Christian Teacher of the Year: Kyle Rapinchuk’s students tasked with planning churches from scratch, seeing God in history’s great books

The global nonprofit Junior Achievement teaches students how to turn an idea into a business.

Dr. Kyle Rapinchuk teaches his students how to turn their religious beliefs into a church.


The global nonprofit Junior Achievement teaches students how to turn an idea into a business.

Dr. Kyle Rapinchuk teaches his students how to turn their religious beliefs into a church.

The associate professor of Christian Worldview at the School of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri, has his juniors and seniors get together with at least three people to form a church. They write up a church constitution, as well as a ministry strategy, and then “organize and lead an example worship service.”

It’s an amazing exercise that makes students think through their beliefs, as well as the day-to-day mechanics of starting a religious institution. But, he tells The Lion, they end up learning “more things than I really even anticipated.”

“I thought they would learn about the different questions that different churches answered differently – like the mode and proper time of baptism, or how often do you take the Lord’s supper, what kind of church governance would we have. But I found that they really answered a whole lot deeper questions about even some of the fundamentals of theology: What are those things that we must hold to, and where can we have some freedom within our own church to have some proper disagreement, different positions?  

“They’ve also learned things about relationship and communication, and how to disagree charitably with others. And I think that’s probably been the biggest takeaway for them from a non-academic standpoint – being charitable toward other positions. Though, of course, that’s an academic virtue as well.  

“Learning to be charitable has been huge. Sometimes they learn by not being charitable, and I have to step in and help correct that.” 

It’s that kind of hands-on, real-world, Junior Achievement-style teaching that makes Kyle Rapinchuk one of 12 instructors nationwide to be named 2023 Christian Teachers of the Year by the Herzog Foundation, which publishes The Lion. 

In creating the innovative church-planting project, Rapinchuk thought through his childhood of church-going – and public-school education – that left so many frontiers of his own faith unexplored. 

“I recognized if I was going to teach students about the church it had to be more interactive. It couldn’t just be lecturing material about different churches. They had to be invested in understanding why their church believed what they did, and what they believed themselves.” 

And while he’s still eager to hear a former student come back and say, “I’m planting a church because we did that project” – “That would be awesome,” he admits – “I do suspect that many of the people who have come back and said, ‘I’m pursuing ministry,’ that it’s been a result of seeing the importance of the local church.” 

Teaching that to our young is even more crucial than Junior Achievement’s showing them the way of the free market. In fact, we asked Rapinchuk how important Christian education is to the future of America. 

“Paramount?” was his educated guess. “Even our Founding Fathers recognized that the kind of democratic republic that they had established can only happen if we have a moral people. I think that, without a moral foundation, it’s very difficult to consider how we can kind of redirect back to something like we hope the country can be.” 

One of Rapinchuk’s other favorite things to impart to students is a hunger and appreciation for the great books of history – “helping students see truth, goodness, and beauty in the great books, and then helping them see how those truths reflect the nature of God and His creation.” One of his favorites, besides the Bible: Athanasius’ On the Incarnation. 

“I tend to think, ‘What are those books that have advanced the conversation that humans have been having since the beginning, questions about where have we come from – so, origins; questions of God; who are we – questions of human identity and anthropology; questions of what is a life of human flourishing, and that’s where you get ethics and morality mixed in with all sorts of other questions of civilization; and those questions related to epistemology: how do we come to know things?’” 

As for Christian education – which, you’ll recall, he thinks the nation is depending on heavily for its future – Rapinchuk says the terrain is ripe with opportunity. But he says “one of the things that probably needs to happen is a closer relationship between the church and Christian schools. 

“I think one of the things that I’ve noticed is that churches have kind of focused on what they view as discipleship and what they’re doing, and then they’ve left education as something outside the realm of what the church’s responsibility is. And I think the future of Christian education is going to require a lot more support from local churches to recognize the overlap between education and discipleship. 

“I think it’s a really great opportunity for growth. Christian education is already growing significantly and is doing fantastic.”

School of the Ozarks is a K-12 classical laboratory school of the College of the Ozarks.

The Christian Teachers of the Year honor is part of the Herzog Foundation’s Excellence in Christian Education award series. Each of the 12 winners will attend a special awards event in Washington, D.C., where they will also receive a monetary gift.