Thoughts on Schools, Jobs, and the Upcoming Generation

A few days back, I had the opportunity to take my kids to a Step Afrika performance at the UW-Green Bay campus. What a vibrant display of culture, physical fitness, and dynamite excitement! The performance was exclusively for students, and the venue seated homeschoolers together in one section. Across the aisle were public school kids and teachers. Both groups were polite audiences, and it was clear everyone had a great time.

As a bystander, it was also a fascinating social experiment. The experience offered an organic, side-by-side comparison of two large groups of students from differing educational models. Predictably, the adult to student ratio was higher among the homeschoolers. The age range of students was also greater and in general, it was a chattier crowd. The public school kids were also talkative, but less so, many of them preferring to interact with their phones until the performance commenced. At one point during the show, the leader asked the audience for a show of hands: “How many of you want to go to college?” he asked. In the public school section almost all of the hands went up. On the homeschool side, it was around a a third of the audience.

Observing the outworking of differing ideologies in the two groups sparked some thoughts about many of the interrelated issues facing our schools, business owners, and national leaders in the days ahead.

Lately, a week does not go by where I do not chat with public school parents who express a growing concern over their kids and how hard life in public school has become. The parents aren’t happy with what’s being taught, their kids are facing crushing social pressures, and on top of that, academic proficiency is low. Most of these conversations are with friends here in Wisconsin, but similar complaints are resounding across the country.

Equally hard to ignore are all “Help Wanted” ads and business owners lamenting the available workforce. Finding employees who show up and do their job is difficult; finding ones who actually show up on time and perform well borders on the miraculous.

When my dishwasher broke down this summer, the repair man was booked out four weeks. Regardless of how many hours he and his father put into their appliance repair business, they cannot keep up with demand. They are drowning in work but have to turn business away due to staffing.

Everyone from the chiropractic office to the auto mechanic down the road to a manger at our local Target tells the same story. National grocery store chains have even run ad campaigns during NFL football games aimed at attracting workers–not customers–to their stores. Despite competitive pay, job security, opportunity for advancement, and great incentives, businesses cannot find or keep employees. Even the United States military struggles to attract new recruits. It seems the grandchildren of brave men and women who served their country in the ’60s and ’70s would rather sit at home playing Call of Duty than respond to the actual thing.

Meanwhile, the parents of today’s young adults offer yet another compelling perspective. Some complain that their adult children declined further education after high school and are thus stuck in low-paying jobs, unable to afford much of anything, depressed over what their futures hold. But the more common and surprising narrative among parents of young adults is that a growing number of their college graduates are no better off! After school, these new grads find themselves living back at home, often working jobs outside of their fields, shackled by debt, bemoaning their meager salaries, long hours, and cost of living. These parents are quick to believe that their children are “worth more” than their non-college educated counterparts, but in truth, most of these kids simply hold an extremely costly piece of paper, often without any real-life experience that make them attractive to prospective employers.

Take, for example, this statistic: in 1979 the percentage of high school students that had a job at some point during the year was nearly 60%, and in 2000, 51%. Today that number is around 30%. Allegedly, high school has become more intense since then, with more expectations that take up the time in a day.

But the supposed increased rigor isn’t producing better students. Test scores nationwide are falling, with roughly 1/3rd of 4th and 8th grade students performing at or above grade level in math and reading. That means nearly two out of three students are below grade level. The real shocker is that compared to scores from 30 years ago, there has been an increase–not decrease–in these deficiencies. Over 1/3rd of high school students have failing grades in the U.S. and 4/10 have at least one D or F on their report cards. Yet the graduation rate in the U.S. is at an all-time high of over 85%.

The academic tailspin of Covid shed a stark light on the fact that teachers and school administrators are passing failing students and have been doing so habitually for years. Any number of factors are to blame, ranging from overwhelmed classrooms and inadequate resources to crumbling home lives and negative socio-economic outcomes. For one reason or another, holding kids back until they achieve proficiency has become an antiquated practice across the board in U.S. schools. More often than not, we pass students regardless of their performance.

Parents are not doing much to help matters. In a study conducted by the Pew Research Center the percentage of parents who said they read to their school-aged child every day was 31%. Thanks to declining parental oversight, kids are getting less sleep and have poor diets. Parents who grew up doing regular household chores themselves are far less likely to enforce them on their own children. Instead it would seem these kids are either parked in front of a screen (average screen time for kids is between 5-7 hours per day) or commuting between school, activities, or care providers. When they are home, kids and teens have seemingly limitless boundaries, demanding leniency from mom and dad, often facing only empty threats or arbitrary consequences for poor behavior. (A simple trip to your local park will be demonstration enough.)

While it’s true that kids have always pushed boundaries, fewer moms and dads are actually parenting and cultivating stable family environments that promote healthy levels of work, play, and rest. Is it any wonder that by their high school years these kids are academically behind, detached from their families, and indifferent about both?

It’s not hard to put the two pictures side by side and see the relationship. In school, kids can either do or not do the work. They generally matriculate through the system all the same. Armed with smartphones their defunct parents pay for, these kids are shuffled through the mill of their various activities, their real-world merit or academic practicality notwithstanding. These kids grow up, obtain higher education or don’t, and then apply the same ethic they’ve been conditioned to their whole life: work hard or don’t; it doesn’t matter either way. Employers begrudgingly keep them on because it’s not worth the effort or cost to replace them.

As a both a former high school educator and now a seasoned homeschool parent, I have never put much stock in judging potential or mastery based on test scores or grade levels alone. Rather, I look holistically at the evidence, and sadly in this case, it’s clear. Our decrepit educational system coupled with parents who are asleep at the wheel has created the most apathetic, depressed, socially-confused, ill prepared, and under-literate generation our nation has ever seen.

In fairness, I believe there are excellent public school teachers, schools, and parents out there. I know many and earnestly respect them for their efforts. But the reason a recent photo of the coal miner father at a basketball game with his young son went viral is because it depicted a rarity: a father who works hard to make ends meet and still shows up for his boy at the end of the day. Unfortunately, these scenarios are becoming the exception to the rule.

It’s time Americans realize that the plummeting academic performance, the workforce crisis, and arguably the worst mental health among young adults we’ve ever seen are interrelated issues unlikely to turn around anytime soon. No amount of funding, school referendums, minimum wage increases, or waived student loans will fix the problem. In a social climate where ideas like tolerance, equity, diversity, and inclusion are plastered on the walls of our schools and employee handbooks, we need adults who will teach kids discipline, commitment, loyalty, and old-fashioned hard work, and then expect it from them.

Our kids deserve better. Our businesses need better. Our future as a leading nation hinges on whether we can innovate our broken systems and employ the now unfashionable values that served us well for generations.

The post-pandemic world we are waking up to is changing. It’s going to take sharper minds and stronger spirits to weather the global storms that lie ahead. Let’s get the next generation ready for it.

Women of Wisdom

It started with six women. Six of us sitting around a table, right after the lockdowns had ended. We were all starved for connection, and the needs around us were great. So many churches were still not meeting. Small groups had dissolved over night, and many women had no community of faith around them. It was a divisive, isolating, and unsettling time. It was clear to us that now more than even we needed to offer a good Bible study, in person, with committed leaders.

And I remember as we talked, we had a lot of questions. What’s the biggest need? What would we study? Where would we meet? Would anyone even show up during a time like this? We sat around a table, asking God to guide us and keep our hearts aligned with His. 

In the end, women showed up. They piled into a home with their Bibles and got to know each other. Some of them were lonely. Others were going through the process of losing husbands, losing children. Some were scared, tired, broken, and needed a community around them. And others were happy, excited, and ready to give. It was a perfectly orchestrated group. God brought just the right people.

Over several months and a few bumps along the way, our group grew, then shrank, and then grew again. In less than two years, two of our leaders were hospitalized at some point. We said goodbye to one leader as she moved across the country and welcomed a new leader who recently moved to our area. We had our share of naysayers and roadblocks, but we kept at it, quietly nurturing what God gave us to work with. 

Today, we had 27 women show up to study the Bible. More importantly, we had 27 women leave knowing God a little better, understanding a little better how they fit into His story. 27 women in fellowship with each other. In some small way, 27 women were equipped to go and do the work of being a Jesus follower. And friends, I’m here to tell you that’s life changing.

It’s hard to see the progress when you’re in it. You don’t notice the slow, week-by-week journey of two steps forward, one step back. The wrestling we do with God and man. But after months and years (and eventually what I hope becomes decades and generations) you get some traction. It’s the lifetime of discipleship we’re interested in. 

I’m so grateful for the testimony this group has become. We have women from all different backgrounds, ages, and church traditions (at least 4 local churches are represented) coming together in unity around the Word. They bring their own unique perspectives, questions, and gifts, and it makes us all better. And they are devoted to prayer, to the Scriptures, to each other, and to carrying His love out of the church building and blessing the people in their lives. If that isn’t Church, I don’t know what is. 

I don’t know why God burdened me with a heart for this kind of thing, but He did. God put in me a heart that is wrecked for my brothers and sisters who desperately want to know Him, but have not been equipped or trained in how to know Him. For those who long for more than the surfacey, feel good, fleeting interactions with their Bible but always come up short, with nothing to lead them to lasting change. He’s given me a heart for teaching my brothers and sisters who are broken, disenfranchised, bored, and confused in their walks with God. I’ve shed a lot of tears and spent hours upon hours in prayer during many a sleepless night carrying this burden to Yahweh and asking Him to give me the wisdom to lead others. Because who am I do to this? What do I know?

I often wish it was a different burden. Something easier, something simpler. Because it gets heavy when you’re a young female burdened with heart and mind for teaching others. You don’t look the part and you don’t fit the mold, so people tend not to take you seriously. But God gave me this, and He knows me, and I can’t not care about the men and women who show up in my life wishing they knew God better. 

So yes, this thing is small. It’s just a little group in a small town that isn’t doing anything spectacular or extraordinary. But today my heart is full because Psalm 1 is happening here in ordinary people, in faithful women who show up and desire Yahweh. 

This is their testimony. You don’t have to be a pastor to understand God’s word. You don’t have to be a “churchy person” to be made new. You don’t have to memorize every verse in the Bible to lead a Bible study. You don’t have to be a man to teach. You don’t have to be someone you’re not to be the person God longs for you to be. 

These women have humbled me with their strength, their knowledge, and their wisdom. They are women of valor, full of grace, and brimming with love. They bring their brains to their Bibles so that their minds can be transformed and their hearts can be made new. I am so proud to be an ordinary woman coming alongside a group of ordinary women, seeking wisdom together. Because friends, I’ll say this, if there’s one thing the enemy knows it’s this: the most dangerous thing in this world is a human full of God’s wisdom. 

The Gaping Holes in the American Church: Part 1-Multiplying Leaders

At the conclusion of a bible study group I recently attended, someone sought me out saying “After listening to you today, I thought for sure you’re a pastor’s kid!” When I told her I wasn’t, she immediately asked if I was a pastor’s wife. At that point I laughed and explained I’m a normal person who just studies a lot. She was blown away and told me she didn’t realize an average person could know that much about the Bible. It was a compliment I treasure, but it left me uneasy. A person’s family background shouldn’t hold them back from becoming a serious student of anything, especially the Bible.

A week later, I received different feedback. I had a brief interaction with someone I barely know who pointed out the ways my observations from a passage in the New Testament fell short, alluding to how unqualified I was to speak on the topic. I was appreciative of the feedback, but left disappointed at the lie chewing holes in the fabric of the American church today.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard comments like either of these, and while they no longer surprise me, they do sadden me. Because the first question we ask a  person who shares from the Scriptures shouldn’t be what their qualifications are or what church their dad preaches at.

Well intended or not, these kinds of comments show the narrow-minded, churchy way of thinking Christians are notorious for: that the only people who are gifted enough, qualified enough, or knowledgable enough are the special people who’ve been to seminary. And so if you haven’t been to seminary, then you must not know enough to run a bible study. Or teach a class. Or lead a ministry. Or counsel the pastor.

The concept of lay leadership is virtually absent from the American church. It is so much more than being on the greeting team or in the worship band. It’s beyond a friendly smile in kid’s ministry, passing the communion tray, or being on a planning committee for next season’s retreat. To be clear, all of those jobs are important. Volunteers are the backbone of the organized church. You simply cannot run a modern church service without them, no matter how many people show up on Sunday. Volunteerism is vital, and reveals much about a church’s spiritual health and attitude toward service.

But we must not confuse volunteerism with leadership.

Unfortunately, lay-person involvement rarely progresses beyond the typical volunteer positions that come with the in-and-out tasks of operating a church facility. We in the church are not quick to grow new believers to maturity and delegate the responsibility of multiplication to them. That might be too hard. Instead we leave them in their somewhat menial positions, eager to hire out the big responsibilities of shepherding the flock to the professionals. Show me a church where the everyday attenders are also mature believers, teaching on a regular basis. Or even more, a pastor who is actually training unpaid leaders to preach, counsel, or oversee and then expecting them to do so. In 25+ years of following Jesus I’ve almost never seen church where this is the norm.

And yet it’s what Jesus asks. He expects us all to be pastors of our families, counselors in our communities, teachers to those who look up to us, and servants to anyone in need.

But for so many of us, it’s easier to farm that out. More often than not we expect our paid church staff to do those things while also providing opportunities for us to pitch in when it works for our schedules. Or, on the other end, we actually desire to be leaders but feel inadequate or ill-equipped, too inexperienced and lacking confidence to step up even in small ways.

And perhaps the worst evil of it all is that our church leaders (both paid and unpaid) allow us to live this way. They rarely hold believers accountable, calling us out in our complacency, mostly because we will run them out if they do! A passage in Judges 17 takes a sobering look at what happens when God’s people hire their spiritual leaders, and it’s a difficult story to swallow in light of the mass amount of pastoral burn-out, turnover, depression, and even suicide that exists within the American church. These people have dedicated years of their lives and thousands of dollars to earn them a job where their brothers and sisters abuse their abilities.

We have paid our leaders to be mature for us, holding a standard and putting on a show we approve of. But in the process, the body of Jesus is languishing in spiritual weakness, vulnerable to deception and attack. Is it any wonder we often look no different than the world crumbling around us?

But the Good News is Jesus. He has equipped His followers with gifts from the Spirit, who is eager to work in humble hearts and ready to move in the body. We all have gifts valuable and precious—young, old, male, female, educated, uneducated, working class, upper class, black, white, tie-die….none of it matters! All of Jesus’ followers are critical parts of His kingdom. But we cannot all be babies. We cannot all sit around and hire people with degrees and training and time to do the work we should be doing ourselves.

Friends, we do not need more believers showing up to small group having not read the Scripture passage for that week. We have enough of those. We do not need more self-righteous critique of our leaders or more self-loathing among our prayer circles. We do not need more qualified people leading the unqualified.

We need a priesthood of devoted men and women who are faithfully doing the work daily. Our Lord has called us to bear His name, to image Him in everything we do, and to help our brothers and sisters do the same. This goes beyond just being nice and moral and trying to volunteer at church once a month. It’s a practice that involves complete transformation of our minds and lifestyles. And it takes time.

We need to stop going to church and start being the church. We need to take the burden off our wonderful paid pastors and staff, and take up the responsibility for our own growth, becoming people who meditate on the Word day and night and offer ourselves as servant-leaders in kingdom of the God we claim to love.

Someday when my daughter is older, I hope she is never asked a question about her qualifications or her upbringing, as if the only people who can do anything impactful in the church must be well-educated or pastor’s kids. I hope she is looked upon as a wise leader worth following because she faithfully follows Jesus. I pray that by the time my sons are grown men they can open their Bibles anywhere and teach anyone without being professional pastors—I pray that that’s the norm within the church.

I pray by the time my children are grown that pastors have stopped measuring their success by how many people come back each Sunday, and more by how many people leave prepared and willing to go multiply themselves, wherever and however that looks. And in the mean time, I pray I can somehow inspire, encourage, and equip God’s people to love their God, love their neighbor, and seek God’s wisdom for themselves, no matter what their life experience has told them so far.

The gifts of our King surpass the greatest treasures of this world. And He’s bestowed them on us all. May we humbly ask Him to teach us how to use them and then actually go do the work.

The Glory of Summer

It’s mid-August and the back-to-school rush has begun. Perhaps it’s the relaxed routine is driving parents mad. Or maybe it’s that most American families have been without the structure of school since late March. But here in my home, we’re hanging onto summer. It’s just been so very good.

We swam, we hiked, we played ball. We’ve had nights spent outside too late, running with friends in the backyard. There have been popsicles and ice cream, BBQ’s and picnics. Many sweaty, red faces and dirty feet in the bathtub at the day’s end.

Every day I watch them ride ahead of me on their bikes. All three have grown stronger, taller, faster. Asher has said the phrase “Wait for me, guys!” more than anything else this summer. And then been out of breath as he speeds to keep up with the big kids, his dark tan deepening with every minute under the gorgeous golden rays.

Ayla’s hair has bleached into soft, caramel locks. Her fairy garden–now totally overgrown with weeds–sits tucked in the flowers, holding onto her many magical wishes. If I stand there long enough, I can still hear the echo of her happy melodies she’s sung there all summer, squatted down in the foliage. I close my eyes tight, and try to etch her precious heart in my memory forever.

And as the blue sky stretches above us, Crew has expanded our summer with his endless ideas. Every day his thoughts bubble over, exploding from his brain like a rocket and moving onto the next thing just as quickly. He is bright and cheerful and so incredibly chatty.  What would I do without him?

Every day we take a walk, Huck content to watch the world from the stroller. Chubby little legs peeking out at the bottom, small little voice babbling away to himself. We’ve laughed with friends, and dug in the sand, and cooled off in the lake. Our garden has been an oasis of delight, providing both food for our table and work for our hands.

And of course there’s the share of scraped knees, bee stings, and endless games of tag. There have been water gun fights, jumping rope, and lots of swinging. Our home has hosted birthday parties and meals with friends. And as I stare out the window now, it’s four beautiful faces dripping with watermelon juice in the shade. Blue sky above. Green earth below. Sunshine all around. It’s breathtaking, all the goodness.

Soon the air will get crisp and the sun will descend faster. We’ll crack open the books and make chili and wait for that enchanting first snowfall to come. But right now, we’re still soaking up summer. We’re still taking that moment to stop and feel the cool breeze blow through our sweaty hair. We’re playing at the park during those golden hours after dinner. We’re sitting at the beach, letting the waves tickle our toes. We’re breathing in the air during thunderstorms and getting completely soaked washing muddy garden produce. And we’re turning on a mid-day movie when we are too hot and tired to do anything else.

School will be there when we are ready. The routine, the agendas, the politics, people’s opinions, the endless openings and closing and latest restrictions, and the headaches of life right now–they’re all still there, waiting for us.

It’s true that this summer the entire world went crazy. But I guess I’ve been too crazy about my world to notice much.

Right now, they are nine, six, three, and one. And they are the glory of summer.


A Mother’s Prayer

The Lord bless you, and keep you,

The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you.

The Lord turn His face toward you, and give you peace. Num. 6:24-26

My His blessings rest upon you and a thousand generations, for your family, and your children, and their children, and their children. Generation after generation.

When you wake up, when you lie down, when you go out or come home, when you cry in pain or laugh in delight, know that He is with you. Always with you.

May His presence go before you, behind you, and beside you, surrounding you forever, and filling you deep within. He is for you, like I am for you.

May He show you His face, and turn your ears to His voice. May you know Him, may you seek Him, may you find Him, and may you love Him.

In your triumphs and your failures, in your weakness and your victories, in your wandering and your resting, He is working goodness for you.

Dwell in His lovingkindness, search out His wisdom, walk empowered by His breath, rest in His promise.

Yahweh, bless them. And keep them. And make your face shine upon them, and be gracious to them. Please turn your face toward them, and give them peace. Let your favor rest upon their shoulders, generation after generation, to their families, and their children, and their children, and their children. May the legacy of the gift and inheritance of renewal be to them a promise that endures and a blessing that multiplies. Give them a home and a life in the realm of your glory, a house along that mighty river of life, and a spirit made whole.




*Portions of this prayer were inspired by Kari Jobe’s song, “The Blessing.” Highly recommend!