and Other Ways to Look Like You are Building God’s Kingdom
When You are Really Building Your Own!
When I was studying at Fuller Theological Seminary, the library had a disturbing conundrum. Periodically, a student would pull a book off the shelf, only to find that it was the hardback cover with no pages. The sensor that kept books from being smuggled out of the library without setting off the gate alarm was in these hardback covers. It turns out that there was an ambitious student who was so committed to the success of his future ministry that he was building his library by pillaging Fuller’s. After all, how could one expect to have a great ministry without a great collection of books?
Of course, books are expensive, too expensive.
Since these books would be foundational to the great work for God that the student knew he would do, God would certainly not have expected him to do without. Right? Or might there have been a flaw in the reasoning of this sticky-fingered student? Maybe the foundation to a great ministry cannot be built on dishonest shortcuts to success.
“Hey Sampson, What Would it Hurt”
The driving force that impels people to establish a Christian institution, the foundation on which it is built, is a commitment to serving Jesus Christ. Succeeding generations of leaders build on that foundation. On what foundation was this thieving student building? At the very least, the foundation on which he was building was not going to be dependent on anointing and power from a holy God. A Christian school is a ministry that depends on God’s blessing. When Christian leaders take shortcuts to the “success” of their ministries, are they sliding off the foundation on which they were built. What happens to a house that is only partly still on its foundation?
There are so many formerly-Christian universities that have completely slid off their faith foundations. What were the small steps that led to such disaster? Disaster is conceived in concessions, birthed in compromises, and matures as leaders thoughtlessly continue their slow progress away from the Lord. Unaware of how far they have drifted away, they do not see the dangers.
Like Sampson, a once passionate servant of God may not realize that the Lord has left him. How did that work out for Samson? He ended up captured, blinded, ashamed, and suicidal. How disturbing to us are Christian leaders who bring us shame when their flawed character is exposed. And how eager are the anti-Christ souls who love to hear and repeat such stories.
Leaders of small colleges often find that accreditation is foundational to growing their schools. But achieving accreditation is difficult. It is expensive. It takes a great deal of time. Do you hear Delila whispering to College President “Sampson” that there are shortcuts … or is that a snake whispering to Eve?
“Take the shortcut—you know how unfair it is for something so good to be kept from you for so long.”
So Many Ways to Cheat, So Little Time
Swindlers abound. The creativity, inventiveness, and arrogant chutzpah exhibited is impressive—or rather depressing.
There are dishonest “accreditation consultants” who market themselves as a way for a school to get accredited without doing any work. These “consultants” invent objectives, report assessment data without doing assessment, make up minutes to board meetings, and write works of fiction that they call self-studies.
There are schools that change the name of a school on documents they plagiarized. I have even heard of self-study documents that were so obviously copied that in a few places members of an accreditation commission found the name of the original school from which it was uncritically copied.
There are degree mills that use accreditation mills. These so-called accrediting agencies (i.e., accreditation mills) that only care whether checks clear are useful for conning students into gaining worthless credentials. A similar tactic for swindling students is to list accreditation from a legitimate agency on a school’s website when the school has never been accredited by that agency. Shall I mention schools that try to confuse students by having a name that is similar to a prestigious university?
I have seen a “college” that didn’t even have classes. What the school was selling was not education, but foreign student study visas. But I am not writing this article for leaders of schools that outright sell degrees; They have lost their souls. Reading this would not influence them to reconsider their paths.
There are staff members who are rumored to be bribing or attempting to bribe accreditation officials. They might write a kind note like this:
“Thank you for your visit. I hope you will be able to write a nice evaluation for our school. Your wife is very kind to let you travel so much. Before you leave, we have a nicely wrapped gift for her. It’s a clutch purse.”
When the accreditation official gets home, his wife finds that the simple gift came with a card—a card with a thousand dollars in it. I would wonder about the soul of an accreditation official that would accept such a gift.
While there is no sinless perfection in any Christian leader, there are degrees of corrupt actions that obviously show they are not building on the foundation of Jesus Christ.
How Should We Respond?
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he tells us that he inwardly burned because false apostles, deceitful workers masquerading as angels of light, were leading Corinthian Christians into sin (2 Corinthians 11:13, 29).
Like Samson, some administrators are foolish enough to not see that Delila’s shortcuts are no more beneficial than the advice a snake gave to Eve. At first, I prayed that these “Delilas” be exposed and stopped. Then, perhaps becoming a tiny bit more Christlike, I prayed for their repentance and renewal. Finally, my perspective changed.
Why does God tolerate deceitful workers who tempt administrators of Christian colleges to be dishonest? It is for the same reason that He didn’t place an electric fence around the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. “Delilas” are useful to God’s purposes because there is a testing nature to God. We see it in God testing Abraham on Mt. Moriah. We see it in the first chapter of Job where God invites Satan to consider Job. We see it in the book of First Corinthians:
But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames (I Corinthians 3:10b-15 NIV).
The Apostle Paul would lay a foundation and then move to another city. He probably was in Thessalonica for less than a month. His concern was on how others would follow up with those Paul had reached. Might the founders of a school we serve be part of a great cloud of witnesses who are watching and hoping that we are building with gold, silver, and costly stones? If so, wouldn’t they also be hoping we are more interested in quality that equips students well than in selling degrees, in building the reputation of our school or in building our own ego?
One wonders what those cheating an accrediting agency are thinking.
At best, they may think they build half on God’s foundation and half on something else. At worst, they use the name “Christian” to describe their college in a way that uses God’s name in vain. After all, when the Psalmist says the name of the Lord will be great, he means the reputation of God. Using God’s name (i.e., His reputation) while building with wood, hay, or straw smears God’s reputation. But, “their work will be shown for what it is, because the [Judgement] Day will bring it to light.” Do they understand that God will call them to account for how they built? “Here men may deceive themselves and others but they shall not be so successful in the final apocalypse” (Linski 142: 1937).
While Delila suggests shortcuts to leaders of colleges, God watches to see whether the leaders will build with gold on the foundation of Jesus Christ, or merely build their own kingdom while pretending to be building God’s.
Since God allows temptations to test us, I switched my prayers from praying against the deceitful workers, the “Delilahs”, to praying for the leaders of Christian schools.
We should pray. How else should we respond? Since “a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough” (I Corinthians 5:6), the Apostle Paul would clean house. Should we?
Build with care.
 Augsberg Publishing House, Minneapolis, MN
Delilah isn’t alone. The Prophets of Baal are at work as well. As I read your article, I could see very clearly the angle from which you are coming. However, your article needs some balance–it needs a view from the other side. I have been teaching and administering at accredited institutions for nearly 30 years. I have been on accreditation committees and worked intimately in the accrediting process for over a decade. Currently, I am working with a school that lost its accreditation over 15 years ago. I head its accreditation committee. I am also opening my own college in late 2020. Now that I have established some of my background, I want to discuss some missing angles in your story. The accreditation process is a very important one. It was established to make sure that students receive excellent educations and that institutions remain academically and financially sound. Or was it? Few people know that the accrediting process as we know it [national and regional accreditation recognized by the Department of Education Z(DOE)] is voluntary. Yet, without it, schools do not have access to federal, and in many cases, state dollars. These schools have little to no access to financial aid dollars from governmentally-backed agencies (which can dramatically affect their enrollment numbers). Do some schools survive and even thrive without accreditation? Yes, but very few, and those few almost always look a certain way demographically–upper middle and upper class and White. Accreditation has become less about academic excellence and more about who has permission to use federal dollars. If the process truly were voluntary, then schools should have another way to prove academic excellence and financial soundness and still get access to the same funding accredited schools get. Do you see any accrediting agencies arguing that point? No. They want to make money–and they make a lot of it (let’s not forget that point). Also, when is the last time accrediting agencies actually tried to help schools get through the process faster or develop programs that help schools to survive and thrive until they become accredited? Even Christian accrediting agencies seem to pride themselves on how long their accrediting process takes. After all, they seem to say, “The schools that we accredit will prove their Christian foundations are real; their academic rigor is acceptable; and their financial viability is secure.” Of course, schools will need 4 to 6 years or more to prove all of that. I mean who on earth would expect any agency to determine if a school is “worthy” of accreditation in a year or two–even if that school is a decade or a hundred years old? Oh no, they might continue, “Too much is at stake and too many institutions have fallen short of our standards.” To that sentiment, I say, “Whew, I’m so glad that we have all of these vigilant accrediting bodies because they have kept education affordable and fair (oops, fairness has nothing to do with the process).” I have seen very little assistance, but rather a whole lot of wrangling from accrediting agencies– attend this conference, follow these gazillion rules, gather these booklets of information, and get this amount of money, all before you can even start the accrediting process. What I have also seen is an increasing number of reports needed and facilities updated and so on and so on and so on from the schools. The requirements continue to grow and the money needed grows as well with very little real oversight to make sure schools are getting the value they deserve from the accrediting agencies. These agencies hold the power and the influence, and they use it to make the rules (Prophets of Baal). They sit on unholy mountains knowing that their decision to accredit or not could make or break a school–in several cases destroying schools that are over a century old. Did those schools do wrong? Many times “yes.” However, when the accrediting process is run by agencies with almost absolute power and so much is riding on their decisions, many people resort to “tricks.” The whole process is really about giving the DOE a much easier way to dispense its funds–get the accrediting agencies to “decide.” However, that route has produced monsters–agencies that come up with more and more rules that have very little to do with improving education or maintaining good education and procedures. Why do assessment reports need to be thousands of pages? Why do schools need to pay for accrediting committees to come to visit? Some might say that all of these things are important to make sure that a school is doing what it says it is doing. Oh really? So thousands of pages of this statistic and that assessment and so on ensure what? It ensures that the school has the money and staff to produce a lot of writing and statistics. The visits ensure that the school can clean up itself before people arrive. Many of the rules established by accrediting bodies don’t help better education. Need proof? Look at what many of them require for libraries at schools. Do the words “online research” mean anything? We are in the 21st century and research methodologies have changed, yet the requirements for accreditation as pertains to librabries are archaic. These rules are archaic, unnecessary, and costly for the schools. I could go on and on about the ridiculousness of some accrediting rules and regulations. The list is long. However, I’d like to issue a challenge instead. If you’d like to see less unscrupulous tactics, then do more to help schools to get a fair and reasonably-priced accrediting option. Accreditation shouldn’t cost so much or be so tedious and burdensome. All these smart people in academia should figure out a better way to do this “important” thing called “accreditation.” Better yet, make the process truly voluntary and tell the DOE not to penalize schools who don’t want to get DOE-recognized accreditation. Let those schools have access to money too. Oh, but they will be substandard schools! Perhaps, but we can make rules and regulations to weed out those imposters. Then, just maybe, these schools might keep their souls and not resort to the tactics that you mention.
Thank you for putting so much thought into this. I am a bit less jaded than you about accrediting agencies. I do occasionally cringe at some recommendation (i.e., demand) given by a member of a visiting team. I have seen schools get away with things that I thought an accrediting agency would catch. I agree that the system is not perfect. But without it I expect things would be worse. This seems to be a better system than the standard system around the world (e.g., the government is the one that authorizes colleges).
I am grateful for the mentoring I have received through agency personnel and the peers I meet at accrediting agency meetings.