The Christian Education Mandate by Althea Penn by Althea Penn - Read Online

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The Christian Education Mandate - Althea Penn

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Today we will remove the limits to what you believe God can do

in your students and your community!

In 1996, God led my husband and me to begin homeschooling our children. We’d served in Christian education ministries within our church for years. We’d also volunteered numerous hours at our daughters’ public school, which was tucked away in the safe suburbs of metropolitan Atlanta. We were the typical middle class family. My husband worked long hours. I’d left corporate America after our daughter was injured in day care, and this led to my beginning a child care center. We worked diligently to ensure every graduate from our child care was school ready. God had impressed upon us a desire to teach young children the Word of God. We labored in the Word with our own children in daily family devotions morning and night; and with their peers throughout the week at weekly Wednesday night Bible studies, Saturday children’s choir rehearsals, Sunday school classes, vacation Bible school classes, coaching little league sports, and leading girl scout troop meetings.

Although our children excelled academically in public school, they longed for a learning environment where they could express their faith without the risk of a teacher censoring comments about Jesus. Our youngest was tired of coloring spiders and witches at Halloween. Our older daughter served on student council, and as a student conflict resolution officer and safety patrol member she faced moral dilemmas most adults would run from. We tried to be salt and light in a system that rejected biblical truth. Children were bringing temporary tattoos laced with ecstasy to this quiet little elementary school. Tweens were driving Volkswagen Beetles down the hallways at the local middle school. A large group of young white teenagers were being treated for a syphilis outbreak in a neighboring school district. We saw the seeds of the Word that we were planting being daily choked out by the cares of this world. Many of the parents of children in our children’s ministry were on their third marriage. We saw fathers seeking companionship or comfort in drugs rather than the Lord. And we heard a still small voice say, Come out from among them and teach My children.

God convinced us that He had a plan and purpose for the next generation that was immeasurably more than we could ask, think, or imagine. Isaiah declared, His ways and thoughts are higher than ours, while Paul proclaimed Oh, what a wonderful God we have! How great are his wisdom and knowledge and riches! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his methods (Isaiah 55:9; Romans 11:33)! Well, we were not seeing this wonder in the families in our church or community. God began to have us dream of what our children and those in our community could accomplish given the right learning experiences.

Although I have been a Christian educator for almost thirty years now, I never cease to be amazed at God’s wonder. Think of your most challenging problem (or student), and then think of the most extravagant solution, and then try to think of something way beyond your wildest dreams. Even if you have a vivid imagination, there will still be a limit to what you are able to imagine or comprehend. However, our Father does not have the same limitations that we have. John Henry Newman said it this way, You alone are inexhaustible, and ever offer to me something new to know, something new to love . . . and so on for eternity I shall ever be a little child beginning to be taught the rudiments of Your infinite divine nature (1881).

The apostle Paul, in his prison epistle Ephesians (3:20), shares an incredible promise that comes from the very heart of God: God is able . . . to do exceedingly abundantly or immeasurably more than we can ask or think. Twice God’s servant Paul went into intercessory prayer for us as believers to get a revelation of the immeasurable power of God and the unlimited resources we have access to in our lives personally and in our families, schools, or ministries. I don’t know about you, but I want God to take me beyond my limitations! He is able to bring about spiritual formation and faith development in the next generation. It all begins with teaching absolute truth. Parents and teachers must provide Bible-integrated instruction and a Christ-centered philosophy of education, government, and history.

Fundamentally we inherit the promises of God’s covenant when we develop relationship with Him. The manifestations of those promises occur through prayer, worship, and growing in the love of God. As parents and educators our impact upon the next generation is hindered by prayerlessness, secular humanism, and our disobedience to this mandate to train up the children in His way. We fail to have intimacy within our parent/child relationship horizontally because there is a problem with the vertical relationship.


Of all duties enjoined by Christianity none is more essential and yet more neglected than prayer. Under all circumstances we have need of prayer there is no situation in which it is possible to be placed where we have not many virtues to acquire and many faults to correct. . . . Do not think that it is necessary to pronounce many words. To pray is to say, Let thy will be done. It is . . . to raise your heart to God; to lament your weakness; to sigh at the recollection of your frequent disobedience. This prayer demands neither method, nor science, nor reasoning; . . . it is a simple movement of the heart toward its Creator, and a desire that whatever you are doing you may do it for his glory. The best of all prayers is to act with a pure intention, and with a continual reference to the will of God. It depends much upon ourselves whether our prayers be efficacious. It is not by a miracle, but by a submissive spirit. Let us believe, let us hope, and God never will reject our prayers. (Fenelon, 1853)

When I was the principal of a Christian school, a family from my church came in one Thursday afternoon to inquire about enrolling their four-year-old. They informed me that he had been kicked out of a few preschools for aggressive behavior. The mother was in tears and the dad had an overwhelming sense of guilt on his face (as if he was the one who had kicked a teacher). Although I knew the family from children’s church, I’d never witnessed their son fighting or acting aggressive in any manner. But the stories they shared struck fear in my heart for my teacher and her class of four-year-olds. I always prayed with families during the interview and jumped at the opportunity to do so with this family. I thought it would provide me the time to come up with a spiel about how we could not admit their son due to his behavior. But as I bowed my head, I heard the Lord say Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:14). I finished the prayer for the family and advised them that we could enroll their son on a trial basis. We were a small school with a family atmosphere and few behavior problems. So I reluctantly informed the teacher that we had a new student starting on Monday who had some issues. Thank God this teacher was a mother of four who understood differentiated instruction, and above all she was an intercessor. She told me she would pray for the student over the weekend and that God would give her a strategy to address any issues that might arise. This brought to mind C. S. Lewis’ statement, There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan (1950).

We were going behind enemy lines with this case. We were no longer just soldiers in the Lord’s army; we were in hand-to-hand combat with Satan over the soul of this young child. On Monday morning we braced ourselves for the new student. Sure enough he came in with both guns blazing. By the teacher’s ten o’clock morning break, he’d already thrown a chair and choked a classmate. The teacher poked her head into my office before going to the break room and informed me that she thought she knew what the problem was (aside from demonic influence, which was given legal ground due to the child’s anger issues). We had a policy at our school wherein teachers were not to discuss negative reports with parents the first week. We were to observe the student to ascertain learning preferences, personality styles, and developmental levels, and document any concerns to address at a later date. I had seen over the years that most parents do not believe you know their child after a day (week, month, or year) and they definitely do not believe you have their child’s best interest at heart. Therefore, when teachers try to share concerns the defense shields go up and parents do not hear a word.

The teacher informed me that the little guy did not follow instructions well. When she’d tell the class to do something he would continue working as if she’d not spoken or look at his classmates and then respond after some hesitation. She also indicated that he did not respond when called upon. He would totally ignore her instructions. He got into skirmishes repeatedly with other kids over learning materials. He had angry outbursts throughout the school day. As she left class that day she said that she suspected a hearing impairment but would continue to document what occurred until she could select a behavior to work on improving. That would be the one thing she would share with the family the second week of school as a teaching and learning objective aside from the other learning outcomes.

However, on the second day we decided that his behavior was putting the safety of the other students at risk and she needed to speak with the parents. She contacted them to schedule a conference for the next morning. They reluctantly agreed to come in. They tried to grill me for information that afternoon, but I indicated the teacher would address any concerns with them directly. I attended the meeting in support of the teacher and sat in awe of her peaceful way of expressing God’s love for their troubled son and the graceful way she recommended they take him for an assessment by their pediatrician. Although the parents entered the meeting stiff as boards ready to defend their child, they left knowing God had finally sent them to a school where the instructional staff genuinely cared about their son. We continued to pray.

God miraculously worked it out so that the mother was able to obtain an appointment that Thursday morning due to a cancellation by another parent. James’ audiogram demonstrated a significant hearing loss due to fluid in the middle ear, and the pediatrician felt this might be affecting his speech and language development. After examining the student, the doctor referred him to an eye, ear, and nose specialist. The parents called and he was able to get an appointment the following day (again miraculously). In metropolitan Atlanta it usually takes a few months to get into a pediatrician’s office. The specialist informed the parents that the little guy had chronic otitis media with effusion (scar tissue build-up and fluid in his ears) from repeated acute ear infections. He needed antibiotics and surgery to have tubes inserted. The surgery was scheduled for the following week. After a few days James’ equilibrium normalized and his behavior began to improve. Within a couple of weeks he was more responsive and patient with his peers. It took a couple of years for his behavior to change altogether. He became one of the most sensitive and loving students we had.

About twelve years later I was attending a Sunday evening prayer meeting at our church. You probably are aware of the demographic that attends a prayer meeting, especially on a Sunday evening (old women). But in walked James (now sixteen) and his fourteen-year-old sister. He tapped me on the shoulder, and as I looked up in shock, I asked Where’s your mom? I thought she had dragged her kids to prayer like I used to.

He replied, She’s at home.

Then I asked about their dad and he informed me that his dad had dropped them off for prayer. I told him how proud I was for him attending, and his sister quipped, He made me come with him. I was astonished that this teenage young man had nothing better to do than to attend an all-night prayer meeting with a bunch of adults.

But to my dismay he walked up front to sit with a group of other teens. I knew as the service began that the note passing or texting would also begin. To my surprise James and his peers worshipped as David did in the Bible, with all their might. When we began to pray I looked up once and saw him lying prostrate on the floor. He was crying out to the Lord in prayer.

I thought back to that day his family entered my office and God reminded me not to limit what He can do in the life of a child. That young man is now an adult faithfully serving God in the global marketplace. I wonder what would have happened to him had he not had praying parents and teachers as a young child. I wonder if he’d be a statistic. The Children’s Defense Fund reports that states spend about 2.8 times as much money per prisoner as per public school student; eight children and teens are killed by gun violence each day in our nation; high percentages of students cannot read or