God Works in Mysterious Ways
Dr. James Taylor has been in Christian education for 28 years, with 21 of those in senior leadership. So, how did God lead him to Hebron Christian Academy as the head of school? It wasn’t quite the road you might expect, and it took a couple extra nudges from the Lord to get him in the area. As he enters his second year at the helm of HCA, one thing is clear, God is guiding the path of our school.
A Deal on a Toyota Tacoma
When the phone rings and a job opening is mentioned, Dr. James Taylor has had one simple answer during his long career in Christian education, “no thanks.”
When a good friend called Taylor in September of 2019 to tell him the Hebron Christian Academy job was open and that he would be a perfect fit, he responded the same way he has for the last 28 years.
“I’m not interested. God is using me where I’m at.”
Two more friends called, and two similar answers followed.
Days later, Taylor was helping his son-in-law, Ryland, look for a new truck. The perfect fit, which was $4,875 less than anything else they saw, was available outside Atlanta and the purchase was made. He loaded up with Ryland and his daughter, Alyssa, to make the nearly five-hour trip to pick up the Toyota Tacoma.
During the drive, Taylor was contacted again by one of the same people that called him before and insisted HCA was the perfect job for him, so he turned to his daughter and said, “I think this school is somewhere near Atlanta. If it’s within 20 minutes of the dealership, let’s just go drive by and take a look.”
The Toyota of Buford dealership was six miles from HCA.
“I knew the moment I drove through the gates I was going to serve at Hebron Christian Academy, I could feel the Holy Spirit move in me,” Taylor said.
A text to his wife, Karen, followed moments later, “I think we are moving to Dacula, Georgia.”
He reached back out to one of his previous “no thanks” phone calls and said, “Hey I’ll take that number for Landon Dowden,” who is the head pastor at Hebron Church.
A search that was nearly over suddenly came to a screeching halt with the other candidates. After a zoom call with the committee the first week in October, meeting with the board was the next step.
Scottie Johns, the chairman of the school board, knew from his first conversation with Taylor they had found something special.
“There were specific things we were looking for and he checked every box and more,” said Johns. “The moment we first spoke with James, it was crystal clear he was the right man for the job.”
An already planned trip to the Georgia vs. Kentucky football game in Athens on Oct. 19 turned into an interview weekend. After UGA’s 21-0 victory over the Wildcats, Taylor attended Hebron Church the following morning and his afternoon interview with the board that was supposed to last 90 minutes, turned into an almost four-hour meeting.
During his drive back to Savannah, Taylor received a call from Chuck Warbington, who was the head of the search committee, to say they had stopped the process with the other three candidates.
A little more than a week later, the job was offered, and Taylor became the head of school at Hebron Christian Academy – 39 days after making the six-mile drive from Toyota of Buford for a quick drive-by at HCA.
“The Lord was in every step of this journey,” Taylor said. “As weird as it is, the Lord gave us a bargain on a Toyota Tacoma for my son-in-law to get me in the area, because he knew I was stubborn.”
Pursuit of True Excellence
A genuine Christian school where Christ is the center is quite rare these days, but, for Taylor, it’s a requirement.
“I only want to be at a place that pursues true excellence and is the very best school we can be, but I would never do that without Christ at the center of the organization.”
Not only did God lead Taylor directly to Hebron, but it was the perfect opportunity and academic playground for him to pursue two things.
Education in a Christ-centered fashion.
“I want people to marvel at the education their children are receiving at HCA and all the while challenging them with who they are in Christ.”
The History of HCA
Since the inception of Hebron Christian Academy in 1999, there has been a rapid transition in the senior role with Taylor taking over as the seventh head of school.
So much transition had eyebrows raised early on.
“I kept waiting for there to be something wrong with the place to explain all the transition,” said Taylor. “After being here for a year and a couple months, I haven’t found anything.”
But, as he always does, God had his plan.
“Looking back, I think God had each of those leaders here for a season to accomplish specific things,” Taylor said. “And now this place needs someone to stay, and I’m praying for God to give me 15 years at HCA to make this a premier Christian organization.”
The foundation to build on is strong thanks to the first head of school, Scott Smith, and then-Hebron Baptist Church head pastor Larry Wynn, who had the vision for Hebron Christian Academy when it was formed 22 years ago.
So, 15 years goes by, and what is next for Taylor?
“I have no intention of retiring,” he said with a smile.The First Twelve Months
When speaking about his first 12 months at Hebron, Taylor can only muster one word.
“I have seen the Lord move in miraculous ways during my ministry in Christian education, but it is unheard of to accomplish what the Lord has done here in the last year,” Taylor said.
Since his arrival, Taylor has made everything missional, asking where God is working and joining him in what he is doing.
With 56 families on a waiting list for the Lower School when Taylor arrived, the first step was expansion.
“We really felt like God was saying we needed to do this project in the first year,” Taylor said. “In my own power, this is not something I would have done right away. Normally, I learn an organization before making changes in the first year.”
But prayer changes things.
Taylor prayer walks the campus at least three times a week, and the Lord made it clear this needed to be the first project.
Within six weeks of Taylor’s arrival on campus, a capital campaign was launched to create an addition to the Lower School, which would cost $2.8 million. The Lord provided an anchor donor in the Becker Family, and more than 30 other donors followed, which raised the entire cost of the building. When the new building opens this week, there will be zero debt.
As more needs became apparent, a five-year strategic plan was put on paper with a fitting tagline: God-sized Dreams.
And the Lord continued to provide.
A commitment to one-to-one technology was fully funded and implemented for more than $1 million.
A STEM Center and Enrichment Center will open this week and is fully funded for $500,000.
When fans attend football games this fall, they will be greeted by a new ticket booth, new bathrooms and a new walkway wrapping the pond toward the tennis academy. All fully funded.
“I can’t take credit for any of this,” said Taylor. “It has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with a sovereign God who wants to do amazing things.”
The Next 12 Months
It only seems fitting that the theme for the coming school year comes from Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.”
As one set of projects are completed, more God-sized Dreams are waiting. Fundraising is currently underway for a new dining hall and new state-of-the-art Broadway style theatre for the Fine Arts program that will total approximately $3.8 million.
“What we are praying for is that by December we will be at 70 percent fundraised, so we can break ground and use the second semester and summer to finish the construction and be up and running for the following school year.”
The five-year plan also includes a Special Needs Academy, Athletic Field House and Student Center totaling significantly more than $10 million. While this might seem overwhelming, Taylor has a phrase he has used since early in his career to put these God-sized Dreams into perspective.
“We need to be smart enough to know that we aren’t smart enough. Get out of the way, and let God have sway.”
As Hebron Christian Academy flips the calendar to another school year, it’s time to ask and imagine and see how God will do immeasurably more.
Plenty has happened in the last 12 months, but Taylor’s favorite moment wasn’t driving on campus for the first time, raising millions of dollars or seeing new buildings go up.
The theme for his first year was “Be Bold,” and, as he was speaking in weekly chapel, he felt called to challenge the students toward salvation.
An altar call ensued and approximately 10 middle school students and 12 high school students came forward and gave their lives to Christ.
“To watch kids come into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and for Christian education to play a role in that process was incredible,” Taylor said. “The educational output of what our school is doing is phenomenal, but ultimately that excellence is still aimed at the Gospel, and the Gospel will still guide our excellence.”