How can Christian schools, home schools, churches and parents cultivate virtue among their young students, parishioners, sons and daughters?
This question is surfacing more and more in the classical education world these days, but really has been present among Evangelicals for decades. Parents, church leaders and educators see our youth exiting the Church at alarming rates during college and falling into lifestyles which mimic their secular peers. They wonder desperately what, if anything, can be done to stem this tide?
In reaction, they teach the Christian worldview. They come up with elaborate church marketing plans or youth group events, when really, the solution is much simpler—and cost-effective:
We must remember who we are and who we are not.
We are God’s children, adopted into his household by the blood of Jesus which purchased us from the slavery of our sin.
We are not decent people earning our way to heaven.
Consciously living by this truth as adult role models will rub off on our youth. Instead of pressuring our children to act virtuously, we must teach them by example, and maybe a little overtly, that being a Christian really means living in repentance and utter dependence on Christ for our holiness.
Jesus was obedient for us. He did the saving work on the cross—the atoning, suffering, dying and rising work—for us. Yes, we die and rise again with Him through our baptisms, but that is not our work. He was the one who was obedient to God’s law to save us from our just punishment.
We try to obey the law out of gratefulness for that great work of Christ, not out of need to be justified.
So let’s ease up a bit. God’s commandments take on a different tone when spoken to the saved. As redeemed people, we hear his commands and must remember that Christ fulfilled these laws on our behalf.
Our children need to know what to do when they fail: repent and be forgiven, resting in the complete holiness of Christ, which God the Father sees when He looks at us.
So, how should we rightly cultivate virtue among our youth? I believe the best way to do this is by reading the Word, hearing how we’ve sinned against God, repenting and believing in Christ’s saving work for us, and doing it all over again. In other words, we need not hammer Christian worldview classes. Instead we should live lives of humility, focused on Christ and not ourselves. Yes, our students need to learn theology and apologetics, but I believe having real life models of humble faith will do more to cultivate virtue in our children than any coursework ever could.