"One hour after crying out to the Lord, I read your article in Practical Homeschooling!" This rejuvenated homeschool mom and her husband had been grappling with their church leadership's lack of support for home education ministry and found guidance in my article on appealing to church leaders. Whether you are in a similar position or even if you have experienced great success in your attempts to start a ministry at your church, this article should encourage all of us as we see some of the church-generated fruit in budding home education ministries.
Churches Get On Board
After less than a year of starting to spread the world about homeschooling, and virtually no publicity except this column in Practical Homeschooling, Harvester Teaching Service is presently working with 67 churches worldwide. About 75 percent of the churches we have worked with have been non-denominational. These are churches of relatively small size --approximately 60 member families on average. The leaders are predominately supportive of homeschooling. Many are just beginning to embrace the concepts of homeschooling; few have yet established full-fledged ministries. Other individuals are still in the planning and appeal stage, a very important stage.
Family is the Key
A "consistent philosophy showing the vital link [the family] between the homeschoolers and the church is the key to establishing a home education ministry," says Dan Rogers of Chantilly Bible Church in Chantilly, Virginia. Present home education for what it really is -- a ministry to all families, homeschooling or otherwise. Much of the support that we as homeschoolers desire is spiritual and family-related. The truth is, this is support that every family needs. All parents are home educators in varying degrees!
Some pastors have asserted that an active home education ministry would turn people away from the church. I have yet to find evidence to support this assertion. In fact, I have found that when churches embrace home education, they grow! A case in point is Greenbriar Christian Church in Chesapeake, Virginia. In one year's time, the church has doubled in size. According to Greenbriar, this increase is largely due to God's blessing their home education ministry.
Some Surprises at Support Group Meetings
One of the most exciting developments at Greenbriar Christian Church is that families who do not home school are starting to join their homeschool support group. Terri Turley of Greenbriar says, "The family orientation has made the whole difference in the ministry. Families who do not home school have actually asked how to become a part of what is happening through the home education ministry!"
When Terri's church began gearing support group meetings toward dealing with common family issues, it "brought a different light on who we [home school families] were." The prejudice that sometimes attaches itself to home school families was obliterated before it had a chance to manifest itself.
Refreshing Changes in Church Ministry
Westminster P.C.A. church in Vancouver, Washington has gone even further. Recognizing the importance that God places on the family unit in church ministry, elder Monte Hidden states, "Fathers need to teach their children." The families in his church, which strongly supports home schooling, have accepted as a "welcome change" the fact that they do not have traditional youth groups or Sunday School. For them, this change was a crucial step in making it possible for fathers to actually train their children. Fewer church activities during the week means more time for families to be together so Dad can teach.
As part of their unique approach, Westminster's men's group meets once a month to discuss a book that they are individually reading. A significant amount of time is spent discussing how to apply what has been learned to teach their children. The fathers also help their children memorize the Westminster Confession of Faith. The immediate fruit of these labors is seen when their children recite what they have memorized in the Sunday evening service.
Bob Roach of Calvary Worship Center in St. Lucie, Florida has taken a different approach to Sunday School as well. At his church, they call it "Home Sunday School." Instead of the usual Sunday morning age-segregated fare, curriculum is written by Roach and his staff and given to the parents to teach to their children at home! We at Harvester have also experienced an enthusiastic response to our age-integrated Sunday school.
For those of you thinking about how to appeal to your church leaders, take heart! Vickie Haynes' church in Independence, Missouri, is now reaping the fruit of the care she and other homeschooling families took in preparing an appeal for a home education ministry. Her pastor, Dr. Carl Herbster, active president of the American Association of Christian Schools, has developed into an encouraging supporter of home education at their church, Tri-City Ministries. Vickie stated, "God works through leadership. We must work through those in authority. We need to honor our pastor." This is excellent advice to anyone who wishes to properly appeal to their church leaders on any issue, not just home education! The testimony of her pastor certainly encapsulates the goal of what we are striving to hear from our pastors: "It [schooling] can happen in the home and I want to do all I can to make it happen!"
Pastor Herbster is already doing something to "make it happen." His church was recently given a camp and conference center. The church plans to use this camp as a unique part of their home education ministry. Among the camp themes for this summer will be, of course, home education!
"I am so discouraged that I don't know what to do," one frustrated mom told me recently. She decided to take a break from trying to get a homeschool ministry started in her church. She revealed how other home school families were showing great verbal enthusiasm for a ministry, but when it came time to take action, she was virtually alone. It was apparent that God was using the resulting lack of progress to remind her to keep primary focus on her family -- her most important ministry. And, like us all, there were areas in the family that she identified which demanded higher priority. For her to continue pushing to establish this ministry at the expense of her family would have nullified any blessings gained.
No matter how excited you may get about a home education ministry, maintaining a balance in your responsibilities is preventative medicine and the prescription for a thriving home education ministry later if the Lord brings it to pass.
Maybe you are still debating whether you should be starting a home education ministry at your church. Maybe you have set out with the best intentions only to have your plans frustrated by apathetic, unwelcome attitudes, or other concerns. Take encouragement from the words of Peg Stoodley from Zion Christian Fellowship in Malden, Massachusetts: "I don't feel quite so unsure now that I've heard some of your church's success." Be encouraged by these success stories and by all means, don't give up!