by: Clayton King, Founder + Author
A mom recently asked me, "Should we send our kids to Christian school, or public school, or should we homeschool them?" That's a great question, but I couldn't answer it for her. There's a good chance you've handled questions like this before as a youth leader. I don't have a simple formula to answer that question, but I can, however, offer some advice.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I not only attended public school for a season, but I graduated from a large public high school, and although it was challenging, I had a great experience for one simple reason: I went to public school on a mission. My parents protected me for a season, then they prepared me for a season, then they sent me out with a passion to live for Christ and reach my peers with the gospel. I was also prepared by my church; my pastor and youth leaders and the community at large was the place where I learned the scriptures and fleshed out my calling and my convictions.
I attended Christian school for 11 years before attending public school. There I was trained and taught to see the world through the lens of scripture. I developed a Christian worldview. By the 9th grade, I had committed my life to Christ and sensed a call into ministry. I specifically felt like God wanted me to transfer to public school as a missionary, to be a witness of the power of the gospel. I used football as my platform and I leveraged the influence that sports gave me as a stage from which to proclaim the gospel and live out the gospel. Now, I was in no way a perfect example of a Christian, but my friends and I did see tremendous fruit in those years and some of the students that we saw come to Christ at pubic school are still serving Jesus today as pastors, leaders, missionaries, moms and dads and coaches and business leaders.
Simply put, I'm glad I went to public school. But it wasn't easy. I was faced with temptation and secular world views that challenged everything I was taught to believe about God, marriage, science, and the meaning of life. There is always the reality that your students could become indoctrinated with ideas and agendas that are damaging and untrue. This is often the fear behind the question we get from parents about the kind of education their kids need. If I had not been prepared, there's a good chance that the negative influences would have drowned me.
With this in mind, my wife and I decided to homeschool our two sons while they're young. We want to instill in them a love for Jesus, the Bible, the church, the lost, and the poor. While they are young we want to train and prepare them for a life of ministry, on mission for the sake of the gospel. One day we may send them into public school as ambassadors for Christ, but if they're not ready, we won't. We will make that decision through prayer and discernment.
It's good for parents to shelter and protect their children when they are young, so long as they understand that they must also prepare them to live in a fallen, broken world that is filled with sinners jut like us. Sharie and I cannot protect our children forever, but we can prepare them for ministry among a culture that needs of the good news of Jesus.
Youth pastors and leaders are part of this process, alongside parents and the church community that your students are growing up in. As disciple makers, youth ministers may find themselves assisting parents in training up their children for the mission of God. Or they may find themselves as the primary source of Biblical truth and discipleship if the parents are uninvolved, uninterested, unchurched, or disconnected from their own students and their spiritual development. It's an exercise in spiritual discernment because each student comes from a different background, has different spiritual needs, and is at a different place in their spiritual maturity.
You will need to discern what your students need based on their parents involvement, their personality, their gifts, their level of confidence and maturity, and the level of preparation they've received both at home and in the church. But ultimately they grow up and they go out on their own. It's our job as their leaders and pastors not just to watch them go out, but to send them out, prepared and ready to show the lost world the amazing love of Christ while standing firm on solid ground, the truth of the word of God and the person of Jesus Christ. That may mean public school. Or it may mean Christian school or even homeschool until graduation. But ultimately, the goal is for our students to be on mission for Jesus who said that His mission was to "seek and save that which is lost" (Luke 19:10)
As leaders, we only get the precious honor to shepherd our students for a short season. In a best case scenario, we are partnering with their parents in the process. But whatever the circumstances, we must do all we can, by God's grace, to protect them, prepare them, and send them out on mission.