Burn out – Support Groups and Church

Burn out – Support Groups and Church

Posted in Keystone Magazine Articles

Keeping Going When the Going Gets Tough - Part 7
by Craig and Barbara Smith

Life is just so busy, and at this time of the year it just gets even busier. Why is this always so? Is this good for us? Is it good for our children? Is there anything we can do about it? Should we be doing anything about it? How do we slow down in the 21st century? How can we do as Psalm 46:10 says: "Be still, and know that I am God."?

In the midst of all this busyness, can we say that the Lord is our refuge? Are we safe under the shelter of His wings? Do our souls wait in silence for God alone, for the hope of our salvation? Are we pouring our hearts out before God? Do our souls thirst for God? Do we have trouble sleeping at night because we are meditating on the Lord and just can't get Him out of our minds? Does our soul cling to Him? These verses from Psalms 61-63 have been a challenge to me over recent weeks. We need to "Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us." - Psalm 62:8. In all our busyness shouldn't we be pouring our hearts out to God for our spouses, our families, our community, the world and ourselves? Not just a casual prayer once or twice a day, but praying constantly as in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Wouldn't it be marvellous if we could say with the Psalmist, "My soul is feasted as with marrow and fat, and my mouth praises thee with joyful lips, when I think of thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the watches of the night; for thou hast been my help, and in the shadow of thy wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to thee; thy right hand upholds me." - Psalm 63:5-8. Let us be refreshed in the Lord daily and "Be still" when we can during the busy days ahead.

So, in practical terms, how can we slow down? We'll assume we are agreed: we need to spend time with our Saviour and to train our children to do this as well. Psalm 78:1-8.

There are areas in our lives that we can take a long look at to see if we are doing the best with our time and talents. There are so many good things out there to be involved in, so many needs to be met and so few willing people to meet them. Some of these things are very good and if nobody takes them on, they'll crash. We can't imagine Project A crashing, it's so worthy, so we add it to our busy load.

Stop right here. Let each of us take an honest look at our involvements and commitments. List them out. Are we making the best use of our talents and gifts in the context of those duties to which our God has clearly called us? This is a very difficult one to discern sometimes, for we are trying to discern the best on this side from the best over here. We can only do this with God's help: Proverbs 16:25 says, "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death." Suddenly we see that we must spend that time with the Lord simply to ensure any of our involvements are right in the Lord's sight. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths." - Proverbs 3:5-6. This will mean different kinds of involvements for different people because God created us as a body with many parts.

Support Groups
When Craig and I began home schooling Genevieve in 1985, socialization was one of the main issues. (It hasn't changed much, has it, except that today most home educators would say character training is the biggie, while the normal concern of group socialization is a non-issue.) Over the years we've had contact with a number of home education support groups in New Zealand and the USA. Every one wanted to go on field trips and have all sorts of activities for the children. Many groups have been quite successful at this, often having several activities in a week, all to give the children great socialisation opportunities. The problem (in NZ or the USA) was that it seemed to fall on the same people week after week to organise the activities. Some activities would be well supported, others not, but either way, it meant the same workload for the organisers. Over time these leaders/organisers would burn out or give up. The good (serving others in organising socialization activities) caused the best (home educating their own children) to be compromised or discontinued altogether.

Over and over we've also heard it said that the families who went to all the activities were often the families with the naughtiest children. So much for socialisation! Older parents began to see that children need consistent discipline, which is best accomplished when their surroundings are constant rather than constantly changing. In other words, younger children especially became insecure and confused about their boundaries when the surroundings and the accompanying rules kept changing. Few parents can be so disciplined themselves as to clearly and consistently set new boundaries for their children for every occasion, several times a week, especially when a new mix of peer children would be calling them to a new set of spontaneous extra-curricular socialisation experiences.

So what is the function of a good Support Group? I believe support groups are for the parents, not the children. Parents need encouragement to get started in home education and to keep going. Workshops, Conferences, Seminars and camps are ideal.

When we began home educating, there was virtually nothing like this going on. Craig and I began to put on two- and three-day National Christian Home Schooling Conferences, with programmes for the entire family, the first in 1987, the last in 1996. While the feedback was always very positive, the logistics and costs to the families attending were considerable. But the overall organisational and logistical workload was a nightmare, with the children's programmes many times more work than the catering and adults' programme combined. And guess what? The children's programmes were exactly like the school outings we went through the exemption process to escape: no individual attention, too many badly behaved children due to a small number of minders who were not as familiar with or committed to the children as the parents would be, restrictive timetables, minimum time for each child per activity which didn't begin to satisfy the curiosity of some or even begin to pique the curiosity of others. We as organisers would be exhausted afterward, and our own children's home education efforts had been shelved for at least a fortnight both before and after the event.

Today's smaller and more local one-day workshops, happening with spontaneity and regularity in many areas of New Zealand, appear to us to return much greater value for the much lighter workloads involved. People can attend more than one a year, rather than waiting for the one big one we used to do every second year. The few activities that do require a large group of children: a proper athletics competition, a Home and Country Show, a drama production, etc., are still being run by support groups. But the many smaller support groups springing up everywhere, some composed mostly of a local church congregation, often have the activities and field trips back where they belong:  among the home schooling families who actually want them. Like-minded families are clubbing together for these as they want them, rather than an organiser putting something on to fill the blank in the events calendar for the month and hoping people show up. Organisers aren't put out when few turn up, and those who don't really want to attend don't feel bad about not supporting the organiser's efforts. The generally smaller groups are finding that this is a much better way to go. And the children are better socialised and the overall stress is nil compared to doing stuff for a large group of children.

The way our churches are structured today can cause a lot of stress in our families with a different family member at a meeting of some sort at Church most nights of the week. When is the family at home together? Very little. Preserving our family time together is precious, for it has become such a rare commodity. This family time will become even more difficult to preserve, and yet even more precious and necessary, as our children get older. Our family knows full well what it means to be booked out every day and night of the week. Having thought about it a fair bit, we've concluded we need to see ourselves more as a family unit and to be involved in the Church as a family unit rather than as individuals.

Eric Wallace in Uniting Church and Home - A Blueprint for Rebuilding Church Community(1) says:

What I see happening in churches of all denominations is a movement away from the hurried, superficial, age-segregated, activity-laden ministry. They are moving toward a whole different approach that centers on freeing up the body to build godly households through heart-level relationships and age-integrated ministry. The equipping that people need cannot be provided through the traditional age-segregated approach. Strong households are the core of strong churches, and strong churches are the foundation for outreach to our communities, nation, and the world.

Howard Snyder tells us in his book, Liberating the Church, "If the church is seen primarily as an institution, its ministry will be largely institutional and program-oriented. But if the church is viewed as a community, its ministry will be person-oriented, focusing on building structures of human interaction. And in this perspective, the structures of family, church and neighbourhood are most basic."

Ministry that occurs outside of the home, generally speaking, is ministry that is out of touch with everyday life. I think this is why there is such an emphasis placed on hospitality in the New Testament. If you want to get to know someone, visit them! Have them over for dinner! It is difficult to know what someone's needs are if we can't see them in everyday life. Hospitality is not difficult. It involves seeing the daily activities of the home as expressions of God's sovereign rule in our lives. In its simplest form, it is inviting people to our home for lodging, meals, activities or just a visit.

A household approach to ministry places an emphasis on building biblical households in which parents disciple their children and "adopt" other members of the congregation who do not have families, and where fathers practice spiritual leadership in the home. In effect, the leadership begins to work through fathers and mothers instead of working around them. Discovering the church as a household will impress people outside our churches because they see Christians loving and serving each other. They will not have to wait to hear the Romans Road, The Four Spiritual Laws or Evangelism Explosion. They will see it with their eyes and hear it with their ears! They will say, "Wow!"

By thinking through our activities and reducing where possible, we have found we now have more time for the important things we believe God would have us do. We worship God at church together as a family twice each Sunday; we worship God together as a family after every meal each day. We are involved in the Church as a family, and we are involved with the community as a family. Our fellowship with other believers and our evangelism are centred in hospitality in our home or our friends' homes. Our support group activities are more Church orientated now, and our involvement with the local Home Education Support Group is more on a parent-to-parent basis. We have stopped to think about what we are teaching our children and what will be passed on to the generations after them. We are working at having time to "Be Still, and know that [He is] God."

1. Available from the Home Education Foundation

From Keystone Magazine
November 2003, Vol. IX No. 6
P O Box 9064
Palmerston North
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email: barbara@hef.org.nz
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UK contact: http://www.halfmoonbooks.net/keystonea.htm