Stereotypes usually exist for a reason. Of the various negative stereotypes, one persistent charge is that homeschool families, through their choice to keep their children out of the public school system, have disengaged from society and are not fulfilling Christ’s missional mandate to be salt and light. While this image may be an accurate portrayal of some homeschooling families, it does not hold true for all, especially those of the newer generation of homeschoolers.
In a blog post provocatively entitled “Death to Homeschooling” (2005), Tony Jones, a Progressive Christian theologian and leader in the Emerging Church movement, sides with the detractors, and judges that homeschooling hinders living out a missional life:
[It] seems to me that if I am truly committed to living a missional life, then I must enroll my kids in the public school. That is, I am committed to living a life fully invested in what I might call the “Jesus Ethic” or the “Kingdom of God Ethic,” and also fully invested in the society — in fact, you might say that I live according to the Kingdom of God for the sake of society.
So it seems to me that to withdraw my children from public education is to not play my (God-given) role as a missional member of society… [I] can’t think, “I’ll just pull my kids out of the public schools — what difference will one less follower of Jesus make in a school full of hundreds of kids?” I don’t, as a Christian, have the option to “opt out” of the societal contract. Instead, I live under a mandate to be the most involved, missional societal participant that I can be.
In another article by Tony Jones, entitled “Why Homeschoolers Don’t Understand Missional,” he critiques homeschoolers’ understanding of mission:
Missional does not mean “sharing Jesus”. Missional means showing Christlike compassion to other human beings and to all of creation… Missional means being the salt seasoning in the world, and you cannot be that seasoning if you withdraw from society.
Tony Jones is summarily equating homeschooling with withdrawal and non-participation. This is his position: one cannot show Christlike compassion to other human beings and to all of creation, one cannot be missional salt seasoning in the world through homeschooling. So what do you think: Are “homeschooling” and “being missional” contradictions in terms? Is putting your kids in public school the only way to demonstrate a missional heart?
I think the simple answer to these questions is “no.” Withdrawal is not inherent to homeschooling any more than mission is inherent to putting your kids in public school. Yet I would concede that it takes some more effort on the part of homeschoolers as a whole to convince outsiders that we can be as missional, if not even MORE missional, than others. You yourself might be wondering how to engage in mission when you have diapers to change, dinner to cook, school projects due…and more! I believe homeschoolers can live missionally, and I’ve raised the comparison with public schoolers only to address the stereotype; my goal in this article is not to debate public schooling versus homeschooling but rather to talk about integrating mission and homeschooling.
But first, what is “mission?” The God we serve is a missional God. From the calling of Abram in Genesis to the great multitude worshipping around the throne of the Lamb of God in Revelation, He is a God who wants to be made known. And He is a God who invites his people to engage in His mission, which is the global outreach of the global people of the global God rooted in the very nature of God.
The mission of God was embodied in Jesus. Jesus taught about the kingdom of heaven. He walked the earth, fed the poor, healed the sick, and spread hope. And before he ascended back to heaven, he charged believers to testify to the things he had done, and be salt and light to the nations. You do not have to be a professional or a superhuman for God to use you in His mission. Every Christian is called to engage in the missionary activity of our missionary God. Which brings me to homeschooling.
In thinking of homeschooling and mission, two words come to my mind: formation and intention. Being missional involves formation, spiritual formation. Have you ever noticed that you need homeschooling as much your kids do? Homeschooling is a spiritual endeavor. God will use homeschooling to sanctify you! So, first and foremost, develop a deep love relationship with the Lord. When you love God and want to see His name exalted among the nations, you will naturally want to be a witness. Service will become an overflow of your heart, and not just one more task to tack on at the end of an already busy day. It is easy to focus so much on teaching and training our children that we sacrifice ourselves in the process. So, parents, do not neglect your own walks with the Lord in the midst of homeschooling.
For your children, homeschooling provides opportunities for spiritual formation and discipleship, especially when they are young. Homeschooling gives you the freedom to incorporate spiritually-forming stories and Bible study as part of your curriculum. Having your kids at home with you being their primary influencers allows you to train their loves and nurture a missional mindset during their most impressionable years. In Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, he tells believers they are to be salt and light. Our children are part of the salt and light of Christ. But we need time to form them, to train them, and to discern each child’s unique spiritual giftings and spiritual readiness. Just as you would not send a soldier off to battle before training, don’t expect your children to know how to be missionaries in the spiritual battlefield without training them, especially if they are not old enough to have professed faith in Christ! Jesus never commissioned non-believers to be his missionaries. So, parents, use your abundant time at home to teach your children the Bible, pray for missionaries with them, and guard your family’s times with the Lord.
Being missional requires intention. As I stated earlier, the fact that you homeschool does not mean that you are not mission-minded. Many homeschoolers have a deep commitment to mission, which is why they homeschool in the first place. On the flip side, the fact that you homeschool doesn’t mean that you ARE spending your time being missional, either. Being missional requires intentionality. Intentionality requires you to constantly examine your life and make sure you are not just going through the motions. Try to find 5 minutes in your day, anytime, anywhere, to do an examen of how you spend your day, and see if there isn’t a window in there where you can extend an outward hand. Intentionality requires assertive energy, but try not to think of it in terms of increasing busyness, but about being more intentional in what you are already doing. For instance,
- If you sponsor a child through Compassion International, you are probably writing letters to your sponsored child. Let your kids write letters too. Ask them to make a card. Pray for him.
- If you make a meal for a sick neighbor, let your kids help you cook the meal. Have them accompany you when you deliver the food.
- If your child plays a sport, chat with the other parents on the sidelines. I’m sure there are days when you’d rather mind your own business, but you can bless someone with a simple conversation.
It is often easier to be missional when you are in community with others with the same mindset. If you have homeschooling friends with the same heart for mission, try to serve together. Your children will be even more motivated when they serve with their peers. Homeschooling is fueled by grass roots energy. Capitalize on that energy to impact your community. Homeschoolers are often creative, independent thinkers who can think outside of the box. Channel that creativity into others.
I want to share a personal story about how being at a University-style school like TCS has allowed me to be missional as a homeschooler. About six months ago I was asked to join the board of VOX Culture, a non-profit whose mission is “to connect our Houston community with social causes in creative ways.” VOX means “voice” in Latin, and Vox Culture is an arts and advocacy network who serves to give voice to social causes. Because I share the responsibility of homeschooling with TCS I don’t have to write lesson plans or research curricula or grade papers. I can use that time given back to me to be involved in Vox Culture. I take my kids with me to almost every event. In the past year, they have helped put on a superhero party at the Salvation Army for the kids who live at the Residence Center; they have cleaned the beach; they have handmade jewelry in a workshop with refugees; and they have participated in a fashion show benefitting refugee artisans showcasing traditional and modern clothing. I love that I am able to do this and homeschool my children, and I am thankful that I live in an age where schools like TCS exist to free moms up to dedicate themselves and their children to things outside of homeschooling.
I know many of you parents have a passion for mission, and I would love to hear your stories. Many of you are in the ministry, are married to pastors, are involved in your communities, or support ministries in foreign countries. But some of you are only now starting to give thought to mission and how it relates to homeschooling. I want to encourage those of you who are feeling overwhelmed or struggling with guilt over not being more missional. There will be seasons of life where you are more homebound, and that’s OK. Just as there are seasons in creation of greater and lesser fruit, likewise moms experience seasons where they are able to be more or less involved. Each season has its purpose, and if you are mindful, you can learn to be content instead of discouraged. Find your own rhythm. It might be weekly, monthly, or yearly. Strive to achieve your own rhythm over a lifetime.
I also encourage you to embrace a particular orientation to the world and our identity in it. Motherhood is a gift. Homeschooling is a gift. It is a blessing to be a mother and a homeschooler. But having a missional mindset requires us to embrace another identity above those roles, and that is a primary identity not as a mom, not as a homeschooler, but as a child of God called to participate with Him in His mission. It’s easy to make the roles of mother and homeschooler false idols in our lives. Motherhood and homeschooling should be viewed as tools for a season to participate in God’s mission. Misplaced identity can derail us from living out our mission with joy. Viewing life from my primary identity puts things in perspective.
To conclude, let’s go back to the Tony Jones article “Death to Homeschooling.” He believes in public schooling because he aspires to be “the most involved, missional societal participant that [he] can be.” Parents, you can do that with your children! You don’t have to look very far to find a way to extend compassion, practice hospitality, welcome a newcomer, or serve your community in this city. One does not live missionally simply by virtue of being a public schooler, or a mom, or a homeschooler. We have all been called and gifted to be a part of the mission of God. No matter your occupation, you are called and gifted within your context to participate in God’s mission. It’s not the context that determines, it is how you live out your faith within that context. Above all, ask God to fill you with His spirit so that you are serving out of the overflow of your cup.
In Luke 24, Jesus appears to his disciples when they are gathering after his resurrection and he opens the Scriptures to them. After charging them to be his witnesses he then empowers them: “And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). Moms and Dads, in Christ you have been clothed with power from on high to engage in the mission of God.
 Combining the voices of theologians Karl Hartenstein and John Stott
Recommended reading: The Missional Mom, by Helen Lee, and Global Soccer Mom, by Shayne Moore