In recent years, church-based preschools have been facing an uphill challenge to survive.
Changes in the early childhood education industry in recent years already heralded an end-of-the-road situation for many of these faith-based preschools. Along with falling enrollment rates and funding issues, the future can look bleak.
And yet there remain many teachers who are passionate about their work in church-based preschools.
We spoke to three of them, each at different stages in their careers, for a view of what it’s like on the ground and to hear how God is moving in their lives and classrooms.
RACHEL’S ROAD TO BETHEL
Even while she was in secondary school, Rachel enjoyed taking care of younger children.
“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher or work with children, as they always amaze me with the things they say, think and do,” she explained.
While Rachel’s journey to studying Early Childhood at a local polytechnic was a smooth one, life after graduation was anything but.
Rachel was supposed to join the school that she had done her internship with. But due to some complications, and after vacillating between two other offers, her plans did not materialise.
“Things did not seem very clear and it was quite uncertain. The door was eventually closed — they were not hiring due to the circuit breaker,” Rachel explained.
But she would learn that when God closes a door, He opens another. A series of divine detours eventually brought her to Bethel Day Care Centre.
“In a way it felt like maybe this is where God wanted me to be working at. It was really unexpected,” Rachel mused.
Rachel shared that reflecting helped her find reasons and peace in her decision to stay: “One of the main reasons was because it is a Christian school. It is good because I can sing Christian songs with the children, and I can read them Bible stories.
“It’s a liberty to be able to use words like, ‘Don’t be afraid because God is with you’ or ‘Jesus loves you’.”
In that light, such a learning environment makes it easier to share God’s love and message. Rachel shared how she had an opportunity to do so during her first K2 graduation.
Since the theme of the graduation ceremony was “Never Alone”, she chose songs like Wherever I Go to remind the children that God would be with them no matter where they go next.
Rachel shared: “We wanted to remind them that even though they were not able to perform together (because of COVID-19) and their parents were not able to watch them at their graduation in real life, as they move on to Primary School they won’t be alone because God is with them!”
Though her time at Bethel has been filled with surprises and detours, Rachel believes that it has all been God’s plan: “It’s very rewarding and very meaningful because it’s also a form of service.
“Not just a job, but a way to serve God and to impact the children’s lives!”
CHERIE’S CHANGE OF HEART
Unlike Rachel, Cherie did not originally enjoy working with children.
“I thought they were really annoying because my younger siblings were like attention vampires,” she joked.
Strangely enough, she still served in the Sunday School ministry in her church for 10 years.
Cherie would not pursue early childhood studies until much later, during a crisis of faith in university.
Reflecting on how that trial had strengthened her faith, Cherie shared: “I idolised a Christian life that was supposed to look comfortable.”
Faith boiled down to what Cherie could get out of God as she also served from an unhealthy place in ministry: “My moods and esteem were very much based on how successful my ministry was.”
But after encountering God in her university years, Cherie had a realisation: “Even though I didn’t like working with children when I was younger — it was almost a decade of my life I unknowingly spent with children every week.”
Sensing that she was called to early childhood education, Cherie took a leap of faith and joined a company where she expected to learn how to teach — but ended up in operational management instead.
Nonetheless, her stint in operation management taught her many precious lessons: “If you want the education to work, there’s this whole other team of people that has to exist behind it so there’s an engine to push it forward.”
She added: “For a school to function well, we need to have very strong leaders. We need to have very strong direction and a very strong foundation.”
Since then, Cherie has gone on to teach in other church-based preschools.
Today, she is serving with Presbyterian Community Services‘ outreach and communications arm, where she is part of this early childhood “engine”.
Whether in teaching or communications, Cherie believes in living out a “single-minded gospel-saturated workplace mindset”.
That to her, means directing her skills and passions to an eternity-minded pursuit.
Maybe when the child meets a crisis of faith, he will recall the simple truths about God he was taught when he was four or five — that alone makes the whole journey worth it.
“How do I try to find a way to orient my life such that, increasingly, I live out ways that directly serve the mission field, even if I’m not in full time ministry or not working as a church staff?”
This “single-minded pursuit” didn’t come without a cost; Cherie had to take a 50-60% pay cut from her previous job.
When asked whether that was difficult to accept, Cherie admitted: “I think at this age, you think of what you’re supposed to do with your life: What is your income supposed to look like? What is your lifestyle supposed to look like?
“The difficulty was more of the alignment of my heart, and God was revealing the idols I had towards my attitude towards work.”
Cherie had a word of encouragement for young teachers who yearn to take a similar leap of faith: “You can ask God for the courage.
“Ask for the passion to go to a place where you’re going to be paid less, where the work is gonna be harder, where you won’t get the career that you would have had had you signed up elsewhere.”
At the end of the day, the work of church-based preschools is to share God’s love and message to everyone who comes through it.
“Maybe when the child meets a crisis of faith, he will recall the simple truths about God he was taught when he was four or five — that alone makes the whole journey worth it. That makes the whole investment worth it,” Cherie concluded.
HANNAH’S HOPES FOR THE FUTURE
“50 years back, church kindergartens were very vibrant with some schools running three concurrent sessions reaching out to hundreds of children,” recalled Hannah, a former principal at a church-based preschool.
“But now, we hear of good Christian teachers leaving the ministry for better career advancement, students moving to schools that can secure placement for them in primary school.”
Saddened by recent changes in the industry, Hannah recalled the unique opportunities for outreach she used to have.
“During a Bible-based character building lesson, the K2 teacher opened an invitation for the children to receive Jesus… The response was overwhelming! I’ve never seen so many hands shot up at a Sunday service to say ‘yes’ to Christ,” Hannah recounted.
Hannah also recalled journeying with students’ families and coworkers through their darkest moments: “Meeting them in their time of need, grief and joy, encouraging each other and pointing them to seek Christ; the Christian teachers and I gathered once a week to share our burdens and cover each other and the children in prayer.”
And in time, she was blessed to see families and coworker turning to God: “Through this unity in prayer, we saw God’s work at hand through answered prayers and learnt to acknowledge His sovereignty even when His answer was ‘no’ or ‘wait’.”
Noting that a child’s early years are precious, Hannah reflected: “Children in their foundational years are so impressionable. Tell them the tooth fairy will collect their loose tooth when they are asleep, they will believe it.
“In this fast changing society with diverse secular influences, we need to draw our children to God’s ways and practices.”
That is why Hannah earnestly believes churches must renew their commitment to the faith-based preschools: “Schools need strong support from their home church as well as the Christian community to press on! With Christ all things are possible!
“An eternity with Christ is knocking on the hearts of the next generation and we hold the key to train them in the way they should go!”
Though faith-based preschools face an uphill battle, seemingly closing down one after another, Hannah believes God will still preserve and prepare a “faithful remnant”.
The call, as Hannah pointed out, is clear from Psalm 145:
No one knows for sure what the future holds for faith-based preschools, but the work these ministries do belong to God. Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain (Psalm 127:1).
As all three teachers can attest; God’s work here is not done. He’s still leading, equipping and placing the burden of seeing children turn to Him, in the hearts of willing, mission-minded educators.
- Think of the teachers in your life who have taught you to follow God. Reach out to affirm and bless them this week.
- Take some time to pray for church-based preschools. Ask the Lord to sustain and advance His work in these places.