"What I Learned During 14 Years at Des Moines Christian"
By Dr. Bob Stouffer, Superintendent, Des Moines Christian, 2000-2014
When I was teaching for Drake University, I loved the textbook which we used first: What They Don't Tell You in Schools of Education About School Administration, by John Black and Fenwick English.
I was tempted to entitle this short goodbye message "What They Didn't Tell Me About Des Moines Christian School Before I Came."
But I didn't.
A favorite book title - although not necessarily a great book - is All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, by Robert Fulghum. Perhaps the title of today's message should be "All I Really Need to Know I Learned at Des Moines Christian."
But it isn't.
My title is pretty vanilla: "What I Learned During 14 Years at Des Moines Christian."
But I hope the vanilla is thickened deliciously with my favorite flavorful toppings -- chocolate sauce, banana slices, cookie crumbles, fresh candy sprinkles, homemade whipped cream, and a cherry on top.
Before I get to those big ideas, I would like to bequeath some of my very precious belongings to some folks. Nothing special, but I need to start cleaning out my office.
I will my. . .
. . .gelatinized "specimen" to Nurse Robin Fynaardt! (This was THE strangest "treat" I have ever received at ANY school, let Des Moines Christian School!)
. . .rubber band ball to Joren Vande Griend!
. . .Iowa Telecom happy face to Lauren Vande Griend!
. . .gel stress reliever to Grant Veenstra!
. . .toothpicks for the new star grocery distributor, Ruth Ann Rittgers!
. . .one-of-a-kind DMC jacket to Evans "Veenstra"!
. . .section of cut 2005 playground equipment to Laurie Butler!
. . .my duct tape prayer sleeve to Marilyn Wilson!
. . .my Z file to the fire!
Now, onto my favorite learnings during my tenure at Des Moines Christian.
God is good! All of the time!
God is great! All of the time!
God NEVER changes!
We must change, or we are missing the biblical mandate to change and be transformed. According to Romans 8:29, we are to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus.
But we too frequently hold on to our old nature and dysfunctional ways. Good habits are good to learn. Bad habits are bad to learn and difficult to un-learn.
Don't I know. I still haven't shaken the horrible habit of failing to fully attend to people who come to my office when I'm knee-deep in a task.
People are ALWAYS more important than tasks.
A re-affirmation: School safety is EXTREMELY important to everyone and for everyone. And I am proud of the positive recognition this school has received for our efforts, in that regard.
Start with the "why." Simon Sinek taught me that in the past year. We must ask WHY we are doing EVERYTHING we do. If we start with the "what" or the "how," we may be moving down a path which has no benefit to the school. But starting with the "why" is the right starting point to critical initiatives.
God provides. I sweated payroll only 1 month of my 168 months of my tenure as Superintendent - December, 2000. Otherwise, God has provided through enrollment and contributions in all 168 months!
God makes Himself and His work known in pretty remarkable ways. Think about the two-story building sitting in packages on the Southern California desert; now, many of us walk through that building daily.
We Christians take too much for granted. We don't celebrate God's miraculous interventions enough. In public gatherings, I often could not get but a smattering of applause from a Des Moines Christian audience after God had shown himself in amazing ways.
Prayer works. It does!
I don't pray the way God wants me to pray. I'm inconsistent, with starts and spits. I talk too much. I need to listen more to His Word and the leading of His Holy Spirit.
Reading the Word of God on a consistent basis fills the soul and ministers to the human spirit. My days always went much better during the times when I have been saturated by the Word of God.
Christian education is TRULY AMAZING! I can't imagine doing education any other way. (I didn't understand that when I started. I came to truly appreciate the joy of Christ-centered education through my 2 daughters' DMC education - although not perfect - and scales coming off my eyes.)
Christians can be really hard on and mean-spirited with each other. I liken it to treating members of my family less lovingly than people who hate me, because I assume my family will always be there for me.
Many non-Christians in the public schools where I served behaved dramatically better than those who call themselves born-again Christians in Christian schools.
But Christians at Des Moines Christian are among the kindest, most supportive, loving, prayerful, encouraging group of people I have EVER met.
A corollary to that truth: When someone is hurting at Des Moines Christian, the cavalry rallies and comes to ministry better than any community in which I have worked.
The students, parents, and staff are INCREDIBLY GENEROUS in this community - with their time, with their talents, and with their treasures - beginning in Year 1, when the students raised $10,000 in spare change and built our first church in Africa through International Cooperating Ministries.
The students, parents, and staff SERVE!
The students, parents, and staff put their Faith in Action! I am so grateful that Karla has brought Faith in Action as a distinct part of the Des Moines Christian culture!
Parent involvement makes a huge difference in the academic achievement and spiritual formation of students. And I learned that Des Moines Christian has THE most positive parent involvement of ANY school I have worked for or visited.
Our parent support clubs - PTF, FAB, and ABC - are INCREDIBLE!
A Christian school must be both excellent with academics AND excellent in disciple-making.
Christian parents need to take more responsibility for the spiritual formation of their own children, and those parents need to be developing a STRONG (not mediocre) biblical worldview.
I learned that I cannot give away what I don't have. If we do not develop a biblical worldview for ourselves, how will be able to effectively help students develop a biblical worldview?! (That was a rhetorical question, if you didn't catch the implication.)
Biblical worldview training is the key to success in a Christian school.
However, Christian schools, including DMC, still don't have the "calling" piece figured out like we should. Why do so many DMC graduates have such difficulty determining their spiritual gifts, unique abilities, work for God, and colleges and other schools which would prepare them for God's calling on their lives?
And why can't we do a better job of creating a culture in which students claim faith in Jesus Christ for themselves, rather than because of peer pressure or because at least one parent believes in and follows Christ?
All Christian staff members works (mostly), although we can drive each other a little crazy, can't we?
Reaffirmations for me at DMC: Unity is important in the body of Christ. It takes a lot of time and effort to build unity and trust. Unity and trust can be compromised in a heartbeat, with lackluster or insensitive effort, and with almost impossibility to be re-built.
Christian organizations and Christians - including me - tolerate sub-par performance for too long.
Just because a person leaves a Christian organization - like me - doesn't make the organization "bad" or me "bad." It's just time for, as Dr. Henry Cloud titles his book, Necessary Endings.
Some personnel endings are necessary - and shouldn't be so personal - but most certainly have been personal at Des Moines Christian.
Nobody's perfect. We're too often "plank-eyed saints," as Casting Crowns sings.
We've got to let go of hurts and grudges. Life is too short to be locked in the prison of unforgiveness.
People can be pretty forgiving at this place, though. I wasn't sure if I would still have a job when Hannah was asked to withdraw during her 8th grade year, and when she got pregnant out-of-wedlock. But it was as though it were a non-issue. Grace, grace, God's grace, grace that can pardon and cleanse within!
People overlooked my many faults and offered me more mercy, love, and encouragement than a leader should receive.
I learned the power of brokenness, humility, and transparency at DMC.
I also learned that some people are not comfortable with my transparency, and that's okay; even that attitude helped me understand boundaries at least a little more.
Communication is important, and the heart of most problems is poor communication.
Some people didn't appreciate my long e-mails, and I understand why.
Some people didn't appreciate the breadth and depth of my reading and book summaries. That's okay. Ignore me.
Some people ignored my communication altogether. I don't believe that's a good idea. Even a blind hog can find an acorn every once in awhile. We should all know what's going on at the school! I will always err on the side of over-communication, rather than under-communication, even if it frustrates some people.
Staff devotions are a GREAT way to start the work day as a community!
Being on time and showing up are important behaviors for Christians. In one sense, I apologize for locking the doors at 7:50 on the mornings of devotions; in another sense, I am not sorry. As educators, we can't have standards for our students and different standards for ourselves.
Standing at the front doors - greeting students, staff, parents, grandparents, and other family members - was THE favorite part of my day.
God wants this school to bring Him honor and glory! Otherwise, He wouldn't have rescued it from SEVERAL significant near-death experiences in the past.
Des Moines Christian is a good school. But God wants DMC to be a great school. Sometimes, we survive. God wants us to thrive. What are you going to do about that?!
Conflict resolution is hard for Christians - and for some Des Moines Christian people. Too many people won't go to the source to work out their disagreements person-to-person. Too many people jump the chain-of-command, when they would be appalled if someone did that to them.
Christians have difficulty with authority. No wonder Paul addressed this issue in multiple letters. In Romans 13, he wrote, "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain." (v. 1-4a, English Standard Version)
We would be wise to understand our respective roles and responsibilities and then defer to authority.
That being said, I certainly made MANY mistakes and mismanaged situations at Des Moines Christian, so I claim my responsibility.
We should all expect to be held accountable through the hierarchy of the school, although we often circumvent that hierarchy. (I'm just being honest and "real.")
I could probably go on and one, if I had more time.
I have some negative memories of Des Moines Christian. Who wouldn't? Every organization has challenges. After all, sin and self-centeredness - again, including and especially my own - is at the core of problems.
However, THE VAST MAJORITY of my memories are EXTREMLEY positive, and I expect my final days to be so as well.
I leave you with a common message I write to Des Moines Christian graduates:
Be conscious of the "Trinity" in your life.
Abide in God the Son; apart from Him, you can do nothing.
Follow hard after and discern the will of God the Holy Spirit.
Honor and glorify God the Father by completing His work, just as Jesus did.
God bless all of you in your continuing journey through life!
Now, to conclude our morning activities, on to the presentation of service awards and books which will commemorate the contributions of staff members who are leaving Des Moines Christian. . . .