Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Church-Integrated Families Rather Than Family-Integrated Churches?

This is the issue with which Matthew Kingsbury, pastor of Park Hill Presbyterian Church in Denver, Colorado, deals in an article entitled The Church-Integrated Family. He begins the article by setting forth what he perceives to be the central Scriptural issue:
We are at the beginning of the end of the American family as it has been known for generations and generations. As I've discussed this over the years with other pastors, we can no longer assume husbands and wives know the duties they owe one another, let alone how the Bible defines those duties. Parents do not teach their children basic manners, let alone the catechism. Hence, it seems to me churches and pastors will be increasingly obliged to teach congregation members what they never learned at home (that is, how to be families), or they will never find men who rule their households well to serve as elders (1 Tim. 3:4).

Some have responded to this crisis by moving toward "family-integrated churches," whose purpose is to organize the local congregation so as to inculcate and support healthy families. By implication (and sometimes by flat-out statement), the church exists to support the family. While I share the heartfelt grief over the consequences of cultural sin in the lives of Christian families and the sincere desire to see covenant children grow up in our holy faith, this perspective gets the relationship between the church and family exactly backward. Instead, as I seek to demonstrate in what follows, the Christian family exists to support the Christian church.
The article then goes on to argue from Scripture that the Church is indeed the eternal family that supersedes in priority the temporary earthly families of which we are all a part. The conclusion serves to drive home the point:
Here, then, is the proper relationship of the family to the church: because the church is eternal, the temporary family must work to make its members better church members.

While fathers have authority to rule their families, they do not have spiritual authority over them the way elders of churches do. A father is qualified to rule his family by virtue of impregnating his wife and by the covenant of marriage. An elder is qualified to rule in the church by virtue of possessing spiritual gifts recognized and tested by the congregation and other elders. Thus, families are not, technically speaking, small churches, but gatherings of believers who can either help or hinder one another's Christian walk.

Husbands and wives, parents and children are bound to certain duties within their families by God, but each of these relationships is informed by and subsumed into their eternal Christian-to-Christian relationships. When the Apostle Paul enumerates family duties in Ephesians 5-6, he begins with "[submit] to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Eph. 5:21; he does something similar in Col. 3-4). With all its particularities, the family is just like every other sort of Christian relationship: an opportunity for mutual exhortation and encouragement so that through our labors the Holy Spirit might prepare each of us for the glorious wedding of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, with his bride, the church.

Rather than family-integrated churches, the Scriptures call us to have church-integrated families, in which service to our Lord and faithfulness to his bride are modeled and taught daily. Such families, I believe, will not simply produce elders, but, please God, generations of believers who rejoice in their heavenly citizenship.
I recommend reading the entire article, because I think Kingsbury does a good job of highlighting what is a central point of difference between those in the Family-Integrated Church Movement and those of us who hold to a more traditional view.


  1. While I - a joyful member of a family integrate church - agree with Kingsbury's main point (earthly families are not the main focus of the church) I do not fully grasp his intended view of the so-called "church integrated family". But his article appears to me to be an attempt to reinforce his Presbyterian ecclesiology.

  2. I came away thinking that his view of the "church integrated family" was a family in which Christian parents seek to help their children understand that - as important as their biological family is - there is nothing more important than knowing Christ and becoming a part of His spiritual family that is the Church.

    As far as ecclesiology goes, I understood Kingsbury's concern to be one of seeking clarity on the distinct spheres of authority that pastors and parents have. I suspect that he may have been reacting to an idea that I have heard some family-integrated church advocates espouse, which seems to view fathers as pastors of their homes and diminishes the Biblical emphasis on properly called pastors as having authority in spiritual things. I know I have come across this kind of thinking among a few FIC adherents here in central Illinois, and I have to say that it is flatly un-Biblical. It blurs the Biblical distinction between pastoral and parental roles and authority.

    Of course I am just guessing here at what he might be reacting to. I suggest contacting him for further clarification.

  3. I agree that the church (the body of Christ) has a deeper, more abiding relationship than even the family. But the failure in the church over the last century is that it has largely tried to supplant the roles within families which are mentioned above and clearly defined in the Scriptures.

    Rather than taking over the instruction of children, pastors should be equipping parents to fulfill their God-given roles within it. This will inure to the benefit of the church. A husband/wife/child who understands their role in the family will result in a Christian relating more biblically to their brother and sister in Christ.

    A father, who is a disciple of Christ, sees the role God has given him. Fathers, raise your children in the fear of the Lord. (Eph 6:4). The purpose of this raising is first to evangelize and then to disciple. The child, having been won to Christ, is trained by the parents regarding his role in the church. This process has been neglected in favor of large programs that are designed to meet the needs and interests of children.

    The church is awash in programs for children, which it has liberty to do. The problem is that it has become very good at what it "can do" while laying aside what it "must do." While whole industries have emerged attempting to meet the needs of parents who want their children taught, fathers and mothers have, in many cases laid aside the word which tells them how they are train their children. God did not give children to the church, He gave them to parents.

    While the family should see itself in light of its relationship with the church, I don't believe the problem today is that it is over identifying with the family. This surely takes place from time to time, but it is a drop in the bucket compared to the ocean of programs that exist for training children within the church. We should not abandon what God's word clearly states in favor of something that it never discusses at all.

    The church is called to make disciples. Disciples live the word out in their lives in all of the roles God has given them - as employees, as citizens and as mothers and fathers. We would do well to train Christians to be disciples at home, fulfilling the calling God has given them.

    Meanwhile the results produced by the programatic approach are not encouraging. Most studies in this area indicate that once children leave the home, they are not continuing on in the faith they were brought up in or, at a minimum are not being transformed by it.

  4. Albert,

    I must admit that, while I have heard everything you have said many times before, I am nonetheless truly baffled by a few of your points. For example, the idea that Churches are "trying to supplant the roles within families" seems a bit of a reach. I, for one, have never known a Church that had either that goal or the resources to pull off such a scheme. I assume you refer to Children's and Youth ministries - have you seen these folks? They are typically max'd out just trying to keep up with the adminstrative and logistical aspects of their work. Yes they may teach weekly, and they may even get a 45 minute cup of coffee with a high schooler every now and then, but how does that even begin to compare - let alone overtake - the dozens of hours a parents (should) spend with their children each week!? Is the parenting that weak? If it is, then the occasional bit of discipling by mature believers is exactly what is needed. Honestly, this business sounds more like conspiracy theory than a biblical response to Church issues.

    "Supplanting the family"
    "Training by parents neglected by large programs"
    "Whole industries have emerged"
    "Parents laying aside the word"
    "Abandoning God's word"
    "The programmatic approach"
    "Studies indicate that children are not continuing in the faith."

    This is propaganda, brother, not sound reasoning. It is the battle cry of a new movement (and its associated industry) that has formed out of a reaction to perceived issues in the Church. While those issues do exist in places, I think they are greatly exaggerated in order to create alarm and to nudge people towards yet another bandwagon.

    Really, before condemning a movement, you had better make sure you're not just starting another.

    I love my (homeschooled) children, and feel the weight (and joy) of my responsibility for them. I also rejoice that God has provided brothers and sisters that can speak truth into their lives. They need that, just as I do. My children do not exist in a family cocoon until they attain adulthood. God's plan is that the Church ministers to its own - find me a verse that puts an age limit on that.