thatmom

real encouragement for real homeschooling moms

part 8 of the pros and cons of the family integrated church model

The church building we purchased was located in a 1940’s sub-division that had been originally built to house Caterpillar employees. The houses, for the most part, are small but they are well-spaced with rolling lawns and little traffic on the streets. There is a nice neighborhood feel about the area with only a couple other churches, so it seemed like a great place to plant a church.

The truth was, though, that none of the church families lived in this area. All of us drove a distance to be there and the building was chosen partly because of its close proximity to the interstate highway which brought in families from 30 miles in all directions. Initially this wasn’t a concern because we were concentrating on the importance of home discipleship and welcoming the new homeschoolers who routinely came in as information on our fellowship spread by word of mouth. But we soon realized that those who didn’t fit into the “typical” homeschooling lifestyle, as depicted by the church planter and pastor, would not feel welcome in the church.

I first noticed this when my mom would make comments every Sunday about her being the only “old woman” in the church. In the 14 years she has lived in our home, we have tried to include her in as many family and homeschooling activities as possible, including daily worship time and Scripture memory, and her doctor is convinced that this has been the reason that she has stayed as healthy as she has in these later years of her life. As much as she enjoyed talking with the little children each week at our church, she often remarked that she wished there were older people to visit during the weekly fellowship meal after church.

Another time, a visiting middle-aged couple came into the service right after it had started and sat in the back. Since I was in the front at the piano that week, I saw them and hoped that someone in the congregation might see them and welcome them. At the end of the service, I thought that certainly the pastor would say something to them or hurry to the back to greet them. Instead, as we usually did, he continued on with his agenda of teaching the hymn of the month to the congregation. This couple, who probably had come from the neighborhood, left with no one greeting them and the impression I would have gotten, had it been me, was that unless you are a homeschooling family raising children, you should probably go somewhere else.

In fact, this was the exact feedback we got when we invited people we knew on several occasions. One was an elderly couple, another was a single man, and another was a family who had homeschooled with grown children who also came. One of our visitors also brought along a couple whose children were grownm but they had not been homeschoolers. All of them, while they enjoyed the children, sensed immediately that this church was geared only for a certain group of people.

And there were other occasions where it was obvious that visitors felt awkward. We quickly came to realize that it was mostly because the church had taken on the appearance that everything had a kid agenda. Rather than simply welcoming children into the worship service and not practicing age segregation with Sunday school programs and youth ministry, everything was now geared toward upper elementary aged children, which was the age of the pastor’s own two children.

Worship services included children taking offering and playing the piano, leading singing, and handing out bulletins. While we thought it was great to have them involved, one of our concerns was that the service soon began to have a Bible school program flavor with children participating, adults looking on at what they were doing, and the phrase “boys and girls” was repeatedly used during the entire service.

Another thing that concerned us was that a type of uniformity was expected both inside and outside of time spent at church. For example, there were certain methods of child training that were taught and encouraged as the “biblical” way and tapes and CD’s by certain authors were advertised, promoted, and stocked in the church library. Since there would be no church nursery, it was also assumed that parents would only take their children out of service to “discipline” them and I was even told that moms were to make the time outside of worship so miserable by holding their toddlers down in an empty room that they would beg to go back into the service.

Clay and I felt that this was not what we would want to encourage and many Sundays, when our 2 year old grandson became too wiggly to sit in the service, either his parents or one of us would walk him into a room and bring along crayons or small toys for him to play with. We were told that we shouldn’t make the room a fun place and that by doing so we were not teaching him to behave in church. But Clay countered with the truth that fathers and mothers were to make those decisions themselves regarding the training of their children and the applications of Scripture in that regard and to insist that everyone conform to someone else’s standards in the “how’s” of training was contrary to our basic tenets of home discipleship.

There was also the assumption that all the families in the church would study the same passages of Scripture during the week so the children would be prepared to answer questions posed to them at the beginning of the worship service. Then, the pastor would preach on that same subject.

While it seemed like a great idea to many people, especially those who were just beginning to practice family worship, there were some of us who had been doing this for many years and had our own convictions and methods of teachings and instructing. Clay suggested that dads needed to feel less pressured to make sure their children were prepared to perform with the “correct” answers on Sunday morning and to be encouraged to study themselves and look for areas where their own families needed biblical instruction and then to concentrate on those portions of Scripture that were most needful at the time. Again, we both felt that true discipleship takes into account the spiritual needs of the disciple and that parents ought to always be looking for that as well as encouraging their children to think outside of any prescribed box as they study the Word.

It was at this point that we began to feel very alienated because we weren’t on the prescribed bandwagon. And here was the really funny thing to us….we were the oldest couple in the church. We had been married for nearly 3 decades, had 6 grown children who were all believers and our married children were homeschooling our grandchildren. We were a picture of their stated goal, “multi-generational faithfulness.”

Yet, there were those I have referred to as the “johnny-come-lately” homeschoolers, those who had been homeschooling for two or three years and their children were all quite young, and they knew all the answers and felt compelled to tell us that we didn’t know what we were talking about. I had a groove in my tongue from biting it so many times, let me tell you. As I began to ponder these things, I saw that the Titus 2 principle requires not only older women who are willing to share things the Lord has taught them through the years, but also younger women (and men) with teachable spirits.

I want to be very clear. I am certainly not saying that we had or have all the answers. In fact, most of what I now know I had to learn the hard way, through the many trials I experienced by thinking I had all the answers when I was younger and by not ever seeking out counsel from older and wiser believers. Lord-willing, I pray that I have learned to listen to godly counsel and to seek out those who have walked the path I am struggling to stay on daily.

Perhaps it was because our children were older or because we couldn’t embrace the “formula for success,” we began to see that we were, once again, in a situation where we had gotten involved with something we had been led to believe was going to be fruitful and encouraging for our own family and it wasn’t.

(to be continued)

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5 Comments»

  Caila wrote @

Dear Karen,
I just stumbled upon your blog and want to thank you for this wonderful resource. I am not a homeschool mom yet, but my son is only 1 year old. We plan on homeschooling him, and any other children we have, for at least the first few years of schooling. I listened to your latest podcast and was inspired to continue seeking the Lord through his word and corporate worship now, while I’m still in my “summer years” so that later in life I’m not dried up when my children are grown.
I have a blog where I address some of the issues associated with being a young mother in this day and age. If you have the time to stop by, it’s http://cailamurphy.wordpress.com
Thank you again, Karen, and I pray God blesses all your endeavors as you seek to serve Him. I will keep reading!

  Jason Webb wrote @

Karen,
Thank you so much for putting your time into writing your story. I am currently finishing up my master’s program at Reformed Theological Seminary and my thesis is on the family integrated church movement. I have read a lot of material (not as much as I need to yet!) on FIC and you show an extraordinary amount of wisdom about the subject.

I’m just like you in many ways except I have two small children and we are just beginning to teach the oldest how to read. We will homeschool her Lord willing, but to be honest
I dread my wonderful church ever becoming a homeschooling church or the family church or any kind of church except Christ’s church. I know it sounds cliche, but its not heard very often in FIC circles. I see a passion for families and I love it, but where is the passion for Christ that works itself out with wisdom and love? The FIC proponents say so many good things, but I don’t see any balance in their words. So many things lack that I see in Christ’s heart…It scares me and it angers me.
If you have anything that will help me bring clarity to the issue, or can help me understand this movement please email me. I need divine wisdom to pull apart this gordian knot, and all the information I can get will be of help. Thanks so much for all that you have written.
jason

  Cindy K wrote @

Jason,

You’ve stated that you’ve read a great deal about this subject, but I wonder what sources you’ve read.

I would love to read what you’ve written. Please email me via my blog.

Cindy

  thatmom wrote @

H Caila and welcome to the blog and thank you for your very kind words. It is so nice to meet you. I had a quick peek at your blog, which is so edifying to read! I will be back!

If you haven’t yet found the podcast archives, go to http://www.thatmompodcast.com.

Oh, and I love your name. I had never heard it before and found myself saying it out loud. It is lovely!

  thatmom wrote @

Jason, thank you for your kind words of encouragement.

As I have been writing this series and Clay and I have been discussing it in depth the past few weeks, going back over our own story, we have realized that there are so many pros and cons to this movement that each thing we remember sparks our memory of another aspect of it. While there are so many things that, in theory sound really wonderful, in essence the particulars are very difficult to sort through. The devil is in the details, as it were.

The bottom line is that we need to be honest and forthright about the goals and agendas of the family integrated church model and we also need to realize that no matter what sort of church model there is, its genuine and God-honoring success hinges on the character and integrity of the leadership and the commitment of the body to pursue Biblical truth practicing exegesis rather than eisegesis. This is, I fear, the reason that most if not all family integrated church models will, in the end, be a flash in the pan and will end up making a mockery of those elements of home discipleship that are so desperately needed in our homes and in our churches today.

I hope you will continue to add to the discussion here. I would love to know what made you choose this topic and what you are seeing and hearing regarding this model among seminarians, both profs and students. I am intrigued and know that your conclusions will shape the future of reformed churches in the next few decades.


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