Rockbridge Academy Blog
Praying a 500-year Vision
“When we pray, we are producing links in the chain of ordained facts.”
Recently, Rockbridge Academy hosted an Auxilium conference, where about 40 parents and pastors dedicated to starting new classical Christian schools around the country spent two days at our school taking in our culture and watching the daily grace that goes on in the classrooms. Starting a school takes vision. When I was a young teacher here many years ago, the founding board members around me talked about having a 500-year vision for Rockbridge Academy. The thinking went like this: If we really are about making a difference in the culture and in the kingdom of God through the education of children, then let’s make it a lasting vision… one that has eternal consequence.
Vision is a powerful thing. Consider the vision of Dutch statesman, Abraham Kuyper, a pastor in the Netherlands at the end of the 19th Century. He led the establishment of a new denomination that freed themselves from the state church; he founded the Free University of Amsterdam; he started and edited a newspaper. Then he served as the Netherlands Prime Minister from 1901-1905, vigorously leading his political party for over forty years until his death in 1920. Kuyper’s grand passion was to see the Christian faith impact all of the spheres of Dutch culture, even though he was cognizant of his limits working in a democratic and pluralistic framework. Despite the challenges, Kuyper said, “One desire has been the ruling passion of my life… It is this: That in spite of all worldly opposition, God’s holy ordinances shall be established again in the home, in the school, and in the State for the good of the people; to carve as it were into the conscience of the nation the ordinances of the Lord, to which Bible and Creation bear witness, until the nation pays homage again to God.”
Regardless of how you may feel about Kuyper’s brand of culture making, the fact remains that his work left a profound mark on Dutch society. A generation of godly, faithful, no-nonsense Christians salted Dutch society.
However, dark days would shake that legacy. In fact, author George Grant points out that in 1940 when the Germans invaded the Netherlands, Adolph Hitler purposefully targeted the academic and social institutions that had been established by Kuyper because Hitler saw Christendom as the arch-enemy of Nazi-ism. Kuyper’s legacy did, in fact, produce heroes of the faith who formed the backbone of Dutch resistance during the war, heroes that hid Jews from the Nazis, heroes such as the family of Corrie Ten Boom and others.
Interestingly, Rockbridge Academy holds a connection to that era and Kuyper’s legacy. Years ago, one of Rockbridge Academy’s first grade teachers left to move back to New England and care for her ailing parents—Dutch immigrants who had grown up in WWII Netherlands. About eight years ago, as that teacher’s mom finally passed away, her mom’s sister, a family member we have never met before (then in her 80s) sent a monetary gift to our school, along with a letter thanking Rockbridge Academy for our work and echoing that profound vision from a former time. I’ll share an excerpt of the note. The syntax is a little broken, and you can tell English was not her first language:
…We in our church are in the third generation of Christian [schooling] where Jesus is Lord. I’m very grateful to the Lord [for] the influence of my Dutch teachers… how they were praying teachers who’s influence is now reaching into your school through [my niece]. God is so good! We were so taught to have a good conscience toward God and man.
The school [where I grew up] was the place where, during WWII, the Germans placed the rocket launchers so we were a target for bombing. We lost 68 people in 20 minutes of chain bombing. Our teachers were there to bury the dead… [They] were there at the burial with the parents. The relationship between the teachers and the parents were so close knit that if I misbehaved at school, my mother new it before I got home. My teachers visited the families of the pupils every year to see their home life. They were like extra fathers to us, and they shaped our lives after Christ first.
This poignant letter went on to tell details about friends lost during the bombing, and the impact of the war upon the school. However, it ends with this hopeful refrain of vision:
…I may never see you on the face of this planet but I truly love you all. May the Lord bless you all the way and every day. God be with you till we meet again… May God grant that we are standing for all what God calls right with all our might. May Jesus be Lord in everything we are and do. Amen.
Have you ever stopped to think from where we stand in the stream of history that the community at Rockbridge Academy that has existed over the last 28 years may well be part of some previous generation’s 500-year vision for God’s kingdom? Could it be that the children walking Rockbridge Academy hallways today are a fulfillment of prayers uttered by faithful saints centuries ago? And despite the setbacks of war and the enemies that sometimes surround God’s people, when things look darkest, aren’t we—those who happen to be alive right now—called to take up the refrain and continue trusting that God will be faithful to that vision planted in the hearts of steadfast people? Might we pray a similar prayer for the generations to come? Let’s be known as a school that prays and pursues a 500-year vision.
Among the folks attending the recent ACCS Auxilium conference at Rockbridge was a young pastor and an administrator starting a classical Christian school in Clarksburg, West Virginia. When I found out they were from Clarksburg, I relayed that my wife spent many days of childhood visiting her grandmother who lived there. I later recalled how, as a young married couple, we would visit her aging grandma in the summer, passing the time taking walks through her little Clarksburg neighborhood. I remember praying as we walked that the gospel would come to that city in fresh ways. Who knew that 30 years later, a new classical Christian school would be one tangible fulfillment of that meager prayer? Come, Lord Jesus!
Letting God Work Through Relational Ministry
Faithfulness over time works wonders in the heart of man. This past summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to experience this firsthand. I traveled to Budapest, Hungary for a month with the Navigators, a worldwide Christian organization.
I learned so much from this trip, but I learned something special—that Hungarians take friendship very seriously. Once you make friends with a Hungarian, you will be friends for life. Because of this cultural norm for friendship, ministry in Hungary is relational. This basically means forming relationships and building trust are a necessary part of sharing the gospel in Hungary.
One sweet example of spiritual conversations stemming from relational ministry happened when my team and I took a trip into the mountains of Slovenia with twenty-three Hungarian college aged students. In most of their minds, this was just a really cool summer camp opportunity. For my team, it was a gateway to relationships, trust, and spiritual conversations. One day, my group was sitting in a beautiful grassy field at the foot of a mountain. As we waited to begin hiking, we split into pairs to discuss the question, “What is trust?” I was paired with Martzi, a student in school studying psychology. He typed me as an extrovert five minutes after he met me. (Who would’ve thought Sarah Williams would be typed as an extrovert? I was proud of that!) I had talked to him a good bit before, so when it came to this question, we were able to jump right in. Martzi is not a believer, but he shared with me that he liked this community because they were different. He felt like he could trust us immediately. “You are all such good people,” he said. “My other friend groups aren’t like this.” As the conversation went on, I explained to him why I am able to trust at all. “Because I put my trust in Jesus,” I said, “I no longer need to lean on my own understanding. He fills my heart, and he is more than I could ever imagine or desire. When Jesus directs my path and I trust Him, He multiplies my ability to extend trust to others and be vulnerable.” Martzi nodded, and we continued talking about his experience in the Christian community. It was such a special conversation stemming from shared trust in one another.
Another example of a memorable conversation happened about a week before we left to return home. In Slovenia, I became friends with a girl named Anna (pronounced like Anna in Disney’s Frozen) who is a fairly new believer. We met on the first day of the camp and after a few days she came up to me and said, “I know we’ve been joking around a lot, but I would really love to be real friends and get to know each other better!” This was so encouraging to my heart. Trust had been built. From that day on, we spent lots of time together. We talked about many things, including the importance of having Christian friendship and community. A few days before I left Hungary, I asked her what she thought of our team coming into her community and then leaving after only a month. “It just seems strange to be here, make friends, and leave,” I said. She looked at me and said something I won’t ever forget. She said, “Just because someone is in your life for a short period of time does not mean that you can’t make a difference to them.” She continued, saying, “It’s like if the people in your life were beads on a necklace. Just like each bead makes some sort of change to your necklace, every person you meet makes some sort of change to you. Even if you only spend one week with someone, you have the ability to make an impact. The bead that represents you on their necklace will never be unthreaded. Therefore, every interaction you have with another person, for however long, is special and important.”
Just because someone is in your life for a short period of time does not mean that you can’t make a difference to them.
I thought about what she said the whole way home. Every interaction I have is an opportunity: an opportunity to impact lives for Jesus. We know the good news of the gospel. In Christ, the joy of Jesus should pour out of us to everyone that we come in contact with. He can and will use us to be the bead in someone's life that makes a difference for the kingdom when we surrender everything to Him.
The best part about this is that you don’t have to travel halfway across the world to do relational ministry! Though I highly recommend that Rockbridge students consider short term missions work, it is first vital that we as Christians and as the Rockbridge community start by focusing on the way we interact with those we see every day. Faithfully showing Jesus to those around us is such a beautiful way to glorify God and enjoy Him. I urge you to think about the way you can share Jesus with those around you. Not just once, but faithfully. Not to build yourself up, but to humbly serve the Lord and build His kingdom.
If any student is interested in learning more about short term missions or what the Navigators ministry looks like on a college campus, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Please feel free to reach out with any questions! I would love to have a conversation with you.
Sarah Williams, '20, is in her third year at Clemson University. She is studying psychology and business management and is planning on pursuing Biblical counseling. She is thankful for the Lord's providence in allowing her to have such beautiful communities both in Maryland and South Carolina.
Of CHRIST and Core Values
VISION and MISSION
Talk to any business guru, and you will encounter the terms vision, mission, and values. If vision is an institution’s overarching reason for being, mission describes the work they do to achieve this vision. Meanwhile, values (often called core values) are the collective beliefs and behaviors required of those who partake in the mission and subscribe to the vision.
Is all this just pragmatic business banter? No. At its foundation, the vision-mission-values triad reflects the heart of God. If God himself had the vision to create a universe, set about a mission of redemption through His Son, while continually calling his people to live out the values of a kingdom, then we as a Christian school should emulate the pattern, both in form and content.
What is the vision of Rockbridge Academy—the intent behind why we exist—in the first place? What role do we play in this little corner of God’s kingdom? Space does not allow us to print our multi-paragraph vision script (Click here to find Our Vision. It’s worth the longer read!), but if I were to unofficially summarize the Rockbridge vision in a statement, I’d simply say it this way:
Rockbridge Academy exists to be a transformative learning community, graduating young men and women as thinking, compassionate, and intentional disciples of Jesus Christ.
Meanwhile, Rockbridge Academy’s mission statement brings greater focus to how we go about realizing this vision. If you look on our homepage, you’ll see a condensed version of our overall plan of action, stated more fully here:
To partner with parents in a distinctively classical and unwaveringly Christian education for their children, encouraging the pursuit of goodness, truth, and beauty in all of life.
Thus, confident in our vision to graduate thinking Christians, and having our mission set before us to do this through classical Christian methodology, we gird our loins in anticipation for the first school year unified on the Evergreen Campus as One Rockbridge. So far so good.
Nevertheless, just like Nehemiah surveying the walls of Jerusalem, tracing his way from tower-gate to tower-gate before proclaiming his intent to reset their foundations, it is worth tracing our way back through Rockbridge history to enumerate the core values that make us who we are. Faithful Jews surveying the wall that defined and laid claim to Jerusalem reflect the importance of rehearsing the distinctives that define our school. As a community then, we lock arms to proclaim to ourselves and to a watching world what it means to be part of Rockbridge Academy.
“There is not one square inch in the whole domain
of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all,
does not cry, Mine!”
CHRIST AS CORE
First and foremost, we acknowledge that our identity as a school flows from one person, Jesus Christ. We joyfully submit ourselves to his Lordship. We proclaim along with early 20th century Dutch statesman, Abraham Kuyper, “There is not one square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
If this truth does not permeate all of what we do as a school so that our students grow up in the humidity of God’s sovereignty, all is for naught. When we gathered through the summer as staff and board to assemble the core values of Rockbridge Academy, the centrality of Christ was the refrain, because He is the source from which the following five values flow:
We joyfully mine the content and pedagogy of a tradition that edifies our humanity in its celebration of truth, goodness, and beauty, while equipping us to see the integration of all things under the lordship of Christ.
You see, the best way we’ve found to raise up thinking disciples of Jesus is to leverage classical education because it not only frees our children to think through the tools of learning (grammar, dialectic, rhetoric), it also captivates their hearts with truth, goodness, and beauty, and uniquely proclaims the unity of all subjects. All of this allows us to point students to the fact that all of life coheres under the Lordship of Christ.
We believe education is a command of God to parents, who actively partner with teachers to pursue Christian discipleship of their children’s heart, mind, soul, and strength.
We need look no further than Deuteronomy 6 in the Old Testament and Ephesians 6 in the New Testament to be reminded that it is the parent’s grand and humbling privilege to daily educate their child in the whole of life [paideia, Gr]. From academics to etiquette, tying shoes to reading to respecting mom, parents are entrusted with an 18-year (and further) discipleship program to grow up their children. Meanwhile, the school comes alongside to provide and reinforce what is needed through these years. Daily, parent and teacher shoulder together in this effort. Partnership is paramount.
MY LIFE FOR YOURS
We seek in every situation to empty ourselves with love for others, encouraging adults to mentor students and older students to mentor younger, with everyone learning to serve from union with Christ.
Contrary to our children’s universal aversion to emptying the dishwasher at home, we find that students love to serve. Young men and women long to be reminded of the masculine and feminine reality of the adults they are becoming. Boys love to demonstrate their muscles at work. Young ladies love to show their resilience and diligence. Entrusting both with sacrificial work in community answers that age old question they long for adults in their lives to answer for them.
Do I have what it takes? Absolutely, you have what it takes!
Do you see me? Yes, beautifully done!
WORK FROM A PLACE OF REST
We find our value and identity in Christ, measuring success by faithfulness, thereby encouraging habits of rest for mind, body, and spirit that fit us for our best work.
School, like any other aspect of life, can be a place where we as individuals—staff, student, or parent—pursue our idols. Idols around success create unrest in our hearts and lead anywhere from anxiety to avoidance to burnout. Rest acknowledges our human limitations, glories in God’s sovereignty, and helps us recall the limitless blessings of Christ. We want to be a school that reinforces habits of rest so that we are continuously restored to pursue our best work.
We prioritize love for one another by pursuing peace at the source of conflict, remembering that biblical peacemaking starts with self-examination, and that relationships are redeemable through the gospel of Christ.
Since its inception, Rockbridge Academy has put a high premium on the strong fellowship required in the learning environment, whether inside or outside of the classroom. The relationships between staff, students, and parents have opportunity to reflect the fellowship of the Trinity either beautifully or poorly. Sin is the reality that infects us all, yet the gospel is the greater reality that redeems even the most desperate breaches in relationships. Peacemaking can be hard work, but biblical peacemaking is essential to reflecting Christ as a community.
It is important to remember that core values are both instructive and aspirational. Core values unify us toward shared understanding and action, yet we acknowledge that even our best efforts to embody such ideals will fall short. Remember, though, that the author of vision, mission, and values is God himself. His sovereign intentions never lack for His abundant supply; therefore, we pray:
Dear Father, as we fully submit ourselves to the lordship of Jesus Christ, equip Rockbridge Academy to flourish as an enthusiastically classical community of learners dedicated to parental partnership, faithfully pursuing a relationally redemptive culture in which we work from a place of rest and serve under Christ’s banner of “my life for yours.”