by Dale Wolfgram

Someone asked Mother Teresa once how she could decide what to do with all the incredible needs she encountered. She replied, “I just do what is right in front of me.” I believe that is what God calls us to do, to minister to those right in front of us today even while recruiting the students of tomorrow.

As school populations change we are more likely to see students applying with different or no church backgrounds. They may come from lower performing schools or they may be of a different ethnicity. State or local school voucher programs may drive some of the change or it may be simply changing demographics of the community. With these changes come concerns about test scores, preparedness, behavior, dress, or religion. You may hear the chorus as I have: “It isn’t the same school anymore.” Someone may say your test scores aren’t as high. Perhaps their assertion is true. Others may say the students aren’t as prepared. That also may be true. Still others may say students don’t worship the same or with much enthusiasm. Even teachers suggest or comment on the lack of motivation in today’s youth. All of these assertions may be true, and from a marketing standpoint these concerns can be dangerous. However, knowing your purpose helps you respond to these concerns.

While marketing is a real concern, the real question we need to ask is this: What are we called to do? How can we minister to the students God has brought to our door? I do not believe Christian education is only for the rich. It is not only for the gifted. As a matter of fact, I believe God says, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these you did to me.” James 2 tells us not to treat the rich, or we could say talented, better than the poor or not so talented. He says if we do we are insulting the Lord. Are we serving God or are we serving man?

I am not naïve about the perception people have of the school and how it affects enrollment. I know we can’t help everyone. Some students have behavior issues that will imperil the culture of the school. Some are so ill-prepared that we do not have the resources to help. Some are antagonistic to the faith and could lead other students astray. Some have learning disabilities that we are not equipped to help. There are legitimate reasons to deny some student enrollment.

We must, however, not let public perception guide our decisions but remained rooted in our mission and purpose. We let our mission and purpose lead and direct us, not grade point averages. If we are led by purpose and grade point averages rise, I am fine with that too!

I am conflicted when I interview a respectful young person who has dreamed about coming to Lutheran West but has lower test scores than I prefer. My mind says the student will probably struggle and may not be successful. But then I am reminded of a comment overheard by one of our parents. The parent heard this comment from another parent whose child was going to attend West on a voucher. “I never dreamed my child would be able to attend a school like this.” It reminded me of a quote from former Senator Paul Simon, a Lutheran. When asked something about race he replied, “The struggle is not between black and white; it is between those who have hope and those who have no hope.” We are incredibly equipped to bring hope not only through quality education but also through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That admission decision the parent referred to will be fruit for eternity.

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Dale Wolfgram is a former Paul Lange Recipient and the Principal and Lutheran West Lutheran High School just outside of Cleveland, OH. He can be reached at dwolfgram@lutheranwest.com.