This week Eva and I took the plunge and enrolled our children for the first time in a public school system. This is a matter that we have wrestled with for years and in particular in the last six months. Much consideration, research, and most importantly prayer went into the decision. And since the issue of schooling is perhaps the number one topic that I discuss with parents of young and school-aged children, I thought I would share a few of the key reasons behind our decision. Before I share these reasons however, let me state the following caveats:
· I'm not sharing all of the varied factors that influenced our decision, only the ones that I believe will be the most important to my readers.
· What I'm sharing isn't prescriptive; in other words, I am not telling you what schooling you should provide for your children. That's for you to decide.
· I am very thankful for the Christian school that my children have attended for the last 6 years; for a number of reasons (see some below) we have decided that a change is what is best for our children (and us) at this time. That might change in the future. Only God knows.
Those caveats behind, let me elaborate on several key reasons for our decision:
1. The Scriptures are clear that parents are responsible for the development of their children (Deut 6:1-4, Prov. 22:6, Ephesians 6:1), not the school or church. There is no Biblical mandate for Christian education, or home education, any more than there is for public education. The Scripture holds parents, and parents alone, responsible for raising their children. God has given parents the church and school as a tool to help them in this task, but at the end of the day, I will be the one who is held accountable for how my child has been raised (note I didn't say turns out; ultimately the child has to answer for himself).
2. I have been involved in Christian education in some way, either as a student, a teacher or a parent of students, for all but 5 years of my life. And during my 10 years as a pastor I have interacted with hundreds of public and home-schooled children. Here is what my unofficial research has determined: the number one influence on a child, by far, is the parents. You might be saying, well, duh, of course, but here is what my "research" also shows: when parents follow Proverbs 22:6 (i.e., shepherd their children spiritually) it doesn't matter what school they go to, the children will grow up to walk with the Lord. While this is not always true (Proverbs 22:6 isn't a guarantee, simply the way of the wise) it is true most of the time. It certainly was for me; I love the Lord today largely because of my parents involvement in shepherding me spiritually, not because of (and actually to some degree in spite of) the Christian school I attended.
I have also found the converse to be true: when parents don't follow Proverbs 22:6, children normally don't grow up to walk with Lord, regardless of where they go to school. In fact, and this is what scares me the most, when parents abdicate their role to shepherd their children to the Christian school (and the church), children often see little connection between what they see in school/church and the home, and often leave the church (and the faith) as soon as they leave home. This leads me my next point.
3. Here is what I have come to realize in recent days: I have been using the church and Christian education as a crutch. I have slowly and subtly abdicated my responsibility to "bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." Since I knew they were receiving Biblical instruction at church and school, I have bought into the thinking (lie?) that they were getting all that they needed. In reality, what they need the most is what only I can give to them (Fathers, bring them up in the training.....).
4. Finally, my family, and in particular me, live in a Christian bubble. We are a Christian family. We go to a Christian church. A Christian church I work at. What's missing? Involvement with those who aren't Christians. How can I be salt and light when I am never around those who need the salt and light? How can I train my children to live a missional life and share their faith if they don't see me doing it?
Here's a transparent moment for you: we lived in our last home for 7 years. During those 7 years I can count on one hand (without using my thumb) the number of significant conversations I had with any of our neighbors. That has to change. And in our recent move we have determined that we are going to begin to break out of the Christian bubble, begin to build relationships in our community, begin to attempt to reach our neighbors for Christ, and use the relationships that our children and their activities help us make to do so.
Oh, and one more thing here. I have an 8-year old daughter who I am convinced God has given the gift of "relationship-building". She can walk into a room with people she has never met and in five minutes she will be playing with a girl who is her age. She has never met a stranger. And she wants to tell them about Jesus. What a gift. As her father, I believe that it is my role to help her develop this gift. How will she ever do this if she is never around non-Christians?As I said earlier, these are not the only reasons, just the most important. I know you might not agree, and you don't have to. But I would be happy to hear your thoughts none the less. Either way, I hope this helps as you consider how God would have you lead your children.