Challenges and Gratitude: A Survey of Conservative Anabaptist Schools

Areas of Gratitude

Survey responses highlighted two aspects of conservative Anabaptist schools which merit gratitude. First, the schools in our survey enjoy strong parental and church support. Nearly half of the respondents mentioned patron and church support as something they like about their school. They describe “a great community of parents to work with” and “a core of very supportive, engaged parents.” We note with gratitude that no respondents said they have a big problem with parental support. In fact, 82% of respondents reported positive relations with parents. This strong relationship between parent and the school calls for gratitude from all involved.


A second area of gratitude is school culture. Twenty percent of respondents indicated that they enjoy their school’s culture. Survey responses described this: “It’s a safe place to learn and grow.” “Our school is small enough that the staff and students know each other.” Respondents expressed gratitude for “good relationships between staff and students,” “a culture of grace,” and “a relaxed atmosphere.” Eighty-two percent of respondents report a positive school culture, while only a few experience it as a big problem. This pervasively positive school culture is a reason for gratitude.


These two areas of strength are significant for the future of conservative Anabaptist schools. As teachers and school administrators safeguard the trust placed in them by parents and church leaders, and as they nurture the positive school culture that exists, they will find opportunities for fruitful service and development. Indeed, this foundation will provide the stability needed to navigate the challenges facing the school.



This survey revealed that there is much in conservative Anabaptist schools for which to thank God. By and large, parents and churches support the schools that are educating their children. Teachers bring committed energy to their work, cultivating a positive school culture. Academic curricula meet many needs in the educational program of the school.


Opportunities abound for the investment of energy and vision in the future of Anabaptist schools. The development of materials to teach church and Mennonite history would fill a need in the academic program of many schools. Increased effort is needed to help our schools effectively serve special needs learners in the classroom. Creative solutions must be cultivated to solve the financial challenges faced by our schools. School boards, school administrators, and church leaders should consider ways to identify and develop teachers and keep those teachers in the school long-term. Significant investment of resources in these areas is needed, not only to sustain what currently exists, but also to build on that foundation to serve the needs of the next generation.


Challenges and Gratitude: A Survey of Conservative Anabaptist Schools

The following excerpt is part 1 of 2 and is taken from the fall 2016 newsletter of Faith Builders Educational Programs. Part 2 will be printed in the November newsletter. For the complete article with details of how the survey was conducted, see



In order to understand the needs and opportunities facing conservative Anabaptist schools in a broader context, Faith Builders conducted a survey during the first half of 2016. One hundred fifty schools from conferences and fellowships often represented at Faith Builders’ events were invited to complete a four-page survey. Representatives of sixty-two schools completed the survey. These sixty-two responses, coming from various geographic regions and from large and small schools, confirmed that the conversations we have with teachers and principals represent the needs and opportunities of many schools.

The four needs and two areas of gratitude identified in this summary of our survey may offer guidance for school boards, school administrators, church leaders, parents, and others who care about the schools that train our children. While respondents identified other areas of need, the four primary needs in our schools are teachers, financial sustainability, exceptional learners, and church history curriculum.


1) Teachers

By multiple measures, the challenge of finding and keeping qualified teachers is one of the primary needs of our schools. On the general question of challenges, 40% of respondents listed issues related to teachers as one of the challenges they face. The responses range from “finding qualified teachers” to “retaining staff long-term” to “poor teacher vetting and hiring.”

In addition, over 35% of respondents described challenges related to developing and supporting the teachers in the school. A teaching principal at a smaller school described the challenge of “balancing teacher workload with a quality learning experience.” A principal at a larger school highlighted the challenge of teacher burnout. From a school board perspective, finding teachers was the second most-frequently mentioned item that boards spend time discussing. Recruiting and keeping teachers continues to be one of the primary needs of conservative Anabaptist schools.


2) Financial Sustainability

A second primary need of these schools is the financial demand of operating a school. On the general question of challenges, nearly half of the respondents mentioned some dimension of the school in which finances presented a challenge. An administrator stated that they face the challenge of “setting an affordable tuition that also meets the operating budget.” Another respondent highlighted the challenge of “properly compensating staff.” Forty-eight percent of school boards surveyed indicated that finances and fundraising receive significant attention during meetings.


3) Exceptional Learners

Though student behavioral issues are not reported as a big problem, 26% of respondents listed issues such as motivation and behavior as a challenge they face in operating the school. This seems fairly typical and is not a large area of concern. The greatest need in relation to students comes in serving special needs students. Twenty-seven percent of respondents listed the challenge of special needs students in their classrooms. Respondents state that they need knowledge about how to help these students; they are also challenged to find the right staff to work with special needs students. Four respondents indicated that this issue demands a significant portion of school board discussions, with at least one aspect of this being financial: how do we pay for the additional staff or space needed to serve special needs learners? A veteran teacher and principal observed, “The elephant in the room is special needs students. Probably every school has students they don’t know what to do with.” School boards and teachers need resources to help them serve special needs students effectively.


So What Do You Do Over the Summer?

One of the interesting questions that teachers often get asked is what they do in “all their spare time” during summer break. It seems to me that this is kind of like asking a farmer what he does in the winter! I’m sure they have plenty to do, just as teachers do in the summer. Here are some things we were up to:

Mr. and Mrs. Swanson:
Our whole family went to Shenandoah Christian Music Camp in June.  Jeff and I went on a 10-day tour of a few east coast states singing with the Oasis Chorale in July, and then we were at Teachers Week at Faith Builders in August.

Mr. Musser and family:
We spent three days at the cabin with each side of the family, kept the garden weed free, had numerous speaking engagements, writing assignments, and were at Faith Builders Teacher’s week. Oh, and school was mostly ready to go on August 25.

Mrs. Martin:
Summer is my time to do gardening, canning, freezing, and house cleaning. I also spent a fair bit of time in the office keeping up with book work and preparing for the coming school year.

Miss Jenna:
I spent the month of June working at Alliance Relief in Athens, Greece. The first weeks of July were spent in the classroom with all things school related. And the last full weeks of summer found me touring Poland with Hope Singers.

Miss Zimmerman:
I spent 5 weeks in Thailand teaching English at Suansawanvithaya School in southern Thailand and visiting a friend in Chiang Mai.  I also spent a day in Doha, Qatar on the way home.

Mr. Smoker:
My summer consisted of traveling to Indonesia and California, doing college studies, working in the woodshop, gardening, and enjoying spending time with my lovely wife.


A “Cloud Brain” for Our “Brain Fog”?

Unless we are living with our heads in the sand, all of us know that our world is changing.  The culture of this nation has rapidly changed as it has been exposed to the “advances” of modern times.  The electronic age has pounded down the gates of traditional thought and threatens to replace the very way that we process information.  As conservative people, we have had the privilege of good faithful church leaders who have warned us of the dangers of electronic media.  However, in this article I want to quote purely secular sources to demonstrate that this is not just a “conservative Christian issue.”

Technology in our day and age tends to take over some of our mental faculties if we allow it. Technology gives us quick access to facts, but it does not necessarily increase knowledge. Technology allows us to organize, sort, store, and back up information, but it does not necessarily give us more understanding. Technology can certainly give one the appearance of knowledge, but having knowledge within my person is much different than knowing how and where to access knowledge on my computer. Technology gives us the luxury of mental laziness, because we no longer need to contain the knowledge within ourselves, we just need to remember where to access it. This is simply outsourcing our brains. In business terms outsourcing  is the process of contracting a business function to someone else. In many ways technology allows us to simply outsource our brains. Deep thinking, reflection, and meditation are seen by many as no longer necessary; because should our brain have a deficit of knowledge (call it “brain fog”), we can quickly make it up with technology by searching the cloud, which is essentially the back up for the modern brain. Nicholas Carr says, “The internet’s cacophony of stimuli short-circuits, both conscious and unconscious thought, preventing our minds from thinking either deeply or creatively. Our brains turn into simple signal-processing units, quickly shepherding information into our consciousness and then back out again.” Technology, and especially the internet “seize our attention, only to scatter it” (Carr).  “The net delivers precisely the kind of sensory and cognitive stimuli that have been shown to result in strong and rapid alterations in brain circuits and functions” (Carr).

It is interesting to me that as internet use increases in our world, literacy decreases.  The internet has put the world’s wisdom at our fingertips in many different forms, but at the same time our culture is losing it’s ability to read and process information.  “As fewer of us are reading books, more of us are surfing the Web for fragments of thought” (10, EL).  As fewer people are literate, we have fewer people who have the simple building blocks of learning, whereby they can gather information.  Without the ability to gather information, there is little to no hope that we will be able to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate it.

“Every day we are exposed to huge amounts of information, disinformation, and just plain nonsense.  The ability to distinguish fact from factoid, reality from fiction, and truth from lies is not a nice to have but a must have in a world flooded with so much propaganda and spin” (10, EL).  In other words, as our culture is inundated with fiction and nonsense, it has at the same time given up basic literacy, which has been the proven building block for being able to correctly process and evaluate information.  Deception is rampant, and the culture is ripe to accept it.  The choice is ours:  we can follow the culture into the electronic age and destroy our children’s ability to think, or we can keep doing what we know has been proven – teach basic literacy and encourage reading over all the other electronic smut that is out there.  The culture has a definite course that is it is taking– it has prescribed the “cloud brain” to overcome “brain fog”. Is this an acceptable use of the brain which God has given and designed to grow not only in knowledge, but also understanding and wisdom?


A Producer or a Consumer?

There is a term that I am called that I do not like- consumer. It causes me to be targeted with advertisements, loved by Google, loved by merchants, and a contributor to the US economy all because I consume things. It is as though my worth is in what I can afford to buy, drive, eat, build, and spend. At death, I might receive the words, “Well done thou good and faithful consumer, for you have spent more on yourself, ate more, lived better, drove better, and consumed more than your counterparts.” Being called a consumer really grates on me, because there is no value or hope or passion or challenge in being a consumer.

In the natural world there are consumers, like coyotes and eagles, and there are producers, like apple trees and algae that provide food for animals to eat. These plants use the chlorophyll inside them to absorb the sun to grow a product that is useful to the world around them. These plants certainly receive, but they are not consumers. They use what they receive (the sun) in conjunction with their own resources (chlorophyll) to produce what is useful,  beneficial, and needed to the environment around them. On the other hand, consumers, like eagles and coyotes, soar and sneak around looking for the best meal to benefit them, giving back very little to their environment other than keeping the food chain balanced.

I am convinced that this science lesson has a spiritual analogy, and I believe it is this:

-Christians can either be producers or consumers; and if they are not intentionally producers, then they are automatically consumers.

-Producers receive the Son, integrating him with their own personal gifts and resources to produce a product that is a spiritual blessing to the community around them.

-Consumers simply soar around looking for the next best event, preacher, or singing group to attend to give their spirits a boost and satisfy themselves. Sure the Son shines on them, and they absorb it, but yet they don’t produce a useful product to the community around them.

-Producers are consumed with the “Mission of the Master” of whom it is said: “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Producers are motivated by this mission, understanding by faith that the reward for the producer far surpasses the meager reward of the consumer.

Producers, consumers- which describes you?


-Lyle Musser



What’s Happening in Your Sphere?

God has created the earth with a number of “spheres” around it to shield and protect it from potentially harmful elements coming in from outside sources. The atmosphere containing the air which surrounds the earth is a wonderful asset to life on earth, as it creates air movements  to carry life-giving water in big billowing clouds that spread rain over the crops we rely on for food. When the clouds thin out, the atmosphere seems invisible, but yet contains air and water molecules which scatter a beautiful deep blue color all across the sky. When in proper balance and orientation, the atmosphere is a person’s best friend and provider. When the atmosphere gets out of balance, polarizes, and experiences great extremes of temperature in its various layers, great storms and violent winds can develop and bring great destruction.

Another fascinating “sphere” which is less known or recognized is the earth’s magnetosphere. The earth truly is a very large magnet with orientation towards a magnetic north pole and magnetic south pole. This may seem insignificant, but this magnetic orientation is truly a life saver to life on earth, as it shields the earth from the sun’s radiation. As the sun burns each day, it literally loses millions of tons of mass. A portion of that mass is belched out into the solar system in the form of particle radiation. Particle radiation can be thought of as millions of sub atomic bullets flying directly at you as you stand here on earth. It would not really hurt to get hit by a few; but in a concentrated pack, they would pulverize our bodies. Thankfully, God has designed particle radiation to have an electric charge. Much of this particle radiation is actually captured and held in space without ever threatening the earth. However, the particle radiation that is not captured in space is currently aimed directly at you until it reaches the magnetosphere of the earth. Since the earth’s magnetic field reaches thousands of miles into space, there is a constant push and shove match  between the particle radiation and the earth’s magnetic field. The earth’s magnetic field, because of its orientation, stands its ground against the particle radiation and directs it toward the south or north magnetic pole. As it arrives towards the poles, the radiation is attracted magnetically to the earth and thus comes flying into the earth’s atmosphere at break neck speeds. Because of the extreme speed the particles are met with extreme resistance by the earth’s atmosphere and disintegrate in a fiery show called the Northern Lights or Southern Lights, similar to the way a “shooting star” dissolves in a fiery show when speeding toward the earth.

I think a great analogy can be drawn between this scientific understanding and our spiritual lives. Our school theme this year is focused on the armor of God. Ephesians 6:11 tells us to, “Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” Just as God has commanded the spheres of the earth to stand in proper balance and orientation to act as both carriers of life giving rain and shields against the particle radiation that threatens to destroy us, so has he commanded us to stand in proper orientation to him; so that we are spiritually equipped to be both carriers of his blessings to others, as well as shields from the enemy darts that threaten to destroy us. God has instructed us how to properly balance and orient our lives. When we stand in proper orientation to him, we find ourselves armed and equipped to not only stand, but to stand fast continually, for the long haul. He commands us to “stand” and put on the whole armor of God, so that we are able to “withstand” in the evil day. As we stand properly and dress properly with his armor, we will find the breastplate of righteousness guarding our hearts, our feet carrying the gospel of peace, our head protected by the helmet of salvation, our hands holding the Word of God which is quick and powerful and sharp like a sword, and attached to our arms, a shield of faith which continually resists and deflects the darts of the wicked one. Standing in the proper posture, with the proper protection, Paul adds one last weapon called prayer, which ensures the maintenance of proper posture and proper armor for the ongoing battle we face each day. May each of our lives emanate a “sphere” of influence that provides the blessings of God’s life-giving Word and protection from harm for all those near us as we demonstrate proper alignment with God and his direction for our lives.

-Lyle Musser

A New Era at SMS

SMS is in our 10th year of operation this year. Up until this point, there has been a lot of vision, passion, and dedication given to “starting well.” The SMS building project has been long completed, but the final payment has been just completed. In many ways, this opens up a new era of opportunity for the school community of SMS. Two specific areas of opportunity are the newly created resource room that is operating this year for the first time and the potential of bussing for next school year. Up until this point, we have simply done our best to “make do” with the resources at hand. Classroom teachers were responsible to assist struggling students as best they could, and patrons have all shared their vans, SUV’s, and cars to see that their children arrived at school and got to their field trip locations.
As we enter this new era of being debt free, we are realizing the indescribable benefit of rounding out our services to students and patrons through the resource room. Many students who in the past would just “limp along” are now “running along” as they have resource room teachers with the time to meet their individual learning needs. Classroom teachers and parents have the satisfaction of knowing that the children going to the resource room are getting exactly what they need to overcome their learning challenges. In many ways this allows the classroom teacher to be relieved of the guilt of “never reaching around” and parents the satisfaction of seeing progress made on their child’s individual learning goals. This satisfaction is priceless, yet it has come with a price tag increase in the yearly budget. The board has decided not to place the financial burden of the resource room only on those receiving assistance, but encourages all of us to embrace those students with learning differences and come beside them in the spirit of community to provide for them what is needed.
In the same way that the added service of the resource room has been a blessing, we believe that the added service of bussing can prove to be a blessing to the SMS patron body. First of all is the convenience factor which patrons could enjoy from a bussing program. Second is the blessing of busses on field trip days and sports game days where the hassle of planning transportation could be done away with one large yellow machine. Third, and maybe most significant, is that school provided transportation could potentially raise the SMS enrollment toward a peak capacity, in turn relieving the budget of necessary donations due to increased tuition income.
In a day when many private Christian schools are struggling to exist, we are extremely blessed to be part of a community of faith that God has blessed abundantly. May we move forward with renewed passion and vision into this new era.

Lyle Musser

“Hoe Your Own Row” so “The Proof is in the Pudding”

An idiom is “a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words.” The idiom “hoe your own row” is laden with various connotations depending on the situation where it is used, but I do believe that it can be a good reminder to all of us (especially our children) that there are some things for which only they can be responsible. Galatians 6 speaks directly to this concept. Often when we think of Galatians 6, we think of the teachings to “restore the one overtaken in a fault,” and “bear one another’s burdens,” and “do good to all men- especially those in the household of faith.” Clearly these teachings assure us that there are appropriate times to help others “with their own row.” However, couched between these teachings are also a few relentless statements about personal responsibility and personal reputation for what is growing “in your own row.” Galatians 6:3-5,7 says: “3 For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. 4 But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. 5 For every man shall bear his own burden. 7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

Verse 3 says that the inherent deception of self perception is that when one thinks about himself, he tends to over rate himself because he likes himself to have a good rating. Verse 4 brings us back to solid thinking by telling us that it is not our evaluation of self that is important, but the reality that our own actions, deeds, and work produce a reputation that is understood because of its clear evidence. Verse 4 in Idiom form says if “the proof is in my pudding” and the pudding tastes good, there is reason for joy and satisfaction, and no reason to snitch someone else’s pudding. Verse 5 is one hundred percent clear that we each have our own distinct row with various burdens falling to each one in different ways. Verse 7 seems to hearken back to the concept in verse 3, concerning who is deceived. Stated in idiom form verse 7 says “The trick’s on you,” but God won’t be fooled or ridiculed about the harvest in your row. Verse 7 literally has the idea that we cannot “turn up our snout” at God and “bellow or roar against him” concerning the reaping done in our row. In other words God perfectly connects the dots from the time of sowing to the time of reaping. He is never confused by the harvest in my row, seemingly insinuating that people like us often act confused about our harvest because of inherent self-deception.

From little on up, we try to help our children “connect the dots” by realizing that certain actions (sowing) leads to certain consequences (reaping). Parenting can become wearying as we continually preach this simple logic from the time they toddle toward the hot burner, to the time that they refuse traffic laws. At times we might even be pleased that they “got what they deserved,” as long as it doesn’t hurt too much! On the other hand “mature” people like us are all too often masters of denying our own harvest. When we look at our row, we gasp and act as though it’s not the one we hoe. In vain we explain to God and others that the multitude of weeds and lack of fruit in my row is quite explainable because of windborne weed seeds and native plants that lived here before I sowed my row. What fools we are to stand in our own row giving production disclaimers!

In conclusion, Galatians 6 clearly teaches that we are responsible to assist each other by doing good, bearing burdens, and restoring the erring one. However, Galatians 6 is also clear that we must reckon with the harvest as it is. We can’t wait until harvest time to name the “crops;” because even if we call the fox tails soybeans, they won’t taste the same or be enjoyed by anyone. Might I suggest that “hoeing your own row” has an independent, self made, and arrogant tone to it while “the proof is in the pudding” simply says that we have to reckon with what is. If we want our children to be successful, we must be there to assist them by hoeing with them in their own row, because it’s the time of hoeing that changes the harvest.  However, when harvest day comes and the “proof is in the pudding,” we can’t deny the taste of the pudding. We can only explain why it tastes the way it does and plan for a better harvest next time.

-Lyle Musser, Administrator

God’s Perspective on Man’s Pursuits

In I Kings 3, Solomon received what was probably the greatest offer ever made. God himself asked Solomon, “What shall I give thee?” Now first of all, we must note that an offer may or may not be valuable depending on the one offering. In other words, if the one offering does not have much, then the offer will be limited and weak and disappointing. In this case, however, the one offering was God himself. Because HE was offering, this offer to Solomon was wide open, giving him access to anything within the resources of God- which happens to be everything.

After the offer was given, Solomon begins to reflect on what he should ask for, which offers to us great insight into the values of Solomon.  In I Kings 3:6-8, we see that Solomon valued mercy, truth, righteousness, and uprightness of heart as displayed in his father David. Solomon humbly recognized his position among God’s people as their leader, realizing that the task of leading was beyond his ability. After processing God’s question, Solomon submits his request, “Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?” (I Kings 3:9).

In verse 10 we are told that this request pleased the Lord. Verse 11 is key because it is God’s response to Solomon. In his response, the Lord reveals what he would expect to be “typical responses” to this offer. It seems from God’s perspective that if this request were given frequently that people would ask for these three things: “long life; neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies” (I Kings 3:11). I believe this insight into the thinking of God should reveal to us a very important truth. This truth shows how God values wisdom, discernment, and an understanding heart (for which Solomon wisely asked); when, in all reality, God would expect most people to ask for things along the lines of health, wealth, and revenge.

The request for “long life” would be logical to any person, Christian or not, because it prolongs the curse of death to which no one desires to succumb. The request for “riches” is natural, because riches supposedly entitles us to more things, more power, and more security. The request for “the life of thine enemies” would again be a natural and logical attraction, because if all of one’s enemies were annihilated, a person could feel vindicated, justified, and have relative peace.

Because these three items are listed in contrast to Solomon’s wise choice, we could deduce that God sees these three as foolish choices. For one, all of these choices would only be temporary. These requests would be short-sighted and, in the end, leave a person who pursues them no better off with or without them. A second thing to note is that wisdom is contrasted with these three things because wisdom has only one source- God himself. The other three things could be attained from sources outside of an explicit offer from God. Solomon certainly made a good choice by asking for the commodity that was not available from any other source. It was prudent to ask for wisdom from the only vendor who had it! In conclusion, Solomon made a good choice when given the best offer. We glean God’s insight into the typical, common, everyday, earthly kinds of requests that he would expect from common men. If we want to be uncommon in God’s sight, we would be wise to abandon their pursuit and go for the things that only God can give.

-Lyle Musser, Administrator

Blessed Be God!

It is August 27, the first day of school for this year. This first day is like no other first day because of a number of new staff and quite a few new students as well. This day is also like no other first day, because school began today in a building that is paid completely! No debt, no loans– The SMS building is completely paid, because the year end matching fund of $60,000 was met thanks to your contribution and the contribution of many others from the SMS community. We are delighted to have reached this ambitious goal. The total contributions received toward the operating goal was $70,142.11 which allowed the capital side of the matching fund to take its place and make the final payment on the interest-free loans. The SMS board wants to express great appreciation to all who gave, making a very large goal achievable, one donation at a time!

Today, students repeated the same celebration as on September 7, 2007, which was the  first day that our building was used for classes. Chapel groups gathered in prayer thanking God for His provision of a wonderful school building as well as asking God to bless the upcoming school year. After prayer, each student received a helium balloon and attached a note of celebration. This note asked any who might find it to write back to the school and tell us where they found it. It is interesting that when this was done in 2007, we did receive two letters from Quakertown and one letter from Perkiomenville from some kind folks who found the notes and wrote to us. This morning when the balloons took off from school, they headed in a south easterly direction towards the Morgantown area. It will be interesting to see if anyone finds any notes and writes back.

Building repayment represents a pivotal point in SMS history as today we began our 10th year of school. Moving forward into our 10th year and beyond, there are more opportunities and challenges ahead of us as we seek to serve our patron body and the Church Community to the best of our ability.

-Mr. Lyle Musser


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