In God, Marriage & Family I sought to advocate a rebuilding of the biblical foundations as we put God and his plan first in our marriages and families. I have since increasingly come to realize that this movement has very important implications for the church as well as it seeks to strengthen and support families.
Every church, when asked, will of course say that they are supporting families. But is this necessarily the case? In many (if not most) churches what we actually find is a highly age-segregated model. Upon setting foot on church premises, everyone in the family goes their separate ways: the youth to the youth group, the babies to the nursery, and children and adults to their respective Sunday School classes. These, in turn, are typically divided into people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, Singles, Seniors, and so on. Then there are separate men’s and women’s ministries. How is this arrangement supposed to strengthen families? I believe many churches need to take a look at this question and squarely face the possible negative implications of this kind of approach to ministry with regard to families.
To preempt possible misunderstanding, I am not denying the benefit of encouraging people to mix with their peers and to derive encouragement from others like them at church. I am not saying churches should do away with their youth group (though our approach to youth ministry in the United States could certainly use some thorough reexamination). What I am saying is that respect for God’s order for the family should lead the church to devise ways in which families are encouraged to worship together, study God’s Word together, and grow together in their faith.
In theory, I realize, churches say they equip individuals at church—fathers, mothers, youth, children—and then they will come home and during the week be encouraged to relate to other members in the family in a Christian manner. But is it really best to segregate people at church and to leave integration to families themselves during the rest of the week? Would it not be better to practice and encourage integration at church as well?
I am not even advocating a model that is “family-integrated” church-wide here (though there would seem to be undeniable benefits to such a model). I am suggesting, at least, that families reconsider whether their current offerings do in fact have the effect of strengthening and supporting families in the greatest way possible. If this process of re-examination were to lead to changes (as I think they probably will), this would result in better integrated, more closely-knit families.
I believe that the purpose for every family should be exactly the same as for the church: families devoted to worship, discipleship, evangelism, fellowship, and so on. If so, church leaders should ask themselves the question: How are we encouraging families to grow in their worship? How are we helping parents to become more committed disciples and to help their young people grow in their discipleship? How can we help make families evangelistic units where service of others and sharing their faith becomes a way of life, a genuine desire, and a matter of commitment and priority? The list could go on and on.
At my church, my wife and I and our entire family have started a little experiment. After attending a “Family Bible Study” class for six months, we started a class of our own that we chose to call “Kingdom Families”—“Kingdom Families,” because we aspire to be more than families studying the Bible together. We want to be households—families with children, singles, old and young people—that think of themselves as kingdom outposts of salt and light in this world. On Sunday mornings we pray together, share meals and have fellowship, study God’s Word together, as families.
Everyone is welcome. To accommodate smaller children, we have coloring pages, occasional skits, and other activities tied in with the Bible lesson. One of the great benefits of this approach is that children and young people can see the father take leadership in prayer and teaching the Bible and that they can see their parents discuss the Bible together and participate in the discussion themselves. We circulate a prayer list and try to keep in touch as much as we can during the week. We are not a church in itself but part of the ministry of the church as a whole.
Since this is a fairly new concept, part of the challenge of our small gathering is to explain to the leadership and other church members exactly what we are all about. Most importantly, we want to be philosophically (i.e. biblically) driven rather than merely follow pragmatically an approach to “doing church” that mostly reflects the culture around us (even if this would mean our numbers would be bigger!). We do not have all the answers; we do not feel our way is the only way; and we continue to seek the Lord’s leading as our little group struggles to grow.
While we are aware of various models of integrating the church and families, and while we seek to learn from all of those, we do not hold up one work as our “Bible” or agree 100% with it. We believe this approach calls for discernment, humility, and careful nuancing, because the devil would love nothing more than to divide the church over this issue (or any issue) by stirring up some controversy or misunderstanding or misrepresentation.
For those of you interested in this approach, I reproduce our vision statement below:
The Kingdom Families Sunday school class is focused on households, whether families, singles, widows, divorced, and others. We are a multi-generational group of believers because we believe that in this way we can best reflect the type of learning and growing Christ desires for his church in the body of Christ. We study the Bible together, are interconnected with each other during the week through prayer and fellowship gatherings, and actively engage in and support evangelistic and missionary efforts through outreach, prayer, giving, and help. We would love to have any interested individuals or families join us. We are looking for a few kingdom families who share our vision of multi-generational, aimed at reaching entire households.
Our church is Richland Creek Community Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina (www.richlandcreek.com). If you are in the area and are looking for a church, come and visit us. Our class meets during the third hour of worship, starting at 11 a.m., in Room 111.
For Further Study see, among other works, Eric Wallace, Uniting Church and Home (Solutions for Integrating Church and Home, 1999); for a church family seeking to implement this kind of model see www.lakeside-community.org.