Count the Cost is a blog series designed for prospective parents. In our first installment, we asked the Liebing family about the financial sacrifices they have made over the past 21 years of their involvement with Mars Hill Academy.
Our core conviction is this: we have a responsibility as parents to do the best we can to cultivate a love for Christ in our children.
In terms of our sphere of responsibility, there is nothing more important. It is the “prime directive” for the season of parenting. The Bible tells us in Deuteronomy 6:7 and elsewhere to teach the Word to our children, “talking of them when you walk by the road, when you lie down, when you rise up…” We have other responsibilities: our vocation, our church responsibilities, other ministries, and preparing for the future. Even vacations and leisure are facets of life that entail some responsibility.
For parents, however, most of the responsibilities we embrace are somewhat elective. You must support your family, but you are not commanded to pursue a certain profession or to acquire much affluence to do that. You must make the Gospel known, but there is a wide variety of ways and means to do that. You are commanded to train your children for Christ’s service, and while there are a variety of ways to do it, there is no ambiguity or liberty regarding parents’ devotion to that task: raising children is to be a consuming task. Your children are your treasure and your legacy. You are to be teaching them, influencing them, training them, and shaping them all the time.
During the season of parenthood, this God-given responsibility for your children’s souls easily trumps practically every other responsibility. That conviction has shaped the entire path of our lives. Raising our children well became the defining project of our marriage. That is not to say that we did it perfectly (or even well!) — it is simply a statement of where our convictions led us concerning the use of all of our resources: material resources, time, abilities, concentration, and other such intangibles.
Early on, we knew that the ground rules for how we made decisions about our lives, careers, hobbies — everything — would be to always consider the impact of those decisions for our children. Will it be fruitful to influence them to be the Christ-lovers and servants we aspired for them to be? Yes, we took vacations, enjoyed family, pursued careers, bought houses — but always with the perspective of asking ourselves, “Is this helpful in making our family fruitful for Christ in terms of the next generation?” That kind of thinking set our priorities for us. Might we have had the opportunity to own a nicer house, or to be more successful in a career? Yes, but we tried hard not to pursue our own desires at the expense of our conviction of how we should train our children.
I hope, having read this far, that the absence of any specific mention about schooling decisions is incidental. We worked hard to make choices about schooling that were consistent with our overarching convictions, and to avoid rationalizing about the cost. I certainly would not recommend bankrupting your family to educate your children — but short of bankruptcy, let the decision be a test of the firmness of your convictions.
Do you really believe that educating your children in a way that equips them well to serve Christ is a precious thing? We have asked ourselves: “Do we really need our house? From an eternal perspective, wouldn’t we rather have children trained for Godliness than the house (or job or trip or profession or just about any other temporal thing)?” If you put the training of your children in the proper perspective, the sacrifices you may need to make will seem small. Note: this perspective does not make such sacrifices easy! We have had many seasons of asking ourselves, “Can we get through this? Are we over-committed financially? Is this stress or deprivation too much?” It is eternal perspective that helps to answer these questions well.
Another conviction that drove our thinking grew from this question: what is the goal (in regard to my accountability to God) for the raising of my children? My goal in raising children is not “to have godly children,” because that cannot be guaranteed. Parents may do all that they can and still have children who do not love the Lord. In the end, my children’s souls depend upon God’s intervention, not my skill or dedication as a parent. Our goal has been this: I want to stand before God and be able to say that I really gave myself to showing Christ to my children, and that I was not hindered by my own desires and goals in doing this. I want to be able to say to the Lord, with integrity (though certainly not with any degree of perfection!) that I did what I could to shape them — that I loved them enough to make hard choices for their good. I want to be able to say that to my Savior, and to my children, whether or not they turn out as I hoped.
By God’s grace, all five of my children are adults who love the Savior and have serious convictions about serving Him. Even if that were not true, I would approach all of the past decisions the same way, because my convictions would not allow otherwise. I would like to encourage young families with this: you cannot know the joy of aging and tiring, yet looking back, having embraced a difficult path for good reasons, and thinking, “We did it! We tried to do what was right without sparing ourselves, and though we failed in many ways, our attempts have borne and are bearing beautiful fruit! Thank you, Lord.”
For more concrete advice about affording a K-12 private classical Christian education, we recommend this BaseCamp Live podcast.