Many of my fondest memories of childhood include going to the old Baptist church in the small town where I was raised. Sundays were spent snuggled in a pew between my mom and grandmother who offered me Wintergreen mints and fashioned Kleenex carnations from the pocket of her purse to contain my wiggles. My dad, who was a deacon, brought us to Wednesday evening prayer meeting and my grandma taught the adult Sunday school class for over 3 decades. We packed out the building for week-long revival services every October and I experienced the truth of the Gospel, repenting of my sins and claiming the grace of Jesus alone for my salvation as a 10 year old. I was baptized and married in that same church, beneath its grand old stained glass windows and years later I grieved the passing of the ones I loved the most in that same spot.
During my second year at one of our denomination’s colleges, I witnessed the face of Christianity change forever: Roe vs. Wade became the law of the land. Though I didn’t know this at the time, the anti-life agenda was ushered in, in part, by the very denomination I had called my own and I was soon to see those church members who had taught me Bible truths as a small child consider themselves “pro-choice,” embracing all sorts of aberrant teachings that would make past saints turn in their graves. Only a few years later, as a spiritually hungry young family with three preschoolers, we knew we could not raise our children in this church so we moved on. It was a bittersweet time but the Lord was preparing us for an even greater spiritual journey: homeschooling.
It is no coincidence that Francis Schaeffer’s monumental work, The Great Evangelical Disaster, was published just as modern home education approached its first tipping point in the mid eighties. Clearly defining the battle lines between secular humanism and Biblical Christianity, Shaeffer’s work was prophetic. While calling out a generation that witnessed the slide into evangelical apostasy, Shaeffer managed to capture an eerily accurate picture of where future generations were headed. “Here is the great evangelical disaster,” he wrote, “the failure of the evangelical world to stand for truth…the truth of all the Bible teaches, not only in religious matters but in the areas of science and history and morality.” (1)
What Schaeffer didn’t anticipate was one branch of the church that wanted no part of this disaster and would eventually become the bright spot for cultural revival: homeschooling families. While seminaries continued to send out graduates who were more interested in being relevant than faithful and denominations invested in high-tech buildings and elaborate strategies for growing the body of Christ, moms and dads opened their Bibles and school books, quietly teaching their own children and introducing them to a personal creator God who is intimately involved in all areas of life.
Now, nearly 30 years later, the state of many congregations has deteriorated even further and faithful homeschooling families who are committed to the authority of Scripture and raising their children to see the Bible as their standard of measure, often find themselves in a precarious position. Surveying the evangelical landscape, they ask:
Where do we fit in?
Should we continue to support churches that have abandoned the Bible, including its teachings on the family?
Should we join with other homeschooling families and plant a church?
Does our own church situation help us as we raise our children or does it hinder our efforts?
How do we avoid worldliness without being disobedient to the Great Commission?
How can we have more meaningful spiritual lives?
How do we prevent our children from becoming part of the current statistics that say only 10% of children raised in Christian homes maintain their faith when they grow up?
As we began to teach our own children, we soon recognized that the homeschooling lifestyle brings with it new priorities. We saw the need to invest our time where it counted the most and that meant many of the traditional church “programs” had to be taken out of our schedule. Discipling young people and building solid, life-long mentoring relationships with them takes all your energy and your priorities become different than those of other families. We realized it might make more sense to spend five hours teaching Bible truths to our own children than it did using those same five hours to prepare a Sunday school lesson. We quickly learned that if we were going to have daily devotions as a family before Clay left for work in the mornings, we would have to forgo evening church activities. And as all four of our aging parents began to have significant health problems, we knew our children would learn more valuable lessons caring for them than participating in any organized youth group.
It was at this juncture that we knew we had chosen a path that made other people uncomfortable and even irritated. We were seen as not really participating in the life of the church because too often that was defined as being part of church programs. We had come to the place where true Christian education was happening in our home but church life was frustrating and often painful.
We have been members of traditional churches, participated in planting two family integrated fellowships, and eventually returned to the traditional church five years ago. We have been where many homeschooling families are today, asking these same questions and looking for answers. Here are a few things we have learned along the way:
As Christians who are growing in our faith, we aren’t looking to be entertained or for a congregation that will babysit us or our children. What we want is the challenge to have a deeper relationship with Christ and encouragement as we apply Scripture to our lives. We want our church to equip us for the work of the ministry, first to our families and then to others.
As we mature as believers in Jesus Christ, we realize the value of practicing spiritual disciplines like daily Bible reading, prayer, fellowship with other believers, sharing our faith with others, and using our spiritual gifts to build Christ’s kingdom. We also can look back over our spiritual journey and see how the Lord has worked in our lives by measuring our personal and family growth by the Bible’s standard found in Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;against such things there is no law.” Through this process, frustrations with church life are inevitable and are even a good sign if we use them to honestly evaluate our own lives.
George Barna, who researches matters of faith and culture, says that, based on data from the past two decades, roughly two thirds of Christians today see the local church as their greatest source of spiritual growth but by the year 2025, half of the body of Christ will have rejected the traditional church and will be pursuing alternative ways to relate to God and pursue their faith. These are people who recognize that they are responsible for their own personal growth as believers and for ministry to others so they “stop going to church so they can be the Church.”(2)
Even though they may still attend a church, homeschooling families could fit into this category. They desire to hear solid Biblical preaching, participate in vibrant, God-honoring worship where the music, no matter what the style, reflects sound theology, and to be involved in the lives of others who share these convictions. They also believe it is important to serve others within the body of Christ alongside their own children.
In looking for a church home, it is tempting to find refuge in congregations that affirm our choice to homeschool. But, as appealing as the family integrated church movement might be, it is wrought with as many if not more dangers than being in a traditional church.
In frustration with program-driven churches, the past ten years have seen a rise in the family integrated church movement. Wanting to avoid the age-segregation and often downright waste of time of many youth ministries, homeschooling families began trickling out of their traditional churches and joining with others to form small congregations with like-minded believers. Currently there are several thousand churches that consciously identify themselves as family integrated and those numbers are growing.
The attraction to family-centered churches is understandable, especially for those who feel beaten down by their past religious experiences. Those who gravitate toward them are typically very serious about discipling their own children and family worship lead by fathers is the expected norm for every household. Most members have already wrestled with the concept of having a Biblical worldview and have come to have the proper understanding of issues like abortion and homosexuality; there is rarely a threat that theological liberalism will take over or that the excesses of the emergent church will influence the congregation. Fellowship between families is encouraged and hospitality is regularly practiced. Children are welcomed in all aspects of church life, including worship, where their participation isn’t considered to be unusual or a distraction to adults.
However, there are some very real dangers about this movement that should be considered. Isolation becomes the standard as very few of these churches have any families who are not homeschoolers and public school or Christian school families are not welcomed unless they are willing to be “brought along” in their thinking about education, meaning they should be working toward the goal of homeschooling. Though age-integration is promoted in these churches, rarely are there retirement age, elderly, or single adults unless they are part of a particular family. If the church sponsors evangelism or missions efforts, families are rarely involved other than by their financial support.
Too often, the Gospel within the FIC church is family reformation through homeschooling and lifestyle changes for the father’s glory rather than the work of the Holy Spirit to transform individual lives for the glory of our Heavenly Father. The Biblical doctrine of the priesthood of the believer is ignored and replaced with a heavy-handed authority structure both within the home and the church that resembles little of what the New Testament church is to be. Often the established paradigm leaves no room for personal convictions of individual families in the areas of courtship, dating, college, etc. and many young adults are forced to conform to ideals they don’t believe for fear of being labeled “rebellious.” Rather than teaching the absolutes of the Word of God, trusting that the Holy Spirit will lead each one into righteousness, the church ends up nurturing a generation of young Pharisees who haven’t been given the opportunity to embrace their own convictions regarding nonessentials of the faith.
Frequently those leading the church have little to no theological training resulting, in eisegesis(3) rather than exegesis, which leaves the doors open for all sorts of strange and new interpretations and applications of Scripture. The result is a long list of requirements for “biblical family life” that often results in an “us against them” mentality and the temptation for families to compare themselves among themselves, which Scripture warns is not wise. (2 Corinthians 10:12) This also leads to ignoring the amazing gifts and talents among individual members of the family…sons and daughters, mothers and fathers… that God has so uniquely designed to function together for His glory!
The whole body of Christ needs homeschooling families and we need the whole body of Christ!
Author and apologist, Phillip E. Johnson, once remarked “When pressed in interviews to name my heroes, I have spontaneously responded that they are homeschooling mothers! To me, the heroic mothers who nurture the next generation of faithful Christians are among the leaders of the church.” I heartily agree! Homeschooling moms are typically tremendous examples of godly womanhood and a picture of devotion to building Christian homes. Homeschooling dads, through their commitment to wives and children, are some of the best examples of genuine Christian manhood in the church today.
I recently asked several pastors what their experiences with homeschooling families were like in their congregations and they confirmed what I had suspected: homeschoolers are among the most dedicated of their members. They out distance other families in their willingness to serve others, and their children are more apt to weather any rough spots in their faith because their parents have been so greatly involved in their spiritual training. As we diligently apply the Word of God to all areas of life, we become an example that the whole body of Christ needs to see. There are so many families who are really struggling with even basic issues of faith and many desperately need help in building relationships within their marriages or with their children. Though we are certainly not perfect, as we depend completely on God’s grace for raising our children, we can have a tremendous opportunity to encourage and serve others as they witness our own trials and triumphs.
We also need to be involved with aspects of the body of Christ that are not focused on homeschooling. There are many godly older couples who have much to teach us about stages of life we have not yet experienced and their mentoring of us through empty nests, deaths of spouses, and other significant life changes is so valuable. We need to hear the testimonies of those who are involved in vocations where secular humanism runs rampant, gleaning perspectives we will not experience in our homes. We need exposure to all ages and all backgrounds and cultures, whether from across town or across the world. We need wisdom and edification from Scripture taught by doctrinally sound pastors and teachers. We need opportunities to participate in evangelism and to experience the joy of seeing new people come to Christ! We need the whole church!
Jesus gives us these two great commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 30:31) When we focus on obedience to these, I believe the Lord will lead each homeschooling family into His service within the body of Christ as we prepare the next generation to truly be His church!
(1.) The Great Evangelical Disaster, page 37.
This article originally appeared in the Home Educating Family Magazine, 2011, Issue Two.