Homeschooled and Missional? Absolutely!

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.

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Kenneth

    Wonderful response Helen! This was very encouraging to read.

  • http://rachelmariestone.com Rachel Marie Stone

    Excellent response, Helen. I find Jones’ perspective really narrow–I think there are actually a lot of us who homeschool and live missionally. There seems to be a constant assumption that homeschoolers homeschool to keep kids AWAY from “culture,” but for a lot of us, I think, it’s actually about freeing up kids’ time so that they can learn AND participate fully in their communities without being overscheduled. His assumptions remind me of the ones I hear swirling around concerning whether you can *really* follow Jesus in the suburbs or the country (because, natch, the City is THE place).

  • http://thinktheology.org/ disableme

    “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.”

    Based on this quote it would seem that Helen has really made no point at all. The telos of good parenting is not in the exhibiting a commitment to missional living. It is living for Christ around, in and with a culture or society that is not for the purpose that Christ would be made known to those who do not. One must take in and be changed by the culture to truly be missional. You can call living in a vacuum with clear walls to see and interact with the world around you missional but It is not. Good parents need to not be the chief end of their children I think it is community abuse and counter cultural.

  • http://thinktheology.org/ disableme

    A Fix Sorry…

    Not…
    “It is living for Christ around, in and with a culture or society that is not for the purpose that Christ would be made known to those who do not. ”

    Fix…
    “It is living for Christ around, in and with a culture or society with the purpose that Christ would be made known to those who do not.”

  • JoeyS

    I’m still not convinced that this is how Jones’ was using “missional.” I think this post speaks past his point (which may or may not have been well made).

    I don’t want to put words in his mouth but I assumed he meant that choosing to invest in the public school system by placing your children there and by being involved in the system raises the tide for everybody, making it a missional choice. You are choosing to use your family’s time and resources to invest in a system that is made less good by your absence. This is “missional” in a systemic sense, rather than in a private sense. Yes, you can be deeply involved in the lives of others and homeschool. I don’t hear anybody arguing otherwise.

  • Tim

    Heh. This entry breaks Jones’s liberal programming for the simple reason that Helen and her family are minorities.

  • http://www.helenleeauthor.com Helen Lee

    JoeyS, point well taken. I don’t have a problem with Jones’s contention that being a homeschooling family means that you may not have missional influence in the context of the school system. But I felt he was saying that if you’re not doing that, you aren’t living missionally (hence all homeschoolers are by definition not missional.) I was trying to move the discussion forward, to broaden the idea of what it means to be a family living missionally–and while so much could be said here, I think there are so many ways this can look both within and outside of the school systems. And the school systems are just one example of a context in which we have societal influence, but it seemed that Jones was contending it was the only valid one for families with school-age children. I am hoping post will help nuance the discussion rather than painting a picture with broad and generalized strokes. But I certainly appreciate your input and perspective.

  • aaron

    Was the 3 years that Jesus spent discipling the Twelve anti-missional?

    There is a time of training in every person’s walk. To say this crucial time of training (and maybe even separation) is completely anti-missional would be false. It’s like saying that boot-camp is unnecessary or even anti-military.

    I think it is important to point out that being discipled and developing purpose and strategy WITH THE GOAL of being missional is never anti-missional. Yes, a 5-year-old Christian child can shine a light in a dark place – but are they really prepared for that? That’s up to the parents.

    I would argue that a family who purposes to homeschool can ultimately be more missionally focused for a greater impact than those in public school who cannot invest in and disciple their children as often since 8-9 hours a day is spent being ‘discipled’ by someone else. Disciples BECOME missional – but usually after training. Some children may need more time than others.

    Yes, I was homeschooled.

  • T

    Couldn’t agree more with Helen. The idea that involement in the public school system, for families with kids, is a necessary condition to missional living is, I think, the silliest argument I’ve seen Tony make. Think, for a moment, about people without children. Now, how much involvement in the various public institutions is required for them to be ‘missional’ and which ones? I fail to see how the answer should become so much easier and obvious for families with children. What about college? Do online classes or living off campus make it impossible to be “missional?” Are there more and different missional rules for people with disabilities? I hope the point of these questions is obvious. Being absent from one public institution does not eqaul “un-missional.” Absent from one context allows for presence in others.

  • http://intheforest.org Jonathan

    Thank you, Helen (and Scot)! My family serves overseas at a Christian boarding school that is focused on serving missionary families from Europe, Asia and Africa. Before they come here, many of them are homeschooled out of necessity, but even then, they are highly compassionate, well educated, culturally sensitive young men and women. Sure. Location has a lot to do with it, but if any homeschoolers would be justified in being anti-social, these third-culture kids would. But they’re not. Homeschooling can work missionally. Just ask our alumni… some of whom are former homeschoolers who are RETURNING to the mission field after completing their undergrad studies!

  • SM

    Well said, Helen.

    JoeyS, it’s clear you are extending the benefit of the doubt to Tony and assuming the best of his intentions despite his divisive words—whereas Tony assumes negative intentions and extends only contempt and derision toward homeschoolers.

  • http://rising4air.wordpress.com MikeK

    Aaron (8): “Was the 3 years that Jesus spent discipling the Twelve anti-missional?”

    rofl

    Awesome.
    Yes: I am a the dad of homeschooled (now missionally-adult) children.

  • http://rising4air.wordpress.com MikeK

    “I am the dad…”: Strike the “a”; I’m working off a new keyboard!

  • mkmangold

    Amen, Helen! We’ve had our kids in public schools, private schools, and now the youngest is being home schooled. We are doing this because she was ignored and bullied by other girls in First Grade! So in a sense we are withdrawing her but to a place of safety and love and kids tend to learn better in that atmosphere than in one of intimidation and fear.
    Our worst experience was with a private, “Christian” school. The “teacher” (who didn’t even go to college herself) made our oldest son stand in front of the classroom and have the other students tell him why he was such a bad person for not wearing a tie that day. “That day” happened to be the first Monday after his little brother was born dead the previous Friday.
    I fail to see how keeping either of those two in school is being “missional” whatever Jones means by that.

  • Angie

    In his follow up post just as he did in his original post “Death to Homeschooling”, Jones employs faulty reasoning. He is working from a caricature of home schooling i.e. home schoolers = people withdraw from society. This is one of several logical fallacies in his posts.

    Thanks, Helen Lee, for a well-reasoned response.

  • Peter

    Can homeschooling not be a missional act in itself?

  • Melissa

    I take issue with this statement…
    ” 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?”
    What exactly do you mean by “saltiness”? Just because someone enters a period of doubt and reflection does not mean they have lost their ability to be salt and light. Are you suggesting that the reason you homeschool your children is because you fear what they are exposed to that might shake their faith? News flash…the control you think you exert over what your children are exposed to is an illusion.

  • http://www.edstetzer.com Ed Stetzer

    Helen,

    Thanks for your level-headed thinking on this.

    We do not homeschool, but would have done so if we had kids when we planted in the inner city of Buffalo, NY. You can live on mission and steward your children at the same time.

    God bless,

    Ed

  • http://www.philwiseman.com Phil W

    A home school family down the street from me (who also happens to go to my church) is literally the most missional family I know, by Jone’s own definition of missional. They’ve mentored numerous refugee families, served the poor, and been involved in literacy assistance in our city. Those kids have literally grown up serving the poor and interacting with people from other cultures in ways that most other people I know only read about in Sojourners.

  • http://www.sojournintoexile.com Nithin Thompson

    Values are more caught than taught.

    My wife was homeschooled, and i was not. But we both lived very missional lives. We had families that valued those things so those things were evident in our own lives. I hope that we can pass that along to our daughter as well, whether we homeschool her or not!

  • Holly

    Perhaps I misunderstand missional (as related to what I’m going to say….) but I don’t think so.

    I grew up in the parsonage, went to public school…grew up and married a pastor. Had a bunch (and I do mean a bunch) of kids, and now we homeschool them all. (Okay, two of the nine are graduated and in college.)

    I guess my thought is this: part of my job is to be missional to my own children. They deserve my intensive time, the best of my education, my love, my effort – no less than other children. Now, that is not to the exclusion of other children. No way(!) but no less. Homeschooling, in a primary way, is one of the most missional things I’ve ever done. (And having grown up in a pastor’s home, I know for certain that oftentimes the pastor’s family comes last, whether anyone wants to admit it or not.)

    So, I belive I am being missional for my own children for the short time they are home, and modeling missional for them via love and involvement with neighborhood children, with our community, with loving and serving unwed mothers and the poor around us, through the extra time and effort which we have in our days.

  • Paul W

    I’m one of the non-Evangelical readers here and I also happen to homeschool. I’m not sure what I get what Evangelicals mean by “missional” but what I gather Tony means is something like a “societal influence” (borne out of religious conviction). And so– apparently– you can’t be a “positive societal influence” if you withdraw from society and if you homeschool you are withdrawing from a significant structure of society (i.e., the public school system).

    Well . . . malarkey . . . HOMESCHOOLING IS A SOCIETAL STRUCTURE! It is recognized, sanctioned, legislated, and regulated by the State (at least here in North Carolina).

  • http://www.twitter.com/aaronlage aaron

    Holly (21): I totally agree with you – the (your) homeschooled children themselves are also part of the missional purpose if not the primary missional purpose.

  • MatthewS

    The following sentence is tongue in cheek:

    Tony Jones, religious imperialist, declares a fatwa on homeschooling!

    Even as a joke, that’s almost over the top, except that Tony himself invoked the language of “Death to Homeschooling!” (also, presumably, tongue in cheek). One can imagine that if a figure like Al Mohler were to say “Death to x!”, (x representing some given issue of personal choice) we might be hearing about the kingdom of Jesus and the problem of violence in rhetoric today. I hope I’m not being too rude in making my point.

  • Paul W

    Tony’s basic premise is just simply off base. There is nothing inherent about homeschooling that necessitates a radical break with social norms, societal structures or the public interest. There is nothing about home based education that turns it back on a commonly understood social contract for the betterment of the community at large.

    Home based education is simply just one of the many legitimate educational alternatives which society recognizes. Within homeschooling there are varieties of religious and nonreligious interests. There is a broad range of philosophical and pedagogical approaches. The students are involved in social activities with their peers and the parents are engaged in the interests of education.

    Non-public schooling and home based education are important components in influencing society. But what seems to be missing in this discussion is the recognition that the various non-public educational outlets (homeschooling being just one) are important and strategic to the government’s multifacited approach to ensure that youth are educated.

    Let’s not forget that home based education is recognized, sanctioned, legislated, and regulated by the State. It can hardly be considered a withdrawal from our collective societal agreement if we choose to educate our young through one of the various State legitimized alternatives.

    So I’ll close my rant with three Points:
    1.) Home based education is simply one aspect of the State’s overall commitment to education.
    2.) Home based education isn’t a withdrawl from society it IS one of our society’s structures.
    3.) Home based education is a legitimate State regulated way to live out the social contract within society.

  • Paul W

    Tony’s basic premise is just simply off base. There is nothing inherent about homeschooling that necessitates a radical break with social norms, societal structures or the public interest. There is nothing about home based education that turns it back on a commonly understood social contract for the betterment of the community at large.

    Home based education is simply just one of the many legitimate educational alternatives which society recognizes. Within homeschooling there are varieties of religious and nonreligious interests. There is a broad range of philosophical and pedagogical approaches. The students are involved in social activities with their peers and the parents are engaged in the interests of education.

    Non-public schooling and home based education are important components in influencing society. But what seems to be missing in this discussion is the recognition that the various non-public educational outlets (homeschooling being just one) are important and strategic to the government’s multifacited approach to ensure that youth are educated.

    Let’s not forget that home based education is recognized, sanctioned, legislated, and regulated by the State. It can hardly be considered a withdrawal from our collective societal agreement if we choose to educate our young through one of the various State legitimized alternatives.

    So I’ll close my rant with three Points:
    1.) Home based education is simply one aspect of the State’s overall commitment to education.
    2.) Home based education isn’t a withdrawl from society it IS one of our society’s structures.
    3.) Home based education is a legitimate State regulated way to live out the social contract within society.

  • Amanda B.

    Brilliant post. While there is a lot more that could be said about the value of homeschooling, and the viability of living a missional lifestyle within it, I believe Ms. Lee has done a wonderful job of highlighting those two foundational problems with Mr. Jones’ argument.

    I am also encouraged by all the commenters who share the stories of missional homeschool families (whether their own, or those they have witnessed). The whole debate rather falls apart when it is proven that missional homeschooling families exist.

    And also, Paul W (#25), excellent point about how homeschooling is actually part of society, not a withdrawal from it.

    -Signed, a formerly homeschooled kid who is now a missionary.

  • Holly

    Not to sound all high and mighty, just wanted to add these thoughts as a mom who has home-educated for 15 years.

    My children are not just my genetic offspring, and thus needing to be raised in an isolated hothouse and protected at all costs.

    My children are my brothers and sisters in God’s kingdom – they have simply been given to my husband and I for a brief time. It’s rather like the story of the talents in scripture. We can work and we can give compassionately – but we can also multiply these gifts through our children. Out of our nine, four are teens. They sponsor children monthly out of their employment money, they volunteer at church and in community, they are grounded theologically – not out of doctrinal snobbery but with love always the driving force. (I needed someone in real life to discuss Wesleyan/Arminian theology with…) So far, I have a computer programmer, a musician, and an art therapist. I’m so excited to see where God will use them and the rest of them in years to come. They already reach outward. The little ones are headed toward the same goal.

    They are co-heirs and co-laborers; they are to be nurtured and intentionally invested in, equipped for every good work. What a gift to a needful world to present spiritually, emotionally and mentally healthy people who will in turn be spiritually fruitful and concerned with intentional investment in and the building of God’s kingdom.

    There are no guarantees -none whatsoever. Sometimes there are difficult seasons. But overall – homeschooling has been wildly successful and yes, deeply missional for us.

    I wonder if Tony Jones would like to spend an afternoon with us? We’d love to show him a completely different side of homeschooling! :)

  • Holly

    Further: I remember very clearly at the outset of beginning to homeschool my first son. I thought carefully over the question of “is it better to raise a healthy person or to repair broken people?”

    It is easy to go to the extreme on either end. One can dive so fully into reaching out that his family is neglected, or one can so elevate her family that she has nothing left over to reach outward and to build toward.

    The answer that my husband and I came to is this: Both. It must be both. At times, when kids are tiny, the balance may be skewed by necessity inward. Eventually, however, the balance tips ever more outward as the kids grow and are able to cast their own vision and fulfill their own roles in God’s kingdom.

  • http://www.aholyexperience.com Ann Voskamp

    Thank you, Scot, for your generous hosting of the conversation.
    And Helen for such a thoughtful, considered reply.

    As a home educator who has humbly endeavored to ensure that the great commission was never our omission, who has prayerfully and intentionally avoided escaping culture, but sought to serve the least, the lost and the lonely in Jesus’ name, I deeply appreciate the dialogue. Our oldest, 17, has entered public school this year for his last year of high school, and has offered how grateful he is for the years of homeschooling as he now feels he is widely well-read, engaged, and curious, and he’s thriving in the deep conversation and relationships with his peers and teachers. (This summer he visited Haiti and the Child Survival Program he sponsored for a full year through Compassion, meeting all 50 of the mothers and their babies whose lives were radically changed by his sponsorship — made possible through a business he started this past year — and his very missional paradigm.)

    Our experience has been very much like Holly’s — and it’s exciting to see what we’ve kindled at home with missional mentoring — now ignite into full flame with these young people.

    Grateful for Tony’s encouragement for all families to pioneer profoundly missional lifestyles in Jesus’ name,
    All’s grace,
    Ann Voskamp

  • Holly

    Ah, my friend Ann. Always, ALWAYS so well-spoken and grace-filled. :) You are an inspiration to all. I think Tony should come to your farm… :)

  • Susan

    Great conversation. I did not read all the comments but I wanted to note that after being in the homeschooling community for 25 yrs there is a shift. There are MANY non christian home schoolers! This is creating a “people group/mission field” right within the confines of homeshooling. And let me tell you after seeing this shift about 10 years ago…I am also seeing the non christians are taking notes from the christian homeschoolers. I know cause as a young mom I was mentored by many wonderful christian homeschoolers. I loved their fellowship and example, but as their kids graduated, I became one of the matriarchs in our home school community. Honestly, I craved that christian fellowship and as a christian I have wished for an exclusively christian home school support group like I cut my home schooling teeth on. NOw that I am an older veteran christian homeschooler I wanted to “disciple” younger christian moms… but for His reasons, the tide has turned and I am in the minority and our area has many non-christians seeking a support group. Now I and a few other young new christian moms are in a position to decide if we are going to make our home school group christian or secular or that “3rd place” missional community where God can use our group to draw others to himself. I actually found this discussion as I am researching how to be a missional [homeschool] community, so I could open the discussion up to the other moms. Thanks for posting all your thoughts!


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