Going back and telling this story has prompted a lot of great discussion in our home over the past couple of weeks and one thing I keep realizing is that the pros and cons of the family integrated church model do not necessarily fall at the opposite end of the spectrum of the pros and cons of the traditional church model. In fact, in some instances, the pros are the same in both models, as are the cons, though they are very different and might appear to contradict each other. So as you read through my thoughts for today, please don’t think I am crazy and confused. On the contrary, I think I am beginning to sort through the pros and cons and am seeing something quite interesting emerge.
I would like to begin by summarizing those things that our family experienced as good things within the family integrated church model, those things that I would call the “pros.”
We loved being in a church setting where there were so many families who were serious about discipling their children. We all had similar educational and discipleship goals for our children so there wasn’t the tension we had experienced in the youth culture mentality that had permeated the traditional churches we had been in. Having regular times of family worship with dads leading those times was the norm and expected of every household.
We really enjoyed the emphasis on the times of family fellowship. Since in all three churches we knew sharing meals together, both at church and in each other’s homes, was integral to getting to know each other, we all looked forward to that time together and appreciated the fact that it was done weekly. We loved the openness that families had toward one another as they practiced hospitality and practical ministry to each other in times of need.
We loved the fact that children were welcomed into worship and their participation wasn’t considered unusual or a distraction to the adults present. We so appreciated the emphasis on learning hymns and particularly enjoyed learning to sing them in four parts as a family.
We appreciated, for the most part, the fact that our weeks weren’t jam packed with other activities that could take us away from home in the evenings or on Saturdays. The exception to this was the direction that the second church plant appeared to be taking before we left. They were in the process of planning a co-op, and had family game nights, day time activities for families during the week, as well as women’s meetings and men’s meetings. Since nearly everyone had a long distance to drive to the church, these things would have become burdensome to our family and seemed to contradict the very purpose of home discipleship. Since relationship homeschooling is at the core of what we believe, all these home discipleship activities would have left little to no time for us to do all the things in our own home that fosters the building of those relationships.
We loved the fact that most people in the church had already wrestled with the concept of having a Biblical worldview and they had already come to have the proper understanding of issues like abortion and homosexuality. There was never a threat that theological liberalism would take over or that the excesses of the emergent church would influence the congregation. Initially, the essentials of the faith were present, though as time went on, it became obvious that some nonessentials were actually considered to be biblical orthodoxy, which I think is inevitable given the very nature of the family integrated movement.
We loved being able to get to know so many children by name, learning their interests and their likes and dislikes, watching them grow in wisdom, stature, and in favor with God and man! There was a sense of family, of even possibly the truth that, in spite of the priority of parents raising children, it is also true that is DOES take a “village,” ie the body of Christ, to raise children and that as we encouraged each other in our goals and spent time ministering to one another’s children, we saw ourselves as one unified group in so many ways.
The pros of the traditional church model are also many.
To begin with, there is an established doctrinal position that has been held by church leaders for many years and typically they are outlined in a written form so there are no surprises. When a new teaching is introduced into the church, there is usually a broad enough base of people who are able to discern whether or not the new teachings are biblical or not. (This is not always true and much of how anything new is presented will be a reflection of the type of character and integrity of the church leadership.) Within a smaller group that is so very like minded, cult-like mentality is able to slip in in ways that cannot happen in a traditional church setting.
And along those same lines, while there are “Christian celebrities” who the influence the traditional church, they do not have the overriding influence into all areas of family life that the “homeschooling celebrities” claim and so their influence is more apt to affect church leaders or Sunday school teachers than the average family who attends the church and has maybe or maybe not ever heard of those famous Christians. Also, their influence is rarely apt to actually have anything at all to do with the day to day lives of the average person in the pew, probably being more one of theological consequence than life application.
In a traditional church, members typically have a greater liberty to read the Word of God without having to mentally run the passages through the family integrated model paradigm meter. Instead, there is a greater emphasis on the mission of the church rather than the mission of the family. There are often programs that can prepare you for ministry, such as mission trips and Evangelism Explosion training and there is much encouragement to use every opportunity to witness for Christ within your community.
The joy of seeing new people come to Christ and participating in their discipleship and mentoring is an opportunity for everyone in the church. Because there is an emphasis on evangelism, church members are more inspired to share their faith and the Gospel message centers on building a relationship with Jesus Christ rather than winning someone over to a lifestyle.
The traditional church is able to financially provide for a pastor who is able to give many hours each week to Bible study and to prepare sermons for the edification of the church. Since there isn’t the continual need to preach topically on the various aspects of the family in order to keep the family integrated crowd coming in or the current membership indoctrinated, the church can be edified by expository preaching.
The traditional church has all sorts of families, not only homeschooling families, and there is a greater opportunity to get to know all sorts of people of all ages and backgrounds, which can build up everyone in their faith. Many of these families have exhibited multigenerational faithfulness without ever having heard the word and without homeschooling their children. I can think of one congregation I have known for years that has had the same families in it for a hundred or more years and it isn’t unusual to see four generations together on Sunday morning. In fact, many of the young people go away to college, get married, and bring their spouses back to live in the area to be a part of this church home.
I think I have adequately addressed the negative aspects of both of these types of churches through my own story, but I would like to add just a couple more things that have bothered me about the FIC model of church.
The first is that there tends to be a penchant for doctrinal goofiness, that is, a blending together of some of the teachings that are orthodox with ideas that came from ancient pagan cultures rather than from the Word of God.
One of the greatest areas where this has happened has been in the obsession with the gender issue. Fertility, the promotion of militant fecundity, the concept that dad is the prophet, priest, and king of the home, all have their roots in the pagan Greek and Roman cultures. The modern spin that is put on these subjects and how Scripture is twisted in order to embrace them and teach them as part of the “grand sweep of revelation” today is really quite frightening when you realize that they are taught to be doctrines as orthodox as the trinity or the virgin birth of Christ.
Another area that I see within some FIC church models is the emphasis on the Old Testament as the standard for life rather than realizing that the coming of Jesus brought with it a new covenant and all that that entails. This week I came across this passage of Scripture that really brought this all home to me: “We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:13-17
I do not mean to say that I believe that these church members are not born-again believers. but I do believe that a veil covers their hearts and they cannot see what they are missing by seeing Jesus in light of the new covenant that He made possible for us.
Finally, one other concern I have is that the family integrated church model, with its long list of requirements for “biblical family life” incites, in its us against them mentality, the temptation for families to compare themselves among themselves rather than enjoying the family that God has given to them and trusting that the Lord, in His timing, is working in the lives of every mom, dad, brother, and sister.
The paradigm that they have established leaves no room for personal convictions of young people in the areas of courtship, dating, college, etc. and many are forced to conform to ideals they don’t believe. The church ends up nurturing a generation of young Pharisees who haven’t been given the opportunity to embrace their own convictions about the important areas of life. Rather than teaching the absolutes of the Word of God, trusting that the Holy Spirit will lead each one into righteousness, churches that live within a paradigm make rules that force young people who are Christians but who don’t agree with the list into either being hypocrites or “rebellion.” Sadly, I have received several of those sorts of stories from lovely young believers who fell out of grace because they couldn’t agree on the nonessentials that their parents or their church embraced.
In trying to look at both the pros and cons of the family integrated church model, I have come to several conclusions. I believe that, while there are many commendable aspects of the FIC model, in its zeal to encourage home discipleship, it has reacted against the negative aspects of the traditional church model in such a way as to swing its pendulum far away from not only the negative things but the many good things as well. The only analogy I can compare to this is that of the modern feminist movement. In their zeal to right some of the wrongs of the past that were perpetrated against women, the radical feminists have rejected many of the good things that can come from men in leadership in their homes, the church, and in the culture. They have set men up as the bad guys, the ones who must bear all responsibility for what is wrong in the gender discussions and have determined that only a woman-run world will right these wrongs.
In the same way, the FIC model, while reacting against the often rightly described daycare mentality of the traditional church that has neglected the involvement of parents in the discipleship of their families, they have also neglected to keep their focus on the commands of Christ that He has given to the church. In their excitement for bearing and discipling their own children, they have neglected those who desperately need Jesus and who are outside the blessing of a godly family. And their appeal to homeschoolers is so great because, in our zeal to raise children who will love the Lord, we have forgotten that we are to take the Gospel message, the Good News of Jesus and His atoning work on the cross beyond Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth.
In the next and last installment in this series, I will be offering my own suggestions as to how I think the traditional church can reexamine its ministries and encourage parents to disciple their own children. And I will also be looking at how those who are promoting the family integrated church model are dividing the church of Christ along lines that should never divide true believers and offering suggestions on how this can be remedied.
(to be continued)