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Church-Based Christian Education

By Melissa Morgan
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #85, 2008.

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Melissa Morgan

A homeschool-friendly church can provide the benefit of spiritual leadership, positive relationships, and abundant educational resources. Most churches offer the free use of expensive educational materials through the church library, as well as opportunities to learn real-world skills through missions and ministry.

In spite of potential benefits, many homeschoolers wonder if church-based ministries and activities will add stress, pressuring parents to attend age-segregated functions and taking time and energy away from already over-scheduled families.

Unfortunately, some homeschool families carry deep emotional and spiritual wounds from past church conflicts and misunderstandings. If your church is actively hostile to homeschoolers, seek God’s will in the situation and network with members in your local homeschool support group. Whatever the challenges, homeschoolers can show love for their church family, and find ways to help their church understand their commitment to homeschool education.

In truth, sometimes homeschoolers (our family included) can be hard to please. That’s not bad, if you are standing firmly on biblical grounds.

However, here’s another way to look at it: Are you a church-friendly homeschool family? Can you reconcile your legitimate high expectations and standards (such as wanting to raise your children to value modesty and courtship instead of casual dating) with the realization that none of us is perfect, and there is no one perfect church?

Can you find ways, as a family, to help out wherever your church and pastor need volunteers? Can you submit to one another in love, without sacrificing your spiritual and moral commitments? Can you openly share how the church can better help meet the legitimate needs of homeschool families? As you deal positively with social challenges and reconciling relationships, your children will grow in confidence and real world skills.

If your children join you in church services and ministry activities (which we highly recommend), you may face extra scrutiny from other families who do not keep their children with them. If your kids are the only ones in the service or activity, your family will probably experience extra pressure to conform to expectations, such as age-segregated activities.

Our first challenge, if we want to include our young children in church-based education, will be to teach them respectful manners in public. If that has been a problem, it helps to practice sitting still and listening quietly together at home, before venturing out into the world.

We use books such as Gregg Harris’s 21 Rules of This House to teach our children how we expect them to treat others. Find your free copy at fortifyingthefamily.com/21_rules.htm. The Well-Trained Heart: A Guide to the Relational Approach to Homeschooling, by Ray and Donna Reish, also offers practical suggestions to teach “from an early age to love that which is good-obedience, kindness, deference, thoughtfulness, empathy, and other godly character traits.”

Think ahead, and you can role play how to act in many different public situations, including church. As your kid’s behavior allows, gradually include them in church activities that include families.

Shortly before the service or activity starts, discuss clear consequences, such as lost privileges, for misbehavior. Also talk about the benefits of good behavior, such as pleasing parents and friends and being a good example for others.

In the past, we’ve provided drawing materials and picture Bibles to help keep small fidgety hands busy and mouths quiet. We also discuss the main points of the service afterwards, to determine our child’s level of understanding. We’ve found that small children and youngsters with special needs often understand far more than they can articulate; therefore, sometimes a “multiple choice” approach works best. For instance, you might ask, “When the pastor talked about Jesus being a shepherd, did he mean real sheep, or was he talking about people?” However, if children and adults are in separate, age-segregated activities, it is difficult to determine what, if anything, children are learning from the experience, although they may be having a great time.

Sometimes kids and church activities just don’t fit together well; if so, maybe you can try something else. For instance, a child that loves to talk might rather be a greeter at the door. Or perhaps your talker might like to help other kids check out resources from the church library. Wiggly kids, who hate to sit still for long periods, might prefer helping in the nursery, finding chairs for visitors, and passing the collection plate.

If parents serve together with their children, they are available to guide the children. Church leadership is helped, instead of burdened. Prayerfully seek out church-based activities that you can participate in together as a family. Consider organizing or helping to supervise Bible history events, local missions, sports teams, music and drama ministries, Bible studies, Bible clubs, 4-H, Vacation Bible school and family board game nights. A church in our area started a chess club as a community outreach; many local homeschoolers and community members participated. Other homeschoolers volunteered time teaching reading to needy community children.

In some cases, you may find-or start-a church-based homeschool support group or co-op (a cross between homeschooling and part-time private Christian school). For information and ideas on starting your own church-based homeschool academy or co-op, visit unitingchurchandhome.org and firstclasshomeschool.org. Uniting Church and Home, offers free introductions to MP3 audio-based courses, such as “How the Church and Home Unite Together in Gospel Ministry.”

When homeschool families and churches work together, both are strengthened. Churches benefit when homeschoolers lend willing hands of all ages to help meet needs in the church. Homeschoolers profit from church educational resources, as well as the opportunity to develop relationships, serve in the community, find encouragement, and learn together. Older homeschool families can be visible and available to train up young parents that may be struggling with discipline and education issues. Your family need not homeschool alone; join together in church-based homeschooling!

Melissa L. Morgan is the co-author of Educational Travel on a Shoestring and Homeschooling on a Shoestring. With her husband, Hugh, she has homeschooled their three children from birth, taking advantage of many educational opportunities in the real world. She invites you to visit her website at www.eaglesnesthome.com.

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