Saturday, 28 February 2015

On Labels: Family Integrated Church

This one's quite simple, really.  A Family Integrated Church:

Has no youth group
Has no Sunday School (or Crusaders or Kidzone or Kids Church or...)
Keeps families together and minimises any activity that separates families.
Teaches parents to disciple their own children.

Simple really.  And yet... some pulses have already started racing.  Sweaty palms.  You have no... no... children's work!  You What?!?!?!  Are you out of your mind?

A Family Integrated Church believes that it is the job of parents to disciple their own children, not that of the church.

Well, lots of churches believe that... but why does that mean we have to do away with the children's ministries?
  1. Because children's ministries give parents a false impression that the church is discipling their children so that they don't have to.
  2. Because it gives the church better control over the quality of the teaching.  All too often it is the desperate [i.e. the church leadership] pressing the reluctant [i.e. children's leaders] to teach the disengaged [the young people].  Not a good place to be when we consider that teachers (surely this includes those teaching the kids) are judged more strictly (see James 3:1).
  3. Because it is (arguably) more Biblical.  I know of no hint that children were separated from adults when people gathered together in the Bible.  However, it is both stated and implied that children were with adults in some instances.  See Nehemiah 8.  Also, Deuteronomy 31:9-13, which I quote below.  See also Ephesians 1:1 then 6:1-3 or Colossians 1:1-2, then 3:20. 
  4. Because when families are kept together, the family members all hear the same teaching, giving parents an opportunity to explain the teaching to their children and answer questions.
  5. Because it allows children to see mature adults worshipping and participating.  They learn by observing as well as by hearing teaching.
  6. Because when children spend plenty of time with older people they themselves learn good habits and grow up more quickly.
Then Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel.  And Moses commanded them, “At the end of every seven years, at the set time in the year of release, at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing.  Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.”
Deuteronomy 31:9-13

The following are not hard and fast rules.  But there are characteristics of these churches that are common:
  • They tend to have a high proportion of 'homeschoolers' - i.e. parents who educate their children at home rather than in the school system.
  • A high proportion of the families are large, with, say, five children or more.
  • They tend to have male leaders/elders and have traditional roles for men and women.
  • They do not tend to have a plethora of 'church ministries', such as soup kitchens, debt counselling, day centres and so on.  The emphasis is more on ministering from a home setting.   So, for example, churches members may provide a home for widows and orphans, are more likely to adopt children and share their homes with students and single young people and share meals in each others homes.
These are not hard and fast rules.  It is simply the case that where there is a strong emphasis on family life and when the theology of the family is fully appreciated, certain other things flow from that.

It needs to be said that there are pitfalls to this approach and nobody is criticising dedicated, faithful people who work hard with young people in churches.  However, churches that don't go lock stock and barrel down the Family Integrated route need to (in my view) think very carefully about how they disciple parents and teach them to be responsible and help young people to have good adult role models and involvement in the church.

So what was the story all about in the previous post?  It was simply a way of showing how, if someone does something for someone all the time (in this case, giving Lucy a lift to school) when it is not actually their responsibility, we end up with irresponsible people who do not grow up.

We see this all the time in our society of course, but our churches need to be different!

Thursday, 12 February 2015

On Labels: Family Integrated - Teaching Responsibility

I am not pointing a finger.  If I did, three would point back at me.

We do the easy thing.  As any good parent knows, in order to teach responsibility to your children, you have to do the following:

  • Stop doing it for them
  • Teach them how to do it
  • Let them make mistakes
  • If they won't listen, let them take the heat - allow them to face the consequences of their actions, but be there to pick them up and encourage them to try again

This can be a hard thing to do of course, because we don't like our children to suffer.

To show you what I mean, let us travel down to the Lambtons.  This [fictitious] family lives in Shieldcastlehope and we join them as dad [Laurie] gets his 12 year old daughter Lucy ready for school one morning.  There are uncomfortable echoes with someone not sitting too far from this computer...

Lucy finds it hard to get up in the morning.  Really hard!  She catches a bus to school.  In order to catch the bus, she has to be ready for school and out of the door by 8.00am.

Laurie also leaves for work at about the same time.  He can drive to work and drop her off at school, and occasionally does, but usually he gets the cheaper and more convenient Metro train.

The conversation goes something like this:

Colour Key:Dad

Lucy - are you ready, pet?
What are you doin'?
Brushing me hair - I just cannat get it right!
Have you seen the time?
Ha'way lass!  If you're not out in five minutes, you'll miss your bus.
Why didn't you tell me before?
You have to keep an eye on the time yourself!
But I'm tired!
Aren't we all!
Oh dad!  Can you give me a lift to school today?  Pleeeeeeease!!!  I slept in!
That's your problem!  I woke you up in good time.  You should have gett'n up earlier!  You have a bus to catch!
But daaad!  I'll miss the bus!
Your problem!  You should have thought of that when you decided to lie in for 20 minutes!
But daaaaad!  I'll be late again!  You always used to give me a lift when I was late.  What's changed?
I'm trying to teach you something this time, Lucy.
But daaaaaaaaad!  I'll get detention... again!  WHY can't you take me?  The car's outside! Maaaaaam!  Tell dad to take me to school today!
Well, Laurie - can't you take Lucy to school just this once, love?
I know it's hard, pet.  But this is the only way she'll learn.  We've warned her.  Now she'll have to face the consequences.  Mebbies this is the only way she'll get the message!

This scenario plays out up and down the land.  And the essential message is that we can't keep doing things for people when it's not our responsibility to do it.  Like dad, we need to begin to take away the supports and teach and equip people to do what they should have been doing all along... and stop doing it for them.  And if that means there will be some mistakes along the way, then so be it.

I want to put it to you now that there is something that Christian families are not doing that they should.  And in order to get scores of families doing the right things, we need a new type of church.  One that is currently quite rare.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

On Labels: Family Integrated - Utter destruction coming this way

Warning:  Apocalyptic post coming up.  Before I say what 'Family integrated' means, I need to say two things to prepare the ground, and this is the first.

A couple of scriptures to begin with.

Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.  Exodus 20:6
 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse. Malachi 4:6

I feel short-changed in a way.  For all the years I have been reading the New International Version of the Bible (NIV), and to a lesser degree the Authorised Version (the KJV), As a result, I thought that verse said 'curse' [Hebrew 'arar or qalal] as in 'whoever curses you, I will curse (Genesis 12:3), which would be bad enough of course.

Now let's have a look at the English Standard Version (ESV), which spells out the meaning of this more clearly:

And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”[a] Footnote:
  1. Malachi 4:6 The Hebrew term rendered decree of utter destruction refers to things devoted (or set apart) to the Lord (or by the Lord) for destruction

The actual word used here is the Hebrew word herem meaning totally abominable and only fit for complete ruin.  The equivalent Greek word would be anathema [see Galatians 1:8].

Many Christians recognise and state how important good, loving, stable, godly marriages are in the church.  I totally agree with these people.  What I don't hear so much is how important is the relationship between father and son, parents and children.  This relationship is under strain.  The way our society is structured does not facilitate good relations between the generations.

So to spell out what this means for us, if the strong bond between parents and children is broken, our society, our nation will be utterly destroyed.

Now let's have a look some topical news items to see how we are treating our children.

A conservative estimate of 1,400 girls trafficked, abused, drugged, gang raped in Rotherham, South Yorkshire. Largely by members of the the local Pakistani Community including a police officer and two local politicians.

Or how about the reported 13,000 cases of child abuse in Greater Manchester over six years?

Or the 105 people arrested in the Newcastle area for sexual offences, mainly against young girls?

Quite rightly, there has been much heart-searching and discussion in the media over the abject failure of children's charities, police and council officials to investigate these incidents and protect these children, even though they have been known about for years.  People are also asking whether the multicultural nature of our society can actually work.  

But there is one thing people are not highlighting.  Where are the fathers?  Where are the mothers of these vulnerable children?  Many of these children were in council care, but not all by any means,  Many were simply allowed to wander the streets and meet whoever they like.  Why weren't their parents (or aunts, uncles, legal guardians) protecting them?

How about abortions?  There are about 200,000 every year in the UK.  Over a third of them are repeat abortions, i.e. from women who have had at least one (sometimes more) before.  There are about 700,000 live births each year, so we have 2 abortions for every 7 live births.

Family breakdown?  A million children growing up without a father.  Over half of our children will not see their parents together by the time they are 16.

I could go on.

In the light of Malachi 4:6, do you think God is going to turn a blind eye to this?

We can be political about this and point the finger at negligent council officials or the evils of multiculturalism all we like.  The fact is, as a nation we have rejected God.  And we have stopped honouring our parents.  And we have stopped protecting our children.  As a result, we are reaping what we've sown.  It will only get worse from here onwards and the days of our gentle, civilised British way of life are numbered.

So where is the Christian church in all of this?  Are we lights to the world?  Are we the salt of the Earth or has the salt lost it's savour?  Will we be utterly destroyed as well?

The church can be described as a lifeboat.  The boat needs to be in the water in order to rescue anyone (so the church has to be in the world), but if the water gets in the boat (the world gets in the church) we will sink.  It's as simple as that.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

On Labels: A Tale of two Churches

Let's head down to the (fictitious) North East town called Shieldcastlehope.  In it are two main gospel churches, one called the Ebenezer Reformed Bible Tabernacle, led by Pastor William McKinley.  The other church, the Living Springs Victory Fellowship is led by husband and wife team, Pastors Steve and Sharon Brightside.

Yes.  You’ve already worked out which is which, which one you would attend and which one you wouldn’t be seen dead in!  Let’s just say that Ebenezer is the more traditional.  Suit and tie, Westminster confession, KJV, hymns only, cessationist, Calvinist, male preachers only, it contrasts with Living Springs with its hair-down, lights down, jeans and trainers dress code (and that's the leadership), its cool Saturday youth night and ‘give it a go’ approach to anything new.

Neither of these churches really exist, and yet.... they are replicated across the land.  I need to say here that both Ebernezer and Living Springs have sincere, committed people who love the Lord and one day their people, many of whom will not even acknowledge each other when they pass on the street, will share the New Heaven and the New Earth together.  Both have their good points and their bad points.

For now I will make just one observation.

They don't really like each other.  There's grudging acknowledgement that they do some good things, and there's a certain amount of fear in the relationship between respective leaders.  But they are entrenched in their respective positions.  If truth be known, they're even a bit embarrassed by their neighbours who they believe to represent an incorrect form of Christianity.

But every so often, an individual or family will leave one congregation for the other, having been hurt or frustrated or disappointed in some way.  Or an issue will come up which may need a united response.  They're in a smallish town.  They can't always avoid each other.

We'll revisit Shieldcastlehope a little later.