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School, Church, Family – Spiritual Formation (Part 1)

Studying churches that exist in other situations and timesare very helpful in how we examine and consider our localchurch context. Protestant churches in the United Stateshave tended to follow trends and the latest ministryprograms. There was the Seeker Sensitive model and theCharismatic movement in the early 90’s. There was thehouse church movement in the 2000’s. But the church hasalways been considered to be a gathering where peoplewere called together to be nurtured and cultivated. Inother words, it was a place where the community wasconcerned about how Christians mature in the faith. Oneway of putting it is thinking about how Christians wereformed. This especially includes the children and youth.Within the Reformed Tradition in the Netherlands, manysaw the formation of youth taking place in three places:The family, the church, and school. And since it’s thebeginning of the school year, I’d like to consider how we asChristians should think about school. Whether you are aparent, an unmarried adult, someone still going to school,or just have any connection with education, this should berelevant for you.

My purpose here is not to advocate for one form ofeducation over another. My family has chosen to send ourchildren to a Classical Christian Education with theunderstanding that this not for everyone. But my purposehere is to help us to consider how education does not justteach children how to read, write and do math. Theinstitution of the school forms us as human beings. Hereare a few ways it forms us.

Time: The normal school day at a public school on StatenIsland is about 6 hours with about 180 school days in ayear. This adds up to 1,080 hours per year. This does notaccount for other activities like homework or extra-curricular activities. According to this calculation a child isspending roughly 1/8 of the year in a school. A child isabsorbing all sorts of information at this time. By the sheeramount of time a student is in school, we can reasonablyconclude that they are being shaped by it.The Purpose of School: In the United States, theestablishment of public schools were never meant to justteach about math, reading or writing. Schools were alsoinstitutions designed to create citizens. By the time astudent graduated from school, they were expected toenter civic life and contribute. They would have beentrained to think and understand and see things as acollective. But schools have also been places whereideological battlegrounds have taken place. Manyunderstand that if we input an idea to a young generation,they will carry it forth into the future. We must understandthat schools are places that were designed to form andshape the next generation not just in practical skills, buthow to think.

Schools Reflect the Culture- My daughter commented recently how some ofher schoolmates were doing a dance called, “the floss”. If you don’t knowwhat that is, you don’t really need to- it’ll probably help you save some brainspace if you don’t learn. The point I’m speaking to is that students influenceother students. Our youth are subtly learning messages about what isimportant and what is not important from students and teachers. They arelearning things that will get you approval or rejection. From a Biblical worldview, we can evaluate that some of these things are helpful and some ofthese things are not.

What is Not Taught- We must remember that the things that are not taughtare just as important as the things that are taught. Questions such aspurpose of life, morality, faith, are deliberately avoided in public schools.This has led some to compartmentalize God to church on Sundays. Othersfeel intimidated from talking about religion even when invited by friends andneighbors. Many students have admitted that it felt wrong to tell peopleabout Jesus. But this phenomenon of ignoring what is not taught is notlimited to Public Schools. Even religious schools may teach things like prayer,morality, Bible stories, but can sometimes inadvertently forget the gospel,neglect character formation or even forget about the glory of God. This hasled some who have grown up in Christian schools to assume things aboutGod, but still have a hardened heart toward Him.

In light of these considerations, how are we to respond? One response couldbe to continue on and ignore these questions. This is by far the easiestresponse, but I would argue that it is a bad idea. The better response is tofirst start asking questions. For both parents who are thinking about theformation of their children and for students, we need to spend some timeevaluating the things that forming us and our children. What are someassumptions that we have about growing up that are being passed withoutconsideration? What are we assuming when we think of a successful child?We may have our own ambitions about what our children are to be. Butwhat does God think about our goals? Are we learning that the grade is theend goal or is God’s glory the end goal?

Both parents and students should evaluate the things that are influencingthem. Keep in mind, the hours that a student is being influenced by theschool environment. Compare school hours with the hours that they spendgrowing in faith. This may challenge you when thinking about whether toskip church for homework or a school project. If a child just goes to worshipon Sundays, they are only getting 72 hours of Biblical influence in a year. I’mnot suggesting that we cut out school time, but I am bringing concern to theidea that many seem to have that God is something we can cut out if life getsbusy. A subtle message is that God is an extra-curricular activity and not thecenter of our worship, adoration and affection. We are not meant to live forourselves but for God’s glory.

Second, some may be called to reevaluate whether the school they areattending is the best fit for them. For some students they are called toreflect God’s glory in a secular environment. It requires maturity andnuance. This also calls for parents to communicate with the students and forstudents to seek guidance in how to navigate the influence of the culture.God may be leading you to be a witness of the gospel to people who neverotherwise would hear it. For other students, parents may need to consideralternatives to the school environment they are in. This may require asacrifice in time or finances. Again, it is not the intention of this reflection toadvocate for one over another. But may the Lord guide your family in yourconsideration