What is the family integrated church movement? Why do people attend family integrated churches? Here are seven reasons!
Table of contents
- First, a Family Integrated Church Fits the New Testament Pattern
- Second, a Family Integrated Church Allows Parents to Spend More Time with Their Children
- Third, a Family Integrated Church Encourages Fathers to Be Spiritual Leaders
- Fourth, a Family Integrated Church Allows the Church and Home to Look Alike
- Fifth, a Family Integrated Church Surrounds Children with Adults and Infants
- Sixth, a Family Integrated Church Surrounds Children with Wisdom Versus Foolishness
- Seventh, a Family Integrated Church Gives a Family to Those Without Families
My previous post on having children in worship examined Old Testament verses. This is part two and it examines New Testament verses.
First, a Family Integrated Church Fits the New Testament Pattern
Matthew 21:12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” 14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, “‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?”
The religious leaders were upset about two things:
- First, what Jesus was doing—healing the blind and the lame.
- Second, the children in the temple—they didn’t want them making noise and crying out praises to the Lord.
But Jesus wanted the children there, and He defended their presence and praise.
Jesus Had Children Present When He Taught
Mark 9:35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
Notice not what Jesus said, but what He did. Jesus was in the middle of teaching, and He reached down and grabbed a child. He didn’t have to tell one of the disciples to go get a child from somewhere to serve as an object lesson. He had children around when He was teaching.
Mark 10:13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
First, we see another instance of Jesus rebuking people who tried to keep children away. Second, He argued that children are central to the kingdom of God. That’s a strong statement that I think argues for children to be present during worship. If the kingdom of God belongs to people who are like children, then we should probably have children worshiping with us.
Paul Had Children Present When He Taught
Acts 20:9 And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 10 But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” 11 And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. 12 And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.
Paul was teaching late into the night when Eutychus fell out the window and died. The Greek word for youth in verse 12 is pais and it means child or infant. It is the same word used in in Matthew 2:16 to describe the infants Herod murdered and Matthew 21 to describe the children in the temple who were calling out. The young child was there while Paul was preaching.
Acts 21:5 When our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey, and they all, with wives and children, accompanied us until we were outside the city. And kneeling down on the beach, we prayed 6 and said farewell to one another.
Paul was at Tyre and he was about to head to Jerusalem. Everyone, including the children, escorted him outside the city to say goodbye to him. These people were saying goodbye to Paul, which is not a strong argument for family integration. But this account and the previous account with Eutychus are the only two in Acts that mention children.
Everywhere else in Acts it discusses households worshiping together and the children were part of those households. Let me read a few of the verses:
- Acts 10:2 [the Roman centurion was] a devout man who feared God with all his household…and prayed continually to God.
- Acts 16:15 [Lydia] was baptized, and her household as well.
- Acts 16:34 [the Philippian jailer]…rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
- Acts 18:8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household.
Families were praying and worshipping together. There were no examples of children being separated from their parents for worship in the Old Testament and it’s the same in in the New Testament.
Paul Expected Children to Be Present When His Letters Were Read
Titus 2:1 But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. 2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. 3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. 6 Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled…9 Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.
The “you” in verse 1 is Titus, the pastor to whom Paul wrote the letter. Paul didn’t address older men in verse 2, older women in verse 3, younger men in verse 6, or bondservants in verse 9 like he addressed Titus, because the letter wasn’t written to them. Instead, Paul was telling Titus what these people should be so he could shepherd them well.
Unlike the books of Timothy and Titus, which were pastoral epistles written to individuals, Ephesians, like Paul’s other epistles, were written to churches. The pastors and elders would receive Paul’s letters and read them aloud to the church.
Ephesians 5:22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord….25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” 4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
There is a significant difference. Instead of talking about people like in Titus, Paul addressed wives, husbands, children, and fathers directly in these verses. He knew this letter would be read to the church and these people would be present, so he addressed them directly.
Paul didn’t have to address children directly. He could have said, “Fathers and mothers, tell your children to obey you, for this is right, and you want your children to live a long time.” But he addressed children as directly as he addressed husbands, wives, and fathers, because he envisioned them being part of the church services when these letters were read.
Something else worth noticing is Paul had high expectations for children: he thought they could pay attention, notice when they’re addressed, learn, be convicted, and obey.
If someone asked why there are no verses in the epistles commanding churches to have children present, it is because it was assumed they were there.
Second, a Family Integrated Church Allows Parents to Spend More Time with Their Children
I like to be with them. I like to see them. And if there’s one place, second only to my home, that I want my children with me, it is at church and church activities.
I have had more people than I can count tell me how fast the time goes with your children and I agree. The saying is: the days are slow, but the years are fast, and it is true. I value the time I have with my children.
Third, a Family Integrated Church Encourages Fathers to Be Spiritual Leaders
I was raised Catholic. God saved me in my early twenties in a Calvary Chapel. I’m thankful for what I learned there, but like I shared in the previous post, whatever we first experience we tend to think is best. Because Calvary Chapel was my introduction to Christianity, I thought that whatever they did was right and if any churches did anything differently than they were wrong. Then I went into ministry at Grace Baptist as a youth pastor. That’s when I learned that there are other solid churches out there besides Calvary Chapels.
Both churches, Grace Baptist and Calvary Chapel, were segregated. That’s all I knew, so that’s what I thought was best. When I was hired as the youth pastor at Grace Baptist, it seemed like, “We have a youth pastor. Now we have someone to raise our kids.” I remember a teenager in the church was struggling and I was sent to help him. I don’t remember if I was even a father yet, say nothing about having any experience with teenagers, so I don’t think I had any business being the one called on.
But this is the typical approach: a youth pastor is going to be young, fun, and cool (and young was the only one of these three things I had going for me) versus old, wise, and experienced.
Then I started learning more about men being spiritual leaders in their homes, and it created a collision between my conviction about men shepherding their families and me being a youth pastor who was shepherding other people’s children. It seemed like my position was allowing men to abdicate their roles by partially fulfilling that role for them.
I have become even more convinced since then that if we want spiritually strong families, children who are growing up in the fear and admonition of the Lord, and men who are spiritual leaders in the home, a family-integrated model should be followed.
Encouragement for Wives
Over the last six or seven years I’ve probably put on about six marriage conferences per year. If I’m invited to speak at another event, such as a homeschool conference, I still try to have a message or two about marriage.
I’ve learned most wives are oblivious to two things:
- First, how nervous their husband might be to pray and read the Word with his family.
- Second, how encouraging or discouraging she can be toward her husband.
So, wives, when your husband leads your family in worship, try to be an encouragement to him. Make considerably more deposits than withdrawals.
Fourth, a Family Integrated Church Allows the Church and Home to Look Alike
Hopefully you’re worshiping together as a family during the week. We provide the family worship guide at Woodland Christian Church each week to support this happening.
If we’re worshipping as families during the week there’s a compatibility or parallelism with corporate worship on the Lord’s Day and. There are some differences, but we’re doing many of the same things: praying, reading God’s Word, and possibly singing. Our children are prepared to engage in these practices on Sunday, because they’ve been doing this during the week.
“What If My Children Don’t Sit Perfectly in Church?”
If your children don’t sit perfectly in church then they are like every other child in history. Tell your children that if they have trouble in church on Sunday then they get to practice during the week. You can put a sermon on for them and they practice sitting and listening on your couch in the living room. You can even bring them to church and have them practice sitting in the pew, which is what we have done as a family. Tell them the first time they get to practice for twenty or thirty minutes and if it happens again they get to practice for forty-five or sixty minutes.
Fifth, a Family Integrated Church Surrounds Children with Adults and Infants
As a youth pastor I took my youth to camps, but I quickly became disillusioned with them. I didn’t like the teaching, the way the girls dressed, or the way the boys acted toward girls. I started doing my own camps with my youth. Every youth had the same fear: “Are you going to ask my parents to chaperone?”
The last thing any youth want is to have their parents around when they are trying to have fun. Young people would ask me, “My parents chaperoned last time, so can you skip asking them this time? Isn’t it some other youth’s turn to have their parents go?”
Fast-forward to me coming to Woodland Christian Church and we go to camp as families. I’m listening to young people, and their concern is, “I hope my dad doesn’t have to work so he can come to camp with us.” Which one of these environments do I want to foster: ne where children don’t want their parents around, or one where children are sad when their parents are not around?
I could go a little further and say that in family integrated churches not only do young people want their parents around, they are generally better around people of all ages. In family-integrated churches, young people learn to be more comfortable around adults and infants. I like my children being around adults and infants. I love to see the children in the church helping with other children, whether they are holding their younger brother or sister, or helping another family with their child.
Sixth, a Family Integrated Church Surrounds Children with Wisdom Versus Foolishness
When young people are around older, more mature people, it raises the young people’s level of maturity.
Psalm 144:12 May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown, our daughters like corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace.
The psalmist wanted young people to be like “plants that are full grown,” which is to say mature and strong even when they’re young. He says the same thing about daughters, that they would be like strong pillars to fortify the palace. We all want our children to be mature, even when they’re young, and I believe there is greater potential for that when our children are around adults.
Proverbs 13:20 Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.
When children are around wise people, they will grow in wisdom. But if they are regularly put in groups of children their own age, they will stay at the level of foolishness.
Proverbs 22:15 Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.
When you have lots of children together you have lots of foolishness.
Seventh, a Family Integrated Church Gives a Family to Those Without Families
In October Katie and I went to Nebraska to speak at a homeschool conference on Friday and Saturday, and I was invited to guest preach at a church on Sunday. I would guess the average age of the church was probably sixty. There were only two young families. One of the young families was the family that invited me to preach, so we spent quite a bit of time with them.
Katie and I felt bad for this family’s kids because we didn’t think they had many friends in the church. Katie asked them how they felt about attending this church and they shocked us by saying, “We love it. We feel like we get to have all these grandparents.” We thought their answer was great.
I wanted the church I pastor to be a family. I wanted families joining the church to become part of a larger family. Everyone who joins the church gets more brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and children.
We have nine kids with a tenth on the way. We already have a big family. I never sit back saying, “I’m lonely.” I’m trying to find ways to keep up with the kids I have and spend time with other people. But single people could be lonely, and the church can provide the relationships they need.
There’s a false notion that family integrated churches are for families, but they don’t work for single people or people without families. But the opposite is true. Picture people coming to church alone. They need the church more than families do. A family that comes to church together has each other, but single people don’t have anyone. They need the church to be their family that gives them relationships.
People who attend church without a spouse or children should view the church as their family. They should see the church as the place God has filled with brothers and sisters for you.
Luke 8:19 [Jesus’] mother and brothers came to Him, and could not approach Him because of the crowd. 20 [Jesus was told], “Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see You.” 21 But He answered, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.”
Jesus recognized His spiritual relationships as His truest family members! If you have repented of your sins and put your faith in Christ, then you are adopted into God’s family. God has become your Father, and Jesus is your brother: “He is not ashamed to call [us] brothers and sister” (Hebrews 2:11).
Why Aren’t More Churches Family Integrated?
We live in a consumer-driven society that has, sadly, affected many churches. Most seeker sensitive churches are born out of this mentality. They ask, “What will be the most attractive? What will bring in the most people? What will be easiest for people, so they want to return?”
A family integrated approach requires more work. It is harder for parents to watch their kids, get them to sit still, and try to get them to pay attention to the sermon. The alternative is much easier: dropping your children off with other people to watch them.
My Personal Burden Because I must “Give an Account”
I know the family integrated approach is not as attractive, because there are few large family-integrated churches. Many of the family-integrated pastors I know are bi-vocational, because their churches aren’t large enough to support them.
I want a healthy, growing church as much as the next pastor. Why would I lead my church to do something that I know can be unattractive and probably produce a smaller church? Why not do whatever I think will be the most attractive and provide the biggest church? There are the reasons above, but there’s also this verse:
Hebrews 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will give an account.
The elders and I must give [God] an account of our leadership of this church. That is sobering! We can’t run a popularity contest and ask, “What will allow us to have the biggest church?” Instead, we must ask, “What is best spiritually for the congregation?” And I’m convinced a family integrated church is best spiritually.