with.
My prayer is that God would continue to send us mission-appropriate students, flawed, broken, and needy as they no doubt will be. Here they will find a community of flawed, broken, and needy disciplers.