Dr. Josh Mulvihill
Education matters. That’s a phrase that just about every Christian agrees with. Education matters because it influences what children believe, who they become, the choices they make, the friends they choose, and it demands thirty-five hours a week of a child’s time for eight months of the year.
Yet, you wouldn’t know this at most churches. Education is overlooked and undervalued. The topic is ignored with a fervor so as not to offend parents. To speak about education is equivalent to blasphemy in many churches. An elder from a church I pastored told me, “You are not allowed to talk about education.” The common sentiment is to respect all educational choices as there is no single right decision for all parents.
Nicole Fulgham, author of Schools in Crisis, embraces the idea that there is no Christian view on education. She states, “There is certainly not a monolithic viewpoint that represents the ‘Christian’ point of view on public education.” 1 Tim Challies shares a similar perspective: “I find myself grappling with this thought: What if God doesn’t care a whole lot about how we educate our children? . . . One thing I’ve never heard anyone suggest is that maybe it’s just not that big of a deal. And, honestly, I am beginning to lean that way.” 2
What if Fulgham and Challies are wrong? What if God does care about how we educate our children? What if there is a biblical perspective on education? If so, wouldn’t it be good for parents to know this and for churches to address the topic?
What Does the Bible Say about Education?
Many people believe the Bible has little or nothing to say about education because the term never appears in Scripture. We only find a single reference to the word school in Scripture, Samuel’s school of the prophets. 3 Despite this reality, the Bible has a lot to say about education.
Here is a sample of what Scripture says about education:
Knowledge: The core task of education is to lead a child from ignorance to knowledge. The Bible’s chief concern in education is the knowledge of God, which is contrasted with foolishness (Prov. 1:7). Apart from God, knowledge cannot be properly understood, and foolishness abounds. The Bible provides guidance regarding how to navigate godless knowledge. We are told, “Have nothing to do with godless myths” (1 Tim. 4:7). “Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith” (1 Tim. 6:20-21). Knowledge is never neutral; it is for or against God. “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
Teach: The Hebrew language is rich in words that have to do with instruction; at least thirty-four root words imply the idea of teaching, and the words teach and teacher are used in the Bible over 350 times. Biblical education is focused on teaching the knowledge of God and obedience to His law to the next generation. The Bible is prescriptive regarding what children are to be taught.
Here is a sampling of what God commands:
God’s law: “Teach them [God’s laws] to your children and children’s children” (Deut. 4:9). “Teach them diligently to your children” (Deut. 6:7).
God’s work and character: “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts” (Ps. 145:4). “Tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. . . . which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children . . . so that they set their hope in God and not forget the works of God” (Ps. 78:4-7).
God’s Word: “How from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings [the Bible], which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching” (2 Tim. 3:15-16). “Command and teach them these things” (1 Tim. 4:11).
The fear of God: “Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord” (Ps. 34:11).
Learn: The words learn, learned, and learning appear in the Bible over 100 times. The Bible is concerned with what we learn. Christians are to learn to revere God (Deut. 14:23), to fear God (Deut. 31:12), to serve God (2 Chron. 12:8), what is good (Job 34:4; Titus 3:14), God’s righteous laws (Ps. 119:7), His decrees and commands (Ps. 119:71-73), prudence (Prov. 19:25), to do right (Isa. 1:17), to control one’s body (1 Thess. 4:4), to praise God (Ps. 89:15), wisdom (Prov. 30:3), the meaning and purpose of life (Eccles. 1:17), contentment (Phil. 4:11), and to learn the gospel (2 Tim. 3:14-16). If God commands His followers to learn these things, doesn’t it make sense to educate our children so that they learn these truths?
Instruct: The Bible provides guidance about who is to instruct a child. Jesus states, “A student [disciple] when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). The biblical principle to recognize is that teachers reproduce themselves in their students. Children absorb the beliefs, values, and views of the teacher.
Think: The Bible teaches, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). What a child thinks about, he or she becomes. What does the Bible want us to think about? Here is how the Bible answers that question: “Meditate on God’s word day and night” (Josh. 1:8). “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). Lastly, “Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).
The biblical vision for a child’s education is centered on and saturated with God’s Word, God’s laws, God’s works, God’s character, the fear of God, and godly living. Many parents believe the fallacy that they can obey these passages of Scripture by teaching their children at home on the evenings and weekends, despite sending their children to a school that teaches God is irrelevant, even non-existent, and instructs children in secular morality and unbiblical ideas. Individuals who do this compartmentalize education in a way the Bible never does and fail to understand there is no distinction between faith and learning. When education is viewed as reading, writing, and math while discipleship is seen as character formation, spiritual disciplines, and sharing faith, we create a false dichotomy the Bible never does and provide our children with an education that is foreign to Scripture.
Why Include Education in Your Ministry to the Next Generation?
More than ever, Christians need to know what the Bible teaches about the education of children and put it into practice. Unfortunately, many Christians have adopted a cultural perspective on the purpose and practice of education. The Christian community needs a renewed biblical vision for the education of the next generation. The Bible reminds us, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Prov. 29:18). Christians must capture a biblical vision for a child’s education. Parents need guidance from church leaders on how to think biblically about education.
Here are five reasons to include education in your ministry to children and youth:
A Biblical Mandate: We must begin with Scripture and ask what are the biblical principles about education. God has given clear guidance in the Bible on what, who, why, and how to teach children. God commands us to teach children His laws, His character, and His Word (Deut. 4:9; Ps. 78:4-8; Eph. 6:4). According to the Bible, God did not give the government the role of educating children. Education is a parent’s responsibility, with the support of grandparents and the church. Parents are to instruct children in the Lord, teach them God’s laws, and train a child to apply God’s truth to life. Parents have the freedom to partner with others to educate a child but must do so in accordance with the principles given in the Bible.
The Incredible Impact: Education is a powerful influence in the life of children. Children will spend 16,000 hours at school between K-12, considerably more time than in church. If pastors are serious about shepherding a child’s heart, then education is a non-negotiable aspect of ministry to the next generation. Modern-day public education has scores of secular presuppositions underneath it, which are not understood or recognized by most Christian parents. Trying to overlay Christian beliefs to humanistic education is not successful for the majority of parents, nor is it biblical. Pastors are shepherds called to feed the flock entrusted to their care and protect the flock from false doctrine and wolves that would destroy faith in Christ.
A Means of Evangelism and Discipleship: Biblically, education is discipleship. It shapes what a child believes and who a child becomes. Christian education plays a critical role in proclaiming the gospel to children, immersing children in gospel truth, training children for gospel living, and sending out children to transform culture through the power of the gospel. Paul reminds us of the critical importance of the centrality of Scripture in the education of children: “From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). When the church separated itself from the education of the next generation, it forfeited its position of influence in a child’s life and has steadily lost our children to the world in increasing numbers.
Christ-Centered Relationships: Godly relationships with teachers and friends encourage wise choices, holy living, and obedience to God. God reminds us, “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Cor. 15:33) and “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master” (Matt. 10:24).
A Priority in Church History: There is a long list of Christian leaders in church history who have emphasized the importance of Christian education and believed it was a critical component of their mission and ministry. They believed the church and Christian school were united in ministry and mutually dependent upon one another. For example, “The great church reformers—Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, Ulrich Zwingli, and others—gave as much energy to establishing Christian schools as they gave to reforming the church. To them, Christian school education and church reform were inseparable allies. Neither, they believed, could succeed without the other.” 4 Martin Luther was a champion of Christian education. He states, “When schools prosper, the church remains righteous and her doctrine pure. . . . Young pupils and students are the seed and source of the church. If we were dead, whence would come our successors. If not from the schools? For the sake of the church, we must have and maintain Christian schools.” 5
Many Christians are uncertain why we educate a child, the purpose and goal of education, who is given the responsibility in Scripture, and how we are to accomplish the task. As a result, many Christians have unintentionally adopted an unbiblical view of education and take their educational cues from culture rather than Scripture. Pastors have an incredible opportunity to cast a biblical vision for the education of the next generation and help parents think biblically about a topic that is critically important to the evangelism and discipleship of the next generation. If you believe education matters, then it is time to prioritize it in your ministry to the next generation.
Dr. Josh Mulvihill is the Executive Director of Church and Family Ministry at Renewanation. He served as a pastor for nearly 20 years, serves on the board of Awana, and helps to provide leadership to the Christian Grandparent Network. He holds a Ph.D. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of Biblical Grandparenting, Preparing Children for Marriage, and Biblical Worldview. Josh is married to Jen, and they have five children. Connect with Josh on Facebook at Gospel Shaped Family.
1. Nicole Baker Fulgham, Schools in Crisis: They Need Your Help (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 27.
2. Tim Challies, “What If God Doesn’t Care a Whole Lot About How You Educate Your Children?,” October 4, 2019, https://www.challies.com/articles/what-if-god-doesnt-care-a-whole-lot-about-how-you-educate-your-children.
3. Samuel G. Kahn, A Short History of Christian Education (Jerusalem: Yesodot Publishers, 1960), 116.
4. Paul A. Kienel, A History of Christian School Education Vol. 1 (Colorado Springs, CO: Purposeful Design Publications, 1998), xvi.
5. F.V.N. Painter, Luther on Education (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1889), 132-133.