Recently we reposted a post of Tony Jones on the conflict of missional and homeschooling. Tony’s post got plenty of conversation, but what we need is a response by someone who does homeschooling and is involved in missional living. The person that came to mind for me is Helen Lee, and so she has written the following post. You can find her contact information and news about her book on the missional mom at www.helenleeauthor.com.
I recently read the posts by Tony Jones about homeschooling (“Death to Homeschooling” and “Why Homeschoolers Do Not Understand Missional”), in which he argues that homeschooling by its very nature runs counter to missional living. Jones states that “missional means showing Christlike compassion to other human beings and to all of creation,” and that choosing to homeschool ones’ children results in an abdication of our “God-given role as a missional member of society.”
Let me just highlight two fallacies in Jones’s arguments, and offer my perspective on why homeschooling and living the missional life can absolutely go hand in hand with one another.
First of all, homeschooling one’s children does not automatically result in an anti-missional lifestyle any more than sending one’s children to public schools guarantees a missional one. It doesn’t matter what type of school your children attend. The greatest influence on a child’s life that will determine how missional he or she becomes is whether or not that child’s parents are living a missional lifestyle themselves.
I know plenty of Christian parents with children in public schools who lead the exact opposite of a missional lifestyle. They are caught up in the “race to nowhere”, buying into the fallacy that being a good parent means investing all of your resources and time into the furthering of your own children’s talents and abilities, without a thought to what is happening to others in the neighborhoods and communities around them.
In addition, the pull of so-called “desirable” school systems turns the decision to send one’s children to public schools into less a missional choice and more one influenced by the overriding desire to ensure a safe, secure, and successful future for one’s kids.
Yes, families with kids in public school may cross paths with a larger swath of “society” on a daily basis than homeschooled kids, but that is no guarantee that the public-school Christians will actually display Christ-like compassion and sacrificial love towards their neighbors. Look no further than the behavior of the religious leaders in the story of the Good Samaritan to see a depiction of faith unmoved to action.
Conversely, I know plenty of parents who choose to homeschool their kids and who lead unbelievably missional lives. Like Carisa, who with her husband and children regularly minister to the people they meet in their inner-city Philadelphia neighborhood. I wrote about Carisa in my book The Missional Mom, and she says this about her family’s experience:
“We have prisoners and heroin addicts in our home all the time because my husband leads the recovery ministry here. These are people we count as friends, who we have Thanksgiving with, who my kids will hug and call ‘Uncle.’ These are people I love.”
If Carisa’s family is not considered an example of demonstrating Christ-like compassion to other human beings, I don’t know who is.
A second fallacy that Jones expresses is the flawed idea that choosing to homeschool automatically results in a withdrawal from society. Nothing could be further from the truth for us and for many homeschooling families I know.
Our boys spend time with other kids from the neighborhood in a myriad of activities–sports teams, music groups, park district classes, community service projects–just to name a few. They befriended the new kid on the block when his family moved to our street two summers ago, invested in him over time and led him to Christ a few months ago. Homeschooling impeded none of that from happening. I will concede that my kids don’t see as many of the other kids in the neighborhood as they would if they were in the public school. But since when has living missionally been a numbers game?
Jones might be inclined to rebut, saying that “missional does not mean evangelism,” but I don’t understand how the act of disciplemaking, the very heart of the Great Commission, can be anything but an example of missional living. If Jones believes that the only way to live missionally is to influence societal structures, I would ask, “Why stop there?” I believe we are called to missional living both within and outside of existing institutional settings, and I don’t think we are all called to have an impact on the exact same “mission fields.” For some of us, it will be a school; for others of us, it could be a street, a city, or another individual.
And I strongly refute the idea that by virtue of being homeschooled, my children are at a disadvantage at either understanding or demonstrating a missional lifestyle themselves. If anything, the fact that my children are mostly discipled by me and my husband ensures that they are receiving the message on a daily if not hourly basis that they are called to a life of mission. Jones referenced the passage from Matthew 5 when Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?” Isn’t it possible that one reason Christians lose their “saltiness” during their youth is because the messages they hear all day at school do nothing to reinforce Christ’s call to live missionally?
There are other questions that I could ask about Jones’s posts (such as, why the targeting of homeschooling alone? What about those who send their kids to private Christian schools? Or Christian colleges?) but instead I would rather focus back to where I started: that the best way for parents to raise missional children is to live missionally themselves.
In their book Sticky Faith, Kara Powell and Chap Clark boil it down to a deceptively simple but powerful idea: “It’s who you are that shapes your kid.” I don’t know Tony Jones or his children personally. But I wouldn’t be surprised if his kids understood and exhibited a commitment to missional living. And I would further bet that they gained those convictions not as a result of being public school students, but by virtue of having Tony Jones as their dad. Some values are better left to parents to teach.