The Home: The Most Important School for Christianity

In 1974, ELS pastor Rodger Dale wrote about The Task of Instruction. This excerpt from Telling the Next Generation comes from pages 49-50, offering a critique from 37 years ago that may be even more applicable today than it was in the year Pastor Dale wrote it.

The American home, by far the most important school for Christianity, is in shambles. And of all the reasons, one of the foremost is that we think we are too busy to practice the basic principles of Christian living. Our lives are busy, but too often we confuse self-centeredness with legitimate tasks. To have a successful home we must serve each other, not ourselves.

Children in today’s average American home suffer from what we might call “parental drain.” Their parents “drain” themselves with their own activities so that little is left of them, emotionally, to give to their children. Parents need the little time they have at home to relax. Children are often made to feel like intruders upon their parent’s badly needed relaxation. The obvious problem is that children are placed lower on the list of priorities than work and recreation. The results are tragic.

Parents, especially working mothers, ought to consider carefully whether they are “burning themselves out” for others and for unnecessary material benefits so that little is left for their most important possession of all, their children. The higher standard of living offers little satisfaction to a child who lacks the comfort of parental attention and guidance. The lack of understanding in teen years most surely results from lack of communication ten years earlier. This is not to say that a mother cannot work outside the home or that the father cannot be busy. We are saying that children should not be “sacrificed” on the list of priorities because of covetousness. Children should be given the highest priority next to God himself.

But by far the most critical problem in the average American home is the lack of family worship — real, creative worship. Religion is practiced as a sideline. Too often religion is compartmentalized into the Sunday morning slot. The rest of the week, God is just on call. Even in homes where there are daily devotions, they are usually not as creative and effective as they should be.

The successful family in this culture must learn to know and worship God in their home, the arena of greatest influence. Children must learn in the home to know God’s Word well enough to meet challenges to their faith. We emphasize the home because it is estimated that the average child is under the influence and instruction of the church only one percent of the time. A Christian day school education raises the percentage considerably, but even so, a masterful job of education must be performed in the home to meet the challenges of today’s culture.

Dr. Hendricks compares child-raising in today’s environment to building a fire in the rain:

Inculcating Christian standards is like building a fire in the rain. It requires willful determination, against all odds, to do what seems impossible. It calls for expertise — for know-how which understands the nature of the child and the nature of the hostile world. It demands a stubborn perseverence to keep fanning the flickering flame, to keep protecting the hot coals. A warm young life, glowing for Christ, is the most needed commodity in the damp, depressing chill of the marketplace today.

How Much is Enough?

On p. 43 in the same book, this excerpt written by Wilhelm Petersen explains why it’s not quite enough to make use of children’s education opportunities at church.

Christian parents may be tempted to think that if they send their
children to Sunday school, vacation Bible school, or perhaps a
Christian day school that then they have done their duty in
instructing their children. Surely, a Christian parent will want to
make use of these agencies which the church offers to feed the lambs,
but what God told Moses to tell the parents of his day applies to us
today, too, “And these words which I command thee this day, shall be
in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy
children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house and
when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou
risest up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). From this we see that the important
matter of instruction is not to be a hit-and-miss affair, but a
constant daily thing in the home. In this picture we see a family
gathered around a table where the father, or one of the family, reads
a section from the Bible or devotional book; we see a mother reading a
Bible story to her little ones at bedtime; we see a parent answering
the hundred and one queries of the youngsters. Fortunate the children
that are brought up in this atmosphere! To be pitied, truly pitied,
are the children who never hear God’s name mentioned in the home,
except perhaps in cursing.