Absolutely yes, argues Nicole Baker Fulgham. Formerly vice president at Teach for America, Fulgham is author of the new book “Educating All God’s Children” and heads an upstart nonprofit called The Expectations Project working to improve outcomes for students in our public education system. Fulgham and her work exemplify a new kind of evangelical engagement with public schools that is dedicated solely to helping kids rather than arguing over school prayer, evangelism, and other culture war flash points.
“There are so many places where Christians can make a positive impact without explicitly sharing the Gospel — and public schools are one of them,” Fulgham says. “Part of our work on this planet, I believe, is to bring equity and justice to broken systems.”
At the annual Q conference this spring, Christian engagement with public schools was a big topic. Among the quick-hit presentations was a talk on a church-school partnership in Portland, Ore., that many churches around the country are viewing as an inspiration and a model.
Captured in a documentary titled “Undivided,” the Portland story goes like this: As part of a day of service by the area’s evangelical churches, members of a large suburban congregation gathered at a struggling city high school to spend a day sprucing up the building and grounds. The people from SouthLake Church were not content with one and done, however; they have “adopted” Roosevelt High School and made the relationship the central component of the church’s ongoing public engagement these past five years. From the volunteers operating the clothes closet where kids access free outfits and toiletries, to the SouthLake staff member who works at the high school every day on the congregation’s dime, the church people have become a permanent helping presence. The church volunteers have all agreed not to evangelize and, to this point, there have been no reports of anyone breaking that pledge.
A similar ethos prevails at Kauai Christian Fellowship in Kaloa, Hawaii. Founding pastor Rick Bundschuh says the 400-member church resists suggestions to start a Christian school and instead encourages its people to enroll their kids in the public schools and get involved — “with no agenda,” Bundschuh says, “except to serve.”