10 Reasons Every Head of School Should Hire a Coach

By Eric Cook

When I was a Junior at Transylvania University, I worked in the athletic office. One day, a man came in and told me the gym was going to be locked for the next two hours because the Kentucky basketball team was going to be using it for practice. I nearly fell out of my chair! Having grown up in Lexington, I was (am) a rabid Wildcat fan. Besides that, the team was loaded with the best talent in the country (they won the national championship that year). My little office was attached to the gym, and they did not ask me to leave!

Before long, the best team in college basketball walked in our pathetic little gym. Of course, alongside the team was their coach, Rick Pitino. I was the only person in the facility besides the team and staff. I watched for two hours as coach Pitino yelled, cussed, instructed, and lost his mind on his elite-level athletes. There was no letting up the entire two hours. I remember him saying repeatedly that they would practice at nothing less than game-level intensity. The level of focus and precision was incredible and unrelenting. In those two hours, I was able to observe what top-tier coaching really looked like. It was both painful and exhilarating.

I realize very few people have access to elite level coaching of any kind. Not only do most Heads lack accessibility to an elite level coach, but most have never had one at all (over 60% according to the SCL’s latest Head survey). However, one does not need only an elite level coach to improve. There is a deep well of great leadership resources available to anyone who wants them. No doubt, every Head of School is thinking about how they can get better at what they do. Every Head is thinking about improvement because they know, if they are honest with themselves, that they don’t have anywhere near the knowledge, skills, abilities, and wisdom necessary to do everything well. In fact, there is a high likelihood most Heads carry around a strong sense of inadequacy most of the time. 

I contend that the Head of School job is as challenging a job as any leader can take. So, do the wise thing and hire someone to give you high quality support, instruction, and feedback!

Two points of disclosure before I make my passionate plea for executive leaders to hire a coach! First, I was the recipient of excellent executive coaching over an extended period during my time as a Head. It was transformative for me as a leader, and thus, I am very biased. I have been advocating for Heads to seek coaching ever since. Second, I coach Heads of School as part of my consulting work at SCL. Having said that, I strongly encourage every key leader in a classical Christian school to hire a coach, especially if you are a first-year Head. 

Here are 10 reasons why:

  1. Even the best performers in the world have coaches. No matter what level of success one has achieved, no one is beyond a coach. The best athletes, the highest performing executives, the best musicians in the world, all have a coach. You can never see your weaknesses and you can always get better, but you cannot do it alone. Invite someone who is farther down the path to help you get better.
  1. A coach will help you go farther, faster. Getting a coach does not mean you are doing something wrong. It does not mean you are ineffective. It means you can still get better and that you will get better faster with someone looking in from the outside. You will see things you did not see before. You will ask yourself questions about things you have taken for granted for too long. And, the improvement will happen faster than you could ever manage on your own.
  1. Hiring a coach will improve your leadership simply by asking you thoughtful questions. Coaches don’t just dole out prescriptions and solutions. They help the leader make sense of the situations and complexities they face. They help the Head reason through the issues and figure out their own meaningful path to the right decision. Your coach should be excellent at asking questions and wisely guiding you towards wisdom, not dictating solutions that will evaporate when he/she leaves.
  1. Coaches can give you access to the experience and wisdom you lack. One problem, especially for younger/newer Heads, is that you cannot generate the experience you need to lead well. The stakes are high. Some mistakes can cost you your credibility, your dignity, and/or your job. Your board chair has never been a Head. Likely, no one in the school has been a Head either. Getting access to someone who has done the job, can provide you with context, knowledge, skills, and nuance is absolutely critical. You need wisdom and experience and since you cannot manufacture that, hiring a coach is your best option.
  1. By mere reflection and attention, your coach will make you better. Richard Chait argues that, at minimum, non-profit boards make institutions better merely by organizing a gathering called a board meeting. The process of asking where are we?, how are things going?, what can we do better?, etc. at least increases the likelihood that things will indeed improve. The same is true for small groups, reading groups, going to music rehearsal, and just about everything else. Coaching will require you to walk through a process of reflection and accountability that you don’t normally conduct on your own. You will improve and other leaders around you will improve as well.
  1. Coaching will help become more self-aware and better able to manage yourself. When you have a good coach, their questions will become your own. You will internalize the areas of improvement that were ingrained in you through the process. You will be more cognizant of your deficiencies, more empathetic towards others, and more in control of your emotions. By being more self-aware, you will become a better leader.
  1. By hiring a coach, you will become a better coach. Coaches will teach you how to manage yourself (as mentioned above), but being coached will help you do a better job of leading others. You will inevitably employ the same things you learned to your direct reports and make your own team better. Coaching can be an immense personal encouragement. Almost every Head of School struggles with loneliness and isolation. It is extraordinarily helpful and supportive to be engaged with someone who has done what you do, something a Head rarely has the time, opportunity, or access to. Thus, you will become a better coach by hiring a coach.
  1. An executive coach will increase the likelihood for meaningful change. As leaders, the people we lead have a vested interest in NOT telling us what we need to hear. Turns out, we have the same issue. We often tell ourselves what we want to hear because the alternative is not very desirable. By identifying clear goals, finding areas of improvement, and digging deep into how your strengths and weaknesses impact those around you and your school, you will increase the likelihood of real improvement.
  1. Coaching is biblical. The discipleship model is ordered around shepherding, modeling, instructing, admonishing, and counsel. Jesus instructed his disciples through small, intimate relationships over an extended period of time. Paul mentored Timothy and became a powerful source of influence in his leadership. Christian mentorship provides a foundation for a deep, gospel-centered approach. A biblical mentor provides the context for both profound deficiencies and real hope for meaningful change.
  1. A great coach can be an important bridge and mediator for Heads and boards. In every coaching engagement I have been a part of, I am able to help the board chair understand more about who the Head is, how they lead, and how better to coach them. I have also helped them better understand the Head’s value, renegotiate their contract, and understand the critical role of the board to serve their Head through a high functioning Head Support and Evaluation Committee. Boards would do well to understand the value of coaching as it pertains to their ability to lead and serve the most important position in the school.

Hiring a coach will make you a better leader, and likely, that commitment to improvement will trickle down to your entire school. Of course, hiring a coach is an investment. It is not cheap to hire one, and it should not be.

Discuss and pray about it with your board. SCL is happy to provide a strong bench of seasoned leaders who can coach any Head of School and your other key leaders. If you are interested in pursuing this, please reach out to us so you can go farther, faster.

Redeeming the Time

Redeeming the Time, a collection of excellent lectures that Russell Kirk delivered at the Heritage Foundation, includes one that is particularly insightful. It is called, The Conservative Purpose of a Liberal Education. Kirk defines liberal education as the “ordering and integrating of knowledge for the benefit of the free person.” He says that a liberal education:

  •      Takes the long view
  •      Provides an understanding of what it means to be human
  •      Defends the order of the soul and the republic
  •      Fosters harmony with the self
  •      Cultivates a philosophical habit of mind
  •      Develops the imagination
  •      Looks back toward antiquity and forward to posterity
  •      Knows the value of things
  •      Fosters a lifetime of learning
  •      Models the proper use of leisure
  •      Aims towards wisdom and virtue
  •      Conserves a body of knowledge

That is a great list! Kirk’s essay would be an informative read for you and your faculty. It is also relevant to SCL’s summer conference theme. Enjoy!

Announcing the 2023 SCL Thriving Schools Study

I am very excited to announce the launch of SCL’s Thriving Schools Study. Today, we sent out a survey to over 500 hundred Heads of School to evaluate the leadership health and needs of the movement. The survey is the only such instrument directed specifically at classical Christian school leaders.

It is our desire that this survey will help us provide targeted support, resources, and professional development for leaders to meet the challenges they face. We also intend to use the results to educate classical Christian schools about the state of leadership in the movement. Ultimately, we pray this project will help us contribute to the sustainability of classical Christian schools by investing in the leaders critical to their success.

I am thankful for the work of Dr. Brian Polk, Research Director at SCL. Brian built the survey and facilitated the process to ensure essential data is collected. I would also like to thank Dr. Albert Cheng, Assistant Professor at the Department of Education Reform in the College of Education and Health Professions at the University of Arkansas. Dr. Cheng directs the Classical Education Research Lab and will be providing a comprehensive analysis and report when the survey is complete.

SCL is committed to strengthening the leadership of the classical Christian school movement. We believe that we must have strong leaders for our schools to thrive and for our families to be served well. If you are a Head of School, we are asking you to please participate by taking the survey. If you are not Head of School, please encourage your Head to take it. We are grateful for your support!

A Broad Perspective

Immanuel Kant, the dense and controversial 18th century German philosopher, railed his students for being Cyclops. “What constitutes them as Cyclops is not their strength,” Fredeirich Paulsen points out, “but the fact that they only have one eye; they see things only from a single standpoint, that of their own specialty.” The task of philosophy and learning, according to Kant, is to furnish us with a second eye. According to Kant, “The second eye is the self-knowledge of human reason, without which we can have no proper estimate of the extent of our knowledge.” While we may argue with Kant concerning the identity of the second eye, or what it should be, his point that education broadens one’s perspective is indisputable.
The classics “lift the readers out of narrowness and provincialism into a wider vision of humanity.” They help us see our lives, our vocations, and our culture through a broad lens. Polymaths such as Plato, Cicero, Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, Milton, and Jefferson were able to draw from a sea of ideas found in the ancients. They studied math, science, history, economics, theology, philosophy, literature, and virtually everything else. From their broadly informed perspectives, the great thinkers of the West were able to make incredible contributions to society and move from one subject to another with ease and enjoyment. Their immersion in and facility with the classics provided a liberating, expansive, two-eyed vision that enriched their understanding and mitigated the narrow short-sightedness of specialization and provincialism.
Our prayer at The Society for Classical Learning is that our kids will be equipped with a strong foundation and a broad perspective to serve for the glory of God. We are fully invested in catalyzing and resourcing a rapidly growing movement of schools around the country. Let us know how we can help!

Attempting Old Ideals

In What’s Wrong with the World, G.K. Chesterton said, “The future is a blank wall on which every man can write his own name as large as he likes; the past I find already covered with illegible scribbles, such as Plato, Isaiah, Shakespeare, Michael Angelo, Napoleon. I can make the future as narrow as myself; the past is obliged to be as broad and turbulent as humanity. And the upshot of this modern attitude is really this: that men invent new ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals. They look forward with enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back.”

I find Chesterton illuminating and prophetic as he critiques the modern who sees the blank wall in front of him because he dares not attempt or wrestle with what has come before. But, I also see in Chesterton’s words a caution for all of us classical Christian educators, to give due respect to the past as we look with anticipation toward the opportunities and possibilities in front of us.

There are two things that come to mind as I consider Chesterton’s insight about the future. First, is the “modern attitude,” as Chesterton calls it. He states that “men invent new ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals.” Although he was not necessarily talking about education, the principle certainly applies. The perpetual fallacy that progressives make when approaching education is what I call the “rearview mirror” fallacy. Ken Robinson, in his popular TED talk, Changing Educational Paradigms, emphatically states, “We can’t look in the rearview mirror to develop a coherent plan for the future of education.” Robinson and many others tell us that the world is quickly changing, and so we must re-imagine what future schooling looks like to meet the needs of the 21st century. However, Robinson readily admits he has no idea what the future will actually look like.

C.S. Lewis would call these moderns progressives snobs, committed to the supposition that the latest innovations represent the best of ideas in a given field. However, as Chesterton said, “Real development is not leaving things behind, as on a road, but drawing life from them, as from a root.” We should not think of the past as a cage, but a catapult. A rearview mirror is essential. It provides a way for us to back up so that ultimately we can go forward. Progressives assume that all looking back is an end in itself and that the future is thus a “blank wall.” They minimize the rich tradition and history of educational thinkers in the West and as a result, assume that because the culture is different, the problems are new. They are guilty of perpetually cleaning the slate (and now they have applied this idea to the human person). Progressives have not discovered educational issues that are “new;” they have rejected the past as a meaningful path to the future. If we are going to attempt old ideals, we must understand that looking back is a necessary condition for moving forward.

The 2023 Outlook

Happy New year from all of us at SCL!

As I look forward to 2023, I am excited about the continued growth and expansion of classical Christian education (CCE). Here is what I have seen in 2022:

  • Large increases in enrollment across the country
  • Increased international interest
  • Launching of many new classical Christian schools
  • Greater number and quality of thought leaders in the movement
  • Depth, clarity, and maturity around the philosophy of CCE
  • Larger number of strong, established schools
  • Excellent bench of developing Heads (not enough of them, but excellent leaders nonetheless)
  • Emerging visionary leaders in the movement

At the Society for Classical Learning, we are refining our vision, resources, and support to ensure that the encouraging trends above continue. Here is a snapshot of what we are planning for 2023 and beyond:

  • Release of our new strategic plan
  • Completely new website with more features and expanded resources
  • Expanded consulting services
  • Increased leadership trainings and programs
  • Release of a new and unique leadership study for classical Christian schools
  • Expanded membership value and thought leadership resources
  • Formation of strategic partnerships
  • Clear articulation of what constitutes a thriving classical Christian school

Of course, there are vulnerabilities and weaknesses I see in the movement as well. I will share those in a future post. There are many reasons to be encouraged about the future of CCE! 

The Board and Head Relationship

by Eric Cook

In my work with school leaders (especially Heads) and boards, there is a two-sided problem that I consistently observe.

First, Because the Head of School is responsible for “everything,” boards are not sure how to adequately evaluate their performance. Consequently, they sometimes create unwieldy, unrealistic evaluation tools that try to cover too much. Or, they make the process far too organic and anecdotal. Of course, sometimes boards just don’t evaluate the Head at all. If you are guilty of the latter, be prepared to find a new Head at any moment.

The other side of the same issue is that because Heads are responsible for “everything,” they too have a hard time narrowing their focus and figuring out how to add the greatest value to the school. So, they often scramble around doing the most urgent thing, being overly accommodating to people and issues, and probably feeling inadequate and unproductive most of the time.

Here are a few things every board and Head can do (collaboratively) to be more focused and evaluate the Head’s work more meaningfully:

1. Know your core competencies – Any leader is only really good at a handful of things. If you know what those things are (and you should), you can get laser focused on how you can be most productive and valuable to your school. You can and should orient your time, people, and priorities around these competencies and continue to develop them. Make sure you don’t spend too much time on tasks at which you will only ever be marginally proficient.

2. Know your context – Your priorities, beyond your core competencies, are often dictated by a handful of variables that dictate you provide more time, effort, and focus. If you are about to enter a capital campaign, know that your time and energies will have to go there and be content to say no to a bunch of other good things.

3. Define the essentials of the role – Every board should have a clear baseline of the skills, abilities, and character that every Head should be expected to do. Define what these are first (with the Head’s input) and then ensure they are being assessed annually.

4. Define a few critical strategic objectives for the school year. Your board should have a short list (3-5) of things that are most important to advancing the strategic plan. Then, provide support and accountability for your Head knowing that means you cannot start drumming up a bunch of other priorities along the way.

5. 360 – On a periodic basis, a thorough 360 should be done. I do these as a consultant and find them very powerful (when done well). It helps tremendously to have someone facilitate this process.

These are critical issues. Take them seriously and invest what it takes to develop, care for, and assess your school leaders!

Generative Thinking: The Most Important Work a Board Can Do

For several years, I have pushed every board I encounter to read the book, Governance as Leadership. It is not only an insightful read for best practices regarding governance, but it is particularly important because it also provides much needed historical context for how boards have become so complacent and ineffective over time. There are great questions and exercises included in the text which push boards to consider their purpose, effectiveness, and decision making processes. The author, Richard Chait, advocates for what he calls, “tri-modal governance.” The three modes of governance are called fiduciary, strategic, and generative.

The fiduciary mode is in view when the board exercises its legal responsibilities of oversight and stewardship. The second is the strategic mode, in which the board makes major decisions about resources, programs, and services. The third, and most important, is the “generative” mode, in which the board engages in deeper inquiry, exploring root causes, contemplating values, considering principled options, and weighing new ideas in the view of the school’s mission.

Chait argues that the fiduciary and strategic modes are largely what boards spend their time doing, but alone, are incomplete. They are necessary, but not sufficient because they leave out expressive aspects of the organization. The issues schools face need values and insights; questions need to be framed around the right, mission-focused principles. For this, a board needs to engage in the generative mode.

Chait says generative work needs to shape the fiduciary and strategic work of the board. Before boards “use various forms of managerial expertise to solve problems, organizations need to figure out which problems need solving. Before they figure out the best strategy for getting from the present to a preferred future, organizations need to figure out what that preferred future is.”

Here is one quick example: many boards contemplate the kind of financial aid system that would be most effective and appropriate for their school. However, instead of beginning with the fundamental philosophical question of why there is a financial aid program in the first place, what often happens is a committee is formed and a host of possible options are drawn up for consideration. Instead of asking how the mission of the school would be impacted by various means of financial aid options, the options are considered with no meaningful conversation about the most important question of all: why do we do financial aid at all and how will changes either help us advance the mission or obscure it?

Generative governance is most important because it focuses the board’s attention on the most important questions. In this sense, it provides the best use of the board’s talent, helps the Head think in a mission-focused way, and generates the need for decisions to be made. According to Chait, “Generative work conveys the gift of helping executives see things better, improving their perception and perspective so that they are in a better position to invent new goals, to discard old goals, to better see problems and to discard problems that really are not that important in the long run.” 

To focus on what matters most, ask yourself whether your board is engaged in ongoing, meaningful generative conversations.

Why Read the Classics?

Four Reasons Why We Should Read and Discuss the Classics:

1. Reading and discussing the classics make us better human beings.

Classical educators have always touted liberal learning as inherently humanizing. The ultimate purpose of education is to make us better people, to cultivate wisdom and virtue, not simply provide career preparation.  The ancients referred to classical education as liberal and humane, emphasizing virtuous participation in a free society. By living a wise and virtuous life, one is able to fulfill the purpose of his humanity (thus the term, humane).  As H.I. Marrou said, “Classical education aimed at developing men as men, not as cogs in a political machine or bees in a hive.”  Similarly, John Stuart Mill said, “Men are men before they are lawyers, or physicians, or merchants, or manufacturers; and if you make them capable and sensible men, they will make themselves capable and sensible lawyers or physicians.” The goal of education is not utilitarian; it is humane.

The content, the means by which this humanizing occurs, is the liberal arts, rooted in the classics.  The classic texts “not only exhibit distinguished style, fine artistry, and keen intellect but create whole universes of imagination and thought.”  They portray life as complex and multi-faceted, illustrating human glory and tragedy, beautifully depicting the drama of man’s most significant struggles.  The classics uproot our assumptions and display epic human struggles. They compel us to examine our own lives and contemplate what is good, true, and beautiful.  The impact on the reader is transformative.

In Werner Jaeger’s summary of Socrates’ teaching, he states, “Education is not the cultivation of certain branches of knowledge… The real essence of education is that it enables men to reach the true aim of their lives.”  The classics provide an education that indeed requires us to struggle with the true aim of our lives. By doing so, they make us better men. 

2. Reading the classics keeps us from acting as Cyclops. 

Immanuel Kant, the dense and controversial 18th century German philosopher, railed his students for being Cyclops.  “What constitutes them as Cyclops is not their strength,” as Fredeirich Paulsen points out, “but the fact that they only have one eye; they see things only from a single standpoint, that of their own specialty.”  The task of philosophy and learning, according to Kant, is to furnish us a second eye.  According to Kant, “The second eye is the self-knowledge of human reason, without which we can have no proper estimate of the extent of our knowledge.” While we may argue with Kant concerning the identity of the second eye, or what it should be, his point that education broadens one’s perspective is indisputable. 

The classics “lift the readers out of narrowness and provincialism into a wider vision of humanity.”  They help us see our lives, our vocations, and our culture through a broad lens.  Polymaths such as Plato, Cicero, Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, Milton, and Jefferson were able to draw from a sea of ideas found in the ancients.  They studied math, science, history, economics, theology, philosophy, literature, and virtually everything else.  From their broadly informed perspectives, the great thinkers of the West were able to make incredible contributions to society and move from one subject to another with ease and enjoyment.  Their immersion in and facility with the classics provided a liberating, expansive, two-eyed vision that enriched their understanding and mitigated the narrow short-sightedness of specialization. 

3. Reading the classics compels us to ask the most important questions of life.

Hegel referred to a classic as “a question, an address to the responsive breast, a call to the mind and the spirit.” Think of the enduring questions that have emerged from the great texts of Western civilization: Is man free? Does God exist? What is the nature of the universe? How do we know truth? Does man have a soul? What type of government is best? 

The classics provide enduring questions of a transcendent quality.  That is, they ask questions that continue to be asked again and again, despite ages and sages.  The classics present questions that are profound, or even very simple, that exceed human comprehension, yet if not asked, detract from our humanity.  Enduring questions are ones that challenge the greatest minds and intrigue the simplest ones (i.e., children). They make life engaging and interesting.  Enduring questions lead to more questions and to thoughtful, soul-searching reflection about great ideas. The classics ask these questions like no other texts we encounter.

The classics compel us to ask who we are, why we are here, what is true, and what is good.  We are obliged to struggle with Hamlet’s gut-wrenching turmoil over whether to seek retribution and justice.  We are faced with Achilles’ dilemma, when he proclaims:

I carry two sorts of destiny toward the day of my death.

Either, if I stay here and fight beside the city of the Trojans,

My return home is gone, but my glory shall be everlasting;

But if I return home to the beloved land of my fathers,

The excellence of my glory is gone, but there will be a long life left for me

And my end in death will not come to me quickly. (Iliad)

These kinds of texts prompt weighty questions.  How do we respond to feelings of retribution?  What do we value as our legacy? For what are we willing to die? Thus, the classics ask us the most penetrating and humanizing questions in ways that capture our imaginations and emotions.  Andrew Kern, President of the CiRCE Institute, once asserted, “The quality of your life depends upon the quality of the questions you ask.” If he is right, we ought to read the classics.

4. Why Christians should read and discuss the classics.

Robert Lundin claimed, “The Christian student of culture would never wish to confuse the power of the classic with the authority of the Scriptures. The Bible is the Word of God while the greatest classics are only supreme embodiments of human insight.” Nevertheless, we would be wrong to dismiss them simply because they are not authoritative in the same way as Scripture. The most influential Christian thinkers in church history read and engaged the classics. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Aquinas, and many others understood classical languages and literature, having been educated in the liberal arts tradition.

They recognized the value of conversing with the great ideas of the West even while “taking every thought captive for Christ.”  They grasped the controversies with which the church struggled and were able to both think carefully and speak persuasively about truth in their own age.  These men of God possessed the ability to think biblically, and in Pauline fashion, could plunder the pagans.  They could employ apologetic skill by thinking thoroughly and carefully about the opposing philosophies of their time. These scholars could empathize with their detractors and yet speak boldly from an informed understanding. While there have certainly been those, like Tertullian, who would condemn any association between Athens and Jerusalem, there are many more, such as Basil, who saw the value of young Christians stimulated to exercise their discernment through a wise engagement with pagan literature.

Ultimately, if classical education (reading the classics) is about who we are as human beings and not what we do for a living (our vocation); if it is about who we become and not what skill we can perform, we must have an ideal for what, or rather whom, we should be like. Jesus is the full expression of what it means to be human and thus is the ultimate aim of education. He is Truth and Wisdom incarnate. In Christ, the apostle Paul declares, are “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:8). He embodies truth and virtue. Therefore, we must seek to conform our lives to knowing Him and being like Him. In our pursuit toward becoming better human beings, we must keep the Incarnate Christ, the perfect human being, as our standard. Understanding this truth provides a rich and unique approach to the humanities by examining the enduring questions of man in light of God’s revelation through His Son.

Thanksgiving as Recognition

A few years ago, I read the following about gratitude from Thomas Merton:

“To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything He has given us–and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise the goodness of God. For the grateful man knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.” 

Merton makes a compelling insight about gratitude. It is an emotion and an act that comes from seeing, remembering, and acknowledging what is already there. When we are able to see the good before us, it elicits a response. In fact, Merton says it always brings about a response. The most important aspect of gratitude then is re-cognizing, or knowing again – recalling, the good. Our encounters with our Lord and Scripture always call us to do just this – to see God’s provision, faithfulness, promises, and His grace. Yet, we are a people who forget! 

I once preached to a very small congregation from Psalm 50. It is seared in my memory forever! Every person in attendance was over 70. I had no idea who or how many people would be there or what kind of response I would receive. I was a young man and naive about what I was doing. I should have chosen something safe and simple…but I didn’t. The primary verse I was prepared to preach on was Psalm 50:22, which says, “Mark this, then, you who forget me, or I will tear you apart, and there will be none to deliver.” When I finished reading the text, I looked up and all but one or two of the congregants were in a deep sleep. What now, young preacher? It is funny now, but it was not funny then. 

Whether we are elderly or or not, we all have the proclivity to forget and miss what is right in front of us. We get petty and see problems rather than provision. David Brooks says we do this because “expectations structure our moods and emotions.” Instead of recognizing the good, we have come to expect things and circumstances to transpire in a favorable way. And if they don’t, we can quickly resort to grumbling. 

Anne Steele, in her beautiful hymn, Father of Mercies, In Thy Word, reminds us that God’s Spirit and Word is what allows us to see beyond the ephemeral and reset our expectations. She beautifully links seeing as the basis of savoring (thanksgiving and praise). 

1 Father of mercies, in Thy word,

What endless glory shines!

Forever be Thy name adored

For these celestial lines.

2 Here may the blind and hungry come

And light and food receive;

Here shall the lowliest guest have room

And taste and see and live.

3 Here, the fair tree of knowledge grows

And yields a free repast

Sublimer sweets than nature knows

Invite the longing taste.

4 Here the Redeemer’s welcome voice

Spreads heavenly peace around,

And life and everlasting joys

Attend the blissful sound.

5 Oh, may these heavenly pages be

My ever dear delight;

And still new beauties may I see

And still increasing light!

6 Divine Instructor, gracious Lord,

Be Thou forever near;

Teach me to love Thy sacred Word

And view my Savior here.

Christian people, of all people, are those who have experienced infinite, undeserved kindness. As we remember and recall God’s provision and grace, let’s remember to give thanks in all things. 

To close, I want to give a special thanks to God for my exceptional team at SCL. So much of the work we do is unseen and never gets acknowledged. Many long hours have been committed to serve the classical Christian school movement and provide support to our schools. This could never happen without the SCL leadership and staff!

I am also very grateful for the many schools and school leaders I have enjoyed the privilege of working with over the last decade or more. God is good and there is abundant evidence of His grace towards our schools, families, students, and leaders. 

Thank you!

Eric Cook