To know God and to make Him known.

Is Protocol "Starched, Stuffy, and Stiff"?

Classical Conversations Challenge communities organize a chaperoned Spring Formal Protocol event each year for their Challenge I-IV students. Students choose their dressy attire, eat together in an upscale setting, and may attend a cultural event (such as the theatre, opera, or symphony). Many communities have individualized Protocol training using Sandra Boswell’s book, Protocol Matters.


Spring Protocol allows students to practice proper etiquette for formal occasions. This trains them in the skills of participating in formal functions with ease. The children we are homeschooling will one day be leaders of their homes, churches, local organizations, and communities—and quite possibly, some will be leaders on a national and perhaps even international scale. Classical Conversations puts the highest value on equipping our students with the skills combined with the wisdom they will need to know God and to make Him known. To neglect to teach them the skills of formal events would be to overlook an important component of what they will, at some point and to some degree, require as adults leading their generation and those who will follow after them.


The purpose of Spring Protocol encompasses the practical, but it delves deeper than that. It provides valuable insight into one of Christ’s most important directives: "A new command I give youLove one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34, NIV). Classical Conversations is raising up students to value what is true, good, and beautiful, and to seek to spread an appreciation for truth, goodness, and beauty as they fulfill the Lord’s purposes in their lives. No matter where or to whom they are called to do so, they will need to wield skills of courtesy and grace through appropriate manners: in other words, through considerate behavior. They will need to know how to manifest Christ’s dictum to love others through their dress, speech, and actions.


As our young men and women fellowship during Protocol, they learn to show focused consideration to those with whom they are keeping company. They discover that it takes not only knowledge but effort to be gracious to others with whom you are expected to socialize—regardless of whether you have interests in common or naturally suited personalities. Protocol produces an environment in which young adults practice different ways they can show high regard for each other in an age and within a secular worldview which predominantly dismisses such consideration as simply meaningless, empty ‘formality.’ Indeed, we live in a culture which tries at every turn to informalize—in effect, downgrade—how we treat one another. This has resulted in a society which seems to have only a faint idea of how to be respectful of elders and those in authority, let alone peers.


It is, perhaps, an element of human nature for one generation to reject the mores of the generation that preceded it. This is a phenomenon often referred to under the umbrella phrase, “the generation gap.” It is important to consider, however, the following questions which I pose in my Challenge seminars every year as we prepare for Protocol: If you are eager to reject out of hand the manners and standards of your elders as being pointless and simply ‘for show,’ you can be sure that the generation that follows will mimic you—it will also reject the values which you deem important. Consider how this may make you feel as you, later in life, walk amongst those in a society who not only reject, but condemn, concepts of good behavior that you hold dear; but more importantly, it is vital to ponder at what point the erosion of standards will stop. Where will society draw the line, and is that place—if such a line exists (because it is possible that the erosion never ceases until there remains nothing to erode)—really a place we want to reach?


Spring Protocol is, therefore, about exploring how to behave with deep respect for one’s fellow human beings—of all demographics—who are made in the image of God. As Christians, we are called to put others before ourselves; Protocol provides students with the opportunity to practice what Scripture teaches about the value we should accord every person as a human being created by God himself, with His holy intent and purpose. It helps train our students to “love one another,” but it also helps train them to be aware of how their treatment of one another is a witness: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35, NIV).


Every year in which I have participated in Protocol, which has grown in our community from a gathering of about fifteen our first year to a group of almost thirty, three years later, I have found it to be a blessing: a grace-filled time of fellowship, conversation, and appreciation of the arts and delicious food. All of this is made possible through the extra care participants have taken with their appearance, manners, and consideration of one another: the care taken with putting others before ourselves from the moment of planning our appearance through the moment of farewell.


Does this mean that the event is “starched, stuffy, and stiff” (all, by the way, modern synonyms for ‘formal’)? This is what our postmodern culture would claim as it promotes exultation in the philosophy of the “generation gap,” but nothing could be farther from the truth. As Christians, we realize that this Christ-like considerateness helps us to show much grace to one another, to include one another fully in our care and conversation, and to be sensitive to others; the cumulative result is that no matter the particular dresses or suits, no matter the restaurant, and no matter the cultural event, all enjoy true fellowship together.


Protocol is an important part of Challenge I-IV, in which students are honing significant social skills as well as Christian character and integrity. It is about learning to exhibit proper manners at formal events; even more than this, however, Spring Protocol is about learning to show Christian love towards others: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4, NIV). There is nothing starched, stuffy, or stiff about that!

TIERS: challenge
CATEGORIES: Articles, Classical Christian Education

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