Redefining School Chaplaincy – Part 1

Philosophy and Mission May 20, 2024

Chaplains in Australian Adventist schools continue to battle against a cultural narrative that is “hostile to Christianity.”

In his book Mission Shift, Kayle B. De Waal opens with, “The local church is the future of Adventism. This is a critical moment in our history.” Fittingly, he adds, “We are now living in one of the fastest periods of change in human history and the local Adventist church is in danger of becoming irrelevant, even out-dated.”

Over the last two decades, to bolster and support our mission and commission, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Australia has seen the need and value of placing chaplaincy personnel within its schools and assigning them a two-fold ministry directive: to provide pastoral care and carry out evangelism. This initiative, undertaken by both the church and its educational institutions, highlights the fact that the ministry carried out by the local pastor and the local school chaplain are one and the same.

The Adventist Church was assigned by Jesus Himself to provide pastoral care and engage in evangelism for those within its sphere of influence. Matthew 28:19–20 states, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (NKJV).

Or, as Eugene Peterson renders it in The Message Bible, “Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: ‘God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.’”

What began over two decades ago—as a handful of chaplains dispersed into schools that could afford it financially—has now grown into a ministry that has a presence in all 48 schools across the country. Schools have become rich soil in which to plant and nurture the Gospel message. Few entities of the church afford the same unique ministry opportunities that a school environment does, for reasons such as:

  1. Schools provide face-to-face contact time of around six hours per day, five days a week, for 40 weeks of the year. That amounts to around 200 days of the year and approximately 1,200 hours of contact time. The ministry of presence is well provided and delivered at a school. 
  2. Research indicates that the receptive years for committing one’s life to Jesus are the junior schooling years. These years are sometimes referred to as the high-stakes ministry years. George Barna reports, “Research confirms that children begin absorbing values and beliefs as soon as they can understand language.” And further, he observes, “A person’s lifelong behaviors and views are generally developed when they are young—particularly before they reach the teenage years.”
  3. Over a decade ago, Adventist schools primarily housed an Adventist-dominated student population. Today, however, over 70% of students who attend these schools are non-Adventist, and a large number of these students are unchurched.  
  4. Many parents are actively searching for an education that promises academic excellence in addition to being underpinned by sound moral values, with attention paid to the child’s overall well-being. 
  5. Schools are highly specialized in their delivery of spiritual information. They have the capability and capacity to employ mixed modes of instruction, which can cater to a diversity of learning styles and maturation levels. 
  6. Schools provide rare opportunities for young people to experience and encounter Jesus within their regular life environments. 
  7. Schools are full of people looking for friends.

The ultimate goal of school chaplaincy is to foster a thriving Christ-centered learning community with a reputation of serving with care and excellence.

Part 2 of this series will elaborate further on the importance of school chaplaincy, expanding on the educational and biblical imperatives within the role.


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