4 ways to strengthen your back-to-school routine

August 14, 2018

As summer comes to an end, parents are returning to the familiar school experiences of packing lunches, operating car pools, and coordinating sports practice. But, we can get so caught up in the transition back to school that we don’t make the most of the opportunity. Before the new school year starts, it is helpful to think through ways Christian families can strengthen their back-to-school routines. The start of school creates the possibility to reset our family rhythms in a way that sets our families up for spiritual and academic success.

So, how can we reshape our back-to-school routine so that it recenters our academic year on Christ? Here are four suggestions for strengthening your family patterns as you head back to school.

First, treat the start of the school year as a milestone for each child.

Entering a new grade is a big deal for kids, but parents can be tempted to take things for granted. There’s a reason why doting parents snap first-day-of-school pictures (and it’s not just so that they can rack up more likes on Instagram). It’s because they recognize that there is a unique significance to the moment.

One of the ways our family recognizes the milestone of starting the school year is through “one-on-one fun.” Starting in preschool, I take each of our four boys individually on a special outing. We go to Sonic where they can get their favorite treat (often a slush with nerds candy in it!), then we head to the local Academy store. As we overload ourselves with sugar and play catch in the middle of the aisles with all types of sports balls, we talk about the school year to come. What are you excited about? What are you nervous about? What are you looking forward to? Can I tell you about what my experience was like when I was in that grade? Through these one-on-one conversations, parents can shape the expectations of their children for the school year as they seek to prepare their hearts.

Second, reset your family rhythms to align them with your priorities.

Summer is often a crazy time for family routines. Vacations, late-night outings, sleeping in, and other factors can disrupt your normal flow. If parents aren’t careful, the chaos of summer can creep into the school year. The arrival of the new semester can provide a jolt to parents and kids alike who have forgotten what “normal” looks like for their family over the summer.

The beginning of a school year creates the ideal opportunity to reset your family rhythms. And this all depends on clarifying your family’s priorities. As parents, what do you hope to be true of your family’s daily experience during the school year? Once you know that, you can realign how you spend your time to pursue those goals. If things like family devotions, eating together, or limiting screen time have fallen by the wayside during the summer, the beginning of school creates the right environment to recover those areas of focus. But, if you, as parents, are not intentional about re-evaluating your rhythms, you will miss the opportunity to reset your routines.

Third, emphasize the opportunities that school creates for your children to love their neighbors as themselves.

Summer is often a season that is focused on us. It revolves around our vacations, our plans, and our activities. But school creates the environment to force us outside of ourselves by surrounding us with new people to care about and serve. If parents aren’t intentional, though, their kids will see school through the lens of what’s in it for them rather than how they can serve their classroom.

There are many ways you can emphasize how your children can love their neighbors as themselves. For example, one of the traditions our family has carried over from our childhood is what we call the “name game.” Our children head to the first days of school with the challenge to learn the names of five people in their class every day. By giving young kids this task, it forces them to focus, interact with others, and empowers them to make connections. Our kids earn rewards for their success, and once everyone has learned all the names of the students in their class, we have a family celebration. Whether it is through the “name game” or some other means, parents need to help their children turn outward to think through how to engage with and love their neighbors in their classroom.

Fourth, manage expectations in the household to set children up for success in the classroom and at home.

Returning to school can be challenging, especially for younger kids. As our kids went through kindergarten, I remember some of their most difficult moments at home regularly came at the start of the school year. It seems as if reacclimating to the rigors of the classroom saps their self-control in a way that can lead to challenges when they get home.

One of the best ways parents can serve their families is to set proper expectations for their kids as the school year begins. When I take my boys to our one-on-one fun outing, one of the primary things I focus on is setting their expectations for the school year in regards to: (1) the types of new academic challenges they will encounter, (2) the types of new behavioral challenges they will experience with other students, and (3) the types of new personal challenges they will face as they adjust to the new normal. It’s not just kids that need to adjust their expectations, though. Parents need to recalibrate what they expect from their children as they enter the school year.

Some parents dread the end of the summer because it closes out a unique time for their family to spend together. Other parents can’t wait for the end of the summer because they have reached the end of their rope after a season of chaos. Regardless of where you find yourself as the school year begins, every family can benefit if parents are intentional about identifying ways to strengthen their family rhythms through their back-to-school routines.

Phillip Bethancourt

Phillip Bethancourt is Senior Pastor of Central Church in College Station, Texas. Before he was called to pastor Central, he served as the Executive Vice President of the ERLC team. He completed an MDiv and PhD in Systematic Theology at Southern after attending Texas A&M University. Phillip and his wife, Cami, have been married since 2005, … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24