During an interview, I was once asked which is the most important character trait to cultivate in our children. My immediate answer was, “a passion for Jesus.” We can have a measure of success in educating our kids to be truthful, responsible, moral citizens, but if we don’t reach their hearts with the message of their need for Jesus and bring them into a vibrant relationship with Him, what have we really accomplished?
In the secular world, both in our public school systems and in business, character training has become a big deal in recent years. Educators and corporate leaders are discovering the need to teach people within their organizations the basics of integrity and living responsibly, for the sake of alleviating chaos in the system and bringing about greater productivity. Secular character education companies are currently making big bucks trying to teach people how to behave decently.
Now, I don’t have a problem with schools and corporations teaching people the rudiments of good character. If we’ve got a society full of broken homes, where many children are being raised with little concept of behaving in a principled, civilized manner, somebody has to take matters in hand, or we eventually end up with anarchy. But cleaning up the outside of the cup, while the inside is still pretty much a mess, and keeping people under control by convincing them that behaving well will be advantageous to them and society (and that not behaving well will bring painful consequences), has its limitations. The severest limitation of all is an eternal one.
So, what does this have to do with homeschooling families? Simply this: if we are not vigilant, it is very easy for us, too, to teach our children to be outstanding models of good character without it ever reaching their hearts. We have them in an ideal environment, with little outside corrupting influences most of the time. We tend to monitor and protect what goes in their eyes and ears through the TV, computer, and other media. We watch over who they spend time with outside of our homes, so that they are not involved on a daily basis with other people’s out-of-control lifestyles. And we instruct them in how a Christian should live through the Bible, teaching materials, lectures, and through being role models to them.
Unfortunately, sometimes it can escape our notice that, although we are presenting the right model to them, they might be merely complying with our expectations, without absorbing into their hearts the truths we are trying to impart. Indeed, even if they do embrace the concepts we teach, if it goes no further than a sincere desire to live uprightly, we’ve not accomplished the intended purpose.
What is that purpose? Bringing them into knowing and loving the Lord Jesus. The goal should not be to raise upright, law-abiding citizens, but to raise up lovers of God, who will obediently, humbly, and enthusiastically follow after Him.
Part of the reason some homeschool parents (certainly not all) are experiencing the heartbreak of seeing their children turn away from the Lord once they are grown is because children who grow up in an environment of goodness without ever coming into a heart-changing relationship with the Lord (or who are not taught how to keep growing in that relationship) are left wide open to the evil pursuits of the world outside, once they are no longer in the controlled environment which was so lovingly provided for them.
Am I saying we should not protect our children from the ways of the world while they are growing up? Should we instead expose them to the evils of society from the time they are small, so that they will not be “hot-house plants”? Perhaps even send them to public school? Absolutely not! I believe wholeheartedly in shielding the young ones from evil and wrapping a holy blanket of protection around them. But they need to know the Who of it — the Lord.
If we only teach our children to be upright in their character so that they can lead a prosperous life, free of the consequences which sin brings, we’ve missed it by making it all about them, which is ultimately quite selfish. We must teach them to love the Lord more than themselves — and to live righteously out of a joy of bringing Him delight.
You may be saying, “But my children gave their hearts to the Lord when they were very small, so this does not apply to me.” Helping our kids to cross over into the kingdom of heaven through that initial accepting of Jesus is one of the most wonderful moments for any believing parent. But we can’t just leave it at that and then assume character training will do the rest.
We must continue to teach them how to go on in their relationship with Him — how to increase in their love for Him, how to know Him more deeply each day than they did the day before. And, we must be vigilant in prayer on their behalf. It is a big job, but it can be done, as we depend on the Lord to help us.