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!

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