The Importance of Teaching
Practical Skills to Your Children

by: Stephen Beck

I had lunch with a friend and he lamented the fact that his soon-to-be teenage boy was growing restless for a serious activity to do. Gone were the days when his son could be sent outside to “play” in order to work off excess energy. His son craved tasks that had real value and was beginning to discern the difference between real and invented work. He was fast approaching the stage where he wanted to be “useful” in a significant way. God has placed this desire in all boys for they are, as one writer has put it, future men. If God has given young men a desire to be involved in substantial work, I believe that parents are to channel that desire to a godly end.

Many in the homeschool community are waking up to the fact that we are sending our sons into the world with very few “hands-on” skills. Unless our dad was a carpenter, plumber or auto mechanic (and he took the time to teach us that skill), there is a good chance that we have no knowledge of even the basic skills that people a generation ago took for granted. Far from encouraging the passing down of “hands-on” skills and the value of hard work, our society has lampooned “hands-on” skills as something unnecessary and even demeaning in today’s highly technical world. After all, it has only been in the last fifty years that a man who can work with his hands has been considered inferior socially.

The Word of God, however, takes a very different view of practical skills. In Acts 20: 32-35, Paul reminded the Ephesians that he had used his own hands to provide for his necessities and those with him. He also added that by laboring with his hands, he had shown them an example of how to provide for themselves and those in need around them. Paul, of course, was a mental giant in his time. If anyone could have made a living on sheer brain power alone, it would have been him. Refuting the best theologians and philosophers of his day, he still used his own hands to provide for his necessities. Why? According to 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12, the reason was for an example to the flock and to not burden the fledgling churches of the day.

But surely working with his hands took Paul away from the more important duties of teaching, administering and writing most of the New Testament! The Corinthians took a very dim view of those who worked with their hands, especially if they were a teacher of the Word. They mocked Paul and similar to today, found an odd satisfaction in being lorded over by their religious teachers who not would lift a finger if it meant getting their hands dirty. Paul attacks this attitude with biting satire and proudly claims that he indeed works with his own hands and counts it an honor to be mocked by the world!

You are already full! You are already rich! You have reigned as kings without us -- and indeed I could wish you did reign, that we also might reign with you! For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored! To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now. (1 Corinthians 4:8-13)

Now I am not saying that we should all move to the country and require our sons to only work with their hands. I am saying that, whether your son chooses work with his hands for a living or not, practical life skills are essential for a well-balanced Christian life. Let me list a few reasons why:

1. Practical skills give us freedom from man.

Notice in 1 Corinthians, Paul did not have to rely on the haughty Corinthians for his livelihood. He had his own source of bread and the Corinthians had no power over him. He was free from their corrupting influence. He could minister to a group of people without being beholden to them financially. How many pastors are afraid to say things that need to be said because some influential person in the church might pull the financial plug on them? Or how many Christian public school teachers are afraid to call evolution a lie because they might lose their livelihood? Knowing some practical skills can give us freedom from undue influence by other men.

2. Practical skills provide an example for those we disciple.

One of the key reasons Paul worked with his hands was to provide an example to those to whom he was ministering. If the one who discipled is willing to do manual labor to get the gospel out, how much more the one being discipled? And hopefully our children are our number one disciples. They need to see the value of practical skills and the character that these skills produce. I have been amazed at some of the softness and downright laziness of the boys that enter my Life Skills Camps. But then what should you expect from boys who are not required to do any physical labor around the house and whose chief entertainment are video games and television? And those boys who shun the television only to spend all of their time in books are no better! Reading is a great and wonderful exercise, but it must not exclude the learning of practical skills. In addition to intellectual skills, practical skills are necessary for the godly character they produce in our sons.

3. Practical skills bring us down to earth.

Far from enticing boys not to go to college, I have found that spending an entire summer framing houses encourages young men to pursue college with a vigor. And a summer roofing houses in the hot Texas sun will cause your son to enter post graduate studies! He may not want to rely on that skill for a living, unless he parlay it into a business where he does not have to be the one on the roof! I believe that every person in the ministry should have to work in the business world for a period of time. They would have a greater appreciation for the pressures and temptations that their parishioners face in the modern work environment. They would also be less apt to ask us to do things (or programs) that make your family compete for your time and energy. If more pastors came from the real world of work or had to earn a part-time living while ministering, they would have more respect from those inside and outside of the church. Practical skills and hard work help to harness the intellect and bring it under submission to God. They also teach us to evaluate priorities and situations wisely.

4. Practical skills were modeled by Paul and Christ.

We have already seen Paul’s example, but why do you think God chose to be a carpenter? Surely, studying to be a teacher or rabbi would have been more conducive to His future ministry! Or perhaps an attorney. After all, He would spend a lot of time making arguments and counter-arguments with the Pharisees and Sadducees. No, He chose a skill that would exemplify strength, endurance, patience and worth. He was giving an example to follow.

5. Practical skills produce godly character.

Again, I can not say this enough. I am not advocating that pursuing a trade or working with your hands is the only “righteous” calling or vocation a man can enter. Yet, I am saying that learning practical skills will help your son in whatever calling he pursues. These skills will generate godly character in him. James says that trials produce endurance and endurance results in the complete man of God, lacking in nothing. Boys who do not know how to work hard, or grind through unpleasant experiences, will not have the emotional stamina to do the right thing when it becomes very painful to do so.

6. Practical skills give us something to fall back on in hard economic times.

It is amazing how many of the patriarchs lived through severe economic downturns in the form of droughts. We are not immune from economic downturns in America today. I have had a variety of jobs and one was a sales position for a head-hunting (career placement) company. I would speak to many highly skilled, technical people every day who were looking for a job and had no other skills on which to fall back. One guy told me that he would not have any trouble finding a job because he had twenty years experience running a call center. I replied, “Maybe, but you are the fifth call center executive I have talked with today!” Do not despise the day of small things. Teach your sons some practical skills now, for there are seasons when God gives hard economic times to test our faith and teach us humility. Or perhaps to save a nation as Joseph did!

7. Last, but not least, God can use our practical skills to minister to others around the world.

Carpentry has taken me on mission trips to Haiti, Nicaragua and Mexico. My skill with a saw gave me the opportunity to share the good news in a foreign country. Paul told the Thessalonians to remember his labor and toil, “that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.” (1 Thessalonians 2:9) He used his skill as a tent maker to earn the right from his audience to preach the gospel.

So, even if our sons are not going to pursue a trade-type career, knowledge of these skills will make them more self-sufficient and less vulnerable in economic downturns. Having knowledge of basic “hands-on” skills will give them confidence in their ability to provide for a family and help others in need, even if they do not use those skills to make a living. Plus, most of these skills are just plain fun and can be used on mission trips, helping our neighbors and as a tool to share the gospel. I will conclude with one of my favorite verses.

Here is what I have seen: It is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life which God gives him; for it is his heritage. As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor-- this is the gift of God. For he will not dwell unduly on the days of his life, because God keeps him busy with the joy of his heart. (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20)

How do we keep from unduly dwelling on the days of our lives? How do we protect our sons from the stress, depression and self-pity of the modern work environment? We are to teach them (and ourselves!) to enjoy the good of all their labor. Teach them to value good, honest hard work. Teach them to view work not as the daily grind, but as a heritage - what they will be known by. Above all, we must teach them that we serve a gracious and good God and that the ability to work and to eat the fruit thereof, is a gift from Him.

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Stephen Beck owns and operates a small business in Bryan, Texas. He is the author of A Father’s Stew: The Biblical Integration of Family, Work and Ministry. His passions are discipling his three children and leading younger believers to maturity in Christ, which he combines with his other passion of duck hunting whenever he can!

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