Lighthouse Homeschool Co-op: New Hampshire
Conflict Resolution, and Establishment of Rules
The board occasionally receives questions about 1) the proper role of co-op and how it should be governed, 2) how matters of conflict or sin are to be handled, and 3) establishment of rules or policies to prevent bad behavior. While Lighthouse’s bylaws address these matters, this document is intended to provide complementary explanation and perspective into the underlying reasons behind these bylaws and policies.
The Proper Role and Governance of Lighthouse
The board recognizes the authority of the three institutions established by God that govern our lives: the church, the family, and the government. Each of these institutions has a proper role and responsibility and it is out of utmost respect for these institutions that we have narrowly defined our role. As a homeschool support group, we view Lighthouse as a tool that families may elect to use to fulfill their God-given responsibility to raise their children. Importantly, Lighthouse is not a church. While the lines might be blurred due to the fact that we are a group of Christians meeting together on a weekly basis, the mere fact that we are Christians sharing life together does not imply that we are a church in the biblical sense of the headship structure that a true church would need to follow in order to operate biblically.
We appreciate that there may be a range of definitions within various Christian traditions regarding how the visible church is defined, but think it is useful to use the definition of the marks of the church from the Protestant Reformers: preaching of the Word, administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ (baptism and the Lord’s supper), and church discipline to hold believers accountable to the laws of Christ (in the form of withholding the sacraments and excommunication from the church). Because Lighthouse does none of these things, we think it is important that we don’t confuse our role with the role God has properly established for the church.
For example, the board has occasionally received suggestions that Lighthouse should be run by a group of male elders to rule our group in a manner consistent with how church elders govern and shepherd church members. Because Lighthouse is not a church, it is not under obligation to act like one or to be structured/governed like one. The board solicited counsel from several pastors and elders regarding this suggestion and the response was a unanimous and emphatic “no.” The quote below was from one of those pastors and was reviewed by multiple elders. We view this as helpful perspective in clarifying the board’s position regarding the issues of the proper role and governance of the co-op.
"The primary responsibility for the education of children belongs not to the church, but to parents. (see Prov. 1:8-9) Parents may enlist others to help them in the education of their children. They can use homeschool curricula produced by others, send their children to schools run by others, and participate in a co-op with others. Because Christians from different denominations and churches can have common goals when it comes to the education of their children, it can be helpful for them to join together in pursuit of those goals. When they do this, they are to a certain extent setting aside the disagreements that their churches have over matters of doctrine and practice so that they can work together in this one area. This is one reason why the co-op should not be seen as constituting a church or even approximating a church in some sense. A church needs to teach and uphold the whole counsel of God in Scripture. (see Acts 20:27; Rev. 22:18-19)
Christians involved in an organization like the co-op are working together for a common purpose that lies outside of the disciple-making mission that Christ has given his church. While there is overlap between education and disciple-making, the church has obviously not been given the task of teaching children subjects like reading, writing, arithmetic, etc. Because education lies outside the church’s jurisdiction, a school or co-op does not need to be under elder oversight. To use a different example, if a group of Christians were to join together to form a business, that business would not need to be managed by a group of elders. The running of a business is not within the purview of the church’s mission. Of course, Christians will sometimes find it helpful to ask their pastors and elders for advice about matters that arise in the different areas of their lives, but this does not mean that pastors and elders have authority over the various organizations, etc. in which the members of their churches are involved.
Elder oversight is a matter of holding Christians accountable to what the Scriptures teach. But different denominations and churches have differing views on how to interpret Scripture, and on how to order their worship, polity, and discipline in a manner that is in accord with Scripture. Furthermore, a man who is elected to serve as an elder in one church might not be considered qualified for the office by a different church. In light of these factors, the elders of a particular church only have spiritual authority over those who are members of the congregation that recognized their call by electing them to serve as elders. If the co-op was placed under the spiritual oversight of the elders of one particular church, some co-op families would be under the oversight of elders whom they did not elect and who may have differing views than those held by their own church. If the co-op elected or appointed its own elders, it would be redefining the office of elder, because elders exercise oversight in the church, and the co-op is not a church.
It is good for co-op families to encourage and support one another, but this is not a substitute for membership in a local church. The fact that some families spend more time at the co-op and with other co-op families than they do at their church and with members of their church does not make the co-op their de facto church. While fellowship is an important element of church life, it does not in itself constitute a particular group as a church. The essential mark of a true church is that it maintains through a sufficient discipline the Word and sacraments in their fundamental integrity. It is true that there will be instances where the co-op board needs to handle conflicts and address disciplinary issues, but this is not spiritual oversight or church discipline. Those things need to be reserved for the churches where these families are members. Of course, some co-op families may neglect the duty of church membership, and some may not even profess to be Christians. But this does not mean that the co-op should function as their church. That would be a usurpation of the authority that has been uniquely given to the church.”
Dealing with Conflict and Sin
Our view that co-op is not a church (or government), but rather an organization that effectively operates under the authority of the family is reflected in our vision for how we encourage members to resolve conflict and sin. Often times, there is confusion that the board will act as a referee or moderator when conflict or sin arises at co-op, or that we will exert some sort of discipline or correction for children or even between adults. Out of respect for the family institution, the board expects its parents to be the primary source of correction for their children.
In matters of conflict between adult members at co-op, the board encourages members to make efforts to sort out the problems amongst themselves. Of course, if there are significant behavioral issues that are deemed unacceptable by the board, the board reserves the right to exercise discipline and/or remove a member from co-op, but these circumstances have been rare.
If someone is convinced that another Christian in the co-op is in grievous sin or error, then they should follow the process outlined in Matthew 18:15-17 in the spirit of Galatians 6:1, with the understanding that “the church” in Matthew 18:17 is not the co-op board, but the local church where the alleged offender is a member. The process described in the Matthew 18 passage is as follows:
- Go to your brother one-on-one to tell him his fault.
- If he doesn’t listen to you, bring others to make your case.
- If he still doesn’t listen to you, and the charge is serious enough, you can bring it to the church of the offending party.
At the heart of this issue, is the board’s desire not to erroneously supplant the institutions of church and family that God ordained. We try our best to encourage communication between adults who disagree in the form of the first two steps outlined in Matthew 18. After that, we would expect those parties to either agree to disagree, or to go to their respective churches for wise counsel and resolution. We navigate these waters with much prayer and consideration and covet your prayers for our wisdom and discernment as we do so each year.
Establishment of Rules
It is not uncommon for the board to receive requests to establish rules or policies with the well-intentioned objective of preventing undesirable behavior or sin. As noted in our bylaws, we expect our members to behave responsibly, with respect for one another, and in a manner consistent with biblical principles and Lighthouse’s Statement of Faith.
While we have administrative rules related to things like cleanliness, Faith Community Bible Church rules, and simple safety matters, we rarely establish moral or behavioral rules as it would need to be exhaustive to be effective. Rather, we believe the Bible can inform what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. Importantly, we almost always leave it to the authority of families and their churches to enforce non-compliance with moral issues - again, unless the board decides a specific behavior must be addressed. We believe this approach is consistent with our view of the role of Lighthouse as subservient to the family and their individual churches.