Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Parent Factor in the Family Integrated Church

This post is a continuation of my series on the family-integrated church, but this time I’m going to do something a little different. Rather than express what I love about the FIC model, which is what I’ve been doing, I want to express a concern. It’s the parent factor. Although all Christian parents should be leading some sort of worship in their homes, reading the Bible with their kids, helping their children memorize Scripture, teaching them to pray, etc. we know that this is in reality a rare occurrence.

“Nationwide, fewer than one out of every ten born-again families read the Bible together during a typical week or pray together during a typical week, excluding mealtimes.” (George Barna in Revolutionary Parenting, p. 31)

Staggering, is it not? He’s not saying daily, hey we all miss a day now and then. He’s talking weekly. In a given week only 10% of supposedly Christian families read the Bible or pray together outside of church! Probably this means the churches are full of people who are not true believers, but regardless, there’s the matter of the children.

I’m not the first to have this concern. The Reformers were also concerned about the children in the church. In fact, the Reformers placed a very high priority on passing down their faith to their children because they realized that theirs would be an awfully short Reformation if their children neglected to pick up the torch and pass it to the next generation. We are often tempted to think the church was in much better condition then than it is now, that they had all the answers. Believe it or not, they faced the same issue we do today.

“Wherefore, it is the duty of parents to apply themselves diligently to the work of communicating what they have learned from the Lord to their children. In this manner the truth of God is to be propagated by us, so that no one may retain his knowledge for his own private use; but that each may edify others, according to his own calling, and to the measure of his faith. There is however no doubt, that the gross ignorance which reigns in the world, is the just punishment of men’s idleness. For whereas the greater part close their eyes to the offered light of heavenly doctrine; yet there are those who stifle it, by not taking care to transmit it to their children.” (Scott Brown in Family Reformation, p. 182 quoting Calvin in his commentary on Genesis, emphasis mine.)

So, even the Reformers recognized the problem of laziness and negligence among their members that would compromise the passing down of the Word of God to the next generation. Catechism classes were begun for this very reason, but to ensure that parents in the church were not tempted to leave the spiritual education of their children to the church, the parents were also held accountable. They did this by drilling the older children (near puberty according to the quote in Family Reformation) in catechism publicly. In this way it became obvious to everyone in the church when there was a father who was negligent in the instruction of his children. This sounds so radical to us. No doubt we’d empty out our churches if we tried something like this! I do appreciate, though, that the Reformation fathers didn’t want these children to go without the Word of God in their hearts.

I realize that the FIC places a high priority on Biblical discipleship, so parents in these churches are equipped to train their children and have such a wonderful support system in place that they’re probably highly motivated to do so. The parents of neglected children in these churches would surely be encouraged to begin worship in the home immediately and most likely helped along. Children of non-believing parents would be invited into the home where Christian family life and worship could be shared with them (remember the high priority of hospitality in the FIC). My concern here is really less with those already in FICs and more with those of us who love the idea of the FIC and want our church to move in that direction. What about those kids in families that are not holding family devotions of any type? Is Sunday school really just a wash for them? I don’t like to think so. We know that the Word of God will not go forth in vain. This assures us that when God’s Word is faithfully taught, even if only for 30 minutes a week, that God will use it to His end. It will not be wasted.

The other thing it tells me is for a church to become family-integrated, it must start with the parents. God must turn the hearts of the fathers to his children and convict the parents that their highest calling in life is to pass on the great doctrines of the Bible so their children can know God. Abolishing Sunday school without having the commitment of parents to train their children will leave a vacuum causing further neglect of the very children we’re trying to help.

The teaching in the FIC is that the church should not usurp the jurisdiction of the family any more than we want the state to usurp the jurisdiction of the church (which it has, ie Welfare). We’re big time states’ rightists around here, so I can completely sympathize with this sentiment. I don’t want the church running my family life any more than I want the government spending my money! In other words, the church should not be about the business of training our children, this is the job of the parents. And when the church does step in and takes the reins from mom and dad in the form of age-segregated Sunday school classes and youth programs of all types no matter how theologically sound or imminently practical, it enables the parents to slack off on their God-given responsibility of teaching their children about the Lord. It reinforces their erroneous notion that Bible study and prayer are only for church and not for the home and family. This is the thinking in the FIC movement, anyway.

The problem is, the church has filled a void left by the family. If parents had not been negligent in the first place, there wouldn’t have been a problem, thus the catechism classes begun by the Reformation fathers. So, while I absolutely agree with the belief of the FIC that parents are the ones who are responsible for teaching their children about the Lord, I see that we cannot have a FIC without parents dedicated to their children’s instruction. It all rests with the parents. This brings us back to Titus 2. Are the older men in your church showing themselves to the younger men to be “a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, and sound speech”? Are the older women in your church encouraging the younger women “to love their husbands and children, to be discreet chaste homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the Word of God may not be blasphemed?” If the answer is “yes” then I suggest you have no need of an age-segregated Sunday school program, unless you just want one. For children growing up in a home saturated in prayer and in God’s Word, one hour per week is not going to make the difference. However, if the answer is “no” to the above questions, then your church has some work to do before dropping its Sunday school program, in my opinion. What do you think? I would love to hear from those of you in family-integrated churches. Is there a system of accountability built-in to encourage parents to stay the course with their kids? Has anyone been in a church that dropped its Sunday school program? Please share your experiences!


  1. Can the Sunday School be used to hold parents accountable to fulfill their God-given responsibilities? If so, how?

  2. I've thought a lot about that Debbie. Maybe we as teachers could involve the parents more. For instance, in our catechism class we have a book. Most of the kids just lose their books. What if the parents knew that on a certain date, say 3 or 4 times per year, the kids would go before the church and say certain Scriptures or catechism answers?

  3. I am not in a FIC. I really enjoy my church but I am loving your insight and opinion of your FIC. If only more of Americans (or people in general) had more passion for Jesus, what an AMAZING world this would be. Thanks

  4. Being in a small church we thought that we could help to influence other parents by being an example, giving them TAG books, talking with the parents, and having a TAG class on Wednesday evenings. Our friends in Colorado did the exact same thing. Our conclusion on it was that if the parents are not convinced of the importance of discipling their own children then any program will be a failure. So, for now we just continue with Sunday school and disciple our own children at home using Vos's Story Bible, the church's hymn book, and truth and grace memory books. We also encourage individual Bible reading using either the 90 day Bible reading plan or M'Cheyne Bible reading plan. I also teach a Sunday school class to just our children since they are the only ones in that particular age group. I use Nancy Ganz's commentary for children on Genesis entitled, Herein Is Love, and I use our TAG books. So for now, we can only be an example to our congregation and pray for them. Maybe a series of sermons would also be helpful. I think that more godly men need to disciple other men in how to lead their own families. What have you tried? What has worked in your place of worship? How have the people responded?

  5. I think we've run off the parents that are not committed to working at home with their kids. So, maybe we've failed at the correct transition. We use Desiring God ministries SS materials. I can't sing their praises enough. They are so wonderful! We have 3 classes, pre-K-1st, 2nd-4th, and 5th-7th. Kids older than that go with their parents to a family-integrated class my husband teaches. We have the catechism class on Wed nights and I teach it. I think the families still in our church like it, but the ones who left complained about it that it was "too much" or "not fun enough". We're so blessed to have the families we have and pray that the Lord will bring other like-minded families into our congregation.

  6. You are absolutely right on here. And just because you are in a FIC does not mean you automatically know HOW to disciple your children. I think it is of the utmost importance that the FIC be about the business of training fathers (and mothers) and encouraging them by holding them accountable in what they do the other 6 days of the week.

    You've done such a good job with this topic!



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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.