Thank You to MPCS Staff
What do I say when addressing this amazing staff for what will probably be my last occasion to do so? It is no easy task attempting to boil down 18 years into a 30-minute address. So, don't worry, I am not even going to try. I want to say thanks to each of you personally — those of you who teach our children, those who clean our rooms, those who cook our meals, those who coach or direct our students, those who lead and serve the MPCS community.
I assume when you heard about a Farewell Address — a rather presumptuous title I have to admit — you probably expected me to spend time reflecting on the past... the good as well as the tough times you and I have shared together — and there have, truthfully, been some of both. As I look at all of you, without exception, memories race through my head, and I am simply incapable of adequately articulating my thoughts at this time about my feelings about each of you personally. I am overwhelmed to think that I have had the opportunity to work with the best of the best at MPCS.
So instead of reminiscing, which I have done my share of quietly and personally over the past year or so, I feel compelled to provide more of a charge, a challenge, a reminder of the calling you and I – everyone in this school — have accepted. The joy of this calling; the passion for it; the challenge associated with it; the unbelievable power in it.
There are two adorable little children who are engaged in their educational journey in a Christian school in Marietta, Georgia. Their mother happens to be a teacher at the school and their father is a staff member at that same school. These children's grandfather is the head of school at that Christian school, but he will be closing that wonderful chapter in his life.
My grandchildren, their mom (my daughter,) and I have something in common other than our close family ties. Every day of the school week, Addie Anne, Brandt David, Amanda, Scott, and I find our way to a Christian school, where, as students, a teacher, and staff members, we do something very few people are blessed to do. Think of it with me... my children, their children, and I; three generations get up each morning and venture to a transformational place that proudly bears the name of Jesus — a Christian school — Mount Paran Christian School. There's something special, and powerful, and of eternal value in that — and, truthfully, I am speechless to tell you what that has meant to me.
And, please allow this personal aside. Amanda, there is no way to express the joy it has been to share this work and ministry with my sweet, beautiful, and super bright little girl. I happen to believe God created this ministry for her and our family and the rest of you have just been invited along for the ride. I love you sweetheart. You are the one who has been faithful. I have lived for no greater purpose than to witness your call to teach, your passion for your calling, and your deep love for Jesus Christ.
To be honest, and I have said it before, I am among all men most richly blessed. You've heard that cliché-sounding phrase many times before, I am sure, but in my case, it is simply the truth. How many people live to fully realize a life-long dream? From 1976 to today, MPCS has been a passion of mine, and for 18 years God has allowed me to be a part of this God-ordained place. I have done many other things, been other places, worked other jobs, enjoyed other callings, but when my final days are close to being counted, after first thinking of my family, I will begin my reflections of my time with you. I am thankful for each of you, but I am especially thankful for my soulmate and partner, my beautiful wife, Angie, who has been my best friend and greatest supporter during this and all of our many, many crazy and wonderful ventures we have shared together. I love you, Angie.
I remember sharing the dream with others, in those early days, of what Mount Paran Christian School could become. I remember the collective prayers of an amazing staff in those early days asking God to bless our efforts here. I recall thinking we were thinking big thoughts, that what we were dreaming were really big dreams. I remember singing a theme song of MPCS "Great is Thy Faithfulness" quite frequently. Whenever anything of significance happened we sang it — and we sang it often — and we believed the words of that song, but never really knowing what that would truly mean one day. We were planning for the best we could possibly imagine. As much as we tried 40-plus years ago, we simply could never have imagined what God would really do; what this place would actually become. "To God be the glory, great things He has done" has taken on a whole new meaning for me over the past few years. I remember the many Scripture lessons which taught me that God will do more than we even think or dare to imagine. Today is the confirmation and fulfillment for me of that Scripture and God's faithfulness.
I gave a talk to many of you several years ago entitled "What's so Christian about a Christian school?" I have often said there is no such thing as a Christian school; likewise, I have never seen a Christian textbook, or been a part of a Christian organization. An inanimate object, like a school building or a textbook, cannot be Christian. Christianity is reserved for the living. If this place is, in fact, Christian, if it has ever or will ever fully realize the work of Jesus, it is only because Christ in us makes it so, not because we wave a flag or write "Christian" above our door posts. So, the answer to "What is so Christian about a Christian school?" is simple: "You are!" Each of you decide every day whether this place is going to be Christian or not. That's a powerful statement. If you are truly called to serve Jesus by serving these students, then you make it Christian, through the power of Jesus in you.
It Is Kingdom Work
We've said it often but it bears repeating: We are not a "Christian" school simply because we have devotions each morning, provide mission trips, conduct weekly chapels, offer community service experiences, or require Bible as a class for all students. Yes, we do all of that, but we are a Christian school because everything we do – obviously "religious" or not – is in fact Kingdom work, designed to develop quality trained and passionate Christ-followers! That all happens in the classroom, on the field, on the stage as well as in the areas most obviously associated with Christian worship and ministry. And that, my friends, makes us different in this community, and that's a difference that matters! MPCS has the platform to change not only lives of children, but a complacent and blasé Christianity that surrounds us, and, I believe we have the opportunity to impact a growingly dysfunctional culture.
Now, hear me well. In the midst of this social and cultural dysfunction, on an unbelievably beautiful piece of property in West Cobb County on Stanley Road, lies a truly noble experiment. Planting, building, nurturing, and growing a Christian school in the very peg of the buckle of the Bible Belt, while seemingly an absolute no-brainer, is actually a pretty bold move. Our very presence is a statement that Christian education is not just one of many options; it truly stands alone in what it is, what it values, and what it does. Don't be deceived. We're not just running with the pack; we're running a whole different race in a completely different direction in a whole new arena. Accept it! Embrace it!
Let me remind you that MPCS does not exist to separate children from the world; it does not exist to provide an elitist environment for those who seek it; it does not exist to build any kind of fortress; it does not exist to teach knowledge for knowledge sake alone; it does not exist simply to make us smarter; it does not even exist to give you and me a job. This school was birthed and exists to prepare children to meet the challenges of a increasingly post-Christian world, to prepare students to engage in that world, to lead it, and make a difference in it, and not to hide from it. It is a unique place in which the true nature of Christ can be revealed in all parts of study and culture — in classrooms and co-curriculars, in all teaching and learning — and it exists to be a transformational center for our children to become salt and light in a culture that needs it even more than it realizes, even in a community as purportedly as "Christian" or culturally Christian as Marietta.
Why We Do What We Do
Let me ask each of you a question: When someone asks you about Mount Paran Christian School, what do you tell them? Do you tell them about the 1100 students who are enrolled? Do you emphasize the academic accomplishments our students have achieved? Do you stress our excellent test scores or where our graduates go to college? Do you stress the quality of co-curricular activities at the school? Do you tout our national reputation? Do you talk about a beautiful college-like campus? What do you tell them? We have a lot for which to be thankful. Together, with the generosity of an almighty Father, we have accomplished some really great things. When interested parents open our website, what do they read? Or, even more importantly, when they meet you in the grocery store or ask you about your school at church or in the neighborhood, what do you say? What do we — you and I — tell them? Think about it. While all of those things are tremendously important, and I don't deny that all of that is true and valid, I want to share with you a lesson I learned a little late in my career. It came to me from a book I read last year by Simon Sinek entitled, "Start With Why."
When asked about Mount Paran Christian School, we are prone to tell the "what" and the "how." We proudly proclaim that we have x,y,z classes and we offer a litany of athletic opportunities; we have graduates going to the best colleges in the country, and on and on. Basically, we say, "Here's what we do and here's how we do it." Right? That makes perfect sense, and it is appealing, but I want to challenge all of us to start with the "why!" Begin with the why! People are looking for the why! But that begs the point. We have to know the "why," agree on the "why," and proclaim the "why" of Christ-centered education. This place exists because of a "why!" Mount Paran exists not to be like the public school down the street. This community doesn't need another one of those. It doesn't need to simply be another private school without a commitment to faith. That can never be who we are! The community needs a different, mission-focused, God-honoring, exemplary Mount Paran because they need our "why!"
Let me offer three "whys" of the ministry to which you and I are called and committed to in this work.
First, we exist to be counter cultural! In a growingly sinful world and a world which applauds conformity and group-think, and is more divisive than at any time I have ever known, MPCS says to local moms and dads, "You have a choice. We share your values, and we dream your dreams for your children with you!" There exist no interferences, governmentally nor culturally, for us while we unapologetically proclaim the truth of the Gospel, because we know that all truth is, in fact, God's truth, and we refuse to compromise that truth no matter what the world says about us, no matter how the world chooses to define truth, and no matter how critical they become about our allegiance to sacred scripture and its hallowed principles.
Don't get me wrong, while I truly respect the work of public school educators — I remind you I used to be one — they cannot breathe life and truth in every aspect of a school's culture as we can, as we must continue to do. We can stand tall and proclaim that in all things we are unabashedly Christian. That's a "why" worth supporting!
Always Be the Best Choice
Secondly, we exist to be the best possible option for Christian parents in every way! Period! Too often — and I have seen them — Christian schools begin to focus only on academics, or enrollment, or obsess over their need for resources while allowing a commitment to faith to be sacrificed in doing so. Really? That should make no sense to any of us. All truth, whether found in a test tube or an algebraic equation, a line of poetry or an archeological discovery, emanates from Christ and His creation! Any education that proclaims to be a bastion of truth without an understanding and recognition of the God of truth is deceiving itself and those it seeks to serve.
But equally disheartening are Christian schools that strongly proclaim faith, but become willing to compromise academic quality. We have never settled for that compromise, and we never will! We must always add to our unapologetically Christian position a commitment to be uncompromisingly academic. There exists no tension between these foundational goals. An uninformed Christian, while a Christian, is still uninformed and, therefore, less able to effectively translate the truth of the Gospel to our world and a dying culture.
Let's never forget that we are creating a "Christian... School." Both words matter! We do not exist to be mediocre about anything we do. Are we perfect? No, not quite. But we can never settle for anything that is not exemplary — teaching, leading, communicating, serving, in worship, in athletics, and in the arts... you name it. Hear this: A Christian school exists not to be as good as, but to be better than, any other option in everything we do. No one should ever question the academic credibility of this place! While others only have academics to advertise and applaud, we have more, much more, but our academics must remain second to none! Let us proclaim that whether it's a preschool STEAM class, or a lower school reading experience, or a middle school science lab, or a high school AP course, it has to be the absolute best — no compromising or intellectual laziness on the part of the students or its teachers or administrators is to be allowed and should never be tolerated.
Some schools sell an adulterated view of academic success. Academic success should never be allowed to be defined by anyone by the amount of homework a child gets or doesn't get, or by composite test scores, or other false indicators, although, let me hasten to say, our test scores are stellar. That, however, does not define academic excellence. Excellence is found in the care with which each and every student is nurtured, and the degree to which students are challenged to move beyond their own perceptions of their limitations. And any pre-collegiate education devoid of spiritual underpinnings is bound to be less capable than one that recognizes the whole child — mind, body, spirit, and soul. Leave out any one of these and education is incomplete and without adequate anchor.
Let it be said that MPCS is not simply a school with faith attached! That's how the world would like to define us. That's not how we should define ourselves. Instead, it's an exemplary environment where nothing is second best. That's how we must define ourselves. After all, I have never read in Scripture where mediocrity is acceptable in any calling or ministry. Keep this in mind: If we are going to do this work in the name of Jesus Christ, we better believe He has an opinion on how it is to be done.
And the third and last "why" — with as much emphasis as the other two — is that we exist to develop difference-makers, and in that, we are unique. We are not just raising up college attenders, or preparing these young men and women for careers, although we are doing that, we have a greater, more eternal goal in mind. What we are doing is bigger and better than what can be described in the pages of a local newspaper or even a school newsletter.
I have searched for years for a way to define what Mount Paran Christian School graduates should look like, what they should value, principles they should embrace, theology and a faith they should believe in, and a Gospel they should live-out. I have been essentially searching for the "portrait" of a Christian-school graduate and nothing has quite measured up. What does it truly mean to "honor God, love others, and walk in Truth?" I have wondered.
And then recently I was reintroduced to an old Gospel song entitled, "I Then Shall Live" and it finally and clearly defined it for me - and I think it may describe it for you - the kind of graduate you prayerfully want to send out from this place for many years to come. That's why I chose five soon-to-be-graduates to join me with this song. Additionally, and equally importantly, while it should define every MPCS graduate, it must also define all of us -everyone of us who sits here today. It must define our goals, our aspirations, our dreams, our faith, and our life story.
Read the words of the song, which have been provided to you this morning, powerfully stated below.
"I then shall live as one who's been forgiven.
I'll walk with joy to know my debts are paid.
I know my name is clear before my Father;
I am His child and I am not afraid.
So greatly pardoned, I'll forgive my brother;
The law of love I gladly will obey."
"I then shall live as one who's learned compassion.
I've been so loved, that I'll risk loving too.
I know how fear builds walls instead of bridges;
I'll dare to see another's point of view.
And when relationships demand commitment,
Then I'll be there to care and follow through."
"Your Kingdom come around and through and in me;
Your power and glory, let them shine through me.
Your Hallowed Name, O may I bear with honor,
And may Your living Kingdom come in me.
The Bread of Life, O may I share with honor,
And may you feed a hungry world through me."
That, my co-workers, is the WHY! That is it! In a world gone crazy — we, you, and I are called to teach more than science, math, history, drama, band, even Bible, or whatever else — we are to teach and live out, as the song proclaims, forgiveness, love, compassion, joy, courage, relationships, integrity, respect, excellence, honor, and service, all because of Jesus Christ. That's the difference!
A Challenge to Reach Higher
MPCS, you are now poised to begin a new chapter, to reinvigorate this God-called program, to dream big dreams, to welcome a new head of school as you are called to reach higher goals. I, for one, know He has ordained the steps that is bringing my good friend, Tim Wiens, to MPCS. This man is blessed, but so are you! As good as you are, God has an even better future ahead for you, and Tim, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is the one to lead you there. He is a good, bright, and honorable man who is committed to the same "why" of our existence. He is not new to this calling; he is simply new to this setting. Embrace the bright future as you have embraced the past. And friends, let's be honest — we have not quite yet got it all completely right. We never have the luxury in our educational ministry of settling for less than our best. Oswald Chambers once reminded us that, "The good is the enemy of the best!" That is never more true than in Christ-called ministry. Mount Paran, we are very good, but we can and will be better in every aspect of our shared calling, and I am convinced that Dr. Wiens is the man to lead you there.
But hear me well... While we recall the gifts of a gracious Father, we should never forget the path that led us to this moment. Some of you were not fortunate enough to walk the early MPCS journey.
But I remember the story when, at Mount Paran Christian School, we were looking for property — a home — after we separated from the sponsoring church, and nothing seemed to be working.
I remember well the days when we weren't quite sure how we'd make payroll much less initiate new programs.
I remember well years ago when we proclaimed academic excellence and hung that shingle on our door, but, in the quiet recesses of my office, I wondered if it was really true.
I remember well when our athletics consisted of baseball and basketball and not much else could be envisioned. And a quality arts program? That was clearly a distant dream.
I remember when no AP courses were offered; we had no hope of engineering or STEAM programs or musical theater, or... you name it.
On and on...
But God came through! God is faithful! When Jesus stared at a hungry crowd of more than 5000 people and asked the disciples to feed them, they brought to him their perplexities, they groaned, they questioned, they doubted, and they complained. Jesus said, "I've got this!" And when He proclaims, "He has this," the end results are barrels of left-over food way beyond our imagined need.
It is the same with children you teach and the work you do. The need is great; your capacity and resources to meet them are, like mine, inadequate. Let's face it: They always will be. But God says, "I've got this." You may lament all you do not have in skills, time, talents, or resources, but you must bring all you have to Jesus. You may be prone to complain, grumble, point fingers, gossip, or even give up. But remember, it is His job, not yours to multiply the bread and the fish. Your job, while recognizing that your offering will always fall short, is to give it to Him anyway! It is His job to multiply it. After all, Mount Paran is not our school; it is His! And who knows, perhaps when you are old and retire from this work, you too, like the disciples experienced, and like I am experiencing today, you will become awed to come across 12 extra baskets of fish and bread among your treasures.
So grab hold of this dream today, Mount Paran Christian School. Dream even bigger dreams! No telling who will be the one forty years from now to come back and reflect on how much more faithful God was than we could have ever imagined.
For Such A Time As This
I am leaving this place in the good hands of Tim and the exemplary leadership team and staff, but, more importantly, we're leaving it in His hands! It's bigger and better than I am, and bigger than any of us can fathom, but not bigger than His call on your ministry. Walk in the hope of His calling knowing that He knows better than any of us what you need, and He is a pretty generous provider. So continue, Mount Paran Christian School — everyone who shares the work of this place — to do your work well, in the power of His might.
And if you can't find any other reason, any other WHY, to continue to do this thing we collectively and proudly call Mount Paran Christian School, I remind you it's all about its people. So together, continue to do this, and do it well, for the Addie Annes, the Brandt Davids, the Scotts, and the Amandas. I, for one, will be eternally grateful!
Thanks, my friends, for sharing this journey with me. This whole speech has been and will be my constant prayer for you. May God bless you on this journey.
Dr. David Tilley has completed his eighteenth year as MPCS Headmaster. The above text derives from his farewell address to the MPCS staff and is his final entry in #WingTips.
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