Stopped Short by the Principal’s Passion

By Mark A. Taylor

What do we do when a church member drops out?

“Somebody should call him,” someone said to me about a new Christian in a troubled marriage who has stopped coming to our church.

But neither of us knows the guy well enough to call him. I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to him. What can we do?

This was fresh in my mind when I heard a radio report about a high school principal in New York City who’s passionate about keeping students in school.

Gillian Smith, herself a former high school dropout, has a zero tolerance plan for student absences. Along with other staff members, she spends part of every day phoning homes of absent students.

“We’re letting kids know they cannot fall off the radar,” she explains. She tells students, “If I don’t see you in the morning, I care. I want to know where you are.”

She cares enough to start calling as early as 6:00 am to catch shift workers when she knows they’ll be home in bed asleep. She doesn’t send a card or leave a message on an answering machine. She keeps calling till she talks to a parent or guardian. If someone at the high school she attended or didn’t attend as a teenager had done that, she says, “I might have been able to see, wow, they do want me here.”

The church isn’t a public school, of course. There’s no law or attendance officer dogging absentee church members to come back. But think what a difference a few Christians could make if their passion for discipleship matched Gillian Smith’s passion for education.

“If you come here, I guarantee you can change your life,” she tells her students.

What a claim! Identical, isn’t it, to the offer we make for the preaching and teaching and fellowship to be found in the local church?

The interviewer asked the principal if she viewed student absences as a personal failure. After a long silence, she said she did, even though she admitted that might not be “realistic.”

She spoke of one student who transferred last year to a larger school where it is “much easier for him to hide and slip through the cracks.” She thinks about him every day. “His name rolls in my head. . . .

“You can’t just say, ‘We lost a few along the way,’” she explained. “Where are they? What’s going on with them? Who are they with? What have their lives turned out to be?”

All are questions I can’t answer about this latest church dropout. And I fear there’s no one who can.

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