child sitting at desk doing school work

Imago Dei Education: Bearing the Burden of My Neighbor’s Glory


Over the last five months, I’ve been writing and speaking about something I call Imago Dei Education, or education for image-bearers. This work arose from a need to explain more clearly what we mean at Hope when we say, “The hope of Hope Academy is God.”  I could tell from certain follow-up questions to talks I had given that I had falsely assumed a high level of understanding where in fact there was little. When people would ask me, “What could schools learn from Hope Academy even if they don’t care a whit about God?” I just shook my head and knew I needed to do some better teaching.

What I first needed to correct was the false idea that Hope Academy is basically doing the same thing that other public and charter schools are doing, only we’re executing a little better than they are. We’re like Avis. We try harder.

No, no, no, no. Let me assure you, we are not doing the same thing as other schools in our city. We are doing something completely different. We are doing education for image bearers, and there is a world of difference between the two.

This morning, I want to talk with you about Imago Dei Education—its urgent need, its power, and finally its price.

The Urgent Need of Imago Dei Education

There is a crisis of honor in America that is crippling our day to day lives. From the coarseness of our speech on the airwaves and on social media, to the cheapening of human life, especially the lives of the unborn, to the unwillingness to even listen to, much less consider the merits of an opposing argument, to the political gridlock that is paralyzing St. Paul and Washington. Have you ever asked yourself what’s behind all this? What’s changed?

Let me suggest that as the doctrine of creation has been lost, what was also lost was seeing and honoring the image of God in one another. Mere material beings don’t necessarily deserve respect and honor, do they? Random collections of atoms cannot be said to have an ultimate purpose or a sense of dignity.

The tragic loss of the image of God has powerfully affected our schools. It is no mere coincidence that education divorced from the image of God has relatively quickly resulted in God being dismissed from classrooms, truth being rejected from textbooks, parents being ignored, teachers being abused, and students being warehoused. It has contributed to school shootings, voluntary segregation, a yawning achievement gap, gender confusion, chaos, and now generation after generation lost to drugs, gangs, and teenage pregnancy.

Could this explain why, according to a recent series of articles in the Star Tribune, black families are fleeing district schools and searching for alternatives in massive numbers?

The Power of Imago Dei Education

So how does the image of God have the power to change all that? As we say around here, “Hope in God changes everything.”

A good friend of mine, Dr. Vernard Gant, an urban school leader for over 30 years, refers to the students we serve at Hope Academy as ACE Students. It’s an acronym meaning students who are Academically Disenfranchised, Culturally Diverse, and Economically Disadvantaged. It’s a succinct and memorable way of describing our preferred student.

However, the all-important question is this: Do we see our ACE Students: academically disenfranchised; culturally diverse; and economically disadvantaged, as children created in the image of God? If the answer is, “Yes,” then that means at least three powerful things.

First, it means that our students have a special dignity arising from their special connection with God. The imago Dei means that all children, made according to God’s image, are endowed with a dignified status that accords with their connection to Christ. And all children, means all children, because it is a status that is conferred by God in creation and not earned or deserved by man.

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “There are no gradations in the image of God. Every man from the treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God.” (The American Dream)

Throughout history, sinful leaders have perpetrated great evils based on the mistaken idea that there are “gradations” in the image of God—that certain peoples are more or less deserving of honor than others.

One implication of this in the classroom is unintentionally submitting to a two-tiered approach—especially regarding student expectations. We will trivialize the imago Dei in our students if we expect less of some, particularly if they come from an at-risk background. Teachers and Partners at Hope believe that the dignity of man opens the door for all children to receive a great education.

Second, the imago Dei also confers a holy and joyful duty upon all our students—the duty to worship and glorify God. We have all been created with a great and glorious purpose, to reflect the glory of God on the earth. The ultimate purpose of our instruction can never be limited to preparation for college. The ultimate purpose of our instruction must aim higher at what the scriptures call “shalom,” or human flourishing. As the old catechism puts it, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

The word, “forever,” leads to a third massive implication of the imago Dei– our students have a glorious destiny. We are teaching immortal beings. I’ll expand more on this later.

So, how is Imago Dei Education different from other kinds of education practiced in our city? Education for image bearers means that God is exalted at Hope Academy. It means that truth is treasured. It means that parents are involved. It means that teachers are respected and looked to as role models and mentors. It means that students are dignified by high expectations of their behavior and academic work. It means that bullies are disciplined; and achievement gaps are closed; and youth are prepared for college and for a life of God-glorifying work and service.

Imago Dei Education means that children will be able to discern the difference between reading Captain Underpants and reading Charlotte’s Web. As image bearers, they will be able to discern what is objectively good and true and beautiful.

Education for image bearers means caring enough about a child to do the really hard work of cultivating virtue and Christ-like character by shepherding student hearts. It means welcoming the immigrant and the stranger God has brought into our city into our school family. And it means not giving up on students, but prayerfully and patiently pursuing God’s redemptive work in their lives when they rebel against family and God.

The Price of Imago Dei Education

As you can imagine, this kind of precious education comes at a price.

It is currently against the laws of the State of Minnesota to use tax-payer dollars to provide Imago Dei Education to a child. And let me make this clear, trading Imago Dei Education for government dollars is a trade that Hope Academy will never, ever make.

There is a price to do what is right.

As you know, next to Hope Academy is a park where different churches and ministries come regularly, with good and noble intentions, to serve the poor a meal. Regardless of the group doing the serving, the menu almost always contains the same item—hot dogs.

This is not because the poor are so enamored of hot dogs. It’s because we haven’t truly reckoned with the weight of our neighbor’s glory. Disrespectful and dismissive of the image of God in our neighbor, our charity will appear flippant.

Similarly, in my pride, when I thought of starting an inner-city school 18 years ago and considered what kind of education I should serve my neighbors with, I was strongly tempted to give them “a hot-dog education”—an education more fit for a pauper than a future king.

The truth that every human being is created in the image of God is absolutely stunning in its majesty and grandeur, and its implications are weighty, almost beyond comprehension.

Your partnership with a Hope Academy student is making the strongest possible statement that Academically Disenfranchised, Culturally Diverse, and Economically Disadvantaged children matter, and therefore they deserve an Imago Dei Education. What a courageous statement you are making by not warehousing children, but in love, gladly bearing the burden of your neighbor’s glory.

Let me conclude with a powerful exhortation from C.S. Lewis’ essay, The Weight of Glory:

It may be possible for each of us to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor.

The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.

Remember, there are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.

—C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (HarperOne, 2001), pp. 45-46.

On behalf of our students and families created in the image of God, thank you for changing the world by making Imago Dei Education affordable for all.

By Russ Gregg, Head of School

little boy at minneapolis private school

How to Choose a Minneapolis Private School

Choosing a private school is tough! There are so many things to think about. We’ve found that by focusing on the following 3 factors, you can quickly narrow your options for a Minneapolis private school.

Here are 3 factors that we think are helpful when considering the possibility of a private school education in for your child:

Make a decision based on your values.

Refine your search by considering what’s important to you, whether it’s math, foreign languages, art, religion, after-school care, free busing, or special education resources. At Hope Academy, we provide a rigorous classical curriculum that prepares students not only for college but for life in general beyond high school graduation. Yet academics are not the only thing we are interested in. We believe in shepherding the hearts of all students. So in addition to a demanding education, we also provide a culture that fosters Godly character. We are committed to seeing our students develop Godly qualities like integrity, peace, honor, excellence and faithfulness, just as much as they master subjects like Calculus, Chemistry, Rhetoric and Spanish. In Minneapolis or and even in the greater Twin Cities area, your choices are vast – but it’s important to find a good fit for both you and your child.

Be comfortable with the cost.

Ask about cost! Find out what financial aid or scholarships are available. Ask if the cost for students increases as they get older. Find out if there are free lunch options and if there are other costs for things like uniforms or sports activities. Here at Hope, we provide individualized, affordable options. For instance, Our ‘Family Fair Share’ of tuition takes into consideration each family’s income, number of children in the home and number of students who are applying. This helps us to ensure that an education at Hope Academy can be affordable for all. In fact, many of our families pay a total share of only $75 – $300 per month for all of their children to attend Hope Academy!  

Visit the school.

Scheduling a time to do an Admission Tour or visit during an Admission Open House is a great way to learn about a school. Hope Academy offers Admission Tours and Open House events during the school year for you to see the school in action. While you’re at a school for a visit, try to meet the principal, teachers, and maybe even students or other parents. Check out the work on the walls, how adults and children interact, and what type of involvement the school wants from parents. One indication of how well a school is doing is if the faculty and staff trust the school enough to send their own children there. So, inquire about what schools the staff have their children enrolled.

Those are 3 factors we recommend to parents when considering a private school for their child. If you’d like to explore more if Hope Academy can be a good fit for your family, schedule a tour with us. We’d love to meet you!

HOPEBRIEFS | The One Thing I’d Give Each Student

Kindergarten students walking at petting zoo

Kindergarten students loved petting and feeding farm animals, gardening, and cooking at Oliver Field Farm!

If I could give each of our students one thing, I’d give them wonder — an insatiable curiosity, and awe of their Creator.

That’s one reason I’m particularly grateful for our four week summer school. Not only do we get to provide a structured environment, not only are students making critical gains in math and reading while their urban peers fall tragically behind — we also get to foster a love of learning that serves students well into the future.

little girl reading a book

Third graders curled up with a blanket or pillow and read for 50 minutes each day — completely enraptured by their books. “This is the best book I’ve ever read. Do you have others by this author?” said one student.

“I love teaching summer school,” one teacher told me. “We are learning everyday with joy and freedom–just for the sake of learning! It always feels like this is what education is meant to be.”

middle and high school students doing woodworking

In addition to math and reading, our middle and high school students enjoy Inverted Arts internships, ACT prep, Junior Achievement BizTown, missions trips, graphic design, coding, woodworking and more.

Thank you for making these awe-inspiring moments possible for our students, well into the summer. A special thanks to our partners at Inverted Arts and the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation for their significant contributions to our summer program.

With joy,
Russ Gregg
Head of School

Get Involved

An Unexpected Place to Find Hope

Sometimes an inner-city school is the last place you’d expect to find hope. But hope in God changes everything.

Last year, Hope Academy embarked on a bold step of faith — the Growing Hope Capital Campaign — to make room for 275 more students in Minneapolis, and help plant 10 Hope Academy-style schools nationwide.

Already, we’ve seen God’s remarkable provision of $8.36 million in commitments towards our $10.3 million goal! This fall, we’ll christen our new science wing and classrooms completed in Phase I of construction.

Join us this school year as together we pursue the remarkable:

Sponsor a day or year of school for our students

See to learn about or contribute to our Growing Hope Campaign

And remember, hope in God changes everything. 

Celebrating the Class of 2017!

It’s a joy to present to you Hope Academy’s Class of 2017. God has done remarkable things in these students’ lives, and we couldn’t be more grateful.

What makes me most delighted is seeing how these young men and women have grown in faith, love, character, and perseverance during their time at Hope Academy.

“The biggest lesson Hope Academy has taught me is what true love really looks like,” one student shared. “Our teachers have modeled for us that love is both kindness and challenge.”

Another senior said that Hope Academy has helped her to become more selfless in serving. “I’m not completely there yet, but I’ve learned how to put others’ needs before my own, without trying to gain recognition for what I’m doing.”

Some highlights from this year’s graduating class include:

  • Four students receiving full-tuition, full-need scholarships to Bethel and Northwestern via the Act Six program
  • Two students receiving full-tuition scholarships to Augsburg University
  • One student entering the National Guard
  • One student receiving a $20,000 award to Dunwoody Institute of Technology
  • Two students receiving a combined $40,000 via the Hope Scholars Fund
  • One student receiving $10,000 via the Inverted Arts Scholarship

Thank you to every parent, teacher, coach, partner, volunteer, and organization who has invested in each of these young men and women. Join us in praising God for who they’ve become, and praying for all he has in store for their futures.

Praise God for 4 Full-Rides!

There are some moments that readily inspire worship. Watching four of our high school seniors receive full-ride college scholarships was certainly one of them!

Whitney, Kimberly, Esther, and Johnny (pictured above) were 4 of 31 students in the Twin Cities to be awarded full-tuition, full-need college scholarships via the Act Six program for emerging, urban leaders. Whitney will be attending Bethel University in the fall, while Kimberly, Esther, and Johnny head to the University of Northwestern, St. Paul–for a total of $640,000 in scholarships.

Even more importantly, we praise God for the deeper evidences of grace in the lives of these students and their classmates. By God’s grace, they are becoming kingdom citizens who work for justice, economic opportunity, racial harmony, hope for the family, and joy in the community. Now that’s something to celebrate!

Stay tuned for more updates on our soon-to-be-graduates. In the meantime, join us in praising the Giver of these very good gifts.