Monday, October 09, 2006

Character Formation in Children: Not a By-product

One of the local Christian radio stations plays a vapid little commercial encouraging Christians to pray for their pastors. Two ladies are gossiping while attending to the needs of several children, who can be heard playing in the background. One lady fusses at one child as you hear laughter and the sounds of things breaking.

Then one lady remarks that Jerry is especially troublesome and she makes the comment, “And to think that he is a pastor’s kid!” The commercial ends with a happy ending, Jerry having been justified for his ill-mannered behavior and the conclusion that pastors’ families are human families and they need prayer, too. Yet, there is an underlying assumption in this commercial that is easily missed and it is a common assumption, not just of pastors’ families, but most Christian families. It was assumed that since Jerry is a pastor's kid, then by default, he also must be a good kid. Godly character formation in children is not a by-product of any particular system or institution. Character formation in children is an intentional, parent-led endeavor.

Attending an Encouragement for the Homeschool Family conference two weeks ago, my heart was nearly wrenched in two as Steve Maxwell pointed out a dire problem in the shepherding of my children and one I feel is important enough to share that none of us miss it. I had made the assumption that since my children were homeschooled that good, godly character would naturally flow from that. I could not have been more wrong.

My kids are sinners. Don’t call Social Services or anything like that on me. They don’t need any instruction in lying, covering up the truth, exaggerating, being mean, nasty, and ugly to their sisters, backtalking, and the list goes on. What I discovered was that I was not being intentional in training this behavior out of them. If my children are that way it is because I have not led them to be otherwise.

I made the terrible assumption that character is a by-product of the homeschooling endeavor, and it isn’t! So many parents make this fatal mistake, even parents who don’t homeschool. I have heard testimonies from public school teachers as well who feel that unruly children are not the problem; it is unruly children’s parents that are the problem. They receive comments like, “I can’t do anything with him either. During the day from 7-3 he is your kid. You can’t handle her? Huh. Neither can I.”

In the same way that I assumed homeschooling would engender good character in my children, so do parents who public school make that same assumption. And even worse than that, many parents are content to let the church do its job for them as well. Two hours of church attendance a week brings about very little if any good, godly character in spoiled rotten kids.

The problem is that parents are too happy to farm their God-given responsibilities off on someone else. I stand in the midst of this indictment, so no finger-pointing, here. Homeschooling was a way to ease my responsibilities to my children. I had even further justified my case, because my wife and I are unique homeschoolers in that she and I split the workload, almost neatly in half, so I was a participant in this “character-molding” enterprise. I stood back and scratched my head wondering, “Why aren’t my kids good?” One of the reasons we began homeschooling was because of the character of children who are public schooled typically is less than desirable.

It was then that I discovered that I was being wholly disobedient to the commands of Scripture. The rub came in that I knew Ephesians 6:4; “And you fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” It was a verse that I often prayed, beseeching my Heavenly Father for wisdom in raising my children. How deaf I had become!

The commands of Ephesians 6:4 are made to a peculiar group of people; fathers! I felt I had been perfectly obedient. We were homeschooling, for crying out loud! What more did we need to do? But the lesson is: character formation in children is not a by-product.

Yet what I had discovered was that I was not perfectly obedient to those commands, and I still am not. Neither are most parents! The commands (present active imperatives) of Ephesians 6:4 are twofold: do not provoke to wrath and bring up. I think that the Apostle Paul issued this directive almost as a reverse conditional. You see the result, wrathful kids, a product of their fathers’ failures to “bring them up,” and the fathers’ responsibility for their turning out the way they did. It is dad who “provoked” the children to be this way because he failed to “bring them up.”

I have come to see this play out in my own children. Children who have no boundaries typically become angry kids; angry when they don’t get their way, angry when they get left out, angry when they think they have been maltreated, angry when boundaries are enforced that were never placed there to begin with.

However, when boundaries are there, rules enforced, the rod applied for willful disobedience, true joy is the result. So the next few posts begins with an admonition to fathers. Don’t farm your responsibilities out to someone else. Children are a blessing from God, and should be treated as such. Don’t make these fatal assumptions in the character formation of your children.

The church cannot do your job for you. It is easy to use the church as a scapegoat, almost natural. The church is where good is supposed to be instilled in children, they are taught right from wrong, how to recognize sin, how to deal with sin, and the good and godly alternatives to sin. Yet the evidence the children receive in Sunday School and church is only empirical. They have no raw data. They have not had the pestle applied to them in the crucible of experience. The church can only go so far, and rightfully so.

Neither think that the youth group can step in and substitute either. I agree with brother Steve Maxwell and others that believe youth ministry needs to be eradicated altogether. Brother Steve shared a poignant testimony about a young man at a conference who accosted him because of his radical ideas about youth ministry. The boy bellowed, “How dare you say that about my youth group! I have something in my youth group, I have a spiritual mentor!” Brother Steve then asked rhetorically, “Who is that, your father?”

The schools cannot do your job for you. Whether parents homeschool or send their children to public school, character formation cannot be farmed out. So many teachers’ hands are tied because they deal with discipline issues rather than do what tax dollars are collected for their express intent; teach! In homeschooling, the assumption is just that much more insidious. At least in public schooling, parents can conveniently blame the teachers. As with myself, I discovered it was solely me to blame for those failures (which incidentally, are not my kids’ failures).

Only dad can successfully do the job God has called Him to do. Obedience is a terribly difficult thing, but aren’t our children worth it? My repentance on this issue has been thoroughgoing for I have taken a more active role in “bringing my children up.” They deserve it.

I worked as a purchasing agent at a 250+ bed hospital for about 2 ½ years. One of my responsibilities was bidding out outside companies to perform services that were traditionally handled by hospital employees. It was not a task I relished, because I knew eventually that someone would be losing a job. It made sense to the upper management because it saved on payroll and benefits to “outsource” services. Some services were never meant to be outsourced, though.

Bringing up our children in the training and admonition of the Lord is hard, but was never meant to be outsourced.



Spunky said...

So very true. I often use the term "Outsourcing Parenthood." I actually wrote a post on it a while back. Homeschooling doesn't guarantee success. It is a tool, like a hammer. And like all tools, when it is used correctly it will build a strong home. But if it is abused, the home will collapse. Thanks for your wonderfully written thoughts.

Tony said...

Hi Spunky,

Thanks for stopping back by and the encouraging words. I'll get by your blog and check out that post. I'd like to read it.


Gordon Cloud said...

Tony, this is a great article. My wife and I homeschool as well, and like you, we divide the duties.

I am quickly coming closer to the position that we need to at least severely modify the way we do youth ministry if not abandon it altogether. I appreciate the thoughts you shared on this topic.

God bless.

Tony said...


Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I'm glad to know I'm not the only homeschooling dad out there. A unique breed, aren't we?

It is also good to know I am not the only pastor considering the effectiveness of youth ministry as it is currently practiced. I'd love to know how you do youth ministry at the church you serve.


Spunky said...

If it's okay I'll post the link here for you. It will be a lot easier than searching my blog for it.

Spunky said...

Oh, and one more thing. I do read your blog through RSS feed using Bloglines.

This allows me to know when you've updated your blog and I try read each one. There is a prompt that alerts me when blogs are updated. It is a great way to keep up with the blogs.

Tony said...

Hi again Spunky,

Thanks for reading! The really neat thing was that I had already found the essay you recommended and I was reading it as my inbox notified that you sent me the link!

Pretty cool, huh?

Steve Sensenig said...

Tony, I'm a homeschool dad, too! :) I appreciate your thoughts on this topic.

Be blessed, and hope to see you around again soon.

steve :)

Tony said...


Thanks so much for stopping by. Amazing how us homeschool dads have squared up, isn't it???

I'll be back by TM, don't worry!

Be encouraged,

Christy said...

Amen/ouch! When we started this 8 years ago, that's what I thought. That the simple act of sheltering my children and using "Christian" curriculum would provide all that was necessary for discipling my kids. Years later, I'm desperately reading "Shepherding a Child's heart" and "heart of Anger" looking for what I did wrong. When lo and behold, what I did wroing was to assume. YOu know what they say about that, don't you? I linked voddie Baucham on my own blog the other day. I LOVE him. And I so appreciate the fact that he is preaching this from the pulpit.

Tony said...

Hi Christy,

Thanks for reading!

You have chosen two wonderfully well-written books that adequately address the topic you and I are guilty of! Might I also recommend Keeping Our Children's Hearts by Steve & Teri maxwell; another OUTSTANDING book on this topic.

I am thankful many others are catching on to Voddie's ministry; now if we just listen!


Amanda (ADC) said...

Tony, I agree w/your article. Do you have any advice for military homeschool Christian families when dad is gone for months if not a year at a time? My husband is home now but when he leaves we really struggle. Our 6 yr. old son becomes angry over anything. I discipline in love, give the rod of correction when needed, but I realize I am not always consistant when my husband is away. We live thousands of miles from family so there are no uncles or grandfathers here to step in when dad is gone. Any ideas? The more books we read on the importance of fathers (John Eldridge's book Wild At Heart has really blessed my husnband) the more we start to get into fear about him being gone so much, even though we know God has called us to the military, for now anyway.

God bless!
Amanda (thanks Spunky for the link to this great site!)

mammamolina said...

Great topic! This is something I have really felt convicted of lately. I, too, made the mistake of thinking the formula to good, obedient children was simply to homeschool them. Very similar to the same mistake the founders of the public school system made when assuming education was the key to soliving society's ills.

Tony said...


Thanks for reading! You are in a tough spot, for sure. I owe your husband my gratitude for his service in the military. My hat is off to him.

The best advice I can give you is two-fold. First, and this is probably one of those "duh" kinds of things, but you have got to stay on your knees for your son. His anger partly stems from his dad's absence; part of it is just normal childhood rebellion, which that can and should be dealt with. First and foremost, pray for your son. I spend an inordinate amount of time in prayer for all my children. Encourage your husband to do the same. As far as your husband's absence I really have no words of advice, only encouragement. Stay strong!

Secondly, establish a daily devotional time with your son. Pick a certain time during the day and begin studying Scripture. Just a few verses; start with Mark or John and just walk him through it. You will be surprised what simple exposure to the Word can do. When your husband is home, he then should take the reins. Also, since you like reading, get a copy of Steve & Teri Maxwell's book, Keeping Our Children's Hearts. Well worth it. I hope this helps. I will keep your family in my prayers the next few days. Let me know how you are making out, OK?

Ms. Molina,

Many thanks for stopping by and reading. The abuse of the public school system has done more to erode the fabric of our families' lives than we realize.

Many kind regards,

Anonymous said...

I loved what you said. I found you through spunky's blog. I have made that assumption too that homeschooling is the answer, and have since realized that it is much more than that. First and foremost is having a good solid relationship with them. I have found that if I am not right with them, I can teach math till I am blue in the face and they will likely learn very little. Character training is a big part of school. I am not perfect by any means, but hopefully I stay focused enough to not mess up too badly either. My girls are 9, 7 and 5.I look forward to reading more on your blog.

Tony said...


Very well said! You are so right about "Character training is a big part of school." This is the reason I included those who public school in the arguments because most public school children's parents do not realize their children are being trained character by default. Their character training is indeed a by-product, but not the right by-product!

So, all girls, eh? I have all girls myself, four! 9, 5, 3 (almost 4!), and 22 months.

Again, very well said! And thank you for reading.