For many it is a four-letter word. As an educator and a school manager, my view is no different. I was never the student who would get home and studiously work through my spelling list and my math questions. I never started an assignment early or kept a reading diary. When I arrived home from school, in my mind, school no longer existed (until the next day at least).
As a parent my view on homework only solidified. Watching my children come home exhausted from school only to sit down for another hour and seemingly complete a bunch of busy work. Not to mention the struggle it is for busy parents having to complete the normal afternoon/night duties while also teaching their child a new form of math. When did maths change by the way?
It is also difficult to find research that supports copious amounts of homework. Although there is some value in reinforcing spelling words or math problems that have already been covered in class, most research indicates that large amounts of homework can actually be detrimental to students’ learning, not to mention their mental health.
John Hattie, a well known and influential educational researcher, recommends no more than 5-10 minutes of ‘traditional’ homework. His research suggests that having a discussion with mum and dad about what they learned at school has more positive outcomes for a student’s education than hours of study.
So why then do schools still insist on homework?
The answer usually falls into one of two categories: either because that’s what they have always done, or because parents expect it, and if the school doesn’t give it, the parents will assume the school isn’t doing its job.
Rock - meet hard place.
Doing things because that’s how we’ve always done them is a scary place to be.
Churches, and us as individual Christians, have been falling into this trap for generations. Doing Church a certain way because that’s how we’ve always done it, cannot just be unhelpful, but can also be unbiblical.
How then can we avoid stumbling into the trouble of the needlessly traditional?
Reflecting on our practice and our thought processes is the first step to unpacking the why behind what we do.
Just like schools need to reflect on their homework policies to ensure they are based on research instead of tradition, churches and individual Christians need to reflect on whether what we do is biblical, helpful, and not a hindrance to others or against personal conviction.
The question, “is it Biblical?”, is the first level of reflective questioning. If you can find a direct Biblical justification for an action or thought process, then by all means, that’s your answer. For example, a church should elect elders because there is a strong Biblical foundation found in the books of Acts, Timothy, and Titus.
I would hope that hundreds of years of reformation would ensure that tradition did not trump the Word of the Lord, but alas this is not the case. Do not bypass this crucial reflective question in your life and in your local church.
The Bible was not written as a complete “how to” guide of every aspect and minute detail of life and church practice. The Bible doesn’t answer questions of how to greet people at the door, or how many songs we should sing, or what colour the carpets should be. On a personal level, the Bible doesn’t give a specific number of alcoholic drinks I can consume or whether I should wear a tie on a Sunday.
These questions fall into the “is it helpful?” category. Is there sound, logical reasoning based on Christian ideals such love, kindness, good stewardship etc.?
It is difficult to find a place in the Bible that specifically instructs the church to make good coffee (other than the book of He-brews) but having good coffee is a way to demonstrate love and kindness to people and so is therefore helpful. Having a tin of half-stale International Roast with a sign that says ‘help yourself’ is not unbiblical but neither is it overly helpful.
This question is not always the tradition killer that people think it is. If someone says, “this is how we’ve always done it”, asking “is it helpful?” can create an important discussion that will provide insight into the perspective of those around you (as well as your own blindspots).
It may result in a well thought out explanation as to why it is in fact helpful. This turns the practice from the traditional “this is how we have always done it” to the proactive “we do this because…”.
Hindrance or conviction
This question is a sub-question to the last. I have mates who used to consume alcohol regularly. Drinking alcohol is not unbiblical. In fact, considering one of the miracles Jesus performed, one could make the argument that consuming some alcohol is entirely Biblical. However, when these friends of mine became Christians, they stopped drinking entirely.
For two reasons. One stopped drinking because he didn’t want to become a hinderance to others and the other had a personal, Holy Spirit inspired, conviction to stop drinking.
You see, in a regional town like ours, heavy drinking is the norm. One could say that the only thing more devastating to a country than drought and bushfire, is running out of beer.
So in light of this culture, one of my mates stopped drinking because he wanted to be a good role model to the people around him. He didn’t want his example to be an encouragement for those around him to hit the bottle.
The other friend had a strong conviction not to drink. He saw his father and grandfather destroyed by alcoholism and felt that the Holy Spirit directed him not to drink.
Reflection is a key component for churches and for us individually as followers of Christ. I encourage you to meditate on your actions, thoughts, words, and traditions.
Ask yourself, is what I am doing clearly spelt out in the Word? Or is it clearly against the Word of God?
Is it helpful or unhelpful to the mission that God has given me?
Is what I am doing a hindrance to those around me or has the Holy Spirit laid a conviction on my heart which I must follow?
These reflection questions will help guide you towards a more God-honoring, helpful life and avoid the trap of mindless tradition.
Jason Gay is an Educational Leader in regional Queensland. Loving husband and father of four, Jason is passionate about seeing all generations equipped with everything they need for a successful and fulfilling life. He writes about politics, theology, and the big ideas of life.