A love for Christian education is nearly in the Stetler DNA. My parents sacrificed much to teach in Christian schools, and, when going to a Christian school was still rare, my mother left the house every school day at 7 AM (with three small boys, a toddler, and a baby) to ride the city bus, taking my brothers to the only Christian school in the city. She had to ride the bus into downtown Cincinnati, transfer buses, and travel to the western side of the city; then she retraced her trip, arriving home close to lunchtime; my dad drove across the city to bring my brothers home after school. My parents did not consider the hardship; they thought Christian school was a necessity. When my father retired after 40 years as a Bible college teacher, we added the number of years my family—my dad, my siblings, the grandchildren, and I—had taught in Christian schools. It was well over 150 years.
The simplest definition of Christian education is, of course, education that is Christian. My dad used to tell us that the heart of Christian education was the education of the heart. Education of the heart, and, by extension, the next generation is a Biblical concept. For example, Hebrew families treated education as “trans-generational,” a determination to pass the history, the beliefs, and the doctrines of God’s commands into the next generations. Psalm 78 gives a picture of the importance of trans-generational teaching. The psalmist instructed the fathers to tell their children, into second and third generations, of the character, works and law of God (Psalm 78:3–6).
The Bible gives us illustrations of the trans-generational concept of Christian education in Biblical characters, as well. For example, Paul reminded Timothy that the unfeigned faith of his grandmother and mother resided in his heart, as well (II Timothy 1:5). Jochebed only had a short time to teach her son, but she taught him well enough that Moses had the tools in his mind and heart to make the right decision about staying in Pharaoh’s palace or casting his lot with God’s people (Hebrews 11:24–27). Hannah taught Samuel well, resulting in a life lived following God’s commands and a nation impacted as a result (I Samuel 3).
Some would perhaps argue that the above illustrations are illustrations of parents training their children. Of course, they would be correct; however, the concept of Christian education broadens when one considers Christian education as the education of the heart. Perhaps I could use an analogy to visualize the breadth of Christian education; it is like a three-legged stool. One leg represents the home; one leg represents the church; and one leg represents the Christian school. When any one of those “legs” is missing, the “stool” is unsteady or even “broken.”
Too often, Christian education is misunderstood, making it important to recognize what it is and is not. For example, Christian education is not merely adding one or two chapel services to the schedule each week. It is not just having a Bible class where students memorize scripture or sing songs. True Christian education is not simply telling a small story and coloring or playing a game; it is not entertainment. Instead, Christian education is the integration of a Biblical worldview into all aspects of the Christian home, church, and school: the authority structure, the finances, the social relationships, as well as academics. It is actively teaching—and living—the Bible, its principles, and its doctrines as a means of educating the heart of each child, youth, and adult. It is deliberately teaching the next generation what God says and how what God says integrates into living in this world. It is telling the truth of who God is, how life began, how God works in the world, and how each one has a responsibility to obey God’s commands. Tom Garfield, in the Logos Times (Volume 2, Issue 3, Spring 2013, page 2), said it well when he said, “It’s not a question of if religion will be presented to children being educated, it’s a question of which religion will be presented as truth.” If we begin, as God’s Word does with the truth of Creation (Genesis 1:1), we tell the true story that gives children “…direction, purpose, cohesion, and even a happy ending.”
Deuteronomy 6: 4–9 is a passage that gives us a prescription for Christian education, whether in the home, in the church, or in the school. This message from God begins with who God is: The Lord our God is one Lord (v. 4). Verses 5 and 6 quickly move to our response to God: loving Him with everything we have (our heart, soul, and might) and keeping His Words in our hearts. Once we understand who God is and His rightful place in our lives, then we are ready to teach the next generation (v. 7–9). We are commanded to integrate and surround the next generation with the words of God by teaching them carefully and on purpose (diligently), by talking about God and His word everywhere and whenever we get a chance, and by making God and His Word visible in our life and surroundings. This trans-generational Christian education is not going to happen by chance or osmosis; it is going to have to be done diligently and on purpose.
Christian education is not optional if we expect future generations to love and follow God’s Word. It is not optional if we want to preserve our heritage. It is not optional if we want to prepare the next generation to fulfill the Great Commission.