In a devotional posted on October 24, I urged parents not to deprive their children of the experience of the wilderness. The wilderness of life is where the children of God are most likely to meet their heavenly Father and to understand their relationship with him.
But there is more. How do we or our children live in the wilderness? How do we survive its life-draining daytime heat and numbing, cold nights?
The biblical narrative answers those questions with unquestionable clarity. On our own, we cannot survive. God did not create is to be alone. Do not deprive your children of the wilderness, but do not let them experience the wilderness without God-centered shepherds.
The Bible is pretty clear in its instruction to parents. The verses of Deuteronomy 6: 4-9 are marching orders. So are Proverbs 22 and Psalm 78. The Bible consistently instructs parents to be shepherds to their children. Parents would never entrust the lambs of God’s flock to a bad shepherd. Never. Period.
For Jesus of Nazareth and his contemporaries, that meant that parents instructed children at home as soon as they were verbal. Fathers bore the responsibility for the first Scripture memory. Mothers led family worship in the home. The first passage that a child was taught was Deuteronomy 6: 4-5, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all you strength.”
At age five, a child would join the other boys and girls of Nazareth and learn together from the local rabbi—the Torah teacher (teacher of the law)—who used the oral Torah and God’s creation as the textbooks. Each synagogue in religious Galilee had a school room.
At age 12, the boys led the family when they went to the Temple. Then the boys apprenticed with their fathers and learned the family trade or business. It meant that girls were finished with their formal schooling and learned life skills from their mothers.
At age 15, boys might become disciples of a noted rabbi. Few were selected, so it was more likely that boys would finish their apprenticeships and join the family business.
Between ages 2 and 15, boys and girls were always being taught, mentored, guided, and prepared by individuals in their communities who were totally devoted to God and his Word. It was a family commitment. It was a rabbi’s commitment. It was the commitment of a faithful community.
What does this mean for 21st century parents and their contemporaries? Why would our model differ from the biblical model?
Parents who are faithful to God are called to lead in the home. They are commanded by God in Deuteronomy 6: 6-9: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” In other words, put obedience to God at the center of your home and the center of all of life.
Formal education in the 21st century is quite similar to the first century in Galilee. Schooling starts around age 5. While it ended for most Galilean kids between ages 12-15, ours is a little longer and until age 17-18.
Ours differs also beyond high school. The best and selected graduates of rabbinic training would follow the first century rabbi until age 30, when they could become level Torah teachers (teachers of the law).
Following a rabbi, and becoming like him, from age 15-18 until age 30, was a long stretch of time. Not everyone stuck with it. Some dropped out and went into the family business or trade. Jesus stuck with it. While we have no idea which rabbi he followed, his rabbinic ministry began at age 30 (right after he was baptized by John).
Our model differs and yet is similar. After high school, some of our graduates enter apprenticeship, skilled trades, and business. Some go on to college and end formal education after a BA or BS. Others continue, with some doctoral students finishing around the age of 30. What differs is that none of our North American graduates have sat at the feet of a single rabbi for all of those post-high school years.
There is another, and much more significant, difference. For some 21st century believers, the command to make God and his Word the center of every aspect of life and learning has become a suggestion rather than a command. For some believing parents, the decision has been made that a Christian home and Sunday worship are enough to set their children on God’s path.
But is that biblical?
Life is, was, and will be a wilderness journey for every family and for every individual. Difficulties will come, and those difficulties will sometimes be as intense as a blazing sun on a 120F degree day, in a place where there is no water, no shade, and no food.
What then? Who is walking alongside your child? Who is the shepherd, faithfully leading your child to experience the love of the Father, the hope of the Son, and the strength of the Spirit’s presence?
God is the good shepherd. The good shepherd knows that life will be a wilderness experience. The good shepherd has provided his under-shepherds to guide his children. The good shepherd wants us to know his love and to be guided toward him.
Parents are called to lead in the home. Church staff members are called to lead in worship and church ministries. And Christian school staff members are called to lead in education. Those three institutions, in harmony together, are called to equip students through learning, work, and worship.
Those three institutions, in harmony together, are preparing students to be the next generation of the faithful, who are light and salt in a broken world. Those three institutions, in harmony together, are fulfilling the command from God in Deuteronomy 6.
Those three institutions, in harmony together, are shepherding God’s children as they walk through the wilderness of life.
What a blessing from God to be called to lead through the wilderness of life.
Devotionals are written by Jeff Blamer, Vice President of Member Services