A December "Warrior Thought" (December 2014)

In the daily hustle and bustle of life, it is too easy to take for granted the many blessings God places in our lives.  One such blessing is a Lutheran middle and high school in Lincoln, NE.  It is a privilege to serve in a ministry where God uses outstanding teachers and staff to do amazing work in the lives of young people and their families.

Over the course of the next 7 months, I would like to take time to remind our Warrior Family (and myself) why a faith-based education is so valuable.  In order to accomplish this, I will draw on two sources.  First, I will reference statements from the LCMSOffice of National Mission-School Ministry explaining “Why Lutheran Schools.”  I will then share excerpts from a document titled “Why Lutheran High?” written by a sister school to debunk some of the most common hurdles preventing a family from choosing a Christian education for their child.

A statement from the LCMS Office of National Mission - School Ministry – “Why Lutheran Schools”: To Nurture the Children's Faith: Faith is nurtured by daily proclamation of the Gospel, teaching children the Word of God and how to read and understand that Word on their own, and by modeling and challenging students to live the Christian faith.

This statement captures the very heart of why we have a ministry called Lincoln Lutheran.  It demonstrates why schools have always been a focal point of the LCMS since churches first started forming in the 1800’s.  The first established and longest serving LCMS church and school in Lincoln (Trinity) has been serving the community for nearly 150 years.  The school has always been an integral part of their mission and their ministry to families. 

As a Christian father, I am blessed with three wonderful daughters.  Sara and I have been given a huge responsibility by God to bring our daughters up in the training and instruction of Christ.  While this begins in the home, and is reinforced by our church family, this faith-nurturing responsibility is maximized through the care, love and Biblical instruction our daughters receive each day in a Christ-centered school setting.  While things don’t always go perfectly, we recognize that the blessings more than outweigh the occasional challenge or frustration.  We are so thankful for the village at Messiah and Lincoln Lutheran schools as they help us raise Kayla, Addi and Jordan.

One of the strongest challenges to serving more families in Christian Education is the cost.

An excerpt from the publication “Why Lutheran High?”, developed by Wolf River Lutheran High School: Isn’t a Christian high school too expensive? It is true that Christian education comes with a price tag. Lutheran high schools across the country range in tuition from $2,500 to $15,000 per school year. Spread out over ten school months, it can mean a commitment of $250 to $1,500 a month for a single student. Consequently, a family that otherwise sees the potential value of a Christian secondary education is reluctant to pursue the opportunity assuming that the cost is prohibitive.

Fortunately, this obstacle isn’t always as daunting as it first seems.  Wolf River Lutheran High School, like most Christian schools, doesn’t rely solely upon tuition to pay the bills. To do so would make enrollment too expensive for virtually any family. In fact, the average cost to educate one of our students exceeds $13,000 and yet our current tuition rates are only $3,900 for students of association churches and only $4,900 for non-association students. The remainder of the income is generated through church association dues, donations, adopt-a-student sponsors, fundraisers, etc. To be blunt, you get far more than you pay for even if you pay full price. 

The best news is that MOST families don’t pay full price! We want Christian education to be available to anyone who wants it, so we aggressively work to provide financial assistance to any family that is willing to formally apply and qualify for a reduction in tuition. We also offer interest free payment plans, paid-in-full discounts, work service credits, and multiple child discounts to help ease the burden.  Even with assistance, the tuition amount may still seem discouraging, especially when public schools seem to be free.

How does a family get past this? A positive attitude can be the key. When something becomes a priority, it is easier to find a plan to make it work.  If you believe that a Christian high school education is important in the academic and spiritual development of a child then sacrifices in other areas become more acceptable and realistic. It isn’t always easy, but tens of thousands of families across America find a way to make it work year after year. A little thought and creativity can go a long way. There are countless ways to adjust spending habits like adjusting cell phone or cable television packages or eating out less.

There is a lot to think about when it comes to cost for education.  The information above digs into a lot of the same concepts we experience at Lincoln Lutheran.  Regardless of a family’s ability to pay, all families seem to wrestle with the issue of cost - is this investment worth it?  There are endless examples of the ways God has used Lincoln Lutheran in the lives of young people to make an eternal difference.  One doesn’t have to look back too far to recognize 4 baptisms in our senior class last year.  Countless alumni reflect a depth of faith and maturity which sets them apart from their peers.  I’ve watch God use Lincoln Lutheran take a young person, confused by adolescence and challenging family situations, and form them into young adults of such strong faith and conviction.  In many ways, one cannot and should not put a price on the work the spirit does in the lives of our students.

Still, there is a price tag.  The average cost of education this year at Lincoln Lutheran is nearly $8500 per student (the state average in our public schools easily exceeds $10,000).  Cost is higher for the upper grades and less for our lower grades, but that cost represents an average.  Of that cost, parents pay 62% of the overall cost to educate our students.  Our Association picks up an additional 29% and our fundraising efforts cover the rest.  Over $200,000 was issued this year in the form of discounts, scholarships and financial aid.  Our goal is to make Lincoln Lutheran accessible to any family who wants to be a part of our family.

For most families there is still a sacrifice that must be made.  I especially like the phrase from above, “When something becomes a priority, it is easier to find a plan to make it work.”  A parent of three alumni once shared with me, “We decided to send our daughters to Lincoln Lutheran.  I don’t know where the money came from (he knew the exact dollar amount).  It wasn’t in our budget.  With all the miles we drove (from Seward), our vehicles never ran out of gas, never broke down, and we never had an accident.  We asked God to bless our decision of Christian education and He took care of the rest.”  What a testimony!

I am thankful to work with a Board of Directors that works hard to keep costs down while running an efficient and impacting ministry.  They recognize the impact tuition increases have on a family and continue to develop new ways to slow the impact the increased cost to teach our children has on families. 

So is it worth it?  Listen to our kids speak about the Bible, explain doctrine, and reflect a spirit of service in our community.  Their level of knowledge and maturity humbles this life-long Lutheran.  God is doing amazing things in our Warrior Family.

May God’s richest blessings and peace surround you this Advent and Christmas season, where we celebrated the ultimate gift - a baby born in a manger - who would one day die for you and for me!

Because of the baby Jesus, Scott Ernstmeyer, EdS