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.

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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.