Does Homeschooling Deny the Missional Life?

Last week, Scot McKnight reposted some of Tony Jones’s thoughts on homeschooling and being missional on his blog. Tony believes homeschooling denies the missional life. Here’s what he had to say:

But it seems to me that if I am truly committed to living a missional life, then I must enroll my kids in the public school. That is, I am committed to living a life fully invested in what I might call the “Jesus Ethic” or the “Kingdom of God Ethic,” and also fully invested in the society — in fact, you might say that I live according to the Kingdom of God for the sake of society….

Similarly, formal education was formerly for the societal elite. But in a democracy, education is for all, with the understanding that the more educated we all become, the more humane we will be toward one another (this, of course, is open to debate).

So it seems to me that to withdraw my children from public education is to not play my (God-given) role as a missional member of society — like I can’t just choose to withhold my taxes. We give our children all those vaccinations when they’re young not necessarily to protect themfrom polio (since the chances of any one of my children getting it is exceedingly small) but because we live in a society, and part of the contract within the society is that we will never again let polio gain a foothold.

So I can’t think, “I’ll just pull my kids out of the public schools — what difference will one less follower of Jesus make in a school full of hundreds of kids?” I don’t, as a Christian, have the option to “opt out” of the societal contractInstead, I live under a mandate to be the most involved, missional societal participant that I can be.

Let me start off by saying, whatever you choose to do for schooling for your kids is completely your decision. I personally don’t think a family should put their kids in a Christian school, a charter school, a public school or homeschool them. I think each parent needs to make that choice, and it may even be different for different kids in your family. I knew a family that had 3 kids, one was home schooled, one was in a public school and the other was in a private school as it was the best for each child.

Here’s why I’m posting about this and why I took offense to it. We homeschool our kids. We made that choice after having our oldest in school for a quarter and saw what it did to our schedule, especially since I work on the weekend. We lost too much of our family time because of my work schedule. We’ve made the decision to evaluate each year what is best for our kids and our family and right now this is what is best for us.

Tony is right on one hand because many families homeschool their children to protect them from the world. I don’t think this is a good idea. At some point they will encounter the world around them. But to say that it denies the missional life it to say that every Christian who has their child in a public school is living on mission. If that were the case, our schools would be drastically different.

Living on mission and homeschooling simply means you have to be more intentional about how you life on mission, how you bring the culture into the life of your kids. You have to think through it.

Here are some things we do:

  • Our kids go to school 3 days a week for specials: gym, art and music. This helps them to meet other kids, be in a school, it allows us to meet the teachers and build a relationship with them.
  • Be outside. People walk around neighborhoods, they work in their yards, on their cars. Play out front instead of in the back. People walk around our neighborhood around 6pm, so we try to play out front then.
  • Invite your neighbors over, get to know them. Football started this week and that is an easy invite to a neighbor.
  • Get involved in the school. You can volunteer at the school, be a part of fairs or carnivals the school puts on that are open to the public.
  • Ask the principal how you could serve at the school and then follow through.

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9 thoughts on “Does Homeschooling Deny the Missional Life?

  1. Glad you brought this up and defended homeschooling so well. I am a Christian homeschool mom of five. Our decision to homeschool came about (mostly) because the lack of resources available in our small, rural schools for my oldest son who has Aspergers. After two years of doing it I realized how much I simply love doing it and how much freedom our family schedule has. But it never matters what I tell my Christians why we homeschool, they love pelting me with the same concerns as Jones.

    My first problem with Jones’ thinking is that he makes it seem like missional living is equated with sound, Biblical living. My commitment to a Biblical lifestyle according to God’s Word and will always precedes my commitment to live a missional lifestyle (which I do try to do). My decisions aren’t based upon whether or not they are the most “missional” decisions, but whether they are the most God-glorifying decisions for my life as a mom, wife, and member of the Body of Christ. To me, what Jones is really proposing is a form of works righteousness: the more involved in society we are, the more “Chrisitan” or “Biblical” or “Missional” we are. FAIL. Not buying it.

    My second problem with Jones’ thinking is that it suggests the homeschooling community (or other counter cultural activities) lacks opportunities for missional activity. God help us if we ever think any part or people of this depraved world doesn’t need the influence of the gospel. I’ve noticed quite a few unsaved natural health people in these counter cultural movements that Christians like myself have been able to share the gospel with had we not been “unmissional” by not vaccinating or sending our children to public school.

    The bottom line is that missional thinking isn’t based upon some special methodology by people like Jones. It is conceived out of love. When your life has been transformed by the love and grace of Jesus Christ people will take notice and you’ll be eager to share why so they can know Him too.

  2. The entire notion of having one’s child in public school for evangelism is entirely un-bilical. The Bible nowhere expects us to force out children into missionary situations. The Christian life is one in which the individual must choose to follow Christ and engages in his own missionary effort as God calls him to do so. But where on earth are parents ever instructed to sacrifice their children to a failing education system for the sake of evangelism? Moreover, this notion that parents ought not to shield their children is, again, simply false. EVERY responsible parent protects his child from harmful things. Nor should we think that shielding a child means we don’t prepare him from for the dangers he will encounter in the real world. But at least when we, the parent, expose our child, we do so in a safe, controlled environment where we can feed those things to the child in safe doses, so that the child becomes inoculated to these dangers.

    As for the arguments offered in support of sending children to public school:
    • Americans live in a constitutional republic, not a democracy.
    • Biblically speaking, education is a parents duty, not the state’s duty.
    • If we subject our child to vaccinations (which we don’t), it’s to protect the child, not the public.
    • Moral duty is not predicated on any social compact. It’s predicated on God’s imperatives for our lives. There is no “social compact” which can impose obligatory moral duty on anyone.

  3. My husband and I both were public schooled and then I was saved when I was 17 (thankfully mostly unharmed from my secular life.) I started my senior year of public school out wanting to save the entire school, staff, and janitors. I shared my new faith to my classmates and teachers. I also stopped hanging out with my previous friends since I didn’t want to go to drinking parties anymore. I did not come from a Christian home, but I was discipled under the youth pastor and his wife so my faith grew. What I learned from public school is: you are made fun of if you don’t join in with what everyone else is doing, you don’t need to try very hard to get good grades, teachers are not to be respected, and the most important thing is to be in the right crowd. In Deut. 6: 5-7 we are commanded to teach our children the ways of God, day and night. We are raising them up to go into the world as discipled strong believers who will share the gospel. If public schooled, I only have my children from 3:30pm-8pm and weekends, then I have lost them from 8am-3:30pm to the world. From 8-3:30pm they will be tested by the world, and if they are young in faith or not even believers yet then I might lose them to the world completely. I am not at all saying that if you public school your children that they will turn into heathens and be lost souls. But if your child is taught the Bible, sees their parents live our their faith, interact with their parents living missional lives, come along side their families doing service projects, learn to speak to people of all ages instead of just the same aged peers, not be tempted by peer pressure, and to most importantly be discipled as a follow of Christ which is far greater than reading, writing, and arithmetic than why wouldn’t you? If you public school your children who do you want them to hangout with? The lost souls? The ones that drink and do drugs? Or do you want them to be with the church kids? If you want your children to be missional then like Jesus He went to the lost souls of His time. He went to the drunks, the prostitutes, the lowest of society. Do you send your children to such people? I hope so. But why send them off to fend for themselves, why not go with them? The apostles followed Jesus for years before He taught them enough to send them off to the world. That is the model I want for my kids. I will disciple them, teach them, and lead them in the ways of Jesus and then when they graduate they can go into the world fully equipped to be missional.

  4. I’m with you on many of your points! Actually, my rebuttal to Tony’s posts will be on Scot’s blog on Monday, I believe. We share many of the same thoughts. Thank you for posting yours; I feel reassured knowing I’m not the only one who doesn’t agree with Tony’s perspective.

  5. Josh, great post on a balanced perspective on the subject. I totally agree with Tony’s philosophy and at the same time admire your living out a missional life that fits your family. We as parents must do as you stated and evaluate what each of our children need while being on mission. I’m sure Tony is reacting to the “traditional” protect-my-kid homeschool mentality as you pointed out.
    Currently all 4 of ours are in public school, but we evaluate that each year. One thing we do to constantly remind the kids of why they are in public school is to pray together for one or two classmates or teachers each morning, that they will be able to show the love of God to that person that day.
    Thanks for posting honestly and thoughtfully on what tends to be a volatile subject in christian circles.

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