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
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.
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
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.