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    Paideia and a Place for Good Works

    November 2, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

    Ephesians 2:10

    The context of this post, just so you know, is my first post concerning paideia. If you haven’t read it, you are coming into the middle of a thought, so to speak.

    Just a warning there.


    If paideia is “concerned with nothing less than the shaping of the ideal man,” and if Paul commands that Christian children be shaped by “the paideia of the Lord,” then it seems that the next logical step is to examine what exactly the ideal man looks like in God’s economy.

    What are Good Works?

    Foremost on my mind lately has been finding room for good works. But first, let’s take a look at what “good works” says in Greek, because I am loving Greek so much these days!

    What Paul calls “good works” is, in Greek, ἀγαθός {agathos} ἔργον {ergon}. Agathos means, according to my trusty Greek helper, a good constitution or nature. Later on down the list of possible meanings, we also find excellent, distinguished, and honorable. It seems possible to me, given the list, that the works are good in a moral sense {in that they were worth doing, and also that they were well done}, and also in an attitudinal sense {in that they were done cheerfully, with a pleasant nature}.

    This tells me that I must not just help my children find works to perform, but that I must help them grow in cheerful attitudes, which is a quality of the inner man.

    Ergon, which is translated works, means more literally business or employment. The idea is that it is anything in which the hands are occupied. The secondary definition states that ergon is “any product whatever, any thing accomplished by hand, art, industry, or mind.”

    I was surprised to find the definition to be so broad! I had thought that good works would be a very specific thing, like Dorcas making clothes for everyone in the church who needed them. What we find, then, is that good works are exactly what Dorcas did…and so much more.

    I was thinking about this today in terms of the different categories of things that we do. There are some Good Things that we do because they are a job assigned to us, or part of a role God has given us. Then, we also have the work we do because it needs doing. Lastly, there are the things we do because we love them.

    These three categories {jobs assigned to us, work needing to be done, and things we love–and are gifted–to do} apply to life within the Church as well, especially the latter two categories. Our church has a philosophy of service that I find interesting. They expect each person’s primary ministry to focus on what they are gifted to do. Secondary ministries are things that need to be done, the immediate needs of the church. So a member would spend most of their time practicing their gifts {do any of us doubt that Dorcas loved to sew?}, and smaller amounts of their time doing things that, like spilled milk right in front of us, simply must be done, even if we don’t particularly like or feel skilled at doing them.

    Jobs assigned to us, incidentally, would be dictated to us by Scripture. The Bible is very clear how the men who are our Elders should lead their lives, but it is also clear that they are examples to us all. So while, for example, Elders must excel in hospitality, such behavior is expected of all regardless of giftedness. Those of us who aren’t as skilled at hospitality can consider it a “job assigned.”

    Good Works in Relation to Paideia

    If you recall from the first post, the Greek concept of paideia is bigger than mere formal education. Formal education is at its core, but paideia is bigger and deeper, encompassing everything it takes to bring a child up into an ideal adulthood. Because Paul said that Christian fathers must bring their children up in the paideia of the Lord, all aspects of paideia must be submitted to Him.

    If I “think too much” about my children’s upbringing, it is because I am well aware that my children belong to God, and that I will be held accountable for how I mother them, just as my husband will be held accountable for how he fathers them.

    Ephesians 2:10 above makes it clear that Christians are created in Christ for good works that we would walk in them. The Greek word translated “walk in them” is περιπατέω {peripateō}, and it literally means to pass/conduct/regulate one’s life. The idea is that our lives as Christians are lived in good works. Good works are not accessories, but rather the very nature of a life lived well.

    In regard to paideia, a child cannot be properly enculturated into an ideal manhood if he is not immersed in a life of good works. This would mean both doing well the things before him, as well as the more traditional conception of individual acts of service.

    Group Service

    One of the things I am trying to shake from my mind is the idea that ministry is something belonging to me, something that I do, by myself or with my husband or other adults, in my spare time. If Paul is saying that we are to live our very lives in ministry, this is a different picture, almost making ministry not something that we do, but an entire approach to living life.

    Connected to this is, once again, the idea of paideia, where the children are to be enculturated. If I leave them to “do ministry,” what does this communicate to them? What do they learn or not learn if this is my primary approach to what it means to minister?

    I am not saying that it is wrong for a parent to leave the home and go out and minister in some situation without their children. What I am saying is that paideia, I think, necessitates a sort of group service, where the children are trained by the example of the parents, and involved to the extent that they are able, in ministering to others.

    Now is probably a good time to say that I do not think that children who are left to themselves will magically grow up and take their rightful places within the Church. Churches of every denomination and non-denomination nationwide are hemorrhaging their children out into the world, and my best guess is that this is almost entirely due to fathers neglecting to raise their children in the paideia of the Lord.

    Serving Together

    With this said, I have recently been on the lookout for things that my children and I can do together. The easiest thing I have come up with is bringing meals to people in our church who need them. Everyone was so kind to us when Si was in the hospital, that we have a desire to reciprocate anyhow. What I learned from that experience is that children can be way more involved than I realized. Not only did folks bring some or all of their children to deliver the meal, others had their children make cards for my children which were either delivered with the meal, or sent in the mail later. My children knew that other children had been a part of the task because of how the parents went about it.

    As I have looked around, and informally interviewed people, I have begun to notice all sorts of ideas. I see people teaching Sunday School for tiny children and their own older children are the “assistants” in the class. I see fathers and sons ushering together or greeting together on Sunday morning. I spoke with a woman who bakes hundreds of cookies with her children which they then deliver to our local women’s shelter. I see fathers and sons together, fixing the cars of widows and single moms in our church parking lot.

    Five or six years ago, when I was just starting out in parenthood, a wise woman told me to work with my children. From the very beginning, she said, do the housework together. Let tiny children match clean socks or put away the silverware, she said. It seems to me that this is an extension of that same context. Mother does not leave her child in order to accomplish something in her day, but rather engages in the work together with them, helping them to grow into the men and women they will someday be in the Lord.

    Applying to DecemberTerm

    I am already playing around with my DecemberTerm plans in my mind. I’m considering paintings, songs, poems, and so on. But this year, I’m trying to get even more focused on service. What better time of year than Advent to teach our children to give? My goals for them this year are going to include various acts of service to each other, to neighbors, to members of our church and extended family, and to someone in need.

    I am keeping the “three categories” of good works from above in mind, and also working to underpin it all with the cheerful attitude God desires {usually it helps when Mom sets the example, I have noticed}. So we will try to do things because they are our jobs, do things that need doing whether we like to or not, and also I will try to help them find things they love to do which benefit others. With children, I actually think that last one is the most difficult. They are just starting out in the world, and it will be many years until they are ready to take their own places in the Body. I often pray that God will help me to “see” my children, to know how they are gifted, and where they can serve Him.

    Do you have service plans with your children?

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  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts November 4, 2009 at 11:40 pm

    Rachel, I used to feel a lot like that! I don’t know exactly what your gifts are, but I could probably guess. One of my gifts is what some people call discernment. I remember having lunch with one of my seminary professors one time to discuss some theological battles I’d been having in my workplace. I was turning to him for help, and he basically explained to me that not everyone could “see” as well as I did. He taught me a lot that way, but he also told me to beware–that sometimes the church sees folks like me as the proverbial thorn in their flesh.


    However, when we left LA and moved to where we live now, there were finally times when I was able to use that gift to…review books for a church newsletter…write letters to the editor of a local paper…The latter might not seem like a “ministry” but I actually think it is if God is actually reconciling the whole world to Himself. It was, at that time in my life, a way of helping to rebuild the ruins using my particular giftedness.

    Before I found these little “outlets” I did what you mentioned–spent time doing things that were out of character for me because it was better than doing nothing. And I don’t think that was a bad thing, for I was stretched in many ways. But I do think that if we pray for Him to give us ministries (even if they are one little opportunity at a time) where we can use our gifts, He is faithful to provide it in His time.

  • Reply Rachel R. November 4, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    All of my own gifts are what I call “big mouth” gifts. I struggle to find an appropriate outlet for them, and this third category of works that you describe, while not dropping the first two. Consequently, I really resent doing the first two, because they’re all I ever do, and I really stink at them. I would love, love, love to find an outlet for these gifts so I can feel like I’m actually succeeding at something on occasion, but I’m totally at a loss, because they don’t lend themselves well to homemaking, or family-integrated church, or ministering as a household. Any suggestions/insights you might have would be most welcome!

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts November 4, 2009 at 12:23 am

    Ellen, What a unique and wonderful opportunity you have there! I look forward to hearing how it goes. Children are such a blessing to old people, especially near the holidays when they are missing their own loved ones.

  • Reply Ellen November 3, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    We have moved to a neighborhood with a nursing home right across the street. We’re going to be more intentional in the next year to go there and visit, me and the boys. We’ll probably start on Christmas Day this year, if not before. We’re hoping to make a visit like that a Christmas tradition.

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