Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Discipleship: Education is Everyone’s Responsibility

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

I believe that education is everyone’s responsibility, however; there is an old saying that states that if something is everyone’s responsibility, then it is really no one’s responsibility at all. This statement emphasizes that if something is important, then someone in particular should be tasked with accomplishing the goal at hand, or it won’t get done. The truth of this saying has more to do with the reality that people assume that someone else is going to take on a task if everyone is responsible for it and are supposed to do it. Instead of charging ahead with their individual responsibility or role, people tend to relax on their laurels. The goal at hand is not accomplished. The communal responsibility of education is affected by this phenomenon as well. What is everyone’s responsibility has indeed turned out to be a few people’s undertaking. This is the tragedy of the commons revisited.

The tragedy of the commons is an interesting phenomenon that asserts that holding property, or responsibility, in common leads to tragedy in that common area, or area of responsibility. For instance, if there is a common use area of a house that is held in common use by multiple users or the public, like a kitchen or a bathroom, this common area is more likely to become neglected by the masses before say-­­a bedroom where the single owner is more likely to take pride in, or responsibility for, that area. The commonly used or public area is more likely to be abused or neglected. It is left un-cleaned and cluttered. The task of managing this area is left undone. Everyone’s responsibility becomes no one’s action. This is the tragedy of the commons. The spiritual formation of our children, youth, and adults are also tragically being neglected. Discipleship in our churches has experienced the tragedy of the commons. While education is everyone’s responsibility, not everyone is taking care of that common area of responsibility and all of us, our churches, and our communities are suffering because of it.

This is the case with education, or discipleship. Discipleship is everyone’s responsibility, yet not everyone participates in discipleship, or education. The result is tragic. The assumption is that someone else will educate our children, youth, or adults. When the community ceases to educate, education suffers in our communities. The responsibility is abdicated. We have moved from a biblical understanding that teaching is supposed to be done by everyone everywhere, starting in the home with parents, and we have leaned on a westernized and modern view of education, which puts “professionals” at the helm of responsibility for teaching. We have, in effect, outsourced education to a few overwhelmed and overworked pastors and teachers, and youth and children’s ministers. Meanwhile, we are relinquishing parents and congregations and the community of their corporate responsibility.

Reggie McNeal, in his praise for Building Faith at Home, says: “When our culture went to the service economy, American families outsourced cooking, cleaning, lawn maintenance-and spiritual formation. We decided that staff and programs at the church could take care of bringing our children up in the faith.” I am in agreement with McNeal. This is a colossal mistake. Education is everyone’s responsibility, not just the pastor’s, the children’s minister, the youth minister, or any other ministry head or leader. Education and discipleship is everyone’s responsibility.

In Deuteronomy 6:4-9, the scripture passage above, Moses records the Shema, “Hear, Oh Israel . . .” Later, Jesus himself quotes these verses as being the pinnacle of all the law and stated that the entire law could be summed up in this statement, “The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength (Matt. 22:37-40).” Moses goes on to record how God tells us we are to remember His commandments, His most important law, and how we are to teach them in Deuteronomy 6:5-9. God says that we (all of us) are to hold His law in our own hearts first by knowing and obeying them ourselves. Next, we are to write the laws of God on our hearts. Then, we are to teach God’s laws to our children by talking with them in our homes, by talking about them as we walk in our communities, and when we lie down to sleep, and when we wake up. Finally, we are to write God’s laws down on our hands, foreheads, and doorposts. Some people have taken these final commands literally and have done just this, but this is more symbolic in that we are supposed to incorporate God’s laws and teachings into every facet of our lives, at all times, and we are all supposed to teach about God and His law everywhere, in all circumstances and contexts.

The Bible Knowledge Commentary says it this way: To love the Lord means to choose Him for an intimate relationship and to obey His commands. This command is to love Him. Loving Him was, and is to be wholehearted, with all our hearts, and was to pervade every aspect of an Israelite’s being and life, their soul and strength. In verses 6:6-9, God’s people were responsible to meditate on these commandments, to keep them in their hearts. This enabled them to understand the Law and to apply it correctly. Then the parents were in a position to impress them on their children’s hearts also. The moral and biblical education of the children was accomplished best not in a formal teaching period each day, or week, but when the parents, out of concern for their own lives as well as their children’s, made God and His Word the natural topic of a conversation. This conversation might occur anywhere and anytime during the day and in many contexts. The commands to tie the laws and write them were taken literally by some later Jewish readers. However, the commands are probably emphasizing symbolically the need for the continual teaching of the Law. In other words, education is everyone’s responsibility, and it starts with us and occurs naturally throughout all our lives.

Ivy Beckwith, in Postmodern Children’s Ministry, states that the corporate nature of education is not being program driven, but being relational in a community. She asserts, “The spiritual formation of children is never about how many programs a church has or even about the quality of those programs. It is about the attitudes and quality of the people the children interact with and the overall spiritual and relational quality of the community of faith (Beckwith).” Discipleship and educational responsibility is everyone’s and it is a mindset that everyone must have, or develop, in order to effectively educate in our churches and our communities. None of us are exempt from this responsibility.

Education is a monumental task and responsibility of extreme importance that requires commitment from all of us to execute it the way that God intended us to. This responsibility begins with our own knowledge of God and obedience to God and should then move to our children, our communities, and ultimately to the world. May we recognize our responsibility to be corporate and communal educators. Would we avoid the tragedy of not educating our selves and others about God and enter into true communal spiritual formation. Let us take on the corporate responsibility of education and discipleship together!


Works Cited

Beckwith, Ivy. Postmodern Children’s Ministry: Ministry to Children in the 21st Century. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI. © 2004, p. 164.

Holmen, Mark A. Building Faith at Home: Why faith at Home Must Be Your Churches #1 Priority. Ventura, CA.: Regal Books, © 2007, p.

The New King James Version. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1982, S. Dt 6:4-9

Walvoord, John F. ; Zuck, Roy B. ; Dallas Theological Seminary: The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL : Victor Books, 1983-c1985, S. 1:274


  1. Good post Robbie. As a father of 4 I must confess that I often rely on the Church for helping develop my children's spiritual lives. I must do a better job of taking time each day with them and discipling them in Christ so that they will love him with all their hearts, mind, soul and strength.

  2. Tom, thanks for the comment.
    It is also the whole churches responsibility to disciple you and your children . . . and mine . . . Our responsibility is also to the church as a whole and not just our families. Our education, and the education of others, is what causes growth and spiritual formation in the church as a whole.