I have a great deal of respect for much of what I have noticed in the Family Integrated Church movement, as I will demonstrate. However, I also have some issues with some of the practices I have noticed lately. I just want to take a moment to share my thoughts.
As I look back to when I first entered a conservative Southern Baptist Church in the early 90’s, I am troubled by what seemed to be the common practice in those days. I was very zealous to learn, and fed upon all the teaching that was offered in Sunday School and Discipleship Training as well as the preaching in the morning and evening services. I really enjoyed learning from the older men in the church in Sunday School discussions. Unfortunately, the church had a “vision” for a young adult ministry. As soon as we had a small group of young adults, we were put in our own class. I longed to gain wisdom from those who had been Christians for years, but instead, I found myself co-teaching a class for those who were my own age. Of course we did have profitable instruction and conversation, but to this day I am convinced it would have been much better for all of us if we had been allowed to interact with those with much more experience and wisdom.
Another practice that I can’t abide is “Children’s Church”. Removing the children from the worship service before the preaching of the word is something quite wrong in my opinion. Just because they might not understand every word is no reason to remove them from sitting under God’s primary means of grace.
I also am a firm proponent and practitioner of home-schooling. Five of our children have now graduated high school, having been home-schooled the entire way through. (And their performance in college has proved that their training at home was more than adequate.) We have one being home-schooled at present and fully intend to do the same with the two who are not yet old enough. I have always had one primary reason for home-schooling: 1 Cor. 15:33 “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits.” From the time I was converted I could immediately look back at my childhood and recognize the fact that spending most of my waking hours with peers my own age was a great influence upon me in the wrong direction. I’m sure everyone who home-schools has seen the quotes from the likes of Dewey that demonstrate that one of the purposes of the public school system is to keep children in peer groups in order to lessen the influence that their parents have over them. I recognize this as a fact and am convinced that my duties as a father demand that I not allow that to happen.
These three factors give me great sympathy for the Family Integrated Church movement. But I find that I am somewhat troubled by how many churches are now so keen on the idea that they have no age segregation of any kind, as if it would be wrong to ever place children with those at their own learning level together to teach them lessons from the Bible that are particularly suited to them.
I have noticed that a number of churches have completely removed Sunday School from the church. I see this as a great detriment. I agree that the preaching of the word in the worship service is the primary means of teaching. However, I am also convinced that much is lost by not having a Sunday School as well. There is a great deal that the people of God ought to be taught, such as systematic theology and church history that quite frankly are not appropriate for sermons. Teaching through the confession of faith or quality catechisms is a great benefit for Christ’s church as an accompaniment to the faithful exposition of the word. It is my sincerest belief that Christ’s sheep ought to have such teaching on a regular basis.
I also recognize that we need to understand our children’s frame just as God does ours. It is indeed a bit much to expect small children to sit through two full hours of teaching on a Sunday morning. What is wrong with placing them in a class with a godly instructor for the Sunday school hour to learn things at their age level and engage in some activities that make it “fun” for them? As I stated, I am in full agreement that placing our children among their peers instead of with their parents for the majority of their time is a problem. But an hour a week learning about the Bible at their own level is not the same thing. Nor does allowing another person to teach our children remove their parents as the primary responsible parties for their religious education. Of course the eldership must ensure that they are not being taught unbiblical nonsense, which is unfortunately quite common. But a godly eldership ought to be quite capable of keeping that from happening.
I am also somewhat troubled by the fact that many churches have ceased providing a nursery. Now by advocating a nursery I am not implicating that all infants must be put there. As a father of eight, I have used the nursery for some of my children and refrained with others. I’ve had some children sitting in the church service in a booster chair quite well by the age of one. I’ve had others that would have been a great distraction to other worshipers as well as their parents had they been kept in the worship service.
Young mothers need a Sabbath too. They have a 24/7 job that is more hectic than any job a man has. What a blessing it is for them to have a service provided that allows them to rest from that labor for the worship hour and actually concentrate on the ministry of the word of God without distraction!
Let me just offer my suggestions. First of all, we ought to have a Sunday School. A class should be provided for smaller children with a qualified teacher who will teach them at their learning level and provide them with Christ centered activities. This will not only help keep them from becoming as distracted in the worship service, but also provide teaching for children who may be visiting or come from homes where the father does not fulfill his role as he ought. If a particular church member is prevented by conscience from putting his kids in the class, they should feel free to keep them in the adult class, and should not be asked not to do so.
I do believe that by the time the children are 10-12, they ought to be in the adult class. They may not comprehend all that is said, but by that age they ought to be able to follow along for the most part and will definitely benefit from the teaching.
A nursery ought to be provided, but it ought not to be expected that every infant be absent from the worship service. It is also a great blessing to provide a place for nursing mothers, where they can still hear the sermon without worrying about distracting others, even when their child is being unusually fussy.
His Throne is Forever and Ever!