Dear Readers in Jacksonville, Florida:
You will see on the FBC Jax Academy website that registration and tuition information is now available for the school, scheduled to open in the Fall of 2009.
If you've never visited this blog site and are not a member of FBC Jax, perhaps you've stumbled on this blog while researching the school. You will see this blog is very critical of the leadership of our church in many areas, and some of these issues MIGHT concern you as a prospective parent desiring to send your child to a Christian school that is funded and operated by FBC Jax. Do NOT assume that this church is the same church that it was in years gone by. There is a new pastor, and mostly all new staff, and you need to be a wary, skeptical shopper. Also keep in mind that our church has invested heavily into marketing and promotions into its operations with the help of a Nashville-based church marketing firm, so make sure that claims made about the school are confirmed by a visit and your own first-hand interview and inspection. Don't trust the brochures or promo videos.
So to help you in your decision to send your child to FBC Academy or some other Christian school, you might want to consider asking the following questions, which are NOT in the FAQ section of the school website:
1. Some of your members on a blogsite have expressed deep concern over the lack of transparency and accountability of the pastor at the church. Knowing the abuses that occured at a large fundamental church, Trinity Baptist Church, whose theology and church governance are very similar to yours, and for many years was led by an authoritarian pastor who was lavished with praise and who demonstrated little willingness to be accountable....what assurances can you make that there is appropriate oversight and accountability for the current pastor and his leadership team? Is the church and school committed to full accountability of the pastor?
2. I've heard that the church has recently amended its bylaws to give authority to the pastor for appointing trustees. To have so much power concentrated in one man in the church concerns me...can you tell me if the same authority structure exists for the school? If the pastor is appointing his own trustees, can you explain what is the system of accountability to ensure that all complaints and allegations of abuse or mis-deeds are thoroughly investigated by an independent board? Is there an independent board of trustees for the school that oversees and holds the pastor accountable for decisions involving the school? May I have a copy of the school bylaws and articles of incorporation?
3. Does your church believe that those who are members of the Catholic church are cult members and that Catholic priests are "cult leaders"? Would my child, if he/she were Catholic, be welcome in this school, or would they be shunned as a member of a "cult"? Will my child be taught that their Catholic relatives are cult members? I've read your Executive Pastor of Education's articles on "Catholic Cults" and these views concerns me greatly...especially since he is the pastor of EDUCATION at the church. Will you also be teaching intolerance to the children regarding other Christians? What churches do you consider to be "cults"?
4. I've seen the pastor preach on TV, and he seems to exhibit quite a temper, yelling at his congregation and berating them almost every Sunday. Is this how the pastor will behave when conducting chapel services? Will he act angry and condescending to children at the school? Will this be the recommended style of teaching doctrine at the school, in an angry, belittling manner?
5. I've heard that your the church's pastor believes the FBC Jax church to be a "hotbed of legalism". Is this still true? Are the people who will be running the school "legalists" like many of the church members, according to the pastor? The pastor claimed that members of the church have "...a list of rules, but no real relationship with Jesus Christ." Is this true?
6. I've heard from some church members that in the last year your church has outsourced its security and that the church does not have direct control and supervisory authority over exactly who is on the property acting as security guards. Is this true? I am greatly concerned about security of my child being downtown so close to the bus terminal and downtown circle where there are homeless wandering. Does your church conduct its own background checks on and provide training for the security forces at the school?
7. I'm concerned about funding for the school and its long-term viability. I understand that the funding for the start-up of this school is from money taken from the general offerings of your church and that the money is not actually set aside. I also know that you have had trouble raising enough money to even pay for the repair of the roof on one of your children's buildings, and don't have enough money to replace air conditioning systems - yet money was spent to put the pastor on a nationwide TV station and to pay your pastor and wife huge salaries as evidenced by their huge house and expensive cars. Have you begun making purchases for the technology that you say you will be using in the school, and what assurances can you give me that funds will be available for hiring and paying for the teachers and administrators while your church is also expanding to satellite churches? I know that starting a school can be an tremendous financial burden on a church, so what assurance can you give me that funds will be available given all of the other "Next Generation" inititatives in 2009? Can you show me the 2009 church budget and explain where the funding will come from for the school start up in 2009? Have the members committed to giving the amount of the church budget during the 2009 year?
8. I've heard that one of the bylaw changes made in December 2007 at your church is that members agree to have any and all disputes settled by arbitration and not by lawsuit. Is this same provision in the bylaws of the school? Must I forfeit my right to sue the school or the church in case my child is harmed through negligence of the school? If I am a member of the church, does that mean if my child is harmed or abused I have agreed to not sue the church?
9. Does your church really view people who voted for Obama as having "sinned", and might not be worthy of fellowship? I read the article of your Executive Pastor of EDUCATION on your official church website where he seemed to insinuate this very thing - in fact he expressed agreement with the Catholic priest who said parishioners who voted for Obama should not take communion. Is this the sort of "doctrine" that will be taught at your school? If not, why are you putting this sort of thing on your website? Will this man, Jim Smyrl, have any direct contact or duties at the school where he would be teaching his intolerance to the students?
10. With the relatively high tuition as compared to other more established schools in our area, can you clearly articulate just what are you providing at your school that dictates such a tuition? Where are the computers? Where is the play area and outdoor recreation area for the children? Where is the library? What is the long term prospect for a middle school and high school and sports program?
Those are some hard-hitting questions that wise people considering this school should ask. The promo videos look wonderful, and Jim Daniels seems to be a very capable and qualified headmaster. But remember, prospective parents: our church is big into MARKETING and PROMOTIONS. Nice videos and slick marketing and sales pitches don't equate to a quality, safe Christian school. Visit the school/church and ask the tough questions. And compare what you see at FBC Jax to other top-notch, reasonably priced Christinan schools located on all sides of town.