Just to be clear, I am a pastor and we home school. This is our first year homeschooling both of our grade school children, and we have a preschooler that we plan to home school in kindergarten next year. My wife and I have had a great experience and are excited about the future. It’s hard work, especially for my wife who is the primary teacher, but we have felt peace as we followed God’s leading in this area of our lives.
As many church leaders will have noticed in their communities, the popularity of homeschooling is increasing. One recent statistic showed that over 2 million students are now learning at home. That’s a 75% increase from 1999. And the trend is rising. A recent Barna study found “The political climate is increasingly amenable to home schooling as a legitimate educational alternative. Add to that the growing desire of millions of Americans to have a more significant family life and to maximize their children’s educational opportunities, and suddenly home schooling becomes a serious option for many.” I attended pastor’s conference recently where I learned that percentages of pastor’s families which are choosing to home school is on the rise as well.
The purpose of this article is not to debate whether this is a positive trend or not. The reality is that home schooling families represent a growing demographic in our communities. Many of them are already connected in our churches, but a significant number have no connection to a church at all. A growing number of parents who home school are doing so because of dissatisfaction with the public school system, and not because of personal religious reasons. The old stereotype of super conservative families with 10 kids who all dress the same and fall asleep listening to Answers in Genesis every night doesn’t fit reality anymore. The Barna Group reports that, “Half of all home school parents said they are “somewhere in-between” being politically conservative and liberal.”
There are two major lessons to be drawn from this.
1. Our churches, and pastors specifically should be sensitive to the perspectives and needs of home schooling families.
2. Pastors who choose to home school should be careful how and why they publicly articulate their own reason to do so.
There are plenty of reasons that school at home is a great educational option, perhaps especially for pastor’s families. Increased family time, different options in curriculum, safety and security, specialized emphasis in your child’s strengths and interest areas are some of the leading pros.
But there are also reasons that pastors should NOT home school. By that I mean that there are motivations for home education that should not be a part of a pastor’s public case for his family’s private choice to home school. If your motivation is poor, or poorly communicated, it will harm your ministry.
Here are four big mistakes pastors should avoid in making their case for home education:
Mistake #1. We had an awful experience in public school, and we want to spare our kids from that pain. Perhaps you did have an awful experience in public school growing up. Jesus enters our lives and heals all sorts of scars and wounds from our past. There is a difference between gaining wisdom and insight from past experiences, and a life of choices driven by fear. Public school is not the enemy. The world is a broken place and we cannot escape it. We are not meant to. We are meant to participate with Christ in His work to redeem it. That may sound like a rationale to stay in public school. If fear is your reason to leave public school, then perhaps repentance would mean re-enrollment for you. My point is that our choices to educate at home should be built on wisdom and confidence in Christ, not fear. Your kids are not doomed to walk the broken path you did. They will walk their own broken path until they find Christ. Our responsibility and opportunity is to hold their hand along the way, in whatever ways the Spirit leads us. And the truth is that we must overcome our own brokenness through Christ if we are going to be effective in leading them.
Mistake #2. Public school education is so sub par, we can surely do better at home. News flash – there are kids everywhere who are learning tons in public school everyday. There are passionate teachers who have given their lives to educating these kids in the public school system. There are teachers with missionary hearts who could make three times as much in another career as they do teaching…but they don’t, because they love kids. There are people who teach in public schools that have extraordinary experience and education which they draw from to teach. Those same people are in your church and community. When we rationalize our choice to educate at home by criticizing public education, we insult the people who are being obedient to Christ in their lives by serving in that feild. There are also families in our congregations that cannot educate their children at home for various reasons, most of them noble and sincere. When we rationalize the choice to educate at home by criticizing public education, we sound self-righteous and arrogant to them. And in many cases, we are. Home school families must repent of this arrogance and replace it with considerate compassion. Wisdom leads us to recognize the honorable things in people’s lives who have made different choices than ours, and to affirm them with grace.
Mistake #3. We love our kids SO much that this seems our only option. “We just cherish our kids. We love them so much that we just can’t be at peace with settling for public education.” Again, the inference here is that public education is the enemy in itself, and people who send their children to public school don’t love their children as much as you do. As a pastor, words are your tools of the trade. God’s Word, and your ability to communicate truth are your bread and butter. It is insufficient to support your choice to home educate by suggesting that you love your children more than everyone else, and if people don’t understand then that’s just too bad. You cannot play the part of a misunderstood victim of popular opinion. Use your words. Speak the truth in love. Share your commitment to christian parenting and how God has placed a burden on your heart to make this choice. Do it without minimalizing and mischaracterizing other people’s choice to educate differently.
Mistake #4. We REALLY have our act together. All of us feel the pressure to appear super spiritual. This may be a message that you are communicating without even knowing it. Sometimes we overachieve because of how truly underachieving we feel. But when we drive ourselves to put forth the image of a super spiritual, ultra organized, impeccably cultured and well mannered family unit who got that way with ease and style…we are being dishonest with ourselves and the world. Life is messy. Some days are really hard to get through with a smile. We are a better witness for Christ when we are transparent enough to let people see that we aren’t perfect all the time. We need Jesus to give us joy, not just on hard days, but everyday. We need Jesus to redeem us from our laziness and tendency not to do our best all the time. We need Jesus to help us shake off the “old man” and learn to be renewed in his light and grace every day…just like everyone else. An authentic life that is built on confidence in Christ is much more compelling than an appearance of excellence that thinly veils deep insecurity. The gospel is the message of a perfect Savior redeeming imperfect people. That message should be on display as we live out home education. Go ahead and crochet catechisms in Latin, but do it because you want to, not because you feel like its the only way to prove you aren’t sabotaging your child’s life by homeschooling them.
The bottom line is that Christians have long been known in our culture more for what we are against, than what we are for. This is a trend that must change if we hope to build a compelling case for Jesus being a loving Savior to a broken world, rather than it’s harsh judge. Home school education is a wonderful option for families, including those of pastors. We must be able to build a positive case for home school education without alienating ourselves from those who have not, or can not, make the same choice.
What do you think?