Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ask RC: What is a “Family-integrated church?”

Though it sounds rather complicated and perhaps a smidge experimental, the concept is both simple and ancient. A family integrated church is one that encourages keeping families together by keeping them together. It is a church where families together study the Bible, where families together worship the living God, where families together serve both the church and the world in the name of Jesus Christ.

We fight against a Devil that desperately fights against the family. While we are on guard, as we ought to be, against assaults on the family in the political sphere, we often miss the serpent’s subtleties. The broader culture attacks our families by dividing them. It constructs demographic groups to replace family identity. Each group has its own language, its own clothing, its own music, its own events, its own identity. Our homes, once symbols of togetherness, have now become little more than apartment complexes, designed to keep us apart. Each family member not only has his own room, but in many homes his own phone, television, music system, gaming system. We don’t even share dinner together as Mom rushes off to her book club, Dad heads back to the office, Junior catches a ride to little league practice, and Princess heads off to the youth group meeting. Messages taped to the refrigerator are the apex of our togetherness.

It’s bad enough that such happens six days a week, but we have, in the last fifty or so years, added a new tradition to the church, and imported this same mindset there. Sunday morning we might all share a ride to the church but when we get there Dad goes to his Wild at Heart meeting, Mom to her Women In the Church gathering, Junior is shuttled off to his Little Crusaders class and Princess is hanging out with her friends in the youth building. The result- we end up identifying with our peers rather than our families, just like in the world.

The Bible does actually talk about demographic groups. It addresses the issue. It, however, commands not that we separate from each other based on our stage in life, but that we come together (see Titus 2). The Bible’s pattern, and that which the church followed for over 1900 years, is that the family together is taught and encouraged by the church, and that parents raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Divided Sunday Schools and youth groups were designed with the best of intentions, to reach out to the lost. What they have become, however, is a new tradition, and worse still, a ready excuse for parents to fail in their calling. God calls me, not the Sunday school teachers, not the youth leaders, to speak to my children of the things of God when they lie down, when they walk by the way, and when they rise up (Deuteronomy 6).

My friends, the LeClerc brothers, in association with my friends at the National Center for Family Integrated Churches, have created a brief but insightful documentary, Divided, that deals with this very issue. They have made it possible to watch this video, free of charge, for the next month and a half. I’d encourage you to take a look at www.dividedthemovie.com. It might make you mad. But it will surely make you think.


Anonymous said...

Hello and thank you for your ministry.

As a member of a Reformed church, we struggle with the idea of children attending Sunday classes with their peers for the purpose of catechism instruction. Our leaders tolerate our views on this, as our children do well in their elder interview that is required before they become church members. We prepare them at home and study the catechism as a family.

We are told that catechism instruction for children has always been an important part of the
Reformed tradition. Was this instruction done outside the context of the family or do we have historical examples in the Reformed tradition of the family giving the primary catechism instruction?

Thank you.


R.C. said...

The tradition has always been that families catechized their children and that the shepherds asked about and checked to see that the parents were doing so. See Baxter's The Reformed Pastor for a good picture of this.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I used to attend a church where I got thrust into the position of youth pastor. I never liked the title, and I never liked the job all that much. The kids were great, but I saw from the start that "youth ministry" by its very nature is not only in large part fruitless, but it is also hostile to the family unit. My wife and I stood firmly on the position that what the kids needed was not us but their own parents. And I was amazed at how unhappy that made parents (and the pastor at times). Parents wanted wanted us to "cast vision" and "fix" their kids for them, etc.

What is staggering to me is that most modern churches see the youth of their congregations grow up, get out, and stay out, all while still insisting on keeping the current design of youth ministry and the "us and them" mentality of ministry when it comes to children and adults.

Perhaps the most disturbing part that I witnessed was youth pastors themselves. I have rarely seen such ignorance and arrogance wrapped up in the same package.

Forgive my pragmatism here but the bottom line for youth ministry is this: it does not work.