Church for the Entire Family
I am indebted to my friends Doug Phillips of Vision Forum and Scott Brown of Trinity Baptist Church for inviting me to speak at the Uniting Church and Family Conference in Saint Louis this week. Not only do all three of us love surfing, we love the Scriptures. And two of us (Scott Brown and yours truly) are former youth pastors. So we have a lot to learn from each other.
Is it too dumb a question to ask what a spiritually empowered, family-friendly church might look like?
It would be a biblical church. I say “biblical” because the idea of age-segregation is simply not found in the Bible. Believe me, I’ve looked for it. Then why do we separate children from adults in virtually every church setting – from worship to training to fellowship to missions? We did not get this idea from the Scriptures. Indeed, we cannot get this idea from the Scriptures. That notion comes from our own man-made philosophies. It comes from our public education models and (so far as I can tell) especially from the myth of adolescence – a myth that not only our secular culture but much of our church culture has bought into. My question is: Why not simply go back to the Bible?
This is not quite all. A whole-family model of church life works. It is effective. It overcomes the fractured-family syndrome so common in our congregations today. When you eliminate programs that unwisely and unscripturally separate children from adults, the generation gap practically disappears. You say, Eliminate children’s church and youth programs? That’s impossible! How in the world could a church function this way? Tell that to the prophet Joel, who called for the little babies and children to be right there in the “sacred assembly” along with their parents and other adults (Joel 2:15-16):
Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring to gather the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast.
These precious children were with their parents for prayer, study, fellowship, and even service. Note also these additional passages that speak of children in the worship of God (Exod. 10:2, 12:12-28; Josh. 8:35; Ezra 8:1; and especially Eph. 6:1). Here we are told that children were to hear the Word of God, to be instructed by it, and to apply it to their lives. This, I repeat, is the biblical pattern of doing things, and it’s been proven to be more effective in raising responsible adults than our current age-segregated philosophy of ministry. Instead of being placed with other immature peers, which only breeds immaturity, children experience positive peer pressure that truly helps them to conform to mature (adult) standards of behavior. Indeed, I have seen over and over again that children in family-friendly churches become eager to assume their places as mature members within the church and the community.
Finally, and perhaps most important of all, a family-friendly church would be one that conforms to the heart of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As you well know, those who hindered the little children from coming to Him received His sharpest rebuke (see Matt. 19:13-14; 21:15-16). Please note that Jesus’ disciples (the “professionals,” if you will) were clearly wrong, while the parents had chosen the better course. In our world of frenetic youth programs and activities, Jesus’ rebuke sounds very strange and distant. But it is well that He spoke, and it is wisdom for us that we listen.
That we see these truths is not enough. We must act upon them. In 1873, C. H. Spurgeon said, “I begin to feel more and more that it is a mistake to divide the children from the congregation…. If our preaching does not teach children, it lacks some element it ought to possess. I like to see the congregation made up not all of the young, nor all of the old, but some of all sorts gathered together” (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 19, 1873, p. 323).
It is little short of amazing that we can read the New Testament and still believe in the inherent propriety of Children’s Church and Youth Ministry. This error is so widespread that one feels almost alone when he tries to combat it. Nothing will change until we kneel at Jesus’ feet and surrender ourselves to His selfsame love and compassion for children. Then we will not care what people might think about us because we are pleasing Him.
August 12, 2004
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com. His latest book is Why I Stopped Listening to Rush: Confessions of a Recovering Neocon.