A reporter sent me a series of questions related to Family Integrated Churches. She gave me permission to post her questions and my answers, and when the article appears sometime next month I’ll link to that. Enjoy!
James M. Hamilton Jr., Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Houston Park Place Campus
Baptist Church of the Redeemer
2. Please give a brief summary of how and why the church was established (I can get doctrinal and mission statements from the website).
There was a group of families in the Fort Bend County area who desired to have a family integrated church. They contacted me, and I did not understand their family focus at first. I thought they simply wanted to have a more biblical, more theological, more faithful church.
3. Define family integrated church and would you define your church as one?
I would define “family integrated church” as a church that is committed to keeping families together and not breaking them up at an institutional level. Within this broad definition, there is, of course a spectrum. At the strictest end of the spectrum would be a church whose mission statement would be along the lines of “discipling dads to disciple families.” Such a church might not have Sunday School classes divided by ages–so the children and the teens and the adults might all be in the same Sunday School class together. Churches on this stricter end might lean toward having fathers leading their own families in taking communion as families.
At the looser end of the spectrum are those who would say that the mission of the church is not simply to “disciple dads” but to “make disciples.” These churches would probably have “age-appropriate” instruction, and they would probably take communion as a whole church and avoid breaking the church up into family units at communion (I hope I’m not misrepresenting the more strict versions of FIC groups here). Those who are much more Family Integrated might not regard these “looser” groups as being Family Integrated at all, but what would put them on the spectrum would be that they are much more intentional about encouraging fathers to lead their families in family worship and disciple their children, much more intentional about protecting and cultivating biblical gender roles (no embarrassment here about 1 Timothy 2:12 and Ephesians 5:22-33), and there will be a more “family-friendly” culture at such churches.
Those on the stricter end might say we’re not Family Integrated at Redeemer, and in their sense I would agree. We do, however, go after everything I stated about the “looser” end of the spectrum, and in that sense I would say that we’re family integrated in the way that all healthy churches were family integrated in, say, the 1600′s through the 1800′s.
4. Describe the basic demographics of your church membership (i.e. size, socio-economics, race, married couples, singles, families, school choices of families, et. al.).
We have old people and young people, married people and single people. People married with as many as 6 children, newly married people with no kids. We have families who homeschool, families who send their kids to alternative kinds of schools that are a mix of university format instruction with study time at home, families who send their kids to private Christian schools, and families whose kids are in public school. We have public school teachers, med students, engineers, physicians, attorneys, and a whole range of other folks. We were planted in 2005. Right now we have about 40 members and we generally have 50 to 80 people in worship on Sunday mornings.
5. You said Redeemer is not structured as an F.I.C. in the strictest sense.How does it differ and what is the reasoning for structuring Redeemer as it is? Do you have graded Bible study for children through adult?
I don’t think the best way to describe the mission of the church is “discipling dads to disciple families.” Our mission statement at Redeemer is as follows:
For the glory of God, Baptist Church of the Redeemer seeks to obey Christ in the great commission task of making disciples by the power of the Spirit
One aspect of this is discipling dads, but it also means that we disciple single people, divorced people, widowed people, mothers, children, etc. So, whereas a strictly “Family Integrated Church” might be inclined to view the family as God’s program for evangelism, discipleship, and world missions, we at Redeemer believe that the church is God’s program for evangelism, discipleship, and world missions.
6. My research seems to indicate that most churches that hold to a F.I.C. model embrace Reformed theology as their doctinal stance. Why is this? Does one flow from the other?
The two are not necessary corollaries, but there are points of overlap. For instance, while most of American Evangelicalism is more American than Evangelical, both Reformed theology and a high view of the family go against the inclinations of the secular culture, where everyone has a vote and where children are viewed as an obstacle in the career path. Both Reformed theology and Family Integrated Churches are seeking to base everything they think and do on the explicit statements of the Bible, but you could embrace one and not the other.
7. F.I.C. churches place a high emphasis on the Biblical mandate of parents, the fathers in particular, taking ownership of the evangelization and discipleship of their children. Where along the way did parents abdicate their responsibility?
This is a huge issue. . . Not all fathers have abdicated their responsibility, but I think it’s safe to say that in the culture at large many people have slipped into thinking that it’s the youth director’s job to disciple their children, and to this the Family Integrated movement objects.
8. To that question…Youth departments get a bad wrap by some F.I.C. proponents. I spoke with SBTC student evangalizism associate director Brad Bunting today. He said many youth pastors admit that the poor baptism records indicate something isn’t working in SBC youth departments and they are determined to effect a change (making youth ministries more “parent friendly” was one example). But do we throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water with regard to youth ministries? Is it an Either/Or situation or a Both/And – should kids be only with parents Sunday morning and during the week as homeshoolers. Or can they be in the culture while being influenced at home and church?
Different people are going to come to different conclusions on this, and I think this is an area of Christian freedom–as long as the fact that parents are responsible for their children is recognized and embraced. Youth ministries can be a huge blessing, but even youth ministers (I was one) will tell you that the kids most likely to keep the faith are those whose parents are training them in the faith. For these kids, the youth ministry is a supplemental help, not the whole show. Of course, God is a surprising God who saves even those with un-Christian parents for his own glory.
9. Did youth departments taken the discipleship role from parents or have parents abdicated that responsibility?
I think it’s a both/and. I know that when I was in youth ministry it never occurred to me, nor did anyone from whom I was learning “youth ministry” ever suggest to me, that our job was actually to help the parents disciple their own kids. These things are often overlooked by both parents and kids, and some youth ministries get so caught up in building skate parks, having cool lighting and great music, and going on big trips to fun places that “discipleship” gets overlooked, too.
10.While the F.I.C. focuses on evangelizing and discipling children and equipping parents to do that, I’m finding evangelization of the community seems to be lacking. Is that common or have I just not yet found an example of a church that does both well?
I think that we have to be careful drawing such conclusions. A more traditional youth ministry might have a bunch of big events to which a bunch of non-believers come. While a Family Integrated Church might never have one of those big events, a kid in a Family Integrated Church might actually know and share the gospel–being able to actually articulate the facts that God is holy, people are sinful, God provides a way for people to be forgiven of sin if they will trust in Jesus, who died on the cross to satisfy God’s justice against sin, and was raised from the dead because it had no power to hold him. A kid in an FIC church might know this message and talk about it with lost friends a whole lot more than a kid in a church with a bunch of big events (where the gospel might not be very clear at all). So which is more evangelistic? The kid who actually knows and speaks the gospel or the kid who may not be all that clear on it but whose church has a bunch of big shows?
Every FIC church I’m personally acquainted with is very strong on both teaching the gospel to their children and emphasizing the importance of sharing it with others. And, in my experience, kids in FIC churches are much more likely to recognize the difference between a Christian world view and secular ones. In my experience, more traditional approaches to youth ministry tend to perpetuate the secular worldview while trying to strain out the overtly sinful stuff. Again, the danger is that sometimes things look more American than Evangelical.
May the Lord use us all to extend his glory until it covers the dry land as the waters cover the sea!