Not too long ago I heard a parent talking about how he was hesitant to send his kids to a Christian school because he was afraid they would then grow up in a bubble. That they wouldn’t have a ‘real world’ experience in high school and thus be unprepared for college. It’s the bet-your-library-doesn’t-have-Harry-Potter (*smirk*) perception of Christian schooling – the idea that parents choose this option solely to cloister their kids from the evil world around them. 

These criticisms are certainly not irrational. And I would even argue that a lot of folks do send their kids to Christian schools as a fearful reaction to the world around them. Fair enough. 

But protection is not really the primary motivator for us at CHA. Our goal is rootedness, in the spirit of Psalm 1:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

Trees do not run away; rather, they stand strong. It’s those who are not rooted in streams of water that shift and change and have no permanence – like chaff driven by the wind. 

Let me submit this hypothesis: CHA Upper School graduates are actually more prepared for college and beyond because of their Christian high school experiences. 

CHA Upper School graduates are actually more prepared for college and beyond because of their Christian high school experiences.

Roots for the Real World: Loving the Lord

Our goal is that as a result of their education at CHA, our students will grow in a rich and deep love for God and His Word. In my first year at CHA I asked our Bible Department Chair what the major goals are for our Bible department. I was particularly delighted by one of them: that CHA graduates would be fully equipped, spiritually and intellectually, to lead others in a meaningful study of God’s Word. 

In a survey we gave our 6th-12th graders last year, 85.3% of respondents stated that their experiences at CHA had strengthened their walk with Jesus. In a parent survey last spring, 89.2% of our parents stated that CHA provides challenging Bible courses that help their children apply the Bible to life. I’m delighted by those results. 

Last year I had coffee with one of our new families at CHA, parents of an elementary school student. I asked what changes they had seen in their daughter in her first semester in fourth grade and, incredibly, the first thing they said was her prayers. They had seen a profound growth in her desire to pray, her ability to pray articulately, and most of all the earnestness with which she prayed – with genuine belief in the God to whom she was praying. 

Of course not every kid at CHA loves the Lord. This is not something we can force on children. But through God-loving faculty, mentors, coaches, and partnership with churches and parents, I’m confident that the roots of the vast majority of our graduates go deep.

Roots for the Real World: Community

I was recently listening to a panel of our CHA Upper Schoolers talk about their most treasured experiences at CHA, and the predominant theme was the community. They talked about how at CHA, in a small school, they had learned how to relate to people whom they might not otherwise have chosen as their friends – and had come to love their classmates in a deeper way than they knew was possible in a friendship. 

During their time here, CHA students must wrestle with each others’ differences, maturity levels, and ideas. They can’t avoid them. And here they are able to work through them in a redemptive and compassionate way under the guidance of our capable faculty. Needless to say, this aspect of building community would look altogether different at places like New Trier, Glenbrook North or South, Maine South, or Stevenson.

I was recently speaking to an alumni parent about their daughter’s experience at a state university. One of her biggest frustrations was how so many of her classmates – products of large public schools where friendships were surface-level and easily replaceable – didn’t know how to carry on a mature conversation, let alone understand what it meant to be a true friend. 

The question isn’t how long it will take this CHA grad to find a good group of friends. That will come in time. The question is, rather, whether or not learning to work with, deeply understand, and befriend a team of different, unexpected people is a valuable skill and an increasingly rare attribute in today’s world. I would contend that it is.

Roots for the Real World: Global Perspectives

Another fallacy is that area public schools provide diverse ‘real world’ perspectives. Every fall, we require all our Middle and Upper School students to spend a full week in service in the Chicagoland area, in urban areas like Kansas City or Nashville, and internationally in the Dominican Republic. Our students come back transformed by these experiences, asking questions about global poverty and the role of their faith in the world. They return transformed by a sense of gratitude and by the power of serving with their peers. The conversations they have with those outside their typical circles are life changing. And these experiences don’t end with the trip. They resound as themes throughout the rest of their academic year as teachers continue to make compelling connections.

It’s hard to argue that this isn’t meaningful exposure to ‘the real world.’ And it’s also hard to argue that our area public schools provide a more compelling experience that might put students on a meaningful trajectory toward real, life-changing career and ministry pursuits. To the contrary, I would argue that many area public school peers instead often grow up in their own insulated bubble of wealth, materialism, and entitlement.

Roots for the Real World: Vocational Fruit 

One mistake parents often make is to confuse lip service with genuine faith. Do you believe in Jesus? Yes? Good. See? My kid is ready! Instead, parents should be looking for evidence of rootedness in terms of ‘yielding fruit in season’ (see Psalm 1 again, above). This is the goal of Christian education – following Jesus with your whole life – including your future vocation.

What we are trying to do at CHA is to speak into the hearts and minds of kids so that they are ready to have an Ephesians 2:10 kind of influence on the world around them after they graduate. See more on this here. What’s an Ephesians 2:10 approach? Evangelicals can sometimes focus so much on the “being saved by grace through faith” of 2:8-9, making sure their kids say all the right things. We often mistake this for roots. But what we typically forget is that the point of being saved by grace is so that we can do the “good works that God prepared in advance for us to do.” 

At CHA we provide kids an opportunity to bear fruit as part of their growth, whether through our mentoring programs, leadership opportunities, service projects, GO! Week, or our new Senior Capstone course. Roots bear fruit. And bearing fruit means having a real impact on those around you in the years to come.

Roots for the Real World: Is Your Child Ready Yet?

The above criticisms of Christian education – the idea that kids should be exposed to the ‘real world’ – can forget the reality that in our world today most folks are actually hostile to the gospel. It should come as no shock that recent data say that rootedness in the Christian faith is in significant decline in our culture. It’s not the same environment in which you and I grew up. In a recent study done by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University, the percentage of “Emergent Followers,” or those who “possess a significant portion of biblical worldview…but not enough to qualify as having a [truly] biblical worldview” has decreased from 25% in 2020 to 14% in 2023. And not surprisingly, the percentage of those who possess largely non-biblical worldviews has increased from 69% to 82% over the same three-year period. 

Perhaps more interestingly, recent Barna and Gallup research shows that not only has our society become increasingly secular, but our views of morality have increasingly departed from Judeo-Christian morality. It’s a different world than 1998. 

In such a culture, the pertinent question for parents is this: at what age is your child ready to stand strong in the midst of this cultural rootlessness? 

Think about this: each week kids spend at least 50% of their time at school and about 10% of their time doing homework. If they are involved in co-curricular activities, that percentage is even higher. Perhaps another 15% is spent in direct family interaction or church activities. Think about the power of that 50%+ of time if it’s spent surrounded by Christian adults and role models. It includes a course on Christian ethics, debate about Intelligent Design and Darwinism, and rich discussion about human suffering in the presence of a good God. Now compare this to 50%+ of your child’s time surrounded by teachers, peers, and coaches pushing him or her in the opposite direction. Is he or she rooted deeply enough to handle it at age 11? At age 14? Or age 18?

We recently completed a survey of some of our Middle School students at CHA. One of the questions in the survey revealed whether or not each student was on the fence about attending CHA for high school. Another question asked what faith questions or doubts each student has been wrestling with. Fascinatingly, we noticed a near-direct correlation between the students who wrote “No questions” or “Nothing” on the faith question and those who seemed on the fence about staying at CHA for high school. As a parent, I would find this concerning. If my child has not yet owned her own faith enough to ask genuine questions, is she ready to have it aggressively challenged? 

When I was in Middle School, I certainly wouldn’t have been ready. Truthfully, I wasn’t close to being ready until I went on a mission trip to Nepal during my junior year of high school where, as a result of a long lunch conversation with a Muslim man, I finally began to ask questions and wrestle through my doubts. I wasn’t growing real  roots in “streams of water” until I was 17. And to be honest, I think I would have lost my roots if during my junior and senior years I didn’t have several adults in my life who were able to help me through it. 

Christian education isn’t about avoidance. It’s about growing real roots. Have your kids truly started growing theirs?

In such a culture, the pertinent question for parents is this: at what age is your child ready to stand strong in the midst of this cultural rootlessness?

While Christian schooling certainly is not exactly the ‘real world’ to a T (it is a school, after all), I’m not sure the typical area public school experience, deeply embedded in a materialistic, students-are-always-right, trend-obsessed, social-media-saturated, first world culture is an authentic real world experience either. 

The list of “real world” training at CHA goes on: 

  • The ability to carry on a meaningful conversation with an adult
  • Building initiatives like clubs or events from scratch
  • Being held to a high standard and unable to get by through avoidance or anonymity
  • Gaining an understanding of true community
  • The ability to participate in a wide variety of activities not otherwise accessible at a larger school
  • Gaining an understanding of place and responsibility within a true community by recognizing we are all uniquely made by God, desire to be known, desire to see each other succeed, and need to support each other.

I’m sure you can keep the list going. When it comes to my own kids, I’m convinced that their Lower, Middle, and Upper School experiences at CHA will prepare them for work, for service, for ministry, for family, and for parenting my future grandkids better than any other option available to my wife and me. I trust that you will feel the same way when I have the privilege of handing your son or daughter their high school diploma from Christian Heritage Academy at commencement.


Recent graduates return home to CHA for a visit.

Christian education isn’t about avoidance. It’s about growing real roots. Have your kids truly started growing theirs?