Becoming the Head

North American June 13, 2022

Deuteronomy 28:13 has a passage essential for Seventh-day Adventist education: “The LORD will make you the head and not the tail.” As educators, we want our institutions to be the head. But what does this mean and what do we have to do to become the head?

To understand the meaning, we should note the following phrase from the verse: “You shall be above only, and not beneath” (Deuteronomy 28:13). To be the head, then, means that we will be successful, superior in every essential aspect. But how will we define success? Will the criteria be newly updated facilities, optimal enrollment, highly qualified faculty, better funding?

Perhaps the more important question is: How does God define success? Ellen White writes, “Increasing numbers in your college is no evidence that your labors are being crowned with success. It is the strength of moral power increasing and pervading the college that testifies of its prosperity.” Later she adds, “What is needed to give success? A large, expensive building? If so, we cannot have success. But this does not give success. It is the atmosphere of grace which surrounds the soul of the believer, the Holy Spirit working upon mind and heart, which makes him a savor of life unto life and enables God to bless his work.”

While growing enrollments, balanced budgets, and updated facilities have their place, the evidence of success in God’s perspective is found in “the strength of moral power” and “the atmosphere of grace.” Indeed, when God established a school in Eden, a school which was to be “a model for man throughout all aftertime” (Education), enrollment was two and the buildings were none. What made the difference? God was the teacher.

What, then, is the condition of true success in our schools, colleges, and universities? The final part of the verse points to the answer: “The LORD will make you the head… if you heed the commandments of the LORD your God and are careful to observe them” (Deuteronomy 28:13). To state it another way, we should “seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

Our frame of reference is not secular educational institutions. Our benchmark is the Word of God. Our goal is not to be successful. Our purpose is to be faithful. Because when we are faithful to the divine plan, we are then truly successful.

Ellen White reminds us, “As our work has extended and institutions have multiplied, God’s purpose in their establishment remains the same. The conditions of prosperity are unchanged.” In Education, she adds, “With us, as with Israel of old, success in education depends on fidelity in carrying out the Creator’s plan.”

Perhaps the Old Testament prophet, Zechariah, sums it up best. “‘Not by might, nor by power; but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.”


John Wesley Taylor V, PhD, is Associate Director of Education at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He has served as teacher and educational administrator in North America, Latin America, and Asia, and in elementary, secondary, and higher education settings. He is a friend of young people and a colleague of teachers.

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