Its first semester having opened in the fall of 2018, Living Education–Charlotte reached a milestone this August as it began its fifth academic year. Much growth can happen over the course of five years, so we sat down with Living Education’s director, Mr. Jonathan McNair, to ask him a few questions about how the program has changed and developed in that time. Those considering attending Living Education–Charlotte in the future may think their experience will be much the same as that of an older sibling or friend, so they may be surprised to know that the program has become even more dynamic and engaging as time has gone on!
First impressions are important, and a great deal of thought has gone into making the most of the student orientation experience at Living Education–Charlotte. “One of the goals that we have here is to draw the students closer together so they develop a camaraderie as spiritual brothers and sisters,” said Mr. McNair. “When, right away, you go through experiences that tie you together, it helps to set a baseline that’s really important.”
The spiritual bonds begin developing in true biblical fashion—over food. “The students come in on a Friday and have a Friday evening meal at our house,” Mr. McNair said. “There’s no instruction or anything. All I ask them to do is introduce themselves to each other and say where they’re from, and we just have a meal together. It’s very relaxed—they just get to meet each other, because even the ones who know each other don’t know each other in this group, in this context, and with these dynamics. I’ve found that it’s really worked out.” Over the course of the Sabbath and Sunday morning, the students begin acclimating to their new surroundings. But then, it’s off to the North Carolina mountains. “We go up to Blowing Rock,” said Mr. McNair, “and have a Sunday evening meal together there—again, just to get to know each other. It’s not very formal.”
While at Blowing Rock, the students enjoy a series of orientation classes on Monday. “We go topic by topic, explaining things that they need to know,” Mr. McNair said. “It lays out the expectations really clearly—the expectations we have of them, the expectations they can have of us, and why we do what we’re doing.” Monday afternoon, students and faculty visit the Blowing Rock, a natural outcropping overlooking gorgeous views of the surrounding forests and peaks.
On Tuesday, the students’ new bonds are strengthened through an adventure on the Watauga River. “We go whitewater rafting,” explained Mr. McNair, “which is a great way for the students to be able to get to know each other—everybody is out of their comfort zone, because nobody is comfortable in that water! It’s extremely cold.”
That evening, the group returns to Headquarters to prepare for several days of onsite orientation. “On Wednesday and Thursday, each of the office department heads take 15 minutes to introduce themselves and what they do,” Mr. McNair said. “That’s new—what happened in years gone by is they became acquainted with the different department heads over the course of months. Now, they meet everyone briefly within the first couple of days, and that’s helpful on both sides—the department heads get to see the students and the students get to know the department heads, so when they meet in the hallways, they’ve had a little bit of an acquaintance. Mr. Ames, Dr. Winnail, and Mr. Weston will give keynote speeches during those two days as well.”
As the Preparation Day dawns, the students have been well and truly oriented over the past week. “They have that day to rest and prepare for the Sabbath, and then they have the weekend—and on Monday we begin regular classes. That whole orientation week is working out really well.”
The Student Leader Program
While the student orientation process has developed steadily since Living Education–Charlotte’s first year, other refinements have taken more time. “One of the things that a lot of educational programs benefit from is having people who are new to the program as well as those who have gone past the first year of class,” Mr. McNair explained. “In a multi-year program, those who have been there longer can mentor, guide, and encourage the newer students. One of the challenges we’ve had over the past few years has been maintaining that kind of continuity, because we are a nine-month program by design. Every year, we have a new group of students, so we lose the continuity in terms of leadership, in terms of helping the new students to understand how things are done and to navigate through the natural highs and lows that happen over the course of the year. We’ve lacked that in the past—those who have been there before and can provide the continuity.”
This year, Living Education’s new Student Leader Program has filled that gap. “We’ve been chewing on this for a while, and we finally pulled the trigger this year,” Mr. McNair said. “What we’ve done is begin a program where certain students are invited to stay in the program for another year as student leaders. But we want to be clear that we are not making Living Education–Charlotte into a two-year program. Nobody who is not in the Student Leader program should feel that they’re failing or that they’re not fully enjoying the program and all it has to offer—it’s a complete, nine-month program.”
While they serve as mentors for the new group of students, these student leaders will add to their own foundation laid in their previous year, with classes tailored specifically for them. “Mr. Frank teaches a class that focuses on the life and teachings of Christ and the book of Acts, building on the survey of the Bible he teaches the previous year and going more in depth,” Mr. McNair explained. “Mr. Tlumak teaches a class on Christian leadership, building on the Christian Living class that students took the previous year. And I teach a class called Introduction to Prophecy, in which the student leaders go over the prophetic books of the Bible. Those are the core classes, each of which the student leaders have twice a week.” Additionally, the student leaders have a weekly one-hour seminar just for them. “As an example,” Mr. McNair offered, “right now my brother is doing that seminar, and he’s doing four sessions on Germany in prophecy. So, we’ve created a space where various instructors can teach on the topics of their choice—maybe for one session, maybe for four or five sessions. This allows someone who is familiar with a topic to teach it for multiple sessions—they aren’t restricted to one hour, but they’re also not obligated to teach on a topic for a full semester. So, really, it’s very dynamic, because it can be different every year, depending upon who’s free and what’s happening.”
But the focus is to aid new students in adopting the Living Education–Charlotte lifestyle. “The student leaders are required to attend the Forums and Assemblies along with the new students, as well as the Morning Motivations, which we’ve included in the program over the past couple of years,” said Mr. McNair. “They still work part-time at Headquarters, and they also take the lead in organizing different student activities, as we delegate some of the logistics to them. So, they’re really stepping up. Ideally, every year we will have four to six student leaders to maintain the stability and continuity of the program.”
Teaching Opportunities for Ministerial Trainees
“A couple of years ago, we started having the ministerial trainees in Charlotte also teach a class,” explained Mr. McNair. “I think it’s particularly neat because usually the ministerial trainee is on the younger side, compared to some of us. It’s great practice for the ministerial trainees themselves, because while pastors have a captive audience in their congregations, students are sometimes a little less captive in terms of their attention span!”
The ministerial trainee is now assigned two courses during his time in Charlotte, one per semester. “For the first semester, he’ll teach a class called Putting the Fruit of the Spirit to Work,” said Mr. McNair. “The concept of that class is to give him a framework of a topic that he can run with. For the second semester, he’ll teach a class on the parables of Christ—now he’s got to dig into expounding on Scripture, so it’s a different teaching experience. It’s just once a week, but by the time all is said and done, he’s got a year’s worth of teaching.”
Incoming students of Living Education–Charlotte can anticipate a year of foundational training in biblical understanding and God’s way of life, supplemented by a wide variety of engaging educational experiences—and perhaps even the chance to become a student leader to help guide and encourage the next group! Those aged 18–30 who are interested in more information, including finding out whether Living Education–Charlotte is a good fit for this time in their life, can visit LCGEducation.org. We wish all the best to the students, both new and returning, of Living Education’s fifth year!