Friday, January 18, 2008

Church Reform - the Family

I have chosen to follow the “Discipleship” post with this post on the family because it is my strong conviction that the church has the responsibility to assist families in the discipleship process. All we have to do is look to Deuteronomy and Ephesians to see this. However, let’s first take a brief look at the state of the family in the American church today.

When the typical family arrives “at church” on Sunday morning, an immediate segregation takes place. The parents go to an adult Sunday School class, the youth attend a youth class, the younger kids go to their areas, and the infants & toddlers are dropped off at the nursery. After Sunday School, the parents (most of the time) meet back up with their elementary age kids and head to the “worship service.” They sit together until it is time for “Children’s Church.” At that point, the kids leave for the remainder of the service. The youth, meanwhile, sit together in the service, and do not meet back up with their parents until after the service. When everything has concluded, the parents rush to the nursery to pick up the little ones.

What can we learn from all this? The modern American church has a philosophy that separation into age groupings is a positive thing. Almost all churches do this to one degree or another. What has this led to? Is it a positive thing? When we look at the church, we see families that, in general, do not hold to a biblical world view. Neither the children nor the adults are well-versed in the scriptures. Additionally, carnality within the church is not much different from what we see in our pagan culture. The majority of youth actually leave the church altogether once they graduate from high school.

I find it interesting that most churches defend their age segregation practices even though they cannot be supported biblically, even though age segregation is a relatively new phenomenon for the church (and is based upon secular, public school practices), and even though these practices simply are not effective in bringing about strong Christian families. When divorce, which destroys families, strikes inside the church as much as it does secular America, it is clear that something has to change when it comes to the family.

When we look to the scriptures, what do we see? We see many of the same things that I previously mentioned in the “Discipleship” post. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is again a key passage (click here to read passage). Another key passage is Ephesians 5:31-6:4 (click here to read).

Both of these passages show us that it is the parents’, and in particular the father’s, responsibility to teach the children about the Lord. This is beyond question. However, we do not see this when the church gathers. In fact, in most churches the philosophy is that people other than the parents should be teaching the children. This sends the message to the parents (intended or not) that the parents do not need to teach their children. Most fathers hear this loud and clear, and as a result do not obey the biblical mandate to teach their kids.

What can we do, then, to strengthen marriages, to strengthen families, and to promote fathers taking responsibility for spiritual leadership in their families?

First of all, churches must begin to stress repeatedly that fathers have to disciple their children in what it is to live a Christian life. This is simple obedience. The pastor-teachers of the church should equip the fathers to do this (see Ephesians 4:11-12). Because the fathers will have to study scripture in order to teach it, they will grow spiritually as a result of this. This, in turn, will strengthen both the marriage and the family. I highly doubt that many fathers who are consistently leading their families in devotions are also looking to get a divorce.

One option that I favor is a church taking a family-integrated approach. This model stresses the importance of the family remaining together during worship, and also spurs the fathers on in their discipleship roles. If you are interested in this model, or just in parents discipling their children, I highly recommend Voddie Baucham’s recent book entitled, “Family Driven Faith.”

Although I prefer the family-driven model, I don’t necessarily believe that this model itself will cure all the ills of churched families today. I also realize that the vast majority of established churches will not, under any circumstances, switch to a family-driven model. So what else can be done?

Churches must decide that families will be a responsibility. In light of this, those in leadership positions should determine to assist families in growing in Christ. As is mentioned above, this occurs most effectively when the biblical model is followed. Fathers and mothers should be not only encouraged to disciple their kids, but should also be taught how to do so. Many Christians have never seen this done because their parents didn’t do it. The pastors and teachers need to get very practical in how this is to occur, and even model it to the parents directly.

Another priority of the church must be to try to keep families together whenever possible. Without moving to a family-driven model, churches can make moves to head in this direction. I propose, for example, that churches do away with any form of “Children’s Church.” Families should be worshiping together. Related to this, the youth should sit with their parents instead of in a segregated group (I'm going to tackle the issue of the "youth group" in a later post). A family-integrated Sunday School class ought to be offered. When the church has activities, these should include the entire family whenever possible.

I realize that the above changes will not be welcomed by some people, but if churches want to strengthen families, at least some of these will be put in place.

In short, the two ways the church can strengthen the family are simple. First, keep the family together whenever possible. Second, exhort fathers to fulfill their duty of discipling their families. This is not a complex matter – it is simply a matter of obedience.

8 comments:

Rhea said...

Eric:

I had one thought when reading this post and the previous post: what about kids who attend church with non-Christian parents? While I believe that the family is important, and I believe that parents need to take a far more active role in discipling their children, what about kids who are Christians but who do not come from Christian homes? Perhaps they started attended church with one of their friends. Do you think that parents should be discipling their kids friends (assuming the friends are Christians and from a non-Christian home)? Do you not think that in situations like that a youth group or college age group would be helpful?

Eric said...

Rhea,

Thanks for responding.

You ask an important question. Certainly any church needs to keep in mind kids and youth who come to church and have non-Christian parents. In these situations, my belief is that families should "adopt" these kids while they are at church. For example, they would sit together during worship time.

As for a youth group or Sunday School, kids with no parents at church could be helped by these, but these classes should prioritize the family, thereby showing everyone (kids with saved or unsaved parents) that God's best is for the family to be together.

Somew people say that youth group should be the primary point of discipleship for children. I disagree becuase it does not follow the biblical model, and also simply does not work. Youth group must be a supplement to parental discipleship.

Eric

Rhea said...

Eric:

I like your idea of families "adopting" these kids with non-Christian parents. When I first became a Christian, an elder and his wife from the church that I attended did this for me (in a lot of ways). I became a Christian my first semester in college, and both my parents had passed away while I was in high school. Also, one of the ministers at the church (who also baptized me) and his family really opened up their home to me. I would spend holidays with them, and just go over to their house to hang out and be part of a family (they had a daughter my age and a son a few years older). I know that both these families really played a huge roll in my early Christian formation. That church that I was a part of really did a good job of intergrating the college students with the rest of the congregation. Many college students who even came from Christian homes would get "adopted" by other families while they were in school and away from home.

I really think that that model is the BEST way to do things.

Eric said...

Rhea,

What you are describing is wonderful. I wish more of our churches would do this same thing.

Eric

Joe Blackmon said...

I wonder, though, how an intergrated Sunday School class would work. I mean, I've got a 4 year old and a 1 year old. I can't imagine bringing them into our Sunday School class and getting much out of it myself or that they would get much out of it. Perhaps there are more details in the book you recommended. I totally agree that the church separates families too much in the activities of the church. I suppose I've always thought that children could be taught in classes more on their "level".

Eric said...

Joe,

Thanks for your comment.

Let me respectfully challenge you just a bit. I'm making my argument from the biblical model of families being together in worship. Your comment here sounds like an argument from pragmatics.

As for how an integrated class would work, I have been in these situations. A key is that the parents should not always have to watch their own children. There should be other older adults there who would watch the kids some of the time. If people are willing to give of themselves, it works beautifully. One of the most important aspects of a family-integrated class is that the children get to observe their parents studying the bible.

Regarding classes "on their level," my experience is that small children often just draw pictures and play games in those kids' classes. The classes end up meaning very little to their spiritual development. I believe the children will learn just as much if they are in with their parents, and they will get to see their parents studying God's Word.

I am not suggesting that all existing churches immediately change to a family-integrated model. This would cause a great deal of strife that would lead to church splits. I am suggesting that churches offer a class of this sort. Many parents would like to be with their children in Sunday School, but have no opportunity at this time to do this.

Eric

Joe Blackmon said...

Oh, I welcome challenges. I'm not saying it can't work or shouldn't be done the way you are suggesting. I guess at least part of what I was getting at was I'm not sure how this would work. I mean, like an explanation of what happens in a class like that. I mean, with my little tricycle motors it could get wild and wooly sometimes. They are 4 and 1 repectively.

I really dig this idea in theory. I'm just not quite smart enough to understand how to put it into practice. My wife and I will check out that book, though.

Eric said...

Joe,

Thanks for writing back.

I highly recommend Voddie Baucham's book. He is an excellent writer, and has much more information about all this than I do.

In a family-integrated class, things do get kind of crazy at times. This can be distracting to some people, but it is also real-life. When we age-segregate, it is artificial, not to mention unbiblical.

In a class of this type, if a child starts to get upset/cry, there is no reason why one of the adults cannot take that child out of the class for a few minutes to calm down. As for normal high-octane boys, a little movement and noise in class is fine. The kids will observe how the parents are sitting and listening, and will gradually mimic their behavior. This might takes years to happen, but it is worth it for all involved.

Being part of a family-integrated class takes energy and patience, but the reward is worth it: you get to model to your children what it is like to be part of a small group bible study. This will be something that they will never forget.

Eric