Saturday, January 30, 2010

Family Worship is not just for those within Family-Integrated Churches

In the previous two posts in my series on the family-integrated church I addressed how those of us not in a FIC can make our Sunday school programs more Biblical, and how we can strive for the inter-generational relationships that are so much a part of the discipleship and ministry pattern we see in the Bible. Now, for my final post in this series, I want to consider how we can encourage and equip parents to have a church in the home where they instruct, catechize, and worship with their children. It has been my theory all along that it is not the one hour each Sunday morning that will determine whether a child grows into a “spiritual champion” (to borrow the term employed by George Barna in his book Revolutionary Parenting), but that it’s the daily spiritual heart beat of the home. Ken Ham tells us in Already Gone that young people who have been brought up in the church and going to Sunday school are leaving the church after graduating and not coming back (at least not as of their mid-20s). It’s estimated that a staggering 80% of the kids in our churches will leave and never look back. Shocking, isn’t it? But, what about the other 20%? That’s what the book Revolutionary Parenting is about. George Barna sought out these kids who were brought up along-side these other kids in the church, but didn’t leave. What was the difference with these “spiritual champions”? According to the adult children of revolutionary parents that made a spiritual difference in their kids’ lives, there was a “consistent effort and emphasis placed on spiritual growth” in the home that made an impression on their young minds. “Those adult children also noted that the example set by their parents continues to have an effect on how these young adults live today.” (p. 34) In other words, the parents of spiritual champions were concerned about spiritual matters at home, both for themselves and their children. These types of parents pray and read the Bible on a daily basis and discuss faith matters with their children. Christianity is not a once a week activity.

These parents may be considered revolutionary by some, but the findings in Barna’s book are not. This is nothing new folks. Mathew Henry was preaching and writing about this over 300 years ago! Henry argued from the pulpit and then in his book entitled A Church in the House that all Christian families should establish a church in the house. “Churches are sacred societies, incorporated for the honor and service of God in Christ in two ways. First, they are devoted to God, and second, they are employed for Him. So should our families be.” (p.29) According to Henry, three things are necessary for maintaining a church at home.

1. Doctrine- Reading the Bible daily will be the primary means of establishing a right doctrine in the home. Other tools such as a catechism and even other books may assist you in this endeavor. For instance, we’re reading the book Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends right now as part of our church in the home. It is a precious book full of illustrations and encouragement from the Bible.
Here’s what Henry says about the serious nature of this daily time in the Bible. “You must read the Scriptures to your families, in a solemn manner, requiring their attendance on your reading, and their attention to it; and inquiring sometimes whether they understand what you read.” (p. 35) Henry further argues about the importance of a daily commitment to reading the Scriptures. “Let me therefore with all earnestness press it upon you to make a solemn reading of the Scripture a part of your daily worship in your families. When you speak to God by prayer, be willing to hear Him speak to you in His Word, that there may be a complete communion between you and God.” (p. 37) This is so important it bears repeating. We cannot cry “Lord, help me, help me, help me.” Then lament that He doesn’t hear us, when we’re not reading His Word. That would be rather one-sided of us, wouldn’t it? We would be having a conversation with ourselves. I wonder how many Christians see it that way today.

2. Worship- Families need to pray together and according to Henry they should pray specifically five things: acknowledge your family’s dependence on God and His providence, confess the sins of your family, offer up thanksgiving for family blessings, present petitions for the mercy and grace your family needs, and make intercessions for others as a family. Henry also recommends the singing of Psalms as a part of daily and especially Sabbath worship. We also teach our kids old hymns and even some praise songs while Big D accompanies on the guitar. This is by far our kids' favorite part of our church in the house. They love to pray and sing.

3. Discipline- I know this has become a dirty word in families today. Maybe an unspoken word and concept would be more like it. My kids and I watched Super Nanny on tv last night and it was quite eye-opening. My kids couldn’t over it and asked me repeatedly why the kids acted the way they did and why the parents acted the way they did. It’s so sad to see the devastating results of failing to discipline our children. However, Henry makes an especially convicting point about the goal of discipline. “The authority God has given you over your children and servants is principally designed for this end, that you may engage them for God and godliness. If you use it only to oblige them to do your will, and so to serve your pride, and to do your business, and so to serve your worldliness, you do not answer the great end of your being invested with it. You must use it to God’s honor, and use your authority to engage them as far as you can to do the will of God, and mind the business of Christ.” (p. 54) Ouch! How much of my kids being well-behaved is because my husband and I desire them to be used by God, and how much is because my husband and I prefer a peaceful and quiet home? I have to constantly remind myself that we are trying to pierce their hearts with God’s Word, not just trying to make our lives more manageable.

Family worship is not just for those within the family-integrated church movement. All Christian families should have a church in the house. The restoration of family worship to the home can revolutionize our churches. It’s time for a revival. It’s time our churches start looking like churches, and not like the rest of the world. It’s time we parents get serious about passing on our faith to our kids. It will not happen if we leave it up to others. It will not happen if ours is not a genuine faith that inspires and motivates us throughout the week. It will not happen if we continue to neglect the church in the home.

Nanook of the North

Baby Lu brought me a coat and shoes and insisted on going out to play in the snow. She had seen her siblings going in and out all day and wanted to give it a try.

On second thought, maybe I'll just stay on the porch.

Note the two little trails in the snow her feet made.

Asking me to take her for a walk. You're kidding, right?

Oh, a playmate!

Big brother to the rescue!


Not exactly snow shoes.

Can I at least ride this?

Ok, maybe I need to warm up a bit.

Note the red nose.

I can't tell if she really enjoyed herself, what do you think?

Now what do I do?

Friday, January 29, 2010

90 Day Bible Update- weeks 3-4

I’m going through a bit of a dry patch now in the Chronicles. Name after name after name. Sometimes I find myself zoning out and have to re-read paragraphs multiple times. Once in a while I perk up when I read a name I recognized, but the rest of the time I try to get a feel for how large Israel had become in a relatively short period of time and how important their genealogy was to them. I wonder if this kind of record of lineage exists for any other people group in the world.

I have had some fun or challenging thoughts over the last week or so.

1. Pomegranates- I first noticed the use of this fruit in the building of the tabernacle and then as part of the priestly garments. I recently saw the use of pomegranates again in 1 Kings 7:18&20 as part of the decorations on the Temple. I wasn’t surprised, but pondered anew their significance. I have an idea, but don’t know if it’s right. I’m not too brave and have never bought a pomegranate before, but my mom buys them and puts them in our fruit salad. Every time she does, she vows never to do it again, because it’s not easy to get all the seeds out. Seeds. I think that’s the significance. Lots and lots of seeds. Kind of reminds me of God’s promise to Abraham to make him a great nation so that his descendants will be innumerable as the stars in the sky and the sand. Also, the sign of that covenant was circumcision, you can’t get any closer to seed there. So, I think the pomegranates were to be a continual reminder that God had multiplied them and that He was keeping His end of the covenant- any fruitfulness they experienced was a blessing from God and a fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. Am I completely crazy and looking for connections where there aren’t any? It seems logical to me, anyway.

2. I’ve seen 40 popping up some more. There were a couple of times in Judges I didn’t mention before and now again in 1 Kings 19:8 when Elisha travels to Horeb and the journey takes 40 days and 40 nights. I talked to my husband about this and we agree the use of the number 40 is usually associated with some difficulty or challenge, and often with the desert. The flood. Wandering in the desert. Elisha fleeing from Ahab through the desert. The temptation of Jesus- also in the desert. Moses on Mt Sinai doesn’t exactly fit, but the Israelites being without him, lacking a leader in the desert does. I’m not sure how the Judges accounts would fit with this. It could be as simple as 40 years being the approximate length of time used to describe a generation. We use 30 years as a generation, but then we don’t live as long. Could be. What do you think?

3. I’ve been writing a series on the family-integrated church and as part of that I’ve been thinking about mentoring and how important cross-generational relationships are. I find it interesting that when Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, consulted the elders that served his father about how to rule (sympathetically or harshly), they gave him sound advice that would have kept the kingdom together. Rather than listening to them, though, Rehoboam “rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him.” So, he turned to his peer group for advice. The result was rebellion and a split kingdom. This interesting story is found in 1 Kings 12. It should serve as a reminder to us not to allow ourselves to be overly influenced by people of our generation who may be blind to the same mistakes we are.

4. I admit it was hard to keep most of the kings straight or even to remember them from one chapter to the next. But I recently read a series of historical fiction books, Chronicles of the Kings by Lynn Austin, that helped some of them to come alive for me. Her books focused on the reigns of Kings Ahaz, Hezekiah, and Manassah of Judah. Upon reading the Kings I realized she probably combined the Biblical description and feats of King Josiah into her character of King Hezekiah. I found it interesting that Hezekiah was described as there being “no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow Him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses.” (2 Kings 18:5-6) And it was said of Josiah, “Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did- with all his heart and with all his soul, and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.” (2 Kings 23:25) I wonder why it says in both cases there wasn’t one before or after like him since they seemed very like one another in that they followed the Lord with their whole hearts. Interesting. Maybe it was an expression.

5. My favorite verse from my readings of the last couple of weeks is when Isaiah prophesies about the defeat of Sennacherib. “Have you not heard? Long ago I ordained it. In days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass.” (2 Kings 19:25) What an awesome statement about the sovereignty of God. He knows the end from the beginning. Not only that, but He ordains the end from the beginning.

By the way, I’ve always loved the poem The Destruction of Sennacherib written by Lord Byron. It gives me chills every time I read it. I’ll reprint it below for you in case you’ve never read it. This is from Poems of George Gordon, Lord Byron published by Easton Press, special collector’s edition, 1995 pages 237-238.

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay wither’d and strown.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he pass’d;
And the eyes of the sleepers wax’d deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through him there roll’d not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beaten surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!
For other 90 day Bible updates check out Mom's Toolbox and Raising Olives.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

3 Giveaways for my Followers!!!

I've been neglecting you faithful friends. I've got three great giveaways to try to butter you up. (Since my series on the family-integrated church is drawing to a close, I've got another one waiting just around the corner.)
Here are the giveaways:
1. Barnes and Noble $25 gift card

2. Chilis/On the Border $25 gift card

3. Family Reformation by Scott T. Brown (A great book about what the Reformers taught on the family. It's amazing how much the author was able to glean from writings and sermons of Luther, Calvin, and other Reformers. Some of the topics I've covered such as family worship and catechism are dealt with in greater detail. It's nice to know the Reformers did not have perfect churches, but struggled with many of the same issues we do today.)

Here's what you do to enter the giveaways:

Comment below if you are a follower and guess what my next series is going to be about. Don't forget to mention which giveaway you're interested in and be sure and leave a way for me to contact you.
The first person to correctly guess the subject of my next series wins the giveaway of their choice. The next person to correctly guess who chooses a different giveaway from the first person will win and so on until I have a winner for each of my giveaways.
What, drawing a blank? Ok, I'll give you a hint- my next series is going to be about something I've been interested in since the 8th grade. Still in the dark? One more hint- it spans many disciplines that all have one thing in common- their study bears testimony to the greatness of God and declare His glory. Now I've gone and given it away. Oh well, I guess that's the point!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Striving for multi-generational interactions in a non-family integrated church

If you’ve been following my series on the family-integrated church, you know that I love so many aspects of it and would love for ours to be a purely family-integrated church. However, many of us may find ourselves in a church we love that is not family-integrated, so to conclude this series I’m attempting to find ways that we can borrow from the FIC model and become more Biblical in the process.

One of the things I love most about the FIC is the fellowship of believers. Rather than segregating members into classes with cookie cutters of themselves- married with young children, singles, seniors, married with grown children, college and career, etc.- the FIC encourages members of all walks of life to fellowship together as a family. I love this and find it to be more Biblical and more real-life than the contemporary model of segregation. Think about it. We all have a family and the bulk of our life is lived within that larger family life. Imagine if my husband and I decided not to allow our kids to spend time with our parents. Unthinkable, right? We’re so blessed to live in the same neighborhood as my parents, my husband’s parents, and my grandmother. We love that our kids can take the dog for a walk and stop by to visit grandparents. Most of us believe that our parents and grandparents have something wonderful to offer our children. They are wise and experienced, and they love them expecting nothing in return. They are more mature in the faith and age has given them a more clear sense of priorities. My parents have passed on to my children a love for the land and the great outdoors, as well as their love for the Lord and uncompromising dedication to the Word of God. This inter-generational fellowship gives our children a sense of the world beyond themselves, that they play a small part in time and that they will carry the torch their grandparents pass to them. You’re probably thinking, so what’s your point? My point is why don’t we reflect this in the way we do church? Why don’t we value those more seasoned in life and what they have to offer the church? Why don’t we encourage our children to learn from our church family just like we encourage them to learn from our immediate family?

The Bible is full of passages that show us how important other believers are to our own spiritual lives. We are supposed to encourage one another, warn one another, teach one another, pray for one another, and bear one another’s burdens. Specifically, older women are to teach younger women and older men are to disciple younger men. How can we accomplish this in a non-FIC? I think the answer is that most churches are not accomplishing this. In all honesty, I’ve only recently become aware of the importance of these relationships. I’m blessed to have a godly mother who has always been that mature woman in the faith who has poured her life into mine. I never felt I needed anyone else. I have never felt un-shepherded or mentor-less. However, recently I’ve embarked on a new journey in my life of home schooling my children. For the first time that I can remember I've felt sort of alone and abandoned in the wilderness- in search of an instruction manual that doesn’t exist. By God’s grace, I ended up in the blog world and soon found many mentors- Christian women who are experienced homeschoolers willing to share their wisdom and encourage me. God is so good to always provide the guidance we need. I have no doubt that He has been behind my introduction to this wonderful group of women. The point is, we all need someone, lots of someones, especially older and more experienced someones, in our lives to help us grow. We are not individual Lone Rangers on this quest for sanctification and giving glory to God. We are part of a body of believers. We need other believers and they need us. They have something to offer us and we have something to offer others of them. This is not rocket science, but how do we pull it off, especially in a church with segregated Sunday school classes?

Here are some of my thoughts and I would love to hear your thoughts, as well.

1. Cross-generational fellowship. We have a meal at our church on Wednesday nights. This is something very stressful and difficult for the sweet women who prepare the meal (I’m not one of them), but it’s a tremendous blessing to the rest of us. The casual and relaxed atmosphere of a meal (and standing in line for it) often provides opportunities for discussion that the more rigid Sunday morning schedule does not allow for. We also have a fellowship meal after church on Sundays every other month or so. These are often potluck or sometimes catered (in this case it’s subsidized by the church and everyone chips in $2-3/ adult). My mother-in-law started a mother-daughter banquet that we have for the women each year around Mother’s Day. My girls look forward to it all year because it gives them the chance to dress up and have a formal banquet-style meal. (I told you they don’t get out much.) Often times fellowships occur within Sunday school classes which can be a hinderance to getting to know those outside of our classes. Making the extra effort for cross-generational fellowship will pay-off as we form relationships with Christians both older and younger than us.

2. Cross-generational ministry. I’m going to admit to you right now that this is 99% theory in my life, but it’s my goal for our family and I desperately want it to be reality. If you remember, the initial reason behind having deacons to serve in the church was to care for the widows. We’ve come a long way from that, haven’t we? The widow is terribly neglected in the church today. We think because they get social security and Medicare that they’re all taken care of and need nothing from us. This is an example of the state coming in and enabling the church to not take care of its members. You might think you’re glad they do, but remember they tax you to do it and don’t think they don’t keep a nice cut for themselves! Ok, so maybe most widows today are not needy in the sense they were in the NT church. But families have so much to offer to seniors in our church, especially widows. We have some friends who have ministered weekly in a nursing home for more than 20 years. We had the privilege of joining them several times and I was amazed at how much the seniors there loved my children. We didn’t actually DO anything. We just worshiped with them and talked to them. I think sometimes we underestimate what the simple things like this, sharing of ourselves, can mean to someone who spends most of their life alone. The church is the body of Christ, we are to do what we think Christ would do for these saints. Every time I have taken my kids to minister to or visit a senior in our church (and I can count them on one hand), it has been a blessing for all of us. Isn’t it funny how you start out thinking you’re doing something for God and He ends up using the one you’re trying to bless to bless you? The church is supposed to be a family and as such we are supposed to genuinely care for one another.

3. Discipleship. Jesus could have handed each of His disciples a scroll and said, “Here, read this.” But, He didn’t. His style of ministry was relational. Most of what He did was teach them the Scriptures, but He did this in many ways and as He walked with them, ate with them, worked with them, lived with them. In short, He fulfilled the command of Deuteronomy 6 with His disciples. He kept a constant open line of communication with them about the Word. He taught them by quoting and explaining the Scriptures. He taught them through illustrations they could relate to. He taught them by His example or testimony. He taught them through parables or stories that made difficult truths easier to comprehend. He employed many methods, but He was always teaching His disciples. So concerned was He for them that He doesn’t leave them alone when He must return to heaven. He promises them the Helper, the Holy Spirit, that will continue to guide them in His absence. So, Jesus is our example. The Great Commission of Mathew 28 places on us this same responsibility of teaching others. Titus 2 exhorts the older women “to admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, and obedient to their own husbands, that the Word of God may not be blasphemed.” The older men are to “exhort the young men to be sober-minded” and to provide for them an example of good works and integrity. If we have age-segregated Sunday school and fellowship (which usually occurs within the SS classes), we have to work doubly hard to bring older and younger women together and older and younger men together. (I wonder if this wasn’t one of the reasons the early church tended to segregate men and women. Families were worshiping together at home, but when they met together with other believers they were trying to encourage one another as the Bible commands.)

An informal way this can be accomplished is through mixed-age Bible studies. We have two women’s Bible studies within our small church and a few of us also go to a local Community Bible Study class, too. In each of these Bible studies, we are placed among Christian women of different ages. I have been in Bible studies as a younger woman with only women my age and the fellowship was very different. We were tempted to compare houses, swap husband stories, and complain about our toddlers and lack of “me time”. Talk among young women often centers around rather shallow topics. I love being in my Bible studies now with women of all ages and walks of life. Each week I’m encouraged by their wisdom, devotion to the Lord, and selfless service. Have you ever noticed that women with young children tend to be more into surviving the chaos of their homes and women with older kids tend to bear the brunt of church ministry? I figure if I rub elbows with these women long enough, they may start to rub off on me. Of course, I’m also getting older. (Not exactly a controlled scientific experiment.) But we’re not experimenting, we’re being Biblical. God tells us we need each other and we need to be in relationships with women older and younger than us. I’ve heard of some churches having more formal mentorship programs. I’m sure there is a variety of methods to accomplish this, but we cannot neglect teaching one another in the church, and remember that this will take place within the context of everyday life. I was blessed to meet a godly older woman on a mission trip to Poland when I was in college and she has been faithful to keep touch with me ever since (15+ years). She traveled from Arkansas to California for my college graduation and to Texas for my wedding. We had a wonderful time with her and her husband this October when we visited them. She’s 90 and still praying for me and encouraging me, mostly by email. God will provide these people in our lives, but we have to be on the look-out and not neglect these wonderful opportunities for friendship.

Above are Twinkle Toes and Mr. Monk with my dear friend who has been a mentor to me in the faith.

Technology has allowed us to isolate ourselves from one another in a way that is probably detrimental to our better good. In the book Better Off by Eric Brende, an MIT graduate student and his wife move in with a very conservative group of Amish for 18 months in order to determine for themselves whether technology really makes them happy. What they found is that not having the use of technology required them to rely on their neighbors to a degree that brought strong bonds of friendship like they hadn’t known before. I’m not suggesting we abandon technology, although I did turn off our answering machine a few years ago, I’m merely suggesting we attempt to reach out to others and allow ourselves to need others, as well, for the purpose of building strong relationships within our church. Jesus did not try to change the lives of His disciples without investing His life in theirs. We cannot have Biblical discipleship in our churches unless we first provide a means of older and younger men and women to connect in friendship.

Not to pound this point into a pulp, but the hour we spend in Sunday school each week is not going to make or break us. There is nothing wrong with seniors having fellowship with one another or young marrieds spending an hour each week with other people in the same phase of life as they are. What is dangerous is staying exclusively within these segregated groups, almost like clicks, and not seeking out relationships within the rest of the church. Unless you’re just extremely outgoing and on the lookout for opportunities around you, you might benefit from joining a mixed-age Bible study so you can have this weekly time of Titus 2-like encouragement and fellowship. And as you are built-up by “older” women in your life, you can begin to seek out “younger” women to pass the wisdom along to. God has provided us with a model of mentorship. It can be formal or informal, one on one or in a small group, local or long-distance, as long as we’re careful not to neglect this important means of spiritual growth. For it is when the church grows together in maturity, in good works, in love for one another, and in holiness that God is most glorified.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Plugging the hole in the sinking ship of Sunday school

If you’ve been following my series on the family integrated church, you know that the hallmark feature of the FIC model is the absence of age-segregated Sunday school classes. And if you read my post on an alternative to youth groups, you know the statistics are in on Sunday school and youth programs, and it’s not looking good. I suggested in that post that we have two choices in light of the failure of our Sunday school/youth programs in the modern church. We can either abandon them entirely in favor of a family-integrated approach. Or we can attempt to fix our Sunday school/youth programs so that they will be more successful at training up our children in the Lord. This post is devoted to the later option. Many of us are parents and/or Sunday school teachers. Some of you, like my husband, may be pastors. We all want to do what we can in our sphere of influence to make a difference in the lives of our youth. So, what can we do to plug the hole in the sinking ship of our Sunday school programs?

1. Parental involvement is key. Remember that Deuteronomy 6 is clear that it’s the responsibility of the parents to teach their children about the Lord throughout the day every day. You can be Biblical and send your child to Sunday school one hour a week, but it all hinges on your involvement. If you are a parent, talk to your child’s teacher and stay up to date on what your child is learning in Sunday school. Actually read any take-home literature and let their lesson serve as a conversation starter for you to take up where the teacher left off. If you have concerns about the SS curriculum talk to an elder or change churches if the material is not sound. If you are a teacher try to involve the parents as much as possible. Give them a heads up on Scripture passages the kids are supposed to be memorizing and encourage the parents to work with their kids throughout the week. You can’t make it happen, but you can facilitate it through open lines of communication. Lots of times the parents are willing, but feel inadequate or don’t know where to start. Tell them what you’re studying and encourage them to talk with their kids at home. For that matter, encourage the kids to talk with their parents about it as well. If you’re a pastor, try to encourage these open lines of communication between teachers and parents. The key is that the Sunday school teacher is only to come alongside and help the parents in their God-given responsibility to train up their children. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. One hour per week is not going to make or break your child’s faith. Far more important is the day in day out spiritual life of their home. Is the Bible highly regarded in their home? Do their parents pray with them and talk to them about spiritual matters? Do they worship with their families at home or is worship a once a week activity? In general, so go the parents, so go the children. We cannot hope to change a generation of children in one hour per week. We must win the parents in order to win the children.

2. Add family-integrated classes. This is really an extension of the first point of parental involvement. I shared with you previously that my husband has recently started a family-integrated youth class to take the place of a youth group. Teens and parents attend Sunday school together. This is great because it addresses the issue of parents not knowing where to start and is perfect for parents who are new believers. Parents and kids are studying God’s Word together and their bonds are strengthened in the process. The teens see that the parents’ faith is real and that their parents are investing themselves in their lives. This philosophy could also be extended to fellowship activities in which parents and youth fellowship together. In our church we’ve only experimented with the middle school/high school age group, but some version of this could certainly be applied to every age. I teach a catechism class on Wednesday nights and have often thought how awesome it would be if the parents could participate in even a small part of that each week. Maybe we can implement that in the future.

3. Teach the whole Bible. Ken Ham in his book Already Gone suggests world view training in Sunday school. I would argue that the Bible is enough, but so often the Bible is not taught in its entirety. When we give our kids little snippets of the Bible they come away with a skewed view of who God is. If they don’t know God, how can they worship Him? For example, a common tactic of the modern church is to teach only snippets of the NT. They go heavy on God’s grace and love, while neglecting to teach His holiness and wrath. This type of education lends itself to heresies such as “easy believism”, the kind of thinking that since I’m saved by grace I’m free to live however I want. That since I walked an aisle or raised my hand or repeated some prayer, I'm part of God's family and saved even if I show zero signs of spiritual fruit. Some refer to this as “cheap grace”. My husband and I spent a year at a church that taught God’s grace to the exclusion of His holiness and wrath. We never once heard a sermon encouraging holy living. You can imagine my husband’s difficult task as pastor of college and career young adults. They could live it up all week long and then be released of any guilt Sunday morning. This “cheap grace” made it very difficult to inspire them toward holiness. I am no expert on Sunday school curricula, but I’ve taught from several and love, love, love Desiring God ministries SS curricula. I’ve been so impressed with them and highly recommend them to you. I’m teaching 2nd and 3rd graders “In the Beginning... Jesus”, which teaches how the whole Bible beginning in Genesis reveals our need for and God’s promise of a Savior. Our kids are learning that God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow! We should not neglect any of God’s Word in our Sunday school curricula. Likewise, our pastors should preach the whole counsel of God. We may pay lip service to the sufficiency of Scripture, but if we’re only teaching a portion of it, what good will that do us?

4. Use qualified teachers. I’m afraid we’ve become so desperate in our quest to “fill slots” for our Sunday school program that we’ve dropped our standards along the way. The Bible establishes qualifications for teaching elders in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Why not apply these same standards to Sunday school teachers? Are our children of less value than the adults in our churches? A better question might be, isn’t the accurate handling of the Word of God that important? If you go to a church that screens their Sunday school teachers by checking for a heartbeat first and then maybe running a criminal background check at best, you should probably screen them yourself. If you’re satisfied then great, the Lord has blessed you with someone to come alongside you and help you train up your child. If not, then remove your child from that class. If you’re a pastor, disciple your Sunday school teachers. Know to whom you’ve entrusted the teaching of God’s Word in your church and take it seriously. My husband and I laugh now, but we look back at some of the Sunday school teachers we’ve had through the years and it’s scary. Desperation can be a powerful force to be reckoned with, but don’t let it get the best of you. If you don’t have qualified teachers, disband Sunday school until you’ve trained up leaders. Don’t settle for warm bodies or good intentions. Not everyone is meant to be a teacher, thus the collective sharing of individual gifts for the mutual benefit of the body of Christ.

What else? What other suggestions do you have? Remember, the Bible does not prohibit others from teaching your children. I homeschool my kids and my husband and I take training our children up in the Lord seriously, but show me a Scripture where parents are prohibited from allowing others to assist them in training their children. We have freedom here to use our best discretion, but we must not throw out our own responsibility which is paramount. I’m so grateful for the children I’ve had the opportunity to teach. Kids soak up the Word of God and I’m amazed at the depth of understanding my 2nd and 3rd graders are able to grasp. I think the family integrated model of doing church together as a family is wonderful. But, I also think we can separate for 1 hour per week if we exercise discernment in the points discussed above. Remember, the Hebrews allowed for the training of young men in the Torah by rabbis. Paul, himself studied under one of the most famous rabbis of his time. Timothy did learn the Scriptures from his grandmother and mother, but he also became Paul’s protégé. The Reformers held catechism classes. Men go to seminaries to study theology and learn to be expositors of the Word (warning: some do this better than others!). I’m just saying, there’s nothing wrong in and of itself in allowing teachers to assist you in training up your children.

Maybe there is no FIC where you live. Or maybe God is calling you to make a difference in your church and family where you are. Almost Gone reports that young adults who grew up in Sunday school are leaving the church in droves when they graduate from high school. There’s something wrong with our existing Sunday school model, but by making the changes above I believe we can make our Sunday school classes Biblical. And there is no higher goal than to be Biblical. That is our ultimate standard and we must not create an additional one.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Is the family-integrated church Biblical? part II

Ok, last time I told you about the history of the segregation of men and women in the church. It’s not easy to find references to this since it doesn’t seem to be of too much importance to most authors of church history. I have learned something else though and wanted to share it with you.
The Puritans didn’t all segregate men and women. First off, the term Puritans is rather broad, so the sources I read before that alluded to the segregation were obviously using the term more narrowly than I was or were not aware of other practices. I’ve recently learned from talking with my husband (my favorite part of traveling together!), who loves studying the history of church architecture, that early Congregationalists (the more independent of the Puritans) filled their sanctuaries with booths from which individual families could worship. This was a hearkening back to the Festival of Booths during which time Israelites would live in booths for a week to remind them of their deliverance out of Egypt and sojourn in the desert. Anyway, I find this so interesting. We might ask ourselves why worship in booths? Maybe this allowed each family to worship together free from other distractions. You might wonder, what about widows or widowers? I think it is peculiar to the last 100 years or so for a widow or widower to live in a place without any children. It’s likely that most single adults had extended family with which they could worship. Being isolated within a booth would probably also help toddlers and small children to be more content and not so tempted to get up and stroll around the sanctuary or talk to other church members.

Anyway, the point of my sharing this with you is that according to JI Packer even the Puritans disagreed amongst themselves about Puritan forms of worship. This leads me into the concluding portion of my series on the family-integrated church. Since the Bible is silent on many details of how to worship, like where people are to sit and whether they are to sit together as a family or separate according to gender or age, there is some freedom on how a church will worship. The main thing is that we remain focused on how God desires to be worshiped and seek His will in the Scriptures. The main thing is to be about bringing glory to God and not convenience to man. The main thing is to be concerned with contrite hearts and not entertainment. However, if this could only be accomplished by one particular form, the Bible would give us more specific instructions as to what that looks like.

(I just couldn't resist this worship cartoon. They have obviously lost focus on what matters in this church!)

I’m sure that in early churches where men and women were segregated during worship, it was with the intention that this would make worship more spiritual, and less worldly. After all, when we’re in heaven we won’t be so concerned about male/female relations as we are now. Certainly co-ed worship then will be pure and free of the distractions that can interfere with co-ed worship today. Also, when in heaven, we women will have finally gained the control over our tongue that so often eludes us now. Titus 2 mentoring becomes easier in a male/female segregated church, too. At any rate, it is my suggestion that whatever forms a church adopts for worship, if the elders are desiring to be Biblical and are prayerfully searching the Scriptures, then they can accomplish this in a number of ways. Some Puritans divided the men from the women. Some provided family booths for worship. Either way they were attempting to draw the attention of the worshipers away from the things of the world and onto the things of God. God can be glorified by either form.

Although I don’t believe it’s the only Biblical or historical form, I’m still very much in favor of the family-integrated church model. Let me explain. In every generation you have a remnant that is the true church. However, the majority of the church usually goes the way of the world. This doesn’t look the same in every generation, because world cultures change. In our generation, it is of my opinion that the assault on the family has become a major cultural attack on the church and has provided a huge stumbling block to the effectiveness of the church. (When I say effectiveness I’m talking about the church fulfilling its Biblical design to glorify God and build-up believers to maturity through the preaching of God’s Word. One way to judge church effectiveness is to compare the church to the world and see how different it is. If we are truly set-apart from the world for godliness then we won’t look very much like the world.) Divorce rates are the same within the church as outside it. Feminism and homosexuality have also invaded the church. According to Barna, fewer than 10% of professing American Christian families read the Bible or pray together during a typical week (Revolutionary Parenting p. 31). The Biblical teachings of training up our children and disciplining them out of love are all but forgotten. Biblical discipleship and mentoring have been completely neglected by most modern churches, so wisdom has ceased to be passed on from the older generation to the younger. It is this void in our modern church that the family-integrated church fills.

The family-integrated church provides armor and ammunition to fight the attack on the family. The FIC is committed to equipping parents through Biblical discipleship to train their children up in the things of the Lord: Bible study, prayer, Scripture memory, devotion, worship. This is why I love the family-integrated church. Do I think the FIC is the only Biblical church model? NO! But, I can see why it’s gaining in popularity. The remnant is hungry for a church that will fulfill its obligations to the family. We crave instruction from the Bible that will counter the culture’s onslaught against the family (or as John Piper would put it quench the fiery darts of Satan that are flying about within our churches). Women who are treated as freaks in many churches because they have given up their career in order to stay home and devote themselves to their family crave encouragement. Men who are treated as male chauvinists because they take seriously the Biblical warning that he who does not provide for his own family is worse than an infidel likewise need encouragement. Children who do not watch television 24/7 and are being taught the Scriptures at home and worship with their families desire friends they can relate to. This is why I started looking into the FIC movement in the first place. It satisfies so many desires of my heart. But, we must not put words in God’s mouth. If He had determined this as the only proper way to “do church” He would have told us so. And He didn’t. I think God wants godly men in each age to discern the best ways to combat the culture and stay true to Scripture. And I think the FIC does a marvelous job of this.

However, many of us do not go to a FIC and for many of us it may not be possible. So, what I want to do in my next few posts is look at how we can apply some of the principles we’ve been looking at within a non-FIC. In other words, how can we fight off the cultural attack on the family within the modern church? How can we have a Sunday school program, but make it Biblical? How can we do Biblical discipleship and mentoring in a non-segregated (men and women) and non-FIC? How can we encourage Biblical fellowship and sharing of all things in a mega church? I hope you’ll stay with me for the conclusion of my series and I will especially value your comments at this time, as well. Do you go to a non-FIC? If so, what does your church do, or what do you do outside of your church or in addition to it, to encourage Biblical family life? I’m very excited about the next few posts and would like to challenge you to let go of all assumptions until we finish. Thank you for your support and participation.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Adventures in Houston

I remember as a little girl my dad saying that instead of going on vacation we should just fill our suitcases with bricks, run around the block a few times, then burn our money and call it a day. He was only half joking. I guess I would have to throw in pinch the baby for 10 hours and soak at least one pillow case in puke. My husband’s been trying to convince me we need to buy an RV, but I’m starting to think it would be better if I could get him to sign a contract in blood promising we’ll never travel anywhere again, ever. Ok, that’s kind of extreme. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I mean we did have a great time in between the hard times. The highlight of our trip was being a part of my friend Wendy’s wedding.

Wendy and I bonded when I was in graduate school and she was a post-doc just over from China. I owe my Tuesday night Bible study to Wendy who first suggested I start it. I remember one night Wendy came over and let herself in and I jumped as I came around a corner in my house and saw her there. She scared me. I said, “Wendy, what are you doing here?” And she reminded ever so sweetly, “It’s Tuesday, right? Don’t we have Bible study?” I’ve never been good at keeping track of what day it is. Now I have my kids to help me. Wendy and I had some good times together. Our boss would yell and scream at us, but we had each other. The more he hated us, the more we took comfort in our friendship. It was kind of like hazing. God was gracious and at the end of our time in that lab we got to travel to Washington D.C. together and present our research at a big cancer meeting. This was 4 years ago and she’s moved on since then. So, naturally I was thrilled when Wendy told me she was getting married, and that she wanted us to be a part of it. It was my first Chinese wedding and it was loads of fun. The getting there was another story.

Our trip was not without its humorous moments though, so I’ll share a few of those first.

You know your kids don’t get out much when…

1. Your girls agree shortly after arriving at the Courtyard Marriott in downtown Houston that they want to honeymoon there someday.

2. Your boys think the Metro makes Houston the coolest city in the world and announce they want to live there someday.

3. Your kids refer to the plants in an outdoor mall as a jungle. (We live in West Texas where there aren’t lots of trees.)

4. Your 10 year old son hears a siren and says, “Mom, is that the wind?” (Again, it’s a West Texas thing.) I said, “No, son. You’re safe here.”

5. Your 3 year old gets all excited about a city bus and calls it a “really big car with pictures on the side.”

6. You’re waiting to be seated at the hotel restaurant and notice your 8 year old daughter isn’t wearing any socks or shoes. And you have to explain to her why she must return to the room to get her shoes before sitting down to breakfast.

You know you have a big family when…

1. You have to stay in two hotel rooms.

2. Everyone in the hotel is staring at you and asking, “Are they all yours?”

3. It takes the hotel restaurant 20 minutes to rearrange tables to seat you.

4. People waiting for an elevator with you decline to ride with you saying, “We’ll catch the next one.”

5. You leave 2 kids in the room napping with their dad and you still get people staring at you while window shopping.

Some humorous or not so much highlights from our trip…

1. During the rehearsal Baby Lu kept toddling off. I lost sight of her one time and worried. In a minute she came toddling back into view carrying a huge ball. I have no idea where she found it, but she sure was pleased with herself.

2. When boarding the Metro we get everyone seated and notice our 3 yr old has gone the wrong way. We yell at him and he panics and starts to get off the train just as it’s about to leave. I screamed and thankfully the doors closed before he could exit the Metro. When I asked him why he did that when we could have been separated, he gave me his pat answer. Cuz.

3. Watching the Measle (6) do the macarana during karaoke at the wedding banquet. I have no idea where she got those moves.

4. The French fries. When we first found our hotel rooms, there was a plate of half eaten French fries sitting outside the room across from ours. I had the hardest time keeping Baby Lu out of those fries. It was there the next morning, too and every time Baby Lu walked into the hallway to go from one of our rooms to the other one, she was tempted by those fries. Well, we stopped at McDonalds today and she finally got her French fries!

5. The wedding banquet was at a very nice Chinese seafood place and everyone was really dressed up. We had changed out of our wedding clothes that afternoon and went in jeans looking like complete slobs. Then 3 of Wendy’s college roommates drew the short straw and had to sit at our table for the duration of the banquet. They were so sweet and helpful, but we felt terrible about turning their fun reunion into a night of babysitting our kids. We had to move the Measle who figured out she could get Mei Ling to give her unlimited soft drink refills. And at one point Mei Ling said to me, “He (referring to our 3 yr old) says he wants to do a roll on the floor.”

6. My foray into Books-a-Million in which I browsed through the Religion/Inspiration section. Now I remember why I don’t spend a lot of time in Religious bookstores. The first title that caught my attention was “Paul was not a Christian”. The author got me with that title and I had to pick it up. In this book the author argues that Paul never became a Christian, but rather he went from being a Jewish bigot (persecuting other faiths) to a religious pluralist. I had two thoughts. First, she must not have read many of his epistles. Second, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t die for just one of many ways to heaven. I’m not going to give my life for my faith unless I’m absolutely certain, it’s the one and only way. And just as I was about to leave I noticed a book in the “Reluctant Demon series”. I kid you not. It’s like, “I didn’t mean to rebel against God, I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Or, “I didn’t want to possess that person, I couldn’t help it.” What’s the world coming to? I can’t believe there’s a market for books about “reluctant” demons.

7. The angry men on the corner in front of our hotel holding up signs of Jesus with horns yelling that He’s the “white devil”. That was just lovely.

8. The icing on the cake came in the middle of the night last night. I heard Measle (6) wake up and fuss. I asked her if she was alright and she said she was ok, but that her hair was sticky. Then I smelled it. She had puked all over herself and all over her pillow without waking up. She was sleeping in it and it was all over her hair and her pajamas. So, I got to strip the bed and put the Measle in the shower to wash and condition her hair in the middle of the night. You can imagine what the room smelled like this morning.

Needless to say we’re all so happy to be home! We must be gluttons for punishment, though, because we're already talking about our next fun family adventure!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Is the family-integrated church Biblical or traditional?

I’m about to leave town for a couple of days so I wanted to leave you with something controversial. I hope I can get some of you stirred up by this, I know I have been.

For the first question, as to whether the family-integrated church is Biblical, I want to look at both the Old and New Testament church practices.

1. Did Israelite families worship together? I don’t know that we can be certain, but it does not appear that they did. I have searched the Scriptures and cannot find specific instructions from God regarding the court of women either in His instructions for the tabernacle given to Moses or His instructions for the Temple given to Solomon. However, Herod’s temple definitely contained an outer court for Gentiles, a court for women (and children), and a court for circumcised Jewish men. The Talmud, which describes the Temple, was written between the 2nd and 5th centuries AD so it must be referring to Herod’s renovation of the second Temple that had been originally built 500 years previously. My question is, and I cannot find this answer, was the court of women an addition by men or was it part of the original plan? At any rate, in the Jewish tradition men and women have worshipped separately for a long time. Only circumcised Jews were allowed into the outer court of the tabernacle so there seems to be some Biblical basis for this, although there was no separate court of the Tabernacle designated by God for women.

It’s hard not to speculate as to why this was the case. Probably it had something to do with headship and the covenant relationship of God with Israel. Of headship, God placed the husband at the head of each individual family, the Levites He dedicated to Himself, and the sons of Aaron (who could minister in the inner court of the Tabernacle) He chose to serve Him as priests. Of the covenant relationship, circumcision, the sign of that relationship, was performed on males only. Not that women could not be in covenant relationship with God, but that only the men bore that sign, which surely reminded each Jewish male of his responsibilities to his offspring who would also fall under that covenant relationship. These are just some of my thoughts, but I would love to hear yours.

2. There also seems to be some evidence of the segregation of the sexes during worship in the early church. Perhaps this stems in part from the concern over order during the worship service (1 Corinthians 14:33-35). It seems that some women in Corinth were interrupting the service and Paul chastised them for that. Other texts in the New Testament reinforce this teaching that the roles and requirements of men and women in the church are different (1 Corinthians 11:3-15, 1 Timothy 2:9-15). Of course, the first Christians were Jews and by the way, Orthodox Jewish synagogues still segregate men and women.

Again, it’s tempting to speculate as to the reason for the segregation of men and women during worship, but in the end it doesn’t really matter. The point I’m making playing devil’s advocate tonight is that women and children were segregated from the men during worship in the early church. It seems even in their house churches, the women worshipped separately. I’d like to think it was a matter of mere pragmatics. The women were probably busy preparing the fellowship meal and tending to young children. But, it could also have originated out of an attempt for a less distracting worship service. Women can be distracting at times, especially by dressing in either an immodest way or a haughty manner (with fancy jewelry, etc. see 1 Tim 2:9 and 1 Peter 3:3) which would attract attention to themselves instead of on the Lord where everyone’s attention should rest during worship. Women can also be distracting and even disruptive with their speech (1 Corin 14:33-35). Some women don’t know when to be quiet and others seem bent on discussing matters better left unsaid. Let me remind you at this point that I am a woman and I’m merely musing (thus the name of my blog) about why the early church may have decided women should worship separately from the men.

3. It is unclear to me when this separation of men and women in church began to change. I’ve read that even during the middle ages it was not uncommon for men and women to gather at public meetings separately. I’m not sure what the Reformers taught on this, but I would like to know. I find it interesting that the Puritans (whom I love) segregated men and women during worship. There didn’t seem to be the same distinction the Jews made of the men being closer and the women farther from the center of worship, though. The Puritans would separate right down the middle aisle with men on one side and women on the other. I read that the Amish still do this when they gather to worship together every other week.

So I hope I left you with some stimulating thoughts. I guess the question we need to ask ourselves is where did the early church fathers get it right and where did they go wrong? God certainly ordains different roles for men and women, but does not consider us different in worth or standing (Galations 3:28). We also know Jesus welcomed children to Him and praised their simple faith. I sure wouldn’t want to argue theology or church practice with early church fathers or Jonathan Edwards for that matter! And I would really like to know what Calvin taught on this. Maybe I should ask my husband- especially seeing as how I’m supposed to be learning from him! (1 Corinthians 14:35) Well, have I succeeded in totally confusing you, or are you convinced that I’m a complete freak? What do you think about this? Was the segregation of the sexes merely pragmatic? If so, why does it no longer apply? Or was there some doctrinal basis for the segregation of men and women in worship? If so, why does it no longer apply? I can’t wait to see what you all have to say about this!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Worshipping as a family in church- reality check

By now you know that I LOVE the idea of a family-integrated church. I love the reliance on the sufficiency of Scripture. I love the multi-generational emphasis. I love the committment to hospitality and relational ministry. I love the equipping of parents to lead family worship at home. I love kissing youth group good-bye. And I love in theory worshipping with my kids in church. But... And here it comes. I've encountered a few difficulties along the way. I'm not completely incompetent, so I can't help but wonder if some other parents have encountered similar difficulties. I welcome your hints and advice, for I need all the help I can get.

My reality of worshipping with my kids in church has not lived up to the theory of it. Let me explain. Our four oldest children (10, 8, 6, 3) are really getting it. I try to prepare them for worship before we go to church and we discuss the sermon afterwards. I love worshipping with them. It's the 15 month old that has derailed my theory. She was fine in church while she took a bottle and would fall asleep. Then she became vocal and mobile and for the last 3 months has not cooperated in church. Let me say right here that we have a small church and I do not feel comfortable letting her stay in church if she's going to be noisy. Her dad is the one preaching and he would not like it. Last Sunday as a deacon stood up behind the pulpit and announced the reading of God's Word, Baby Lu punctuated his remark with one of her own. She's quite vocal and does not like to be shushed. Now I realize that it probably is possible to train her to sit quietly through church, but I'm wondering if it's worth it. She is not going to understand anything from the sermon. She is not going to be harmed by going to the toddler class for half an hour (I keep her with me through hymn time and meet and greet). I mean, does that make me a bad mother because I would much rather leave her in the toddler class for 30 minutes so I can focus on the sermon and on helping my 3 year old to sit nicely and listen for himself? I've seriously struggled with this.

I have this image in my mind of ALL of us sitting together in church. I LOVE that thought. But, I'd rather have most of us sitting together in church and me participating in worship than all of us sitting together and me up and down and up and down and in and out of the sanctuary trying to shush Baby Lu. Am I the only one who has encountered this frustration? Please tell me I'm not. She does great at home in family worship sitting on her blanket, but she's not completely quiet. I'm able to handle more noise at home because it's just us. I've been trying to shush her and teach her to stay quiet and sometimes have more luck than others, but Sunday mornings she thinks she's the star, which she is, and there's no stopping her. During the Christmas eve candlelight service she toddled around the back of the sanctuary and then down one of the middle rows greeting everyone she passed. Yes, I realize she's a wee bit spoiled. And as somone at church was telling me last week, she's not just our baby, but all of theirs, too. But, my predicament remains. So, until one of you convinces me otherwise, I'm just going to plan on taking her to her class during the last half of worship for the forseeable future.

What do you do with your 1 yr olds in church? Can you have a semi- or mostly-family-integrated church?

No Room in the Inn and other thoughts on traveling with a big family

It's that time again. We're headed off on a little fun family excursion. My husband is going to marry a friend of mine, if that makes sense. He's going to perform the marriage ceremony. My girls get to be flower girls. We're driving, of course. It should be an exciting 11 hours in the car. Why don't we fly you may be wondering? I blogged previously about our little airplane mishap that ruined flying for me. It's quite a story if you haven't read it yet.

So, we'll be driving once again. And this time we have a new problem. There is literally no room at the Inn for our family.

You know you have a big family when a Hotel of Suites will not let your family stay in a two room suite. Is this ridiculous? What's the point of a two-room suite if it can't sleep 7 people? Two queen beds and a sleeper sofa. No problem, right? They say it's against the law. I have a hard time believing that, but ok. So we'll be staying in two rooms, but get this. They won't guarentee that the two rooms will be connected or next to one another. The people in reservations say they can request it, but there's no guarentee. (Meanwhile Twinkle Toes is thinking somehow that this means Big D and I will stay in one room with the little kids and she and her brother and sister will have their own room. It is tempting, but I had to rain on her parade.)

I have a couple of thoughts on this predicament.

1. We big families should band together and form a union or something. I mean, everyone else has one. It just stinks that the powers that be in the travel industry can make these laws that require us to rent multiple rooms even when there are obviously enough places to sleep our family.

2. I'm beginning to think the travel industry isn't hurting as badly as they'd like us to think they are. I talked to a dozen people representing half a dozen hotel chains and none of them acted like they especially wanted our business.

3. Now I remember why we seldom go anywhere. And my husband is reminding me once again why he would like an RV.

Monday, January 18, 2010

90 Day Bible Challenge Update- Day 18

Please head over to Amy's blog Mom's Toolbox to read updates from others who are doing the 90 day challenge. Kimberly from Raising Olives is guest posting at Mom's Toolbox today and shares how doing the challenge together as a family is working for them.
I have to say I loved Deuteronomy, had trouble paying too close attention in Joshua, and was just happy to get through Judges. I have noticed several things, though that I've never spent much time contemplating until now.
1. This business of building an altar to the Lord without using stone tools. This caught my eye for the first time in Exodus 20:24-26. My husband, as a pastor, spends a lot of time thinking about worship. I thought it a bit strange that God told them not to use a tool on the stones. Was this because they would end up making an idol again or carving something into the stone they shouldn't? Was it for structural purposes, so that it wouldn't last? Was it simply to guard against pride in building an altar to the Lord? Whatever the reason, the Lord repeats these instructions in Deut 27:4-6 and again in Joshua 8:31. Of course, this is prior to Solomon's building the Temple. I wondered again if it was perhaps that God didn't want any permanent structure built until He gave specific instructions as to how to do that. What do you think?
2. I've also been noticing the number 40 coming up a lot. We saw it in the flood, 40 days and 40 nights. Then Moses spends 40 days on the mountain with the Lord. Then because the Israelites made the golden calf while Moses was up on Mr. Sinai, they were condemned to spend 40 years in the desert. I saw 40 years crop up 3 or 4 times in Judges, too, as periods of rebellion and/or peace. Twenty and 80 years were mentioned a couple of times, too. I remember also that Jesus spent 40 days in the desert where He was tempted by Jesus. I'll be on the lookout as I read for all the other times 40 is used. I have no idea what this means, but it interests me. I always had a thing for the number 4. Don't ask.
3. I have often wondered why Jesus came from the line of Judah. Why wasn't He descended from Joseph that first deliverer of Israel? Judah wasn't such a great guy, after all. Anyway, I've been noticing the importance of Judah from early on. In Numbers 1 we see Judah is the largest tribe. In Judges 1 we see Judah goes first into battle to fight the Canaanites. In Deuteronomy 1 we see lots drawn for every tribe for their inheritance, except Judah who receives the land promised to Caleb and his descendants as a reward. I think Caleb is the first great man of the tribe of Judah. He shows complete faith in God and obedience to the Lord while those around him, except for Joshua, fear men more than God. I also noticed Judah was first to fight against Benjamin in Judges 20:18. Why are they always first? Is it because they are the biggest tribe? Or is it because of their special place in history? I have no idea, I just noticed it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Is the family integrated church exclusive?

I've been posting on the family-integrated church for a week or so now and I want to consider tonight the question of whether the FIC is exclusive to families. I touched on this briefly in my post on multi-generational worship in the family-integrated church, but I want to develop it more fully now. Again, let me reiterate that our church is not a family-integrated church, strictly speaking, although we share many characteristics of a FIC. My understanding of the FIC movement comes from the books, websites, and lectures I've researched over the last year. I shared many of these sources with you in the first post in this series on the family-integrated church. I say all this by way of saying this is my understanding of how the family-integrated church would deal with this question of exclusivity.
First let me give you a little background as to where we're coming from on this. My husband actually has a graduate degree in Christian education, so this is something he has been thinking about for a dozen years or so. We met one another in the college and career class of a large Southern Baptist church where he subsequently served as an intern in the single's ministry. He worked with the Divorce Care class. Then after we were married he served as college pastor of a large Bible church. So we understand the Christian Ed model that is so prevalent today. Most large churches have age-segregated kids classes, youth group, couples classes, singles classes, women's classes, senior's classes, and everything in between. At first glance, a family-integrated church might appear to be exclusive to married thirty-something year olds with 3.2 kids. (Actually, 6.2 would probably be more like it.) Actually, the family-integrated church is not exclusive at all, rather it is the most inclusive way of doing church. In the FIC everyone is encouraged to study together, pray together, worship together, and fellowship together.
A FIC would certainly not preclude single adults from having a fellowship or Bible study together, but a FIC would also invite singles to fellowship with married couples. This seems more inclusive to me than the typical model. It seems to me that married couples and singles could have a great deal to offer one another. I remember being in college over a thousand miles and several states away from my family. I was young, single, and had lots of time on my hands. I was very lonely. God did send me single friends, but I'm so grateful for the families he provided for me. There were several families that sort of adopted me and included me in their holiday celebrations, birthdays, and even weekend plans. God loved me, comforted me, challenged me, and grew me through those families. I wish more churches encouraged families to reach out to singles and bring them into their families. Remember that the home is the center of ministry in the FIC. This type of single's ministry of reaching out and bringing someone into your life and home is so much more meaningful than meeting other singles at a bowling alley or movie theater. Real life discipleship is the model Jesus gave us. He shared Himself day in and day out with His disciples. He didn't just say meet me at the lake on Saturday and we'll go fishing. I think we've lost something of the meaning of ministry. We've watered it down to the point that almost anything passes for ministry. We've made it easy. We've made it fun. We've made it fit into our schedules and preferneces. Real life ministry is hard and it takes time and it takes really getting to know people. It takes getting past the fluff that so often passes for ministry, and getting to know someone's heart.

(Stuffed animal-integrated church)

This same reasoning also goes for senior adults. I understand that seniors like to get together sometimes, that's great. But, what I fear is that seniors are too often separated into their classes and not encouraged to fellowship with younger couples or singles. They say the generation that fought in World War II was the greatest generation. If that's true, isn't there something they can teach us? Why aren't we more eager for them to help shape us into a great generation? The FIC encourages families to reach out to older couples and singles for their mutual growth and edification. Family-integrated churches provide opportunities for everyone in the church to fellowship with one another, no matter their age or marital status. Again, I'm reminded of the little country church in Little House on the Prairie where everyone is sharing one another's burdens as well as celebrating with one another in good times.

What about kids who go to church without their parents? Usually these kids have been invited by a friend and the FIC would encourage this family to reach out to their child's friend. Again, hospitality plays a huge role in ministering to this child. Showing this child what a Christian family looks like on a Saturday afternoon, or a Monday evening is going to be more powerful in the long-run than providing a class full of other kids for this child to attend twice a week for an hour. Showing Christ to this child in daily life, like Jesus did with His disciples, is the Biblical way to love and nurture him in the Lord. Again, relationships are hard, but this is what we're called to do. The church in Acts 2 shared everything in common with one another. They were involved in one another's lives daily. True ministry is something we can't pull off on Sunday morning.

We have a Titus 2 Women's Bible study that meets in our home on Tuesday nights. I am so blessed to have those ladies and I'm so grateful that we are not cookie cutters. We are of all ages, even my 8 year old daughter participated last week, and are better able to learn from one another that way. If all the ladies were my age with my age kids, we might have lots to talk about, but how much could we actually encourage one another? I need ladies that can remind me that the time I pour into my children now is an investment which will reap rewards later. They can only share this if they're kids are grown and serving the Lord. I need women who are working full-time to remind me of the gift I have of being home. I need women who have been married longer than I have to encourage me to be a godly wife. There's nothing wrong with having friends your same age, but it's such a blessing to have fellowship with women of all walks of life. Together, we build one another up in the faith. The FIC encourages this type of discipliship commanded in Titus 2.

I find it ironic, that in our effort to take into consideration every possible life circumstance and translate it into a church program, from Divorce Care to AA, we've ended up excluding these church members from fellowship with the rest of the church. The family-integrated church may at first glance appear to neglect these individuals, but in reality FICs offer Biblical fellowship and discipleship that minister through relationships, not programs. I think special programs are fine, if they are in addition to fellowship with the rest of the church, and not a substitution for it. God has brought us all together to be a part of His body. We each have a part to play in one another's lives and in order to do that we need to know and love one another. We cannot know and love one another when we are segregated from one another. I love that the FIC strives to bring the church into family-like relationships for the purpose of edifying one another.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

An Alternative to Youth Group

My husband pastors a little church and he spent years trying to “get the youth group going”. We learned a few things through this process and would like to share our experiences with you.

I’ll start with the lesson that has taken us the longest to learn. There seems to be a high burn-out rate among youth pastors of small churches. Keep in mind our church couldn’t pay these guys a salary. They were doing it for $500/month or less. So not only were these guys working full-time to support their families, but they were also spending their free time trying to pour themselves into the lives of other people’s teenagers. Sometimes they would do this by meeting with kids for lunch. I’m sure there were many phone conversations, emails, and then the time in preparation to teach them on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. Weekend get-togethers and even trips were also part of the program. Meanwhile, their wives would either have to go to Sunday school alone or try to find their own place in the youth group. They would also usually have their own little kids to throw into the mix, as well. In our 10 years at this same church we’ve gone through 5 youth pastors. And when they burn out, they leave the church! We’ve never managed to keep one youth pastor after they leave! Some partings have been friendlier than others, but they’ve all gone on and to my knowledge none of them have ever become involved in youth ministry again at any other church.

You might be wondering why it took us ten years to notice this. Each time we would look at the particular circumstances and see it as a fluke of some kind. Maybe there was a relationship problem between my husband and the youth pastor. Maybe we were expecting too much. Maybe we needed to pay them more. Maybe their wife really did just want to go to another church. But after 10 years, you start to see a pattern! Working with youth is hard. This leads me to our next observation.

Because it is so hard to find common ground with young people, we noticed our youth groups spending a lot of time in things other than studying the Bible and praying together. Don’t get me wrong, I read books, spend time with friends, and in general have a social life, albeit a limited one (curse this blogging). But, we noticed that our youth group spent a lot of time at church “gelling” together or whatever you call it. I’m sure it was part of laying a foundational relationship or something, but my kids in catechism class started asking why the youth group was outside tossing a football while we were inside memorizing Scripture. Then came the Wii and even Guitar Hero. This seemed a little strange to us. Do we really need to do these things to connect with kids? My 10 year old loves video games and we let him play them. I don’t have anything against video games per se, but I don’t really see how they fit in with discipling our young people.

We just loved our most recent youth pastor. He was just the greatest guy. I loved his wife and children, too. It was heartbreaking for us when they left. And as soon as they were gone a couple of families started right in asking who the next youth pastor was going to be. My husband looked back over the last 10 years and decided something radical. There wasn’t going to be another youth pastor and there wasn’t going to be another youth group. What? No youth group? Why? We lost two more families we loved over this very question. And this leads me to our next and most weighty observation.

Graduating from our youth program was not predictive of the future spiritual lives of our youth. Predictive, that’s a scientific word. When there is a relationship between two factors, such as height and weight, we say they are “correlated”. Generally, when height increases so does weight, thus the positive correlation. But does the increase in height actually cause the increase in weight or is there something else that is causing both of them to increase, such as diet, maturation, growth hormone, etc.? Do you see what I’m getting at? Height is not predictive of weight, even though they’re related. A predictive relationship is one in which the manipulation of one variable causes a dependent variable to change. The church has been operating under the assumption that there exists a predictive relationship between active participation in youth group and active participation in church later. But as Ken Ham shows in Already Gone, this has been proven to be false. We discovered the same thing in our own church. Sometimes kids would graduate from our youth group and move on to serve the Lord in their next phase of life, sometimes they wouldn’t. We couldn’t use their participation in our youth group as a predictor.

Evidently, what these kids did for 2 hours per week was not the deciding factor in their faith. We have our children for 24/7 for 18 years. It makes sense, doesn’t it, that these hours in youth group are a mere drop in the bucket compared to the rest of their lives. Now, it can happen that a kid can get saved through the ministry of a youth program and the Lord can radically change his life. But that change comes from obedience to the Lord. That change takes a commitment of time outside of the couple of hours in youth group each week. That change takes Bible study and prayer. God works in us through His Word. He will not change us any other way. So, while kids can be saved as a result of youth ministry, few of us see youth ministry as being evangelistic. We tend to think that we’re sending our already Christian children to youth group so they will grow spiritually, and that’s what we’ve learned is not happening on average. In fact, the Beemer report, which served as the basis for Already Gone, even concludes that Sunday school and youth programs are counter-productive. They found a negative correlation between Sunday school/youth participation and whether these same kids are in church in their mid to late 20s. I know it’s hard to believe, but according to this, Sunday school/youth participation makes it less likely that these kids will be actively involved in church a decade later. They looked at other variables, too, like whether someone in their mid to late twenties believes the Bible is true and found that those who went to Sunday school are actually less likely to believe the Bible is true than those who didn’t!

So, if these few hours at church per week are not making or breaking it for our kids, what is? What will make a difference in their lives? Revolutionary Parenting was written by George Barna to answer this question. He conducted several series of surveys and interviewed thousands of young adults and their parents. Here’s what he found to be one of the key traits in these revolutionary parents that succeed in passing on their faith to their kids. “The absorption of their Christian faith into every dimension of their life makes the transfer of the critical perspectives and principles a more natural process for them.” (p. 101) He found that parents are more likely to raise spiritual champions if they genuinely love God, pray daily, worship regularly, read the Bible habitually for personal development, participate in the life of the church, and apply their resources and abilities frequently to influencing lives. (p. 103) If I might summarize, he basically found that when kids see Christianity lived at home all week long, they embrace it, whereas when they see it at church for a couple of hours per week, they don’t. It’s up to us as parents to live out our faith in a visible way to our children.

Let me add a disclaimer here. I believe in election, and both of my parents were saved as adults. Likewise, I believe that although God normally works through families, He doesn’t always do this, and for that I am grateful (since my parents were exceptions). That said, the Beemer report may need to go back to these same 20-something adults in another decade and see if any of them have returned to church. It may turn out that some of them really belong to the Lord and He will bring them back to His body in His time. However, we cannot deny the trend that youth groups do not seem to be accomplishing that which we have been assuming they would accomplish.

So, it seems to me we have two options. Either we try to plug the hole in this sinking ship, or we start transferring our kids to lifeboats. Maybe either one would be fine, but certainly we don’t want our kids to stay on the ship that’s sinking. Agreed? Ken Ham is of the notion we can plug the hole by adding a comprehensive worldview curriculum to our Sunday school/youth programs. Of course he thinks this. Answers in Genesis is all about worldview! Maybe he’s right. Or maybe no matter what we teach them, 2 hrs per week will not be the deciding factor in their lives. (Ham does also admit to this point that parents need to do “their part”.) By the way, I have no problem with Answers in Genesis, I'm just doubtful that adding worldview will change the effectiveness of Sunday school/youth programs. After all, the apostle Paul said himself, he desired to know nothing, but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2) If the Word of God is really sufficient (2 Tim 3:16) then we do not need a worldview curriculum. (No, I'm not saying we don't study other subjects in school, but we're talking faith here folks.)

Finally, I want to share with you what we’re trying at our church and what is going on in many FICs. I mentioned before that after losing the last youth pastor, my husband decided not to replace him. Instead of spending so much time and energy trying to “connect” with the youth (which is what it seems to me so much of youth ministry is about), why not rely on someone who’s already connected to them? Their parents. My husband is now teaching a family class that is geared toward young people. This way teens and their parents can continue to dialogue throughout the week on what they studied together Sunday morning. This way, family bonds are strengthened while teens and parents are being built up in the faith together. Of course, a young person is welcome to come without his parents (for instance if his parents don’t come to church), and there will be other parents there to “foster” this young person in the Lord. We’ve only recently started doing this so I can’t give you any glowing statistics, but at least we know we won’t be running off another youth pastor and his family! I can tell you it is our hope that we will begin to see the hearts of our fathers turn to their children through this class. It is our desire that this will lead to family discussions of spiritual matters, family prayer, and family worship. In short, my husband is trying to equip the parents of our young adults to be revolutionary. There is no tactic that can guarantee an outcome. These matters of the heart and faith are up to God. But, we can be a church that helps parents and kids to grow in their faith together while most kids in our culture are rebelling against their parents. We can be counter-cultural. We can be revolutionary. We can be Biblical.

What do you think? Plug the ship or evacuate into life boats?


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I'm an on-the-run mom to 6 kids who studied and taught exercise science in a previous life. I love all things running, nutrition, and health-related. I usually run at zero dark thirty in the morning and am often quite hungry before, during, and after my run, but I live a rich, full, blessed life with my children, family, and friends. My faith in God is my anchor, and looking to Him and His promises allows me to live fully even when life circumstances are difficult. While running gives me an appetite, my desire is to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for physical food.