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The Revd Reb Bradley — pastor, father of six, homeschooling champion and founder of Family Ministries — has an article on his ministry site, ‘Solving the Crisis in Homeschooling: Exposing the 7 Major Blindspots of Homeschoolers’.

My thanks to Abby Kautt — a pastor‘s daughter and homeschooler — who blogged on excerpts of the article which she found on Josh Harris’s website. Bradley asked Harris’s readers to read the article in full.

Although it is a long article, it is a fascinating one, and I would recommend it not only to homeschoolers but to all adult Christians and parents. He has powerful insights, which I’ll also cover in the next two posts. This is one of the best précis of parenthood and homeschooling that you’re likely to read in a long time.

Emphases in the excerpts below are mine, except in headings and italicised words:

When my three married children were young, I was overly-confident in my approach to parenting. I was convinced that my children would grow up godly, and that they would avoid significant struggles with sin because of my parenting.  I was absolutely certain that since I was training them “in the way they should go”, and I was doing most everything I had written in my book, I would be a success as a parent. However, I had yet to discover it wasn’t all about ME and MY success.  In fact, I had yet to learn that the parent who thinks it’s all about THEIR success is often contributing to their children’s struggles. (Revelation #1 – proper parenting is about the children not the parent. I’ll explain in point 1.)

As each of my three oldest children reached adulthood I was shocked to discover that they did not conform exactly to the values I had sought to give them. They had retained much of what I had given, but not everything. Instead of being perfect reflections of my training, they each turned out to be individuals who had their own values and opinions. I had wrongly thought them to be exactly like wet clay, me being the potter with total control over what they would become. I was not prepared for their individuality, nor was I ready to see them as fleshly beings. As I watched them each face off with the Lord and have their own struggles with the flesh, like I had when I was their age, my homeschool dreams crashed royally.


1. Self-centered dreams

When my oldest son was 18 he developed habits of disrespectful communication and I had to ask him to leave my home for a season. (In Israel the most severe discipline for lawbreakers was execution – next to that, it was setting someone outside the camp.) Needless to say, my wife and I were devastated by the discipline we imposed. In the first month he was gone we wept each day for him.  We were grieved that he was now unprotected from the junk from which we had worked so hard to shelter him, but more than that, I was heartbroken that my dreams for him and our family would no longer come true.  I remember speaking the words to him“Son, you’ve ruined my dreams.”  You see, I had a dream for my family and it involved adult children who lived at home humbly under parental authority, and who would one day leave home to marry, after following my carefully orchestrated courtship process.  But now, my son had gone and “messed up” my perfect dream.  Nothing is wrong with dreaming of good things for your children, but the truth was, my dream for my son was mostly about me.

In hindsight, what was particularly grievous was that I was more worried about the failure of my dream of  “success” than the fact that my son and I had a broken relationship. Although he did come back and was restored to us 4 months later, it still took me years to realize that I had contributed to the damaged relationship. (More on that later.)

One of the reasons parents homeschool is because they want to accomplish something good in their children. Success in homeschooling requires that academic, moral, and spiritual goals be set. It is only natural for parents to have high hopes and dreams for their children. However, when we begin to see our children as a reflection or validation of us, we become the center of our dreams, and the children become our source of significance.  When that happens in our home it affects the way we relate with our children, and subtly breaks down relationship.

2. Family as an idol

We dream for results, but preoccupation with results can turn the family into a measurement of success. For those who feel successful, family becomes a badge of honor or trophy to be admired by others or God. When we allow the success of our family to determine our security or sense of wellbeing we are seeking from it something God intends us to receive from Him. I am describing idolatry. If homeschoolers are not careful, family can easily become an idol …

A great problem with idolatry is that idols require sacrifice, and we end up sacrificing relationship with our children for the idol of the family.  When we elevate the image of the family, we effectively trade our children’s hearts for our reputation. 

Craving a reputation for success puts great pressure on us, and then on our children – we feel quite constrained to succeed with them. If they turn out okay, then we can credit ourselves with success, but if they struggle or fail, then we may live with guilt, embarrassment, and bitterness towards them. Many homeschool parents look at the choices made by their teen and adult children and live under a cloud of failure or resentment ...

It was a rude awakening for me when I saw that even the best parenting could not exempt a person from making the wrong choice when faced with temptation. I do believe that by our influence we can greatly increase the likelihood our children will love and follow Christ, but I see nothing in Scripture that guarantees well-trained children will never succumb to temptation …

3. Emphasis on outward form

Preoccupation with results often leads to emphasis on outward form. When we are preoccupied with achieving results it is natural to admire the results others seem to have achieved with their children. We like the way the pastor’s kids sit reverently in the front pew and take notes of their father’s sermon, so we go home and begin to teach our children to sit reverently and to take notes. What we don’t know is that the pastor’s kids conduct themselves with reverence and attentiveness not because he “cleaned the outside of the cup” and simply drilled them to do so — he lived a genuine love for Jesus that was contagious, and watched as the fruit was born (Matt 23:26). Parents are destined for disappointment when they admire fruit in others and seek to emulate merely that expression of fruit in their own children. Fruit is born from the inside — not applied to the outside

In the homeschool community I have observed that there can be a great emphasis on outward appearance, whether it is dressing for excellence, modesty, grooming, respectful manners, music style, or an attitude of sober reverence in worship. Some even take their children down a country path of humble fashions, raising food, and making bread. Nothing is wrong with any of these things, but we must be careful – we can model for our children outward changes and easily fall into molding their behavior and/or appearance, while missing their hearts. In some circles emphasis on the outward is epidemic ...

Let us not forget that Jesus came against the Pharisees for their preoccupation with what they felt were legitimate expressions of spirituality. They measured holiness by what was avoided and by what would be seen by others (Mat 6:1-2, 5, 16; 23:5-6, 23-28; John 7:24). The Pharisees were earnest in their religion, but they were preoccupied with outward expressions of holiness rather than hearts of humility and love (Micah 6:8) that would bear genuine fruit. I find it fascinating that in the gospels there is not one mention of Jesus coming against immodesty, even though among his followers were prostitutes and the like. Jesus emphasized cleaning up the inside while the Pharisees were the ones preoccupied with cleaning up the outside. We must ask ourselves: Which are we more like – Jesus or the Pharisees? Even now do we justify ourselves, insisting we emphasize cleaning up both the inside and the outside?

I know that some react strongly to these assertions, so let me emphasize that I do want my wife and daughters to adorn themselves modestly. God did address it once in the New Testament (1Tim 2:9), but we must ask ourselves, is it possible that we have elevated modesty, or other issues of outward form, higher than Jesus did? Concurrently, let us also be careful of measuring everyone else’s enlightenment by what we have decided is modest, spiritual, or holy. 

4. Tendency to judge

… It is a fair assumption that if we make preeminent for our families issues of outward appearance (such as humble fashions, modesty, and grooming) we will likely condescend to those who don’t hold to our standards. If we are proud of our children’s public etiquette and conduct, it will be easy to belittle those who don’t measure up. If we condemn everything but our preferred music style, we may avoid all those who hold to a different standard in music.  Standards in these areas are subjectively derived and based largely on personal opinion, yet if we are convinced our opinion is God’s opinion, we may count those who don’t hold to them as being in error or at the very least misguided.

It is easy to miss this area of pride because we may not express our judgments “arrogantly”. We may not say something condemning like, “My goodness, I couldn’t believe it when I heard the Smiths say they were putting their oldest children into school next year! They’re sacrificing their children for convenience. Seems to me they’re either compromising or giving up. I was afraid this would happen when they began attending that new church!”  Instead, we may wrap our judgments in compassionate sounding words, “I’m so grieved to hear about the Smiths’ decision. How far they have fallen — it’s so sad. We’ll pray that they see the light again! I hate it when the devil deceives God’s people!”  Arrogance wrapped in compassionate tones can be especially deceiving …

It is important to note that when pride is working its work in us, we sincerely believe our personal opinions reflect God’s utmost priorities and standards. We validate ourselves since we know we keep those standards, and by the same standards others are validated or invalidated in our eyes, as well. For example, if we are self-validating, we may decide that since we have chosen to homeschool, anyone who won’t homeschool doesn’t love their children enough to sacrifice for them. If we are self-validating, it means that since we think we understand the true definition of modesty, anyone who doesn’t dress according to our standard is carnal, unenlightened, or has fallen away.  A self-validating person is justified in their own eyes and in the eyes of those with whom they fellowship

I want to suggest that this area of pride and judgment is a difficult one to identify and renounce. By its very nature, pride acts as a filter for our thinking and therefore, our perceptions. We feel self‑justified. So I pray, even at this moment, that God will open our blind eyes and bring freedom to us all. If we are able to leave a judgmental outlook behind we increase the likelihood of our children finding in us the beauty of our Savior, Jesus.

5. Over-dependence on authority and control

When we are preoccupied with outward form our focus tends to become shallow and behavior oriented. We look upon our children as if they are roses that can be trained to grow a certain direction by constant pruning and binding. Subsequently, we rely heavily upon our authority in an attempt to bring our children under our total control. We assume if we give them the Word of God, shelter them from harmful influences, discipline them consistently, and maintain high standards for their outside, that their inside will inevitably be shaped.

I recall that when I first started teaching on parenting many years ago, I actually used the illustration of training roses to describe proper rearing of children. I was mistaken to do so – not because it is an incorrect example of training, but because it is an inadequate one. To successfully train roses requires a goal, a plan, and diligence in labor. Fruitful training of children requires the same. However, the difference is that roses have no mind of their own and only grow as they are allowed. Children are people – self-determining individuals – and they ultimately choose how they will respond to parental influence.

If we think we have total control over how our children respond to our training, we will relate to them not so much as people, but more as soulless animals. Dogs are behavior-driven and can be trained to respond to a stimulus time after time, exactly the same way. Children however, are people and as they mature they will eventually decide if they will continue to respond as trained. If we fail to understand this we will be tempted to intensely control our children up into their adult years. We will hold them tightly in the mold of our choice up until the day we release them from the home, thinking that they will maintain the shape of our mold as they venture into their married lives. Sometimes as parents we give ourselves way too much credit for the power we have in our children’s lives. Such a perspective insures we will develop a dominating style of parenting that will likely damage our relationship with our children and hinder our ability to truly influence their values …

In Proverbs 22:6 we receive encouragement towards diligent training of our children, but we must remember that they are neither animals to be dominated nor mindless plants to be pruned and bound. They are self-determining individuals who are processing their upbringing and will one day have their own time of reckoning with God.

… significant family bonds are created by not by external controls and steps along a path, but are a fruit of love in a home. Our goal should chiefly be the cultivation of Christ’s love – first in our own hearts (Eph 3:17-19) and then in our families.

6. Over-reliance upon sheltering

An over-dependence on control in a family is often accompanied by an over-reliance on sheltering of children. It is not uncommon for homeschool parents to feel that since they filter whatever their children see and hear, they will control the results in their lives. That was me for many years. I remember saying to people, “I am controlling the influences in my children’s lives, so I am going to control the outcome.”  I was absolutely certain that my children would be exempted from significant temptation and from developing particular bad habits because I was controlling what touched their lives …

In the last five years I have heard countless reports of highly sheltered homeschool children who grew up and abandoned their parents’ values. Some of these children were never allowed out of their parents’ sight and were not permitted to be in any kind of group setting, even with other “like-minded” kids, yet they still managed to develop an appetite for the world’s pleasures. While I’ve seen sheltered children grow up and turn away from their parents’ standards, conversely, I’ve known some Christian young people who went to public school, watched TV, attended youth groups, and dated, yet they walk in purity, have respectful, loving relationships with their parents, and now enjoy good marriages. Their parents broke the all the “rules of sheltering,” yet these kids grew up close to their families and resilient in their walks with Christ. Super-strict sheltering was obviously not the ultimate answer for them … 

When protection from the world becomes the defining characteristic of Christianity, we shouldn’t be surprised if our kids grow up and forsake the lifeless “religion of avoidance” they learned from us. As I stated in the December issue, point c of section 4, that is not a faith most children are drawn to; in fact, it is one that will likely repel them …

If we isolate our kids from the world until they are adults they may appear to us to be spiritually minded and strong in character. However, it is how they ultimately engage the world that proves their spiritual resilience. This is because sheltering does not transform the human heart – it merely preserves it, temporarily. Sheltering is nothing more than keeping something flammable away from a fire.

Tomorrow’s post presents Bradley’s solutions for parents in a homeschooling context.

In the meantime, how many of us read through these excerpts thinking, ‘Yes, those were my parents’ or ‘That’s my style of parenting’?

Bradley brings out all the points which form my objections to holiness movements and pietism. Recall from my pietism posts (available on the Christianity / Apologetics page) about the appeal of appearing more holy to the outside world. What can we do? Isolate ourselves. How can we dress? Not as others. How do we live? By a strict code of rules and regulations — a manmade code of laws wrapped in a few out-of-context references to Scripture to make it credible.

As far as Protestants are concerned, we have lack of fellowship all over the map. The further one goes into pietist and holiness doctrines (e.g. Spener for the Lutherans, Wesley for the Methodists and Holiness offshoots) the greater the importance of outward ‘piety’. Calvinists also fall prey to this mode of thinking; the Puritan Board’s family section often has concerned mothers discussing the evils of Hallowe’en or denouncing children’s sleepovers even with someone from church. However, some Catholics do this, too; even today, a number of them will not fellowship with other Catholics whom they believe are less ‘holy’ in their devotions.

By doing this, are we not succumbing to manmade piety? Are we not belonging to the Church of Everything Forbidden? Where’s the Good News of Jesus Christ? Where is the freedom which He purchased for us with His blood on the Cross?

I read through the comments on Josh Harris’s website. Most supported Bradley’s article, but some readers did go on the defensive. The best comment in response to them was the last one, by Matt J:

Great article and I am slightly amused as I refer back to the section where R[e]b says “Typically, when we belittle others who don’t measure up to our standards, we will also imagine others are judging us. Consequently, we will find ourselves frequently being defensive”.

As I’ve read some of the comments from people who disagree with R[e]b, I see many of them are very defensive even though R[e]b has taken a very humble approach in addressing these sensitive issues. One old evangelist used to say “just fire into a pack of dogs and the one who is hit will howl!” I hear some ‘howling’ going on in these comments as the truth is hitting close to home!

Tomorrow: Bradley’s advice for parents who homeschool

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