‘Missional Lifestyle’: Education


This is the fifth in Nicole’s series on ‘missional lifestyle’. Read parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.

In this series I’ve been working my way slowly through various facets of life (home, education, work, sport, etc.), talking about the opportunities that each presents for being involved in the lives of others for their good and their salvation, and the idolatries that have the potential to destroy us and our witness by luring our hearts away from Christ. In this post, having set out a general framework and taken a brief look at the opportunities and idolatries of the home, I want to turn to the topic of education (our own and our children’s) and the opportunities that it provides for mission.

1. Equipping for the future

Education gives a person the chance to learn how better to think, read, write, and speak. Our own education is a gift from God, and it helps equip us to serve him and serve others. If we have kids then our kids’ school education (or their home-schooling) can be part of the way we train them as parents to gain skills and understanding and attitudes that will prepare them to be useful in serving God and serving others in the future.

That’s the big goal we ought to have in mind: how can our decisions about schooling and the way we approach our kids’ education help to equip them to live for God’s glory, to serve their neighbours, and to live holy lives, in the world but not of the world, seeking the good of others, that they might be saved? Our kids’ formal education is part of a larger strategy we ought to have as parents to raise them up in order to send them out into the world as missionaries.

2. Relationships in the present

But education is also about relationships in the present. In our society, the education system is the gate that everyone passes through, and the experience of schooling can be a source of daily gospel opportunities for both kids and parents. The decision about whether to send the kids to a private or public school (or to home-school), to send to a school close by or a school several suburbs away, can make a significant difference to the kind and frequency of those opportunities and to the ability you have as a parent to help your kids make the most of them. The experience of school can be a wonderful training ground for kids to start learning how to share the gospel and interact with the non-Christian world as missionaries.

Sending your children to school (or participating in a well-functioning home-school network) can also offer opportunities for parents to get involved in the local community. For me, for example, I’ve found school the best place to get to know other parents because I’m there every day, morning and afternoon. Plus (again, in my experience) there are so many ways to get involved and volunteer and spend time with the other parents a local school.

The aim, of course, is not to abdicate the work of mission to our children, sending them off into the battlefield of the gospel as child-soldiers, untrained and unsupported. Our job is to train our children as missionaries, not to use them to do the evangelism we are too frightened to do ourselves. But the best way of training them is not by hiding them away from the world for the first eighteen years of their lives, instructing them in the safety of home about the theory of making Christ known in a world they know nothing about.

There are at least two sets of questions we ought to be asking, therefore, about the choices that we make for the education of ourselves and of our children:

  1. How will these decisions assist in preparing us and our children for a future of serving God and serving others in the world, living as disciples of the Lord Jesus and making him known?
  2. What opportunities will these decisions provide for us and for our children to be part of the work of the gospel in the present? What sort of contact will we and our children have with those who don’t yet know Christ? What scope will we have for learning how to live good lives among the pagans (1 Pet 2:12) and to give an answer for the hope that we have (1 Pet 3:15)? How much involvement will we be able to have in the educational world into which we send our children day by day, and how much scope will we have to get to know their friends and the families of their friends?

Answering these questions is not always a simple task, of course—at times it can require the wisdom of Solomon. But—like Solomon!—we make our decisions not only as people who depend on the wisdom of God, but also as people who are beset by temptation from the idolatrous desires of our hearts within and the world without. But that’s another whole post…

For now, I’d love to hear your thoughts about the opportunities. How have you approached the answering of those two questions? And what examples come to mind for you of people who’ve made the most of the opportunities that the education system gives us as missionary-disciples of the Lord Jesus?

12 thoughts on “‘Missional Lifestyle’: Education

  1. Nicole, your article says:

    “Our kids’ formal education is part of a larger strategy we ought to have as parents to raise them up in order to send them out into the world as missionaries.”

    This is rather odious.  God may have other plans for your children.  Is it for you to presume how they will spend their lives, ie conforming to the evangelical paradigm?  Surely our job as parents is to equip our children to enable them to discern their own called pathway?

    It seems that heavy parental expectation is also alive and well in reformed christian patrenting circles.


  2. Thanks Stephen for the comment.

    When I said “to raise them up in order to send them out into the world as missionaries” I didn’t really mean anything more or less than “to raise them up to be followers of Jesus”.

    My assumption is that all disciples of Jesus are called to relate to the world around them as missionaries.  This may or may not take the form of cross-cultural mission in a distant country, and it may or may not involve full-time, paid, vocational Christian ministry.

    Hope that clarifies my meaning!

  3. Hi Nicole – good on you for tackling this issue.

    What is your response to people who would say that we need to protect our children from the realities of the non-Christian world until they are adults?  That we shouldn’t be putting them into situations that their young faith can’t cope with. This is a common argument for not putting children into a school context where they might end up being isolated as a Christian.

    Any thoughts?


  4. Hi Jenny!

    I think your question is a good one. 

    As a general principle, I think that kids need some exposure to the world as a context in which they are to learn how to relate to it as a servant of Jesus – we don’t prepare them well for going out into the world as adults if we insulate them from it totally in childhood and adolescence.

    But I think that the kind and extent of that exposure is a matter of wisdom, and the circumstances in which the decision needs to be made will vary from family to family, from child to child and from school to school.

    In our own experience so far, the local school has been a great environment for our kids to learn how to live as Christians – not without its challenges, but that’s part of how you learn!  But I know other friends, in different circumstances, who have made different decisions from the ones that we’ve made while still pursuing the same aims.

    My aim in this post is not to prescribe one particular strategy for every family – my main concern is is with whether we’re asking the right questions and pursuing the right aims.

  5. Jenny, in this matter, I always think it’s worth pondering Daniel 1.

    There we have something of a match to our context: God’s OT people are exiled and scattered among the pagan nations, rather than gathered in their promised land, just as we are today (cf. 1 Pet 1:1).

    And we note from Dan 1:4 that bright Jewish ‘youths’ (ESV, and it really is the word for ‘boys’/‘children’ not just ‘young men’ as in NIV), were put into the pagan Babylonian education system and learnt their literature and language.

    They may not have had much choice about this, but (perhaps in line with the command of Jeremiah 29:4-7 to settle down and seek the welfare of the city they found themselves in) they willingly entered into and engaged in this education.

    Of course, as believers, there were times they had to draw lines in the sand (e.g. in their case, Dan 1:8, not to defile themselves in dietary matters). But at the end of the education, they entered into the public service of the pagan Babylonian nation.

    My conclusion from this example is that we need not flee the secular or unbelieving education system, though we have to discern when there may be an aspect of it to refuse.

    And from the probable ages of those involved, I think this example could apply not just to what we call tertiary education, but to the secondary age as well.

  6. Hi Nicole,

    I think it’s great to encourage us to consider how our schooling choice prepares our children for a future life of service, and how it provides opportunities for service in the present. I think these are higher priority questions than, “Which will provide the highest academic outcomes for my child?”

    The school of our primary age daughters (in Mexico) is of a lower academic standard than schools in Australia (ie, there is much less independent, analytical or creative thinking). However, skills that our daughters are learning well at school here include patience, tolerance of things that are not the way they’d choose to have them, willingness to contribute outside their comfort zone, skills in loving and serving people very different from them (including people with disabilities).

    I think this is a good list of skills that enable them to serve in a godly way now and in the future. I am glad that I’ve changed my perspective on what is valuable in a school experience.

  7. Hi Nicole,

    Thank you for this article. We also have chosen to place our children in public schooling – they are now both in high school.  It is scary but encouraging to see them work out being Christian in an environment with few others.  I am seeing that non-conformity to the world is a muscle that grows with exercise.  Also it is great that they have a good youth group that to which they want to invite their friends.

  8. Thanks Sandy for the Daniel parallel!

    And thanks Sarah and Jennie for the examples from what you’ve done in your own families – I always find it really helpful and encouraging to see (or hear about) real lived examples of the sort of things we’re talking about, and how it has worked out in practice.

  9. Hi Nicole,

    I went to a Christian private school until year 6.  Godly Christian teachers taught me and I felt loved and secure in those early years.  There were other kids who were not Christians in the school but because God was so much on the agenda, we children often talked about Christian things amongst ourselves and I learnt many important truths from my teachers.

    My family moved to Australia, and I then went to a selective, secular, all girls and strongly feminist public high school. As I engaged with my friends and teachers in discussions about Jesus when the opportunities arose, I was grateful for the time that I had in the Christian school.  I had firm and strong convictions of the truth of the gospel because I was so faithfully taught by my teachers and parents.  I did not long to go back to the more sheltered Christian environment, but I was glad that I experienced that situation when I was younger and less confident.

    It is now almost 30 years since I left primary school.  I have recently reconnected with some of my primary school friends (facebook does that to you).  To my amazement, they asked me about my Christian life, and shared their concerns for a friend who had fallen away, and another with difficult life circumstances.  They are still praying for each other and are following up those friends.

    Isn’t that wonderful?  The legacy of Christian teaching all those years ago has remained.

    When my husband and I had to choose where to educate our child, we chose a Christian school.  We have seen her faith strengthened and our teachings at home confirmed, not contradicted at school.

    Our school deliberately accepts a proportion of children from non-Christian families, and so the opportunities to engage with those parents are certainly not absent. We have deliberately cultivated a close relationship with a non-Christian family from the school.  We find that they are open to discussions about God because their children are exposed to it day-in, day-out and they ask questions at home that their parents can’t answer.

    I am not against public education.  I am grateful for my excellent education in the public system, but I count it a privilege to have been taught in a Christian school and am thankful that my child is able to attend one too because I have experienced such benefits from it.

  10. Hi Nicole

    Our kids (4 out of our 5) attend our local public school. I really feel that it is significant that we stay committed to the public school system so that we have Christians in these communities.  Most of my children do not have Christian friends and for many of their friends we are the only Christian family they know.

    So while I’m not against Christian schools at all (I went to one for many years) I’m so excited by the opportunity for our family to shine the light of Jesus in this little community.  So many people we’ve met would have no other interaction with Christians otherwise. 

    Each morning and afternoon walking to school I try to pray for the interactions I will have with other parents and teachers – asking that God will use us to somehow (in our weakness) bring people to himself.

  11. Thanks Jenny – I was hoping you’d say a bit more about your own family’s approach to these things and the thought-process underlying it.  I think you’re right about making a point of praying every day – unless God gives us opportunities and the boldness to take them, it doesn’t really matter where we are!

    And thanks Michelle for the story about your own experiences and the way you’ve done things with your child’s schooling.  It was exciting to read about that family you’re getting to know.

  12. ‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-His good, pleasing and perfect will.’ Romans 12:2

    God’s word firmly places the responsibility for the education of children with their parents, and as Christians we are called to not conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

    Letting our children be conformed to society’s patterns of life through school was not something my wife & I wanted.

    Jesus described us as salt.

    ‘You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.’ Matthew 5:13

    We are to preserve, flavour, enhance and have an impact on our society. Yet in the same scripture Jesus explains salt can lose its saltiness. Our salty influence in society can be diminished. If this occurs we are described as “no longer good for anything”.

    As Christians our role is to reform the world around us. We are called to be in the world but not of it. Being salt and light is a lifelong calling.

    A significant role of school is helping prepare children for all of life. The 12 or so years spent at school is relatively short when compared with an average life span. The thoughts, attitudes, beliefs and outlook on life formed during school years, however, can last a lifetime.

    Many think that education is neutral. What a teacher believes is often considered irrelevant to what they do in the classroom. This stems from a belief that the teacher and the subject are separate and the knowledge they impart is neutral. However much of education is relational. A teacher’s beliefs will influence and shape how and what they choose to teach in a classroom – even within a set curriculum.

    If a biblical worldview is not deliberately integrated into education then a humanistic foundation is usually laid. In humanism man, rather than God, is considered to be of primary importance. Where a school’s basis for values and ethics is inconsistent with those being taught at home conflict can arise.

    In contrast where teachers and parents share the same values, rather than undermining each another, they can provide a greater consistency for a child and prepare them to live life in such a way as to be salt and light wherever and whatever children choose to do.

    For these reasons and others, we chose to fulfil our parental responsibility by placing our 4 daughters in a school where the vision, ethos, teaching staff, and curriculum supported our desire for our children to be brought up in the fear of the Lord.

    We chose a school where there was a community of partnership between parents and Christian teachers, as we desired a partnership where Jesus Christ, God and the Bible, as well as our role as parents, would be honoured.

    You may chose otherwise, and that is your free choice.

    How did our 4 daughters turn out:

    One works with the intellectual disabled, is a member of an Anglican church & a small group, and is involved in music ministry.

    One works with young children, is a member of an Anglican church, is a small group leader, and whose spouse is in ordination training.

    One works in financial administration, is a member of an Anglican church, in a small group, & whose spouse is involved in music ministry.

    One is in her graduate year for nursing, a member of an Anglican & Presbyterian church, and is hoping to work in paediatrics in a country hospital.

    ‘Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it.’ Proverbs 22:6

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