The smells of urine, detergent, and tired flesh met the group of
moms trailed by a noisy group of their children, who ranged in ages
from 6 months to 11 years.
“It smells funny in here,” one little girl remarked loudly.
“Not to Jesus, Honey,” her mom whispered, unzipping her
daughter’s coat. “Let’s get ready to sing with the people in the
day room up the hall.”
The children’s ministry at College Evangelical Free Church had
faithfully visited Fair Oaks Nursing Home every Christmas,
presenting a concert for the residents. When church member Susan
Ewen called to schedule the yearly visit, the nursing home activity
director commented that she wished she could get groups to come in
for regular visits during the year. The nursing home was always
flooded with visitors during the holiday season, and though they
were grateful for the outreach, the lonely residents could use a
child’s hug or smile even more after the holidays passed.
“We have a number of home-schoolers in our church looking for
service opportunities that they can do as families,” Susan told
her. “Let me talk to them to see if we can get a group together
that’ll commit to coming in every other week.”
Several home school families signed up, creating a simple bridge
for ministry between the church and the residents of the nursing
home that eventually included pastoral visitation and hands-on
practical help with the residents’ shopping needs.
At Southside Bible Church, the youth pastor walked by a tight
circle of teenagers chatting animatedly in the hall after Sunday
services. They glanced at him and nodded politely, but he got the
feeling for about the fiftieth time that he was from another
planet. Something inside him snapped.
“The home-schooled kids in this church have a 10-foot-thick wall
around them,” he said hotly in the next morning’s staff meeting.
“They seem to like living in their own little home-school world,
separate from the rest of the kids here. They’ve got these intact,
strong families who’ve given them incredible amounts of
attention… you’d think they’d have more to give to others, but it
seems as though they have less. They keep a hands-off approach to
the kids in public school as if they somehow don’t want to be
contaminated. They’re polite enough one-on-one, but they seem to
have their own little home school zone that has a ‘Hey, World: Keep
Out!’ sign posted!”
The senior pastor nodded in agreement. He’d been a fan of home
schooling; his wife even educated their two children at home for a
couple of years when they were younger. But lately, he’d seen some
of the same dynamics at work in the home schooling parents that the
youth pastor was describing among the kids. What was going on
ANYONE AT HOME?
If it’s true that Christianity functions as a subculture, then
Christian home-schoolers form a strongly defined subset of that
Christian subculture. And this Christian home schooling subset
stands out clearly against the backdrop of its relationship with
the local church.
Twenty years ago, when a family chose to home school, the
parents were likely to have incredibly strong faith
They certainly needed those convictions then because in many
states home schooling was illegal.
Today, home schooling is legal in all 50 states, with an
estimated 1.6 million children being home-schooled during the
2006-2007 school year. The home-schooling movement has moved from
the domain of a few committed families to a much more diverse group
that includes Christians as its largest percentage. There are also
secular, Mormon, Islamic, and Jewish families who’ve chosen this
The common thread that links all these home-schoolers together
is some degree of frustration with the public school system,
whether it’s on the academic, social, or moral front — or a
measure of all three.
Of those Christian families who are making the choice to home
school, they’re usually strongly committed to their faith. Because
other outside influences are limited by the choice to home school,
what goes on at the local church can take on increased importance
for these families. Home-schoolers can either become a vital part
of a local church’s ministry or function as dead weight, sapping
life and energy from the rest of the body.
ROOM IN THE MIDDLE
In extreme instances, home-schooling families may call for a
paradigm shift in the way a church does ministry, insisting that
the established programs within a church such as Sunday school and
youth ministry (with their attendant time demands and
age-segregated offerings) are unbiblical, since these
home-schoolers believe that Scripture indicates it’s solely the
parents’ responsibility to train their children.
In the case of Southside Bible Church mentioned at the beginning
of this article, many of the home-schooling families had been
reacting to a youth group that seemed to attract more than its
share of troubled kids and endless calls for staffing church
programs that seemed to drain precious family time. A vocal segment
of the speakers and writers addressing home-schooling parents
through books and conferences tout idyllic, family-centered
fellowship (and home birth, home-based businesses, and home
churches) as God’s Perfect Answer for the way the body of Christ
should function, giving these Southside families justification for
their emotional withdrawal from church life.
One pastor put it like this: “There’s a tension between living
the Great Commission and living holy and separate lives. It is
both-and not either-or. I’ve known quite a few home-schoolers who
tend to be drawn to the holy part and have pulled away from the
Great Commission calling. It’s tempting to resolve this tension by
moving to one extreme or the other.”
Jesus invites each of us to pitch our tents on the fault line of
this “both-and” tension — an important corrective term for all
those who ache for sanctuary, comfort, and protection in a decaying
There are thousands of home-schooling families living creatively
on that fault line by serving as foster parents, church cleaning
crews, casserole preparers, or tutors for neighborhood children,
thereby integrating themselves seamlessly into the ministry of
their local churches and finding ways to transfer an active,
passionate faith to their children.