Family ministry methodology — the family-integrated church model. . .

I’ve been thinking through a number of “big-picture” items as it relates to my place and ministry. I have to admit, while my ministry philosophy has remained largely unchanged over the short time that I’ve been vocationally involved in youth and children’s ministry (under three years), my methodology has often evolved and been challenged throughout my journey. From the logistical and structural to the heart of precisely what we’re teaching children, I’ve made wholesale changes to the way I run a children’s ministry.

I can’t say that my methodology is the best or is the right way of doing things, but it works for my context and current season. But as seasons change and as my thoughts and beliefs are challenged by those from whom I’m learning the ins and outs of ministry, I do what I can to remain malleable and introduce whatever change is necessary in my ministry.

Yet there are also times when I’ve been challenged by a system of thought or a trend that has only strengthened my own resolve in doing what I’m doing or in residing within whatever “camp” I fall under.

This is one of those times.

In the world of youth and children’s ministry there are several key names that I’m sure you’ve probably heard of if you have spent any amount of time in the church world. People like Doug Fields, Reggie Joiner, Sue Miller, Michelle Anthony, Michael Chanley, among many others.

One name that’s been popping up in my circles lately is a guy named Voddie Baucham. If you’re unfamiliar with the name, Baucham is the teaching pastor at Grace Family Baptist Church in Texas and the founder of Voddie Baucham Ministries. Baucham is an advocate of strong parental leadership and shepherding in the home. He takes a stance on developing a home wherein children are being discipled and trained by their parents. He urges parents—fathers emphatically, likely because dads are the ones more prone to abdicate their responsibilities in the home—to own their roles as the primary disciplers of their children.

All good stuff.

But here’s where I have to part company with his teachings. He’s one of the main proponents of a movement known as the Family Integrated Church Movement, or FICM. The main thrust of the FICM is that parents and children should be with each other through all aspects of church life. In the family-integrated ministry model, children and youth ministries are eliminated in favor of bringing families together in all ministries.

Outside of the fact that I wouldn’t have a job in this kind of ministry model, I take issue with the spirit behind it. While I haven’t done much research, from what I have read, the FICM comes from the home-schooling community. I could be wrong, but every aspect of the FICM points to either heavy influence from home-schoolers or formation by home-schoolers.

Proponents of the FICM cite statistics that show church attendance among young people declining. They point the finger at families and their abdication of their responsibility to disciple their children and advocate for more time spent together as a family. Their solution is to have families spend more time together through church activities.

One blog commenter who goes by Shadowspring had this to say about the family-integrated church model:

The problem I have with FIC churches is that they were born in the home school community and promote home schooling. Trust me, not enough time with family or parents is NOT a problem in a home school situation!

They spout all these statistics about how little time the modern family spends together, but that’s not ever relevant in the communities that are pitching and practicing FIC. True statistics about their parishioners would point to a great preponderance of the children’s time spent with family, and very little (in some cases none) time spent with anyone else outside of the presence of a parent or older sibling. . . .

The way I see it, they are so mistrustful of their children, and even their fellow parishioners, that they dare not let them out of their sight even for a moment. No one is to be trusted to share the faith accurately except mom and dad. Even the pastor is being listened to by parents so that they will know exactly what little Johnny has been exposed to.

It may be that in such a judgmental, cloistered group, they fear what weaknesses of the family might be brought to light in a Sunday school conversation. . . .

As it is, these families drawn to FIC ministries are the very families that should be putting their children in Sunday school, and signing them up for community league sports. If your child can be led astray by a mere one to five hours a week outside of your presence, then you have a serious problem with your FAMILY RELATIONSHIP DYNAMICS. . . .

Insecure families, who feel constantly under siege from “the world” because of the insular preaching they are under, who are afraid of being judged wanting by their own fellow congregants, and/or who need to feel in absolute control of their progeny to feed their own egos, those are the families targeted by FIC and the ones who will be most harmed by attending one.

While I find her tone to be a bit too inflammatory, I would have to agree with her sentiment. I don’t see the FICM as an insidious church movement, but I question its effectiveness in our context. I also realize that it stems from a very different hermeneutic than my own. I hold a very high view of Scripture, but I couple that with a belief in an infinite God who has chosen to reveal much of who he is through the Bible, but there is nothing in the Bible that leads me to believe that God couldn’t reveal himself through other means. Christ himself pointed to nature and culture in order to unveil aspects of his present/future kingdom.

The FICM appears to base much of its methodology on Deuteronomy 31:12. This makes me rather uncomfortable as it screams prooftexting to me. It also looks like they took a descriptive text and made it prescriptive.

As I’ve mentioned before, often the way you view a passage such as Philippians 4:8 can radically alter the way you interact with the world around you. If it’s a passage of exclusivity, then you will begin to eradicate anything from your life that doesn’t fit into the box of “true, honorable, just, pure, and commendable.” But if it’s a passage of inclusiveness, you’ll begin to search for all that is true, honorable, just, pure, and commendable wherever you go.

Spurgeon once said, “Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor.” If we take seriously our call to make disciples of all nations (not just of our physical progeny) and if we believe what Christ said in John 20:21, then we must do what we can to train our children to be missionaries. And one of the first things a missionary does is engage his community. How will our children learn to do so if we keep them away from their peers in school and in a church setting?

Yes, I wholeheartedly agree that parents are the primary disciplers of their children. But I don’t believe they can effectively be the sole disciplers for their kids. While I often disagree with Reggie Joiner, I have to say that he nailed it with his “Orange” methodological approach to family ministry.

I’ll go into more detail on family ministry thoughts and ideas in some later posts, but for now, let me ask you this: am I off-base? Is my view of discipleship so narrow that I’ve excluded family-integrated church as a viable discipleship methodology?

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