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Public, Private, or Homeschool (Deciding Factors Part 3 - Freedom and Curriculum)

Continuing a discussion on deciding factors for choosing your child's education.
I would like to address two deciding factors at once in this point.
Personally, this is where I am beginning to part ways with public education.  I see great educators who love kids with their hands tied by bureaucrats.  Most decisions are being made by Washington and very few are being made locally.  I see more elitists at the top assuming there is no intelligence in the people who are actually gifted to educate children.  I see more passion for an ideology than I do for my child.  
I may be very jaded here, but my kids now both attend private school and I teach two hours a day in that same school.  The kids in our school, which is a Christian school, are just as flawed as the kids in any other school; but I can pray with my kids.  I can customize certain experiences for my classes based on who they are.  We can use the Bible as a text for life.  We can stop the course of the day and assemble for worship.  We can teach Creationism and intelligent design.  We can tell the real story of American history.  We can discuss both the flaws and the faith of our nation’s fathers.  We can purposefully lead kids to Christ and not fear losing our jobs.  
As a parent, I value freedom.  I do not value psuedo-freedom which says you are free to express your beliefs as long as it is doesn’t contain any ounce of the Christian God, opposition to homosexuality, the right to life for the unborn, or any perceived conservative thought.  
At this time in our lives we are not paying for private Christian education because we think it will lead our children to be greater Christ followers.  We are paying for freedom.  We are paying of the peace of mind of knowing our children will not be subjected to some sort of sensitivity training which leads to a compromise of Biblical morality.  We are paying for knowing the people choosing the curriculum.  We are paying for less government intrusion and greater freedom in customization of curriculum for our children.    Without a doubt, homeschool and private school offers the greatest degree of customization in curriculum and freedom of thought than public education.  
I know there is a lot of debate about Common Core in its motives, creation, and content, but aside from the propaganda, I have heard nothing good from the educators who are being forced comply with its standards.  Common Core seems to be a more radical ideological culmination of something public education has been setting itself up for, for quite some time.  For too long we have been teaching toward tests rather than teaching kids how to think.  The problem is now a radical leftist agenda is writing the tests.  Public education has become little more than government school.  
Public education in America was first introduced mainly by the churches as a means of preserving freedom and Christian values in the culture of our nation.  It was deeply rooted in the local community.  Now public education is a means of advancing an agenda and it is strongly dictated by the NEA and the federal government.  
If you choose for your child to go to private school or homeschool as a means of avoiding bad kids or placing them in an environment with better kids, wrong reason.  If you are choosing private school over public school because you think it will make your kids better than other kids, wrong reason.  If you are doing your homework and investigating philosophies, ideologies, and making choices based on deep conviction, now you have something to work with.
Can a child of faith survive in the public school environment?  Absolutely, but you as a parent must be more vigilant than ever.  This should hold true for all education, but especially for those who choose the public route, you need to be a student of history, science, and the Bible.  Read the books your kids are reading.  Stay on top of the content.  Keep your kids connected in a church that teaches the Bible faithfully.  Keep the conversation going with your kids.  Ask them what they are learning.  Don't be afraid to ask your pastor questions and for support from your church.  Be open about it - this is what my child learned at school this week, what do you - Sunday School teacher, pastor, youth pastor, mentor, friend, other parent - think about this?
Last year we actually had a doctrinal issue arise from something being taught in our private school and a group of parents in our church approached me about it.  As their pastor, I was more than happy to use it as a moment of information, teaching, and discipleship.  Any good church leader would be happy to help and support you as a parent as you journey with your children in education.  

Education doesn't mean we always have to agree.  In fact, if there is no disagreement, it is probably indoctrination rather than education.  Yet we must approach education with some standards, some semblance of deeply held belief.  
What I am about to say should be true of any parent to some degree, but especially so of public school parents; be prepared to offer critical thought in the home that can fill in the gaps or combat the ideology public education will be pressing upon our children more and more with Common Core.  You can’t assume that what your kids are learning in school is what you learned in the classroom in 1985 - it’s not even in the same galaxy.  
As a parent, with any educational choice, you must also be a student.  Know what your kids are learning, stay involved, and disciple your children in the Word. 
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Public, Private, or Homeschool - Deciding Factors - Which is affordable?

(Continuing the topic of choosing education for your kids; deciding factors).
Affordability.
Once you have your options before you, count the beans.  Which of them are affordable for you?  Don't think that public ed. comes free.  Oh no, you will pay!  And if somehow you will not pay, you will sell gift wrap, gourmet chocolates, and all sorts of knick-knacks to make up the difference.  Public school is cheaper, but it is by no means cheap.  You should also know that the further your children go in public school, the more they will pay as their activities increase.  This is especially true if your child is athletic or artistic.  As government budgets become more strapped fees for extra-curricular activities grow higher and higher.  It is not unusual for a public school cheer leader or football player’s family to throw in $500 or $1000 just so their child can be on the team.
Homeschool and private school come with some sticker shock as well.  If you homeschool, you will probably lay out a few grand just to begin.  However, there are some incredibly thrifty homeschool moms who cut coupons and create shampoo out of peanut butter who can show you how to get radical and cheap.  Thriftiness is something I find inherit in the homeschool movement and it is a unique art form all its own.  My former church actually hosted a homeschool bookstore exchange.  Those involved demonstrated a very Acts 4 and 6 type of common sharing that made education possible for other families.  It was incredible to watch.  There are probably others who can speak more to the coops and creative solutions than I and I would invite your comments.
The greatest sticker shock is no doubt to be had in the private school.  The private school sales pitch can at times seem like a spill for the timeshare condo.  They show you all the wonderful things that can be yours and then sit you down with a very persuasive fellow who can change your perspective on spending tons of money on their product and never having the necessary finances to go on vacation again.  
I will talk about this under the deciding factor of freedom, but with the sticker shock does come a great deal of freedom.  Private schools are not under the same constraints as government funded schools.  Without government support, funding must come from somewhere, and you may weigh the facts and find the price well worth it.  With a quality private school there is a greater likelihood you get what you pay for.  
Well run private schools are also good about finding options for families.  Truth be told, most students in the school probably don’t pay the top line sticker price.  There are scholarships, grants, and private subsidies that make private education affordable.  However, every family is expected to make some sacrifice.  You may not pay equal price, but you will be expected to make equal sacrifice.  Most families, contrary to stereotype, that choose private school are not swimming in dough.  Most of them are making a great sacrifice financially because that choice fits what they are trying to accomplish as a parent.  In any event, if you just want free or cheap, private school is definitely not an option.
At the same time I would warn against going into debt to fund K-12 education.  I see some families dying on the financial vine out of guilt.  Part of discipleship is stewardship.   If paying more fits your educational philosophy and it helps you accomplish your goals for your children, then sacrifice.  But don’t go private school out of guilt or pride.  Financing fear is foolish.  Don't be deceived in thinking that taking out a loan for the 3rd grade will get you a better seat in the Kingdom. 
Currently my wife and I have chosen to pay for our children to attend a private Christian school in our community.  This year will be the first year both of our children are in the school together.  Transitioning financially from public education to private education has not been easy, but we love what we see happening in the school we have chosen.  I am very involved in many of our local public schools and would feel comfortable with my children attending them, but for our goals at this time in the education journey, we do want more than book learning.  We found that if we are willing to pay more, we will receive more from our private school what we are looking for than our local public schools can offer (I will discuss this more in freedom).
As our children enter their teenage years we are looking not only for books, but for philosophical and moral support.  During your child’s elementary years you will probably find it easy to get involved in your child’s school.  Once they enter middle school and high school, the doors seem to come with tighter locks.  In some sense, we are now paying so we can stay involved.  
Academically our goal is to expose our children to the highest degree of challenge possible and we found an affordable (with sacrifice) convergence of these things in the school we have chosen for them.  With this school there are also some people on staff who offer services for our children’s advancement that we could not find anywhere else.  For instance, our school has someone on staff who is incredibly specialized at helping students prepare, apply, and get acceptance in the best universities.  She is not your normal guidance counselor.  I have told my wife often that what she does is worth the price of tuition. 
Look at your wallet and decide.  What is affordable?  Yet in any venue of education you choose, be prepared to pay.  What you have to consider is how much will I pay, and for what am I paying?

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Public, Private, or Homeschool (Deciding Factors Part 1)

A couple of weeks ago I posted an article I wrote entitled Before You Bury the Bus on the topic of using sheltering as a strategy for raising our children.  In that post I mentioned the education environment.  In response, Bridgette asked,
“Hi, Brian - Do you think choosing to home school strictly for the purpose of sheltering children from the evil they may face in public school, or even Christian school for that matter, is 'burying the bus in the Mojave'? I can see how that could be literal 'withdrawal' so is it more biblical to prepare children for the things they are likely to face in school rather than avoiding them altogether? ... I realize this could potentially open a can of worms via the comments, but its becoming a hot topic in our home this summer as we prayerfully make the decision to continue homeschooling or not.”
This is a great question and one in which there are a wide variety of strong opinions from both educators and parents.  To answer this, there are two categories to keep in mind: 1) mistaken assumptions and 2) deciding factors.  Last week I dealt with mistaken assumptions.  It is a mistake to assume, in any educational venue, that one will accomplish a greater degree of sheltering or engagement.  We must separate fear from fact and make good decisions on good information.  Choosing out of fear is often misleading.
With the next few posts, I want to address deciding factors in choosing a path for your child’s education.  Those deciding factors would be: 1) the choices you actually have 2) quality of education 3) affordability 4) freedom 5) curriculum 6) parental involvement 7) your parental commitment.
The choices you actually have.
For a single mom or dad who works long days just to keep the family afloat, homeschooling may not be a viable option.  If both mom and dad are working, plopping the kids down at the kitchen table with a textbook and leaving them for 8 hours to do it on their own is not education; that’s called busy work.  
If you live in an area where there are no private schools, well, that makes it easy to strike one choice from your list. If your child has been expelled from public school, to the dinner table for class he will go unless there is a private school nearby that will accept him.  
Once you see the choices that are before you, sample them.  As I said in my previous post, get real information.  I would not allow the “I heard” story to be considered as fact.  Sample the homeschool curriculum.  Make a visit to the local prep school.  Make an appointment at your local public school.  When we were choosing a school for our daughters when moving to a new community we made a day of visiting our options.  We found most all of the schools were incredibly accommodating and welcomed our investigation.  I would recommend that you call and set up an appointment ahead of time.  It seemed to me that the larger the school the more difficult it was for them to accommodate a walk in visit.  Yet in those same schools, a few days notice made all the difference.
In our previous community both of our attended public school for three simple reasons.  1)  Neither of us were willing to homeschool our children.  2) There was no viable, affordable private option within a reasonable commuting distance for us at the time.  3)  We knew a lot about our community school and felt comfortable with it.  None of this made us any more or less of a Christ follower.  It made no statement about how much or how little we loved our children.  It said nothing about how naive or worldly we were.  
Look at what is there.  That’s really all you have to decide on.  The rest of it is called worry or anxiety, and the Bible never offers a high opinion of either.
Quality of education.
While it is true that there are a myriad of ways schools can be rated according to test scores and student/teacher ratios, all of which is easily accessible online, before you go to greatschools.com you must personally answer a critical question.  What is education?
Test scores are misleading and teacher/student ratios aren’t all they are cracked up to be.  A horrible teacher of 40 is a horrible teacher of 4.  The number of students in a classroom does not determine how qualified for the task a teacher is.  Small class sizes do not make bad teachers great.  Instead of asking how are the ratios, ask rather, how are the teachers?  Also ask, what are they teaching?
These questions will inevitably bring you back to your philosophy of education.  When our children were in elementary school we wanted them to learn math and science.  We wanted them to be able to write sentences.  We expected the school to keep them safe, but we did not expect the school to lead them to Christ.  We wanted a school that would help them become capable academically.  We wanted book learning and our local elementary school was on target.
There was a private Christian school just down the road from our church, but academically it was subpar.  I was involved in that school as well and felt a lot of unrest and instability in the organization.  Although the faculty were sincere followers of Christ who had a heart for children, the school did not offer what we needed to accomplish our educational goals for our children.  Again, we discipled them, we needed someone to help them grow academically.   Eventually the school closed.
That being said, philosophically and practically for our family, there was nothing homeschooling or a private school could offer us that trumped our choice of the public school.  We discipled our children both in and out of the context of their experience in public school and all went well.  
This does not mean that I believe a public school is morally neutral.  No doubt there is a more liberalized climate of content both morally and philosophically in public schools.  Along the way, there were books and films the school wanted to expose our children to which we objected.  The school officials were incredibly accommodating.  They were sensitive to our beliefs and offered our children alternatives. 
I should say that they were not sensitive to us because we barnstormed the office or pitched a sanctified fit; neither of which is Christ honoring.  I believe the school was sensitive to us because we served the school and we were constantly involved.  It actually came to the point that my wife and I were often asked to pray or to offer a devotion at parent sponsored events.  
I will discuss this in a forthcoming post, but the key to education according to Deuteronomy 6, which we are using as our pattern text, is parental involvement, strategy, and intentionality.  This holds true for any venue of education, private, public, or home.  Parents must be involved.  If parents are merely passive onlookers the educational process crumbles at its foundation. 

More to come.
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Public, Private, or Homeschool - Mistaken Assumptions

I received this comment from Bridgette last week in response to my post “Before You Bury the Bus . . .”

“Hi, Brian - Do you think choosing to home school strictly for the purpose of sheltering children from the evil they may face in public school, or even Christian school for that matter, is 'burying the bus in the Mojave'? I can see how that could be literal 'withdrawal' so is it more biblical to prepare children for the things they are likely to face in school rather than avoiding them altogether? ... I realize this could potentially open a can of worms via the comments, but its becoming a hot topic in our home this summer as we prayerfully make the decision to continue homeschooling or not.”
This is a great question and one in which there are a wide variety of strong opinions from both educators and parents.  To answer this, there are two categories to keep in mind: 1) mistaken assumptions and 2) deciding factors.  With this post I want to deal with the mistaken assumptions.  I will follow up tomorrow (hopefully) with deciding factors.  
Mistaken Assumptions:
Most of the time mistakes we make in decision making are driven by fear and lack of information.  This is especially true when it comes to making choices about educating our children.  
Mistaken Assumptions with Homeschool:
I have found that strong proponents for public education often try to demonize homeschooling.  Because public education is the social norm, homeschool usually comes out of the gate with the opinion polls jaded against it.  
We usually hear that one can expect a homeschool child to be socially inept and academically behind.  My opinion is that the strong public school advocates make this their platform of argument because homeschooling inherently lacks what unionized educators believe to be fundamental - standardization, qualification (ie. degreed educators) and expert hierarchal accountability.  
While the homeschool certainly offers an environment in which this can happen, and has, it is statistically not the case to the degree that home school opponents wish to make things seem.  Here is an interesting study published by CBN you may find informative (http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/144135.aspx).    
The truth of the matter is that many home-schools are now connected and offer creative environments in which children flourish under well qualified teachers.  Home schoolers are taking great advantage of the freedom that homeschool offers and are not turning out children that are merely social survivors but leaders.
A mistaken assumption that homeschool parents may make is to assume that by withdrawing their children from the public school option that they are saving their souls from sin.  The word public does not mean it is of the devil.  McDonald’s is public, as is your street, the library many homeschool parents would use, as is the pool where your kids take lessons.  Public school doesn’t send a kid to Hell, failure to shepherd their heart and share the gospel with them will give them a one way ticket.  If the strategy of the home school parent is to save a child’s soul by withdrawal only to offer them an alternative solution of neglect we have not done better, we have done much worse.  If homeschool means you go to work while your kids do a workbook for a few hours and then spend the rest of the day watching television and playing video games - I would even argue that your children may be exposed to much more smut in a few hours than they are going to hear down at Roosevelt High.  
Mistaken Assumptions with Public School
The big mistake with public school is that it is often demonized by strong adherents of private Christian and homeschool education.  Public education is not a moral death sentence.  All of my years from 1st grade - 12th were spent in the Catoosa County Georgia system and I am thankful for all of them.  Until recently my daughters were daily in the public school and we had a great experience all along the way.  The public school is full of dedicated, gifted educators; many of whom are strong followers of Christ.  Our experience was that even when our children’s teachers were not believers that they were morally astute and sympathetic to our beliefs.  Public school often offers a diverse environment in which your children can explore a wide variety of opportunities, each of which can be profitable in the broader conversation of discipleship.  
However I find that Christian parents and teachers sometimes make a mistake by thinking that being in the public school makes them more obedient to the gospel while Christian school and home school are less gospel centered choices.  The assumption is that by being in less sanctified institutions, somehow one is doing more of what Jesus did by entering the world and sharing the gospel.  
While my daughters were in public school we prayed for this everyday.  God honored our prayer and during our last few weeks in Birmingham God used my daughter and her friend to lead two girls to Christ.  Now three years down the road, these girls are in church and being faithfully discipled.  
As incredible as this experience was, I reject this assumption on two grounds:
  1. It assumes that unless YOU are there that people will go to Hell.  I do believe that people need to hear the gospel to be saved, but I don’t think that a change in venue makes one automatically disobedient to the Great Commission.  Choosing an alternative route to public school doesn't mean you love Jesus less.  Had my daughters been home schooled or attended private school, they would have met these same girls through their swim team or some other community activity with which we were engaged.  I have more confidence in the sovereign will of God and His grace than I do in myself.  I think this premise that my absence is a sentence to Hell for anyone is built on theological guilt rather than on Biblical theology.  I am to share the gospel out of obedience, not out of guilt. 
  2. It ignores a Biblical precedent.  Notice in the Bible that Jesus did not send His disciples into the world until they had been with Him and were prepared.  In sending them out on mission, He also debriefed them.  One, we need to remember that our kids are not evangelism tools, they are kids.  They need to be brought up in the way they should go.  Whether they are in public school or not, their presence is useless without preparation and discipleship.  Sadly, a lot of the very people I hear say that they are being salt and light in the public school return week after week to their church fruitless.  I don’t see them leading anyone to Christ.  Evangelism is not a matter of presence but of prepared proclamation.  If this assumption is true, the churches should be full of publicly educated children coming to Christ, but they are not.  This is a matter for a broader conversation of the church and discipleship in the home.  All I am advocating here is that we don’t need to make an irresponsible assumption on this point.
Mistaken Assumptions with Private (Christian School)
The big assumption across the board with the private, especially Christian school is that you get what you pay for.  Parents of the private school, Christian or not, believe that they are turning out scholars for their investment.  For the Christian school parents, the belief is that we are paying for our kids to become Jesus followers.  
As with any institution, private school, church, public school, etc. we have fallen victim in America to believing that we can subsidize an outcome with our children.  Institutions are not replacements, they are partners.  As I will discuss later, private schools often offer a place where parents can be a greater source of influence in their child’s education - they are often more socially, morally, and idealistically agreeable places or you would not be paying the price - but I know that the private school was never intended to replace parental responsibility.
In observing the hubbub surrounding private, especially Christian school, I have also noticed that the most detrimental assumption is the undue pressure put on the kids.  From within parents pressure the child to produce an A every time.  Well, isn’t that what we are paying for, A’s with a reputation?  
Many private schools require a higher degree of academic rigor as opposed to some public schools.  If you send your kid to certain private schools, be prepared that they may not always get an A.  Reputable private schools have a way of exposing what your child would otherwise find out in college, they may be a B or C student.  If so, celebrate who they are rather than try to manipulate with money what they are not.  
From outsiders, especially with Christian schoolers, I almost see a glory in the children’s failure.  If a mistake is made, it is often much more public and the kids are exposed to a greater degree of disgrace.  We often forget that wearing a uniform does not change the heart.  Not all kids in Christian schools know Christ personally.  Not all kids that know Christ are perfect; in fact, none of them are.  A kid who stumbles coming out of the door of the home school, public school, or private school deserves the same opportunity for grace and Biblically rooted discipline as any other child.  
When the kids stumble, I usually hear the following mistaken assumption, “See there, the school says Christian but they are not real.”  I disagree.  The Christian school is just as indicative of reality as is the church, Roosevelt High, and the home school.  Sinners are sinners whether they wear uniforms, do math at the kitchen table, or go to class on the government dollar.  We all need Christ.  Institutions do not change that reality.

Much like the assumption that placing your kids in public school makes you more missional, is the mistaken assumption that placing your kids in Christian school makes you more devoted to Christ.  I knew a pastor who would make statements to the congregation both publicly and in private that made people in the church feel as if they didn't fork out the dough for private Christian school that they were second class citizens of the Kingdom.  There is really no biblical premise for this type of thinking in any form.  It is legalism, not obedience.  It is like saying I am less of a pastor because I am in Georgia instead of in Africa.

So whether you send your child to the living room, private school, or public school for class one needs to sort fear from fact.  Discern opinion from proof.  In moving to a new town two years ago, I said in jest that if I listened to all the parents that there is not a school in town fit for a kid :).  
You can’t make good decisions based on bad information.  Pray through the information you have.  Stay involved as a parent.  I will discuss this more in my next post, but Deuteronomy 6:4-9 shares the key for any educational paradigm - parental involvement!
Sending your child to one avenue of education over another is not a matter of automatic withdrawal, nor is it a recipe for successful engagement.  In any choice there is responsibility.  As a parent we have to own it.

Bridgette, thanks for your question.  I hope this helps.    
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Why Parents Don't Talk to Their Kids

We are discussing the topics that you should be talking to your kids about instead of someone else.  In these first few posts I am dealing with some foundational issues that I think are critical to these otherwise difficult conversations.  With this post I want to discuss why parents don’t talk to their kids.
According to Deuteronomy 6:4-9 the home is the primary vehicle of modeling and teaching Biblical values to our children.  Sadly the home is becoming little more than a shelter for a couple of adults with a couple of kids.  A lot of people talk about their marriage is like two ships passing in the night.  If this is true of marriages, when it comes to parenting the house has become a harbor at shift change.  Why don’t parents talk to their children?
  1. Parents have farmed out their time to coaches. 

    While the days have not gotten longer, the demands on our time have certainly increased.  It is hard to tell whether this is out of necessity or choice, but we have no doubt become a culture that values busyness.  In the bygone agrarian era everything from school schedules to daylight savings time was determined by the demands on the family farm.  Now the demands are due to the farm leagues.  Farm leagues?  Yes, we once called it rec. ball, but the city league has long been cashed in for round the clock developmental leagues, clinics, and personal coaching.  When I was a kid I played baseball, basketball, and soccer in the rec league.  We practiced once or twice a week and had a game on Saturday morning.  Now the season never ends, the coaching never stops, and what was once a minor part of our lives has become a verifiable industry.  Family time is spent in the car going from one practice to another.  Momma is not a nurturer, she is a carrier. 

    A generation ago the goal we had for our kids was for them to be godly, well adjusted, hard working, and respectful.  Now our goals are less centered on morality and more centered on achievement.  Now we want our kids to be piano virtuosoes that can jump higher and run faster.  We want our daughters to be beauty queens with great curve balls.  The time we once spent with our kids as parents has now been farmed out to coaches.  Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate our values.  Your coach may be a great guy, but only you can be a great mom or dad to your kids.  Coaches are replaceable.  Your role in your kid’s lives is invaluable.  Don’t farm it out that easily.     
  2. Underestimating what it means to talk. 

    Most people think they have talked to their kids about certain topics merely because they have been mentioned.  “Don’t ever let me catch you ________________.”  Glad we could talk. 

    Mentioning something is not communication. Expecting something is not communication.  Communication in the technical sense is sending a message and making sure that message is received.  Where we fail with our children is that we send the message, but we do not do the hard work of reinforcement, explanation, modeling, and questioning that is necessary for message reception.  It takes time and attention to talk.  Conversations about the difficult topics are not mentionables we mark off of a list.  Conversations about the difficult topics start early and are ongoing.  You were introduced to simple addition in the first grade.  By your senior year of high school you may have been in pre-cal or calculus.  Each year that conversation grew and was constantly reinforced. The strategic nature of developing math skills is much the same way we must talk to our kids about the difficult topics.  Start early.  Talk often.  Allow the conversation to grow.  
  3. Technologically interrupted. 

    When a family does find time at the table to talk, most of their time is spent looking at their phones.  The living room no longer has anything to do with life, the living room has become little more than a family sized theater.  Families do not share stories, they watch them.  One of the most effective things you can do as a family is technologically detox.  Turn the television off.  Put the phones away.  Talk about the day.    
  4. Culturally incapable. 

    The world my father grew up in was different than the world his parent’s grew up in, but not that much different.  The world I grew up in, was very different than my father’s childhood environment.  The world my kids are growing up in, doesn’t even resemble the world of my childhood. 

    You and I are digital immigrants.  Our kids are digital natives.  Information sharing and social connection through devices developed in my lifetime.  I remember the world without connectivity.  Your kids have never known a world without constant digital connections.  You and I made friends with the kids down the street.  Our kids make friends while they sleep.  They wake up every morning, grab their phones only to find who is new to their network.  Your kids will never roll down a window, rewind a tape, or borrow a quarter to make a phone call.  If you want to reminisce but realize how foreign you and I are to our children’s world, check out Steve Cichon’s article on the Huffington Post website.  He found an ad from Radio Shack, 1991.  Of the 15 things listed for sale in the ad, 13 of them you can now do with your phone.

    While we may be digital immigrants we should not be digital exiles.  Technology has changed.  People haven’t.  The common refrain of Ecclesiastes holds ever true, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9 ESV).”  At their heart, your kids are struggling with nothing different than your grandma did when she was 12.  The only difference is speed and access.  Parent’s are not called to tame technology.  Parents are called to shepherd their child’s heart.
  5. Culturally overwhelmed.

    A lot of parents don’t talk to their kids about the difficult topics because they feel as if it will do no good.  Our kids see and hear way too much.  While this may be true, realize that the Bible was written to a minority people (1 Peter 1:1).  The kids of 1st century Christians saw persecution, but they were still expected to be raised godly.  In the midst of the cultural chaos the first Christians encountered on a  daily basis, Peter assured them of his confidence in the power of God, the gospel, and of His Word operating in their lives (2 Peter 1:3-11).  The church is not called to deal with the culture, but to counter it.  Our kids need to see in our homes that the way we are called to live as Christ followers may not be the same as the surrounding culture they see around them, but it is certainly not subpar.  Think about what you are competing with - kids who are neglected, kids who want boundaries, marriages that are miserable, homes in chaos - is it really that hard to point out the differences and say to our children, “look at the fruits of following Christ?”
  6. Culturally ill-equipped. 

    Many parents do not talk to their children about the difficult topics for one simple reason, their parents didn’t talk to them.  We are the latch-key kids.  Our parents gave us instruction manuals and told us to figure it out for ourselves.  You may be a new Christian and it is not so much that your parents didn’t talk to you, it is that the content for your new way of life is foreign to you.  You have some serious catching up to do.

    Either way, never underestimate how much your kids want to hear from you.  Break the cycle, don’t repeat it.  Invest time and talk to your kids.  A recent survey of teens shows that 85% of kids say they would turn down a night with their friends for a night to eat dinner with their parents at home.  Dust off the table in your house - that convenient collection apparatus is actually a powerful tool to foster critical conversations.  

In Judges 2:6-14 we have the disturbing story of a lost generation.  There arose a generation after Joshua that did not know God.  Why?  They didn’t talk.  What God charged them to do in Deuteronomy 6:4-9, to model and teach in the home, was neglected.  The culture may not change, but you can change the amount of time you spend talking to your kids.  The Bible doesn’t blame the churches, schools, coaches, or any other institutions.  The failure was in the home.  It is time to talk to our kids.
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Before You Bury the Bus to Shelter Your Kids

As a Christian parent we skate on a razor’s edge between protecting and sheltering our children from certain topics or talking to them about these things before someone else does.  Our children’s bodies, minds, values, and futures seem to be laid bare on an altar of cultural vulnerability everyday.  When is it too early to talk to them about sex, substances, and other societal ills?  We don’t want to be early, but we sure don’t want to be late.
In a media saturated culture the issue is not beating someone else to the punch.  Truth is, we don’t have to wonder if someone else is talking to our children, someone already is.  Unless you and your family live in a buried bus in the Mojave desert your sheltering techniques are probably sub par.  If you do live in a buried bus in the Mojave desert, I’m sure there is a reality show that would love to talk to you.  You are must see TV.
One would think that Disney Channel is kid island in a sea of un-family friendly TV.  Yet Walt’s vision has become little more than a presentation of fabricated, unrealistic worlds of superstardom and popularity replete with an primo environment ripe for teenage romance without parental guidance.  But please understand, the people watching Austin and Ally are not their teen peers.  The average age of Austin and Ally’s #1 demographic is 9.  Sure, you can wait until your child is 12 to start talking about dating, but remember, Disney has already been modeling a version of physical attraction and affection to your tike for at least 3 years.
Off your kids go to school.  The social environment of adolescent academia hasn’t changed much.  Kids talk.  But if you were raised in a Christian family in the 80’s, there were plenty of families that shared your values, even if they didn’t go to church.  Now if your family has only nominal Christian convictions you are a unicorn at a petting zoo.  And if you think that sending your children to a Christian school is your solution, the percentages of shared family values may increase somewhat, but a buried bus in the Mojave your Jesus school is not!  It is startling to know how many students attend the weekend’s raunchiest movies either with parental consent or with parent’s in tow.  And if they didn’t go to the theater, they probably sat on the couch with their daddy and saw it Saturday night on HBO.  Your baby may not have seen the movie, but he heard all about it at school.
So what’s the solution?  Bury the bus?
The church tried the ascetic, desert, withdrawal thing in the 3rd century.  When martyrdom came to an end, some felt that the ultimate expression of devotion to Jesus would be withdrawal.  The end result was a desert sideshow of a monk sitting on a pole with deep thoughts but no viable applications of the gospel to culture.  Again, bury a bus, people will come to see you.  Ironically, the Desert Fathers sought a place of solitude but, even “ the desert became a city” according to Athanasius of Alexandria.        
As Christian parents there is no sufficient place to send our kids for societal shelter.  As a matter of fact, the Bible has never endorsed withdrawal.  Instead, the Bible has always been a manual for Christ centered morality for a minority people.  Following Christ is not about where a family is, following Christ is about what a family is.  Christian families are households of topics.  They are pools of counter-cultural teaching, modeling, and molding.  They are places where a father and a mother watches people with their sons and daughters and points out the freaks and the fools, much like we see happening in the Book of Proverbs (Prov. 1:8).  They are places where Christian parents share histories and stories, much like the original audiences 1 and 2 Kings who were living in Babylon.  These stories served to instruct a new generation.  This is why we are as we are and this is how we overcome.  
Christian families are to be places where Sunday sermons find their next breath.  As odd as Isaiah and Jeremiah may appear to us now, these prophecies were at one time table talk.  An astute Christian parent can find numerous ways Biblical preaching has crept into the week a dozen ways by Thursday and talk about it with their kids.  Christian homes are places were the arts are not banished, but places where excellent arts are fostered.  After all, the Bible’s longest book is a collection of songs. 
Before you bury the bus, let’s talk.  

Over the next few weeks I will be sharing short snippets from a series that is going on in our church (www.libertybaptistchurch.ws) on Sunday nights entitled Topics: things your kids need to hear from you, not someone else.  I hope in doing this we can not only glean wisdom from one another, but foster a profitable conversation.  I will moderate comments, but I will also post profitable ones as quickly as possible.  Share your stories, concerns, and Scriptural gleanings with me and other parents who read FeelMyFaith.  It is not easy to raise godly children in an ungodly world, but it must be done.  Check back often and follow this important conversation.     
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Tales of a First Grade Atheist

“If I can’t see God, how can I believe in Him?” I could tell we were progressing past the usual questions of curiosity that we had grown accustomed to for the last six years. You know, the questions designed to make parents squirm. When my wife was pregnant with our second child, I know God laughed. “Daddy, why is my sister in mommy’s belly?” And before I could clear my throat, “Daddy, was I in mommy’s belly?” “How did I get in mommy’s belly?”

 

“Well, um, honey. . .it just. . .you see. . .when a mommy and a daddy. . .” and now that God is laughing, by His grace, in the infinite expanse of time and design, by His predestined purpose, before the worlds were framed, He placed a Chic-Fil-A, with a playground, and ice cream in your path. There you make a hard left, “let’s play on the playground.” And the child screams with glee. The secrets of biology are safe, preferably until she’s thirty.

 

But this question scared me, not so much due to the question, but because she’s only seven, and she was serious. If the eyes are a window to the soul, I could see deep within her, and I could not see God. I could only see a soul that had been thinking consistently about this long before she asked me about the existence of God. And my soul, her daddy’s soul, panicked. And it panicked hard. Has my first grade beauty become an atheist? Is public education truly a tool of the anti-Christ? Is that lump in my throat more than nervousness, could it be the early stages of cancer? I can’t breathe, do I have asthma? Could it be true that my child was not only losing baby teeth, but also losing her faith?

 

I have read tons of Norman Geisler, Chuck Colson, Josh McDowell, and Francis Schaeffer. I was stunned, but I was armed – and so I fired. Picking up the nearest Junie B. Jones volume from her nightstand I said, “Have you ever met this lady who wrote this book, Barbara, have you ever met Barbara?”

 

She stared at me.

 

“Well don’t you believe Barbara is real even though you haven’t actually seen her?”

 

And I did that with a dollar, with a doll, with a Disney princess. I did that with almost every artifact which cluttered her floor. Every toy, book, and doll became a part of my apologetic arsenal. Tonight the tools of theology, tomorrow she must clean her room.

 

That’s theology, that’s great apologetics, that’s something that no seven year old in her right mind could refute; the fact that even though we cannot see these people, and have never met these people, the proof of their existence is clearly seen by the evidence of their creations. And so I proudly waited for the seven year old to surrender, for the intellectual dust to settle, for the daddy of theology to kiss her goodnight, say her prayers, turn out the light, having once again successfully explained the secrets of the universe to a seven year old. And this time without a Chic-Fil-A bail out.

 

The dust settled, and in her eyes, in her soul, only doubt.

 

This went on for several days. She played on the swing set, I taught her how to hit a softball, she pretended to be a princess, she took a bath, she went to bed, and she became an atheist. The eyes of her soul full of doubt, the question consistent, “If I cannot see God, how can I believe in Him?”

 

How can this child not see God? I am a pastor, we own a hundred Bibles, we go to church – even on vacation, we pray – a lot, how can this child not see God?

 

And as the nights progressed my soul began to break. And it was hard for me to see my child at seven begin to lose her faith. It was hard for me, in this, to see God.

 

Isn’t there a formula for raising born again kids? I know there are books about it. I took a family class in Bible College; I know we talked about it. I am sure I have heard or preached a sermon with a sure fire list of five, three, or eight ways to raise born again kids. There must be a formula – perform a list of steps, pray a certain prayer, memorize a chapter, claim a verse, have twenty minutes of quiet time a day, never let your daughter see you screw up (at least not very much), and even go to church on vacation – and you should be guaranteed that God will not plant a child in her mommy’s belly that will turn into an atheist – at seven.

 

But it wasn’t working.

 

There have been a number of things in my life that have brought me to the conclusion that there is not a formula for spiritual things. I can teach, model, preach, suggest, advise, regurgitate, talk about faith with my daughter, but only God can make faith come alive within her. And I needed God. So my prayers about this matter began to lose formula, and moved to soul cries of a dad who desperately desired to see faith bloom in the heart of his little girl.

 

But she continued to question me, and I continued to question God.

 

Why will God not flip the switch, plant the seed, make faith simple – seven year old simple, again? There are a lot of things in my life right now about which God is silent, and for some reason, He will not move. But this was, to me, the cruelest of all, for God to allow me to lose grip on my daughter’s faith. Why?

 

And I grew closer to joining her, wondering why do we believe in a God I could not only see, but I could not hear, that I could not feel, and now seemed would not answer? Do I believe? And the battle moved from her bed into mine. Deep into the night I prayed and I wondered about my own faith.

 

She dressed a doll, she played with her Gameboy, she ate a pop-sickle after supper. She took a bath, she went to bed, and there it was again, those contemplative, empty eyes – a doubting soul.

 

And so I reached down into my soul and grabbed it to see what was there. “Morgan, I believe in God. I have given my life to Him. I believe Jesus died for me on the cross, that He loves me and that he has saved my soul. I may not understand everything about God, and I may never be able to really answer your question, but I believe in Him. And Morgan, I pray for you every night, that God will give you faith and cause your heart to long for and believe in Him.”

 

She hid her face under the covers. All I could see was the bow I had forgotten to take out of her hair. And then I heard her cry. My heart broke.

 

I begged her to tell me what she was thinking. I could tell, whatever it was, it was coming from a place deep within her. Finally she sat up. Wiping her tears, clutching her pink patchwork quilt, broken and teary, she pressed it out of her mouth, “Daddy, I’m just so happy to know you pray for me.”

 

I grabbed her in my arms and held her tight. My eyes grew watery, the lump in my throat – growing. She shook in my arms and I could feel her tears now saturate my shirt. But I must confess, the unregenerate, sarcastic monster that lives within me wondered where she had been for the last seven years as her mother and I have religiously prayed for her? Seven year olds – a mystery.

 

I am a pastor, I go to church. . .even on vacation. I can turn Bible passages into formulas, put them on PowerPoint, and preach them systematically. I own a ton of Bibles. I overreact. She was nowhere near atheism, but her faith was challenged, and so was mine. If my little girl cannot look into my eyes and see that my soul is connected with God – why would she believe? At seven, she understands religion is my job. And there are times she looks into my eyes, and that’s all she sees, a job in religion. What she wants to know is that her daddy knows God and actually talks to Him about her. Not in formula, but in conversation. When my girls destroy my nap, pounce on my outstretched stomach, crushing my vital organs, and begin to “waller” me to death – can they sneak a peek into my eyes, my soul, and see God? I wonder how many times, praying over green beans, have they actually been listening to my voice, listening for it to connect with God? When I pick up the Bible, do they wonder if I have truly met the author – or is our relationship strictly apologetic?

 

I saw God in my daughter’s eyes again. Her faith and my faith, a little more elastic, stretched, and growing. I realize she and God have something in common. They are wondering if I believe in someone I cannot see.

 

Dear God, come alive in me.

Dear God, come alive in her.

God give us faith to see You.

BB

Gal. 2:20

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