I thought it would be a great idea to offer a few thoughts on the growing family integrated church movement after reading Wade Burleson’s recent article and also Cindy Kunsman’s thoughts about this movement over the past few weeks. I want to encourage good discussion here and hope anyone who is interested in this topic will feel free to discuss it. As always, I don’t mind anonymous comments as long as they come along with a real e-mail address and civility.
Having attempted to integrate our own family’s preferences and convictions into church life, sometimes succeeding and sometimes not, over the past 24 years, I fully understand why homeschooling families would love to find a church home where their lifestyle is not only accepted but is also the standard. Let’s face it, once you begin taking the responsibility for academically educating your own children, as a parent you begin to see all of the areas of your life where the Lord has called you to take responsibility for your family and your home. As you put into practice family worship, discipleship of your own children, caring for the needs of extended family, etc, you begin to see how the bureaucracy of the local church, especially if it can’t accommodate your own convictions, can become burdensome and frustrating. It only seems natural to turn to the family-integrated church model and many homeschooling families do just that.
Growing both in the number of churches and in membership, these churches have been established to meet the particular needs of homeschooling families and will eventually be available in most areas of the country. In fact, the National Center for Family Integrated Churches, established only 5 years ago, currently lists 657 churches and claims a membership of 1677 families who desire to further their mission.
While this organization does not represent all those who wish to follow a family-integrated approach to church life, they certainly have had tremendous influence through their conferences and publications. Founder and leader of the NCFIC, Doug Phillips, considered one of the most popular homeschooling speakers around the country today, promotes this off-shoot of his Vision Forum ministry while at homeschooling conferences along with other voices for pro-family-integrated worship such as Voddie Baucham, a SBC-ordained pastor, and Kevin Swanson, ordained in the OPC.
Not associated with Phillips but also a founder of what he calls “home-discipleship churches,” former church planter with the CRC, Pastor Henry Reyenga, is the head of the Christian Leaders Institute that seeks to launch churches and to prepare young men for leadership within those congregations. In recent years he has established his own denomination that reflects his family discipleship priorities and interpretations of Christian education.
His is not the first group to do go out on his own to form churches with this family emphasis. James McDonald, founder of Family Reformation Ministries and pastor with the Covenant Presbyterian Church, left the RPCGA and starting his own denomination, one that reflects his convictions about home education and paedo-communion, both views not necessarily advanced, and sometimes discouraged or forbidden, within traditional churches.
In contrast to the traditional structure found in most denominations and eschewing the long-established polity in most conventional churches, NCFIC churches each struggle to carve out their own paths and even theology based on the premise that homeschooling is the best and most biblical lifestyle for Christian parents. Placing fathers in leadership of these churches is to be the norm. To this end, the NCFIC mission statement says that they “deny/reject two unbiblical extremes of our day, authoritarian, one-man leadership/one-man ministry that impedes the biblical functioning of the body, and leaderless house churches that disregard the biblical necessity of elders.”
Further, claiming to follow in the footsteps of 17th and 18th century pastors Richard Baxter, John Bunyon, Matthew Henry, and Jonathan Edwards, all great men in history who stressed the importance of fathers discipling and catechizing their own children, the NCFIC seeks to provide tools for men training their own families and believes this is the means for seeing future generations of Christians.
While I whole-heartedly believe that fathers are to be instrumental in the discipleship of their children and while I appreciate so many of the reasons homeschooling families have for leaving their traditional churches, I have come to see some flaws within the family-integrated church movement that I think need to be addressed if it is to have the success so many homeschooling families are hoping to experience. In the next few blog articles I will be looking at some of the things I really like about family-integrated churches and at some of my concerns and am looking forward to some great discussion here.
(to be continued)