Thursday, July 31, 2008

Family Integrated Church

I decided I was tired of thinking about politics. So I decided to write about something that I stumbled onto years ago, but haven't thought about in depth until recently. This new (to me) idea is family integrated church. This is one thing that worries me about our congregation. Everyone is so separated. Our kids never see us worship. I know one family that goes against the flow keeps there kids for the whole service (as opposed to sending them with the other kids to kid worship). Honestly, I don't think I am to the point of conviction to do that. Our kids love being with the other kids. I do think that the Family Integrated Church might have a point. I found this blog that has a very interesting FAQ section. Here are the ones that interested me the most (I added the bold):

Why no traditional youth ministry?
In our church we say we have the greatest youth ministers in the world – our dads. Our dads do all the planning for recreation. The children never have anyone other than their father to be a major impact player in their life and teaching them God’s Word. We say that we don’t have a youth ministry, but we do have a youth group. It’s just like we have a lot of children in our church, but we don’t have a “children’s ministry.”A lot of youth ministries today look and act a lot like the world, in the way they dress, talk, etc. Statistics are indicating that 85% of students from a typical church will fall away from the faith within three years after finishing school. So if you have an 85% failure rate, then why do you keep doing things the same way? We are not! We do have activities for all ages of kids, but most of our recreation is planned for the whole family. However, all activities are driven by the parents, and the parents are the activities directors.

This really speaks to something that has been on my heart for a long time; parents need to take responsibility for the spiritual development of their kids. It also speaks to the whole pew warmer mentality. I am coming to the conclusion that the more ministers there are the harder it is to get people to volunteer. I think in part this is because "someone is getting paid to do that". It is also in part because what you can volunteer for is largely meaningless in the sense of being able to make decisions or actually change anything. For example, our church has something like 30 or so full-time ministers. The volunteers mostly do the busy work. The ministers make all of the decisions. So if you, as a parent, think it is a waste of time for the toddlers to watch Barney as a time filler, there is not much you can do about it unless you can figure out which of youth/children's ministers is in charge of such things. If you volunteer to teach, everything (activities, crafts, schedule, script for Bible story, etc.) is laid out for you. It is easier that way but also less meaningful somehow.

What about membership?
Membership is being a believer. This is quite the contrary to modern day church structure. We have looked at the process that many modern day churches do membership and it simply does not have a biblical foundation. Thus, we do not follow the secular methods employed by many other churches. We simply want families and people to attend the worship service and be encouraged by the Word of God and take that home with them. You can come for many years or a few months or even weeks. The church is the believer in Jesus Christ, thus we are all members of His wonderful grace. Since we do not vote or have committees there is no need for membership.

While this is more about this particular congregation and not so much about family integration, it does beg a question I have often thought about. What is the deal with "membership"? I think they are right. I understand that in some churches that there is a whole covenant type agreement. Why can't the agreement be just between you and God?

Now back to my original Famiy Integrated Church (FIC) thing. I was surprised to find that there is a directory of FIC congregations here. From there you can find a link to this post by Scott Brown. Here are the opening lines:

I believe that we are involved in the greatest evangelistic opportunity before the church today: the salvation of millions of children under the evangelistic and discipleship ministry of fathers and mothers in the home. This is not the only mission field, to be sure, but it is perhaps the most neglected mission field before the church in our time.

Now this I totally agree on. We (born again evangelicals) are losing about 65-85% of our kids after the first year of college. That is evidence of a major failing. If we are incapable of discipling our own children, how do we expect to disciple new comers?

Further down he makes this statement:
Sadly, our churches are filled with young people who have “walked an aisle,” but who have never really understood the full breadth of the gospel message. For them, the gospel has been trivialized and reduced to simply “accepting Christ.” In contrast to this, the daily diet of a father’s gospel teaching gives a detailed understanding of the gospel. It provides both the context and content that is necessary to become a true follower of Christ.

That is a profound comparison. Again, I feel myself agreeing.

Then I found this confession on the Vision Forum. Here is the opening paragraph. I added the bold.

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we believe that the family is a holy institution, ordained and established by the Sovereign Triune God Who created the heavens and the earth. God’s infallible revelation, the Bible, reveals that the family is an integral part of the unfolding of His eternal purpose for the redemption of sinners. This great and gracious salvation—purposed by the Father, accomplished by the Son, and applied by the Holy Spirit—is in great measure passed on to succeeding generations as parents faithfully disciple the children God gives them. Therefore, the biblical order and unity of the family are crucial to the stability and health of the Church of Jesus Christ. In light of this, we recognize that the family—and especially fathers—are the focus of a fierce and unrelenting attack by the world, the flesh, and the Devil. This has escalated to the point that Christians must rise up in defense of the family in uncompromising biblical warfare.

You can totally see men and fathers being marginalized in this country. How many kids don't even know who their real dad is? How many dads are driven from their kids because of no fault divorce. My kids are so blessed to have a great dad who takes this fathering business seriously.

Well, I guess I better call it a night, but I will keep this rolling around in my head. I would love to hear any comments.

19 comments:

PerryC said...

I work at Vision Forum. IF you send me your address there are a few cds I would be happy to send you to listen to.

God Bless
Perry
Pcoghlan (at) Gmail.com

Applied Christianity said...

Thank you for the kind offer, Perry.

Wickle said...

Hmmm ...

I'm more or less with you on the idea of keeping the family together. Things like Sunday School and youth groups have their place, but I think it's very important that the family spend time together worshiping. I've never been big on the whole idea of dismissing kids.

As for membership ... that's interesting. I know it's not Biblically mandated, but it had never really bothered me so much. I've generally thought of it as a useful tool, as long as it's not exaggerated. But that's an interesting perspective that I'll have to consider.

Applied Christianity said...

Wickle,

I never thought much about membership until recently. I don't think that it is wrong, per se. But at one church my husband and I went to they were very agitated that we didn't "place membership" after a couple of months. My take was, "We're participating. We aren't being 'troublemakers'. What difference does a membership card make?" Anyway, it could just be my own quirkiness.

Jeana said...

Wow, lots to think about!

If you've read my blog for any length of time, you know we bring our kids into worship. While we started doing it because we believed it was the best thing for them, it has blessed ME immensely.

Having said that, I wouldn't pick a church based solely on whether or not they are family integrated. The church we belong to is not by definition, but the leadership and most of the members are supportive of us doing it, even though most of them don't. (That's starting to change--more young families are starting to bring their kids in, too.) I think choosing a church based solely on practice (such as bringing kids into church) can easily lead to legalism and confusing a sin issue with what is really a wisdom issue. This is not to say that I think FIC are wrong, only to say that if that's the only thing I disagreed with my church on, I wouldn't break fellowship over it.

I think youth groups can be a nice optional side thing in addition to Dad's leadership, as long as it doesn't take center stage. The lion's share of spiritual guidance should come from Dad, not the youth pastor.

I can see some practical benefits to church membership. Before someone becomes a member of our church, they go through a class where the gospel is presented in detail, along with our church's core beliefs. More than once someone has realized during the class that while they claimed to be a Christian, in reality they had never accepted Christ and, in some cases, didn't really know what it meant. The membership class provides a checkpoint for the basics of Christianity that every believer should know.

Some ministries, such as Sunday School teachers, are only open to church members. I think it's a good thing to know that someone has to be taught those core beliefs before they can take on a leadership role in our church.

Years ago when people lived in small villages and knew each other their entire lives, they had more of an idea of where the other person was coming from. In our transient society with people coming and going so much, I think it's good to have this checkpoint.

Anonymous said...

The blog that you have referred to is the one I am responsible for. Your kind comments are welcome. I was a bi-vocational pastor of two Baptist churches for eleven years and began to see the troubling trends of modern day youth ministry. It was then the Lord began to open my heart to see the truth of men discipling their families.

I was so involved in "ministry" that my own children were not getting the discipleship they needed and what they were getting in church were not the best of influences. In January of '08 is when I stepped down from the pastorate because I was physically burned out. I cherish the Word of God and I was becoming something I did not want to be in the fact that it was a 'burden' to prepare messages.

We currently meet with about 7 families in different homes as of now with two elders. There are no demanding programs or activities we just try to honor God by being faithful to His Word.

We have a lot of sacred cows in the modern day church that are not heresy but don't have any Biblical foundations. One is membership, that you mentioned and there are of course others. We are not looking for a utopia but the joy of meeting with like minded believers who share the same passion and love for the Word of God is wonderful.

May the Lord Bless.

Brad

Applied Christianity said...

Jeana,
It is an honor to have you on my side of the blogosphere.

I agree that family integration is a wisdom issue.

The problem I have with youth groups is when parents are not encouraged to participate in any meaningful way. My kids are too little to be in youth group so I don't know how it is at our church. Youth ministries should exist (if at all) to help the parents not to pat the parents on the heads and say, "Hand us your kids and everything will be all right."

The kind of membership that you are talking about (making sure that everyone is a Christian and on the same page) is necessary in a large church (like mine). But some churches membership is just filling out a card with your name and address and stuff with none of what you talked about. That is when I ask, "What is the point?"

This also brings up another point. We can only get to know people by interacting with them. How can leaders shepherd people with whom they have no interaction? But that is a topic for another post.

Applied Christianity said...

Brad (anonymous),

Thanks for leaving a comment. I am always glad to hear stories of people that give up the comfortable to follow their convictions. I certainly hope that the Lord blesses your efforts.

Rebecca said...

We do family integrated church out of necessity, because we don't have the resources for a children's program. But we also believe that it is the dad's job to pastor his family, and so I don't think we'd necessarily have a separate children's service even if we could. Last Sunday Jason had the older kids draw what he was preaching, to help them stay quiet and focus. It really worked! They showed him their pictures afterwards and basically retold the sermon. It was like they were taking notes! And our four-year-old son sat next to my husband the entire service, soaking it up and later asking questions about it. They don't have to be out of elementary school to learn from the "grown-up" service. I remember gleaning a lot in church as a child, even when I didn't understand all the theological vocab.

And yeah, when the dads do their jobs, there's no need for a youth or children's pastor. The sad thing is though, that most dads don't do their jobs. I think the only thing that will change that trend is if the church decides to "man up" and stop feminizing itself. Most of the decor, programs, decision processes, and even preaching in most churches these days is designed to appeal to women. Which would explain why over 60 percent of church populations nationwide are women. And it would also explain why the most underrepresented group in churches nationwide are young men, ages 20-35. The young single guys and dads. You can't build strong families without strong dads. And to do that you need masculine pastors and masculine churches. Mars Hill in Seattle set out to do that from the beginning, and it's working. The majority of their congregation is young dudes. The ones who are least likely to set foot in church. And they've found that when you get the young dudes, the young women, single moms, kids, and teenagers follow. Guys are looking for someone to teach them to man up and pastor their families. But that kind of leadership is hard for them to find in most of the country.

As far as membership, I used to think it was kind of meaningless. But now that we're actually planting a church, I can see why it's good. The precedent for it, biblically, is the devotion that the believers in the early church showed to their local bodies. They shared resources and prayed over each other and fed one another and lived a very tight-knit brand of community. You can't really do that without committing yourself to it. From a practical standpoint, the membership process should be a way to weed out wolves, who would spread heresy through the church, and to make a clear distinction as to who may hold teaching positions. If just anyone can lead, with no membership process to assess their doctrine and genuine commitment to Christ and Scripture, then people could be led astray and entire congregations could be divided. Membership also should include an agreement to accept church discipline, because nowadays, without explicit agreement, church leaders have no legal recourse to reprove someone caught in a dangerous sin, or to expel an unrepentant heretic who is spreading falsehoods throughout the church. But it's also a heart issue. When God calls people to be a part of a local body of believers, they need to be willing to commit themselves to it. It's not such an issue in other cultures, but here in America, we're fond of "the next big thing" and we're notorious church hoppers. That's no way to build a solid community.

Applied Christianity said...

Excellent comments, Rebecca. I can see your point on membership. I think if there is going to be a "membership" it should go deeper than filling out a card and putting it in the collection plate. I guess I still prefer to weed out wolves the old fashion way by getting to know them.

onemom said...

It has always bothered me if a baby started crying during a church service how people would send darting glances at the mother until she took the little one out of the service. Just as the disciples told the children to go away, but Jesus told them to come.

Yet another reason why I love the House Church.

Applied Christianity said...

As though they were cell phones that could be put into silence mode. Quite right, as usual, OneMom.

Scott Weldon said...

Read Voddie Baucham's Family Driven Faith and try to find a copy of his message on the Centrality of the Home. Family Life Today used to have it but I'm having problems finding the proper links. Anyway, he gives great background stats and things on the failure of traditional "youth groups" and why the family ought to be more central in our discipleship efforts.

Applied Christianity said...

Thanks, Scott. I do have Voddie's book on my list of stuff to read.

Claudia said...

I very much agree with what you posted regarding Youth Groups and membership. I think a better way of knowing who is volunteering in a church would be getting to really know them, i.e. fellowship.

In many churches today the Youth Pastor is the main male role model and, occasionally, the only godly one for young people who are being raised in a single parent home by a stressed out mother. That's one benefit of a Youth Group. However, mentoring of those kids by fathers in the church who have youth of the same age might be a better option. If they would be encouraged to come alongside.

Applied Christianity said...

Claudia,
Welcome to the blog.

I agree that many fatherless teens could benefit from the fathers of other teens participating in the "youth group". Those from broken families could see how Christian married families function.

meg said...

I wonder how much of the family-integration question has to do with size of church? We are part of a small congregation where kids not only generally stay in the service, but are also a large part of it. -- One teen passes out bulletins and plays piano for the hymns. Two other teens help with singing and playing guitar. And special music is occasionally done by a few different elementary kids. Kids are always welcome to speak up during sharing time in our service. And kids are as likely to find a seat among the adults during potlucks as they are to sit among other kids their own age.

I think there's a lot of value in youth groups. I grew a lot and was challenged by one of the ones I was in. Then again, I was in a second that was basically fluff for my age group. :-P If I could only have integration or separation, I'd definitely go the route of integration. But it's nice to have a mixture for different personality types and needs.

Applied Christianity said...

Meg,

Welcome to the blog. I agree that youth groups can be helpful or hurtful. But even helpful ones would be better if the parents were the role models and were involved.

I think that size of the church is one of the main factors. In our megachurch, it seems people are divided into smaller groups (for "community") based on age or life station.

Orange County Family Integrated Church said...

It is amazing to see how blessed families are when the children participate with the parents during the service AND the parents have family worship with their children every day.