July 2021 – “Who holds the right to shape the hearts and minds of our next generation?”
It’s a question asked often by Dr. Nicholas Ellis. When he posed that question to AFA leadership last spring, it was obvious his answer and AFA’s are identical: Parents!
Not government. Not universities. Not even public schools. But parents!
Ellis believes it is indeed parents in the context of local communities of faith that God holds responsible for educating the next generation. Toward that end, Ellis founded Christian Halls International (CHI) to organize and coordinate local “halls” that facilitate biblically-based education from kindergarten to postgraduate levels.
“From the first days of Christianity, followers of Jesus dedicated themselves to cultivating spaces that centered knowledge of the world on the Creator of the Bible,” Ellis said.
“Tragically we have outsourced the privilege of shaping our children to a godless culture and an increasingly secular government education system that is failing the Christian public.”
Dr. Ellis and the CHI staff shared more with AFAJ about this creative education model.
AFA Journal: Describe CHI’s birth and growth to this point.
NE: While completing my doctoral work at University of Oxford, I sensed God calling me to make meaningful Christian education more accessible and more integrated into practical life. Building on that background, I decided to build another way of educating the next generation from a Christ-centered perspective that avoids the massive and social costs of the modern American university.
Now Christian Halls are already spreading across the U.S., East Africa, and Brazil. Sites are as diverse as their local communities. Inner-city pastors in low-income areas gain accredited seminary education. Suburban homeschool families build low-infrastructure alternatives to state-run community colleges. Christian professional athletes study for life after sports.
AFAJ: How does CHI ensure excellence in each hall?
NE: Each CHI hall is rooted in local churches, businesses, professionals, and conservative schools and colleges in curricula that teach knowledge, virtue, and wisdom. Each is an independently operated micro-campus – a private Christian hall. Each hall develops a network of local Christian businesses and churches to provide apprenticeships and work experience beyond the classroom.
We begin by identifying and training local Christian teachers and leaders to operate each hall as independent student centers, with a focus on Christian formation through intensive academic tutorials and a commitment to vocational mentorship.
Partnerships with a growing number of Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries provide affordable accredited certificate, undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral degree programs. CHI’s academic partnerships already include LeTourneau University, The King’s College NYC, Indiana Wesleyan University, and Grace School of Theology.
AFAJ: Is this basically like other online programs?
CHI: It’s much more. CHI delivers Christian education integrated into the local community of faith, without the isolation of online-only programs.
Online education offers greater educational access for more people, but it has its limitations. Technology may be part of the solution, but it’s not the full answer. Too often students receive knowledge but fail to gain wisdom. Also, education solely online gives little opportunity for lifelong mentors or lasting relationships.
AFAJ: Give us a success story or two.
CHI: Walt and Tammie Jurek are directors of a Christian Hall in The Woodlands, Texas, where they serve local homeschool co-ops and private Christian schools with a Christian alternative to state community colleges.
Christians from the area are eager to help, serving as academic instructors and mentors in college courses such as government, economics, math, engineering, theology, and literature. Christian businesses provide sponsorships and work-study opportunities, and local churches are excited for ministry students to work on their teams. The Jureks are exploring the idea of a Christ-centered trade school as well.
“With government and state institutions no longer supporting family values or godly principles, it is time for alternatives to come from within the church,” said Tammie Jurek. “CHI is an option for those who desire to uphold a worldview founded on God’s Word.”
In Northeast Ohio, Paul Morrison was part of a team of local pastors with a desire to start a seminary for pastors to train locally without having to leave their ministry for three years. Yet Paul saw the deficiencies of purely online education.
He was excited about the Christian Halls model, and his group partnered to form the Ohio Theological Institute to provide “equipping that is just as much relational as it is intellectual and spiritual,” said Morrison.
“The instructors aren’t just talking heads but are pastors from around the region. These students are participating in discussions with these pastors and other students in their area and finding encouragement and belonging.”
AFAJ: How did you establish a Brazil connection?
NE: Our family has done missionary work in Brazil. Building on 25+ years of ministry there, CHI has founded seven higher education Christian Halls and partnered with over 300 K-12 learning sites that serve as regional hubs for Christ-centered education in that country.
Humberto Lopez, senior fellow and director of the Christian Hall in Belo Horizonte, told us, “The Christian Hall brings a breath of hope for Christian students who have been completely imprisoned by the Marxist secular university.
“Until the Christian Hall project and homeschooling began here in Brazil, many people had an idea that the Bible was something for our homes, but not for the intellectual life. Science and the intellect also belong to Christ.”
AFAJ: What was that about professional athletes?
CHI: Going from a New Testament Greek tutorial to warming up in a dugout is not your typical classroom format, but Josh Lindblom, pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers, is thankful for the flexibility to tailor his education even while on the road with Major League Baseball.
“This program has provided me not only with a degree but with someone deeply interested in the course and direction of my life who can be an advocate for me,” he said. “The course of my life has changed because of the Christian Hall.”
Lindblom is graduating with a master’s of biblical studies from Grace School of Theology and will be starting a master’s of strategic leadership from LeTourneau University through CHI.
AFAJ: Why are you optimistic about the future?
NE: We see this national moment as an opportunity to revitalize community. We are seeing a return to a “county over country” vision for human flourishing. We have everything we need to produce a beautiful and God-honoring alternative to secular education.
AFAJ: What are CHI’s biggest challenges?
NE: The success of this movement will hinge on finding people passionate about the next generation who are willing to pray and to step forward as local initiators. Then we must train and support these leaders, whether as regional directors, academic instructors, or financial patrons willing to support a local Christian Hall.
We must take back governance of human formation, from childhood through adult education. Parents and grandparents concerned with the trajectory of their families and the nation are asking, ‘What can we do?’ We want to help people think beyond the existing models and to own the work of developing hearts and minds.
“I tell people every day, ‘You can do this! Let’s get to work.’”
Join CHI’s Campaign
• Prayer warriors, lift up this mission and the next generation.
• Patrons, support the effort with your time, networks, and financial resources.
• Directors and leaders, take the initiative to lead a Christian Hall.
• Connectors, tell others who may be interested in joining the work.
Learn more at christianhalls.us.