Family Integrated Church Model
Explanatory note: this critique was written for the benefit of the First Baptist Church family in Carmel, Indiana.
Recently, I asked a member of our church why his kids were no longer participating in the youth ministry. He stated that one of the factors that influenced his decision was a film entitled Divided. Needless to say, I found an opportunity to view the film for myself. After chewing on the viewpoints set forth in the film, I believe it wise to offer some pastoral comments. So, here goes.
I was impressed with the desire of the filmmakers to encourage fathers to actively and enthusiastically pursue the biblical responsibilities involved in raising their children. Certainly, the Christian community desperately needs to hear more about the noble profession of fathering. The film offers extensive criticism of the evangelical church for its methodology and rightly points out the church’s failure to disciple its members, especially its children. Indeed, constructive criticism should be offered to any individual ministry that employs a market-driven philosophy or an entertainment-based methodology. I am grateful that many who are currently engaged in youth ministry are voicing this criticism, especially those laboring in Word-driven local churches.
I was also impressed by an evident love of the Word expressed in many of the interviews, as well as by a desire to carefully follow the directives of Scripture. Sadly, the evangelical community lacks a passionate desire to “cut it straight” and be faithful to the Scripture. I also detected a strong heartbeat for personal godliness in all members of Christian churches.
However, beyond these good things—and even though these advocates of Family Integrated Churches (FIC) are brothers in Christ—I find myself with little else positive to say about this video. Thus I offer this analysis.
In my view, the 54-minute video that debuted in 2011 is not the neutral film it is advertised to be. It is not the “real journey of a young man seeking answers” to his personal questions about the validity of youth ministry (see Scott Brown’s promotion statement). The film comes across as a marshaling of arguments to prove a preconceived viewpoint and as a promotion for the FIC model. The National Center for Family Integrated Churches (NCFIC) holds the copyright to the film, and it is promoted and distributed by NCFIC. Scott Brown is credited as the producer of the film. The filmmakers, Phillip and Chris LeClerc, are FIC adherents. Nearly all the subject matter experts interviewed for the film have direct or indirect ties to FIC.
The website promoting the film features statements by several leading NCFIC spokesmen. Paul Washer declares that the use of carnal means to attract people is bad and then concludes that age-specific youth ministry is such a carnal means. Kevin Swanson declares that the FIC movement is building the kingdom of God (“227 children in an FIC church of 300” means that they are building “generational leverage”) and that in twenty to thirty years, FIC will be shown to have produced good results. He then remarks that those who disagree with FIC can have their youth group. Doug Phillips, the leading architect of the FIC movement and current leader of Vision Forum, asserts that the modern youth culture looks to paganism. Scott Brown, the current president of NCFIC and board member of Vision Forum, accuses the church of neglecting hundreds of commands to fathers and then purports that the film shows how parents must minister to youth because the modern youth group is unbiblical. Voddie Baucham characterizes modern youth ministry as ineffective and resulting only in a self-perpetuation of this cottage industry of subculture ministry.
On the one hand, if the filmmakers believe that the FIC is a biblical mandate (and they do), then their using carefully selected facts and arguments while ignoring others is better understood. The biased nature of the film is less surprising yet still objectionable.
The argumentation for FIC paints all other alternatives with the guilt-by-association brush (see Scott Brown and Doug Phillips’ statements averring that the church has adopted the age-graded Sunday School from the pagan model of public education devised by atheist and evolutionist John Dewey). The bottom line seems to be that age-grading is paganism.
The film posits that the reason young people are leaving the church and the faith during college days is that they are predisposed to do so because churches have eschewed the biblical model, namely FIC. The real problem, says the video, is the youth ministry (see statements from former youth ministers Cal Deyarmin and Jason Davis). This is an unsubstantiated cause-and-effect connection and, as pointed out by Pastor Kurt Larson, appears to be an example of the error of sampling on a dependent variable, a methodological flaw that easily leads to erroneous results. This is both selective data gathering and poor analysis. The filmmakers choose to look only at selected data, namely data that skews the results in the direction they desire. A question that wasn’t considered is “What percentage of kids who were in a youth group stay in church compared to the percentage of kids who were not in a youth group who stay in church?” In other words, are there other factors that should be considered? For instance, have we forgotten the concept of original sin? Have we forgotten the notion of sovereign conversion? What about poor preaching? What about adult and parent hypocrisy? What about consumerism in the church? This major logical fallacy is oft repeated. One spokesman even concludes that the youth crisis in the church today is God’s judgment (see Voddie Baucham statement). This is an unsubstantiated and provocative interpretation of providence.
The fact that “youth ministry doesn’t have specific support” in the Bible is used as a proof for FIC. (See Brett McCracken’s and Doug Phillips’ statements that God didn’t ordain youth ministry or Sunday School and numerous similar statements throughout the film.) Unfortunately, this argument is not consistently applied. God also did not ordain the church as a family of families, or families always being together in worship, or couples having many children, or homeschool etc.
This line of reasoning resurrects a centuries-old debate that rages primarily around questions of worship. On the one hand is the view that if the Bible doesn’t specifically authorize a practice, it is prohibited (the regulative principle). On the other hand is the view that if the Bible doesn’t specifically prohibit a practice, it is permitted (the normative principle). Generally, Reformed churches adopt the regulative principle while Evangelical churches adopt the normative principle. Consequently, there is disagreement over the use in worship services of musical instruments, technical resources such as film or amplification, songs other than biblical psalms, humor, and drama.
A person may use the term “unbiblical” to describe certain age-specific ministries such as Sunday School or youth groups and mean simply that they are not mentioned in the Bible. If he is also a regulative principle advocate, he then concludes that they must not be practiced by the church. Others, perhaps also regulative principle advocates, may use the term “unbiblical” to describe certain age-specific ministries such as Sunday School or youth groups and mean that they are antibiblical; that is, such practices are ethically wrong and contrary to God’s will. I believe this is the perspective of the film as is borne out by oft-repeated verbiage.
Related to the question of specific authorization or prohibition is the importance of distinguishing between description and prescription. For argument’s sake only, let’s grant that the Bible normally pictures families together in the church. Simply because the Bible describes a practice does not necessarily mean that it must be adopted. What is described is not necessarily required. For instance, must churches meet in homes rather than in dedicated buildings? Or must parents hire tutors for their children? Or should families include a slave?
The advocates for FIC who make statements in the video often engage in unfortunate proof-texting. For instance, based on Deuteronomy 6 and Psalm 78, the church must worship as families (see Craig Houston statement). Or, based on Ephesians 6 and Colossians 3, it is dogmatically concluded that all meetings of the church in the New Testament were age-integrated and this must be the pattern for all churches today (see Scott Brown statement). However, a look at Ephesians indicates otherwise:
The FIC argument is that because Paul uses the vocative case as a direct address to “children” in 6:1, we must assume that children were present on the occasion of the reading of the letter to the church in Ephesus and that, furthermore, the children were always present. But, if the vocative “children” demands that all children were present whenever the church assembled,so the vocative must demand that slaves (v 5) and masters (v 9) were present. I find it fascinating that FIC advocates argue that the use of a vocative requires the physical presence of the addressee in connection with the “children” but do not address other vocatives in the letter.
Following the direct address to children, Paul speaks directly to “fathers” in 6:4. However, he does not address “mothers.” Does this mean they were not present in the assembly when the letter was read and that they are always to be absent as a matter of normal practice? If the solution to this dilemma is that in speaking to fathers Paul was also speaking to mothers, then why, in chapter 5, does he speak directly both to “wives” (v22) and to “husbands” (v25)?
The point is that the vocative is not used to indicate physical presence or absence per se. For instance, one hardly believes that the use of the vocative in Galatians 4:19 (children) or 28 and 31 (brothers) requires physical presence. The same could be said of 1 John 3:2 (beloved) or 2 Peter 3:1 (beloved) or 1 John 2:1 (children). (For an examination of vocatives in the New Testament, see David Lang, “Beloved, Let Us Examine the Vocative,” accordancebible.com, http://www.accordancebible.com/search/search.php?q=vocative.)
In theory, the vocative “children” could be a nominative case, given that in the plural, the vocative is formed identically to the nominative in all declensions (Machen Grammar, p 25). Thus, the nominative coupled with the imperative “obey” could give the sense that “children must obey parents”. However, the context best determines whether the noun is vocative or nominative, and nearly all translations render the nouns as vocative in Ephesians 6.
There are imperatives in these passages, but a command that all young children be in the worship service is not one of them. Furthermore, the use of “children” in this context may prove just the opposite. The term τέκνον is used for children of all ages, with the focus being on relationship rather than age. How old were these children? It seems there are two termini. First, they must young enough to be “brought up.” Second, they must be old enough to comprehend and implement the directive to “obey” and “honor” parents in the same way that fathers must be able to carry out the directive given to them. It is also notable that this directive to children is couched in terms of consciousness of what is right and an awareness of a spiritual relationship with the Lord. Thus, the conclusion that these are “older” children makes the most sense contextually.
Unfortunately, FIC spokesmen do not bolster their position by making sweeping, unproven generalizations such as:
- the proposition that the youth group is not biblical and, therefore, it is not right (see Paul Washer statement);
- the claim that it is not possible to have an age-specific approach and, at the same time, equip fathers (see Scott Brown statement);
- the suggestion that those who adopt an age-graded model are making the same mistake as Uzza did when he touched the ark in an unauthorized manner (1 Chronicles 13:7-11) (see Voddie Baucham statement);
Sadly, conclusions about the proper ministry model are based not only on what is perceived as “unbiblical” but also on anticipated results. This is clearly stated by the filmmaker, Phillip LeClerc, when he concludes, “No matter how you do it, conducting age-segregated programs goes against Scripture [i.e., it is antibiblical, not just unbiblical] and simply doesn’t work.” Even Voddie Baucham rejects this behavioristic notion when he speaks in the film against pragmatism. No matter how it is stated, this is disastrous formulaic thinking: “Do it my way and you get the desired result,” or choose a method based on the desired result.
Certainly the video could not deal with all contingencies, but it is worth pointing out that a number of sticky issues are not addressed.
- the use of the young-earth view as a litmus test for orthodoxy or spiritual maturity, and the suggestion that this is a germane condemnation of age-specific ministries (see Ken Ham statement);
- the claim that if fathers “loved God they would disciple their kids” (see Kevin Swanson statement). One can rightly ask how we harmonize the fact that David, a man after God’s heart (1Samuel 13:14), apparently failed to disciple his son Absalom (2 Samuel 14-18). Why did Eli the priest nurture Samuel but not his own sons (1 Samuel 2-8)? What about Isaac’s neglect of Jacob (Genesis 25:28, et al)?
- What about kids whose parents aren’t believers?
- Does evangelism occur only within a family?
- What happens to kids whose Christian parents aren’t interested in personally making disciples of their children?
- If it is legitimate for someone other than the father to disciple children in the worship service, how is this different from someone other than the father discipling children in Sunday School?
On the other hand, if I thought the filmmakers believed FIC is a matter of liberty and that their preference for FIC is the best of several valid choices, then I would be perplexed by the biased nature of the film. However, one cannot attentively watch this video and conclude that the filmmakers and those interviewed think this is a matter of Christian liberty. Rather, it is clear that they see this as a matter of right and wrong—of biblical vs. antibiblical. Candidly, if I had heard these brothers in Christ simply saying that, as a matter of liberty, they have a different preference than fellow believers regarding these issues, I would applaud the difference and move on. I certainly would not be writing this critique.
I did not hear one statement from a credible advocate of a Word-based age-specific youth ministry regarding why he deems that model valid and preferable. I find it hard to believe that no such persons were available.
At best, the film’s treatment of a Word-based youth ministry is unbalanced and unfair; at worst it twists and mishandles facts. It is disappointing that all youth ministries are painted with the same negative brush. Are we to believe that age-graded youth ministries have not produced godly adults and lots of them—even some outstanding Christian leaders? To so aver is to turn a blind eye to history. Looking at it from a different angle, Pastor Rob Schloemer asked, “So, if we get rid of all segregated youth ministries, does this mean that all teens won’t fall away? Will more be genuinely converted? Will fathers now pick up the slack and disciple their kids more faithfully? Will the church rid itself of carnal influences?”
There is no doubt that the oft-repeated major thesis of the film is that all age-segregated ministries are antibiblical. And clearly, the film paints youth ministries in the church as pervasive leaven. This line of reasoning is promoted on the simple logical error that the presence of bad apples means all apples are bad. There is no acknowledgement that, in spite of the existence of bad youth ministries, some good youth ministries might exist. So we are led to the conclusion that youth groups are not just a bad idea, they are antibiblical. Doug Phillips is not bashful in lauding “the wisdom and boldness of my father in pulling me out of youth ministries.” Maybe young Doug was in a bad youth group and should have been pulled out. Even if that is the case, does that necessarily condemn all youth ministries and dictate that all youth should be pulled out of all youth ministries? Scott Brown answers in the affirmative when he declares that we can’t both train and equip fathers and have a segregated ministry at the same time; it is like mixing oil and water and will always produce bad fruit and corrupt the church.
The film implies that youth ministers are usurping the role God gave to families (see Boyd Delling statement). And if a youth minister is not to blame for the current crisis, then the father is to blame for abandoning his role by passing it along to someone else (see Voddie Bauchman statement).
I offer some pastoral reflection and advice. For those outside of First Baptist who may read this critique, I acknowledge that the church in which I serve employs an age-specific structure, including age-graded children’s and youth ministries. But please know that I do not argue that a specific ministry model is biblical and another is not. However, I am strongly opposed to the fallacious reasoning employed by NCFIC and their adherents in support of the FIC model. I reject the claim that the FIC model of “doing church” is a biblical mandate. I grieve over the high probability that division in the ranks of solid churches will be the result of elevating FIC methodology to a place of prominence if not to a mark of orthodoxy. The NCFIC’s “A Biblical Confession for Uniting Church and Family” is a sad example of this. If a person is not in agreement, the clear implication is that he or she is worldly, humanistic, and an evolutionist. This kind of dogmatism is not helpful.
Dear friend, you may be desperate to rescue your children, but I suggest that this proposed solution to the multifaceted problem of spirituality is naïve. Please be discerning. Sleep on the film for a night or two. Do your research. Look beyond FIC materials for collaborating facts and Bible interpretation. And do research not only on what the video states, but also on the youth ministry of our church as well. What occurs in our meetings? How is Scripture taught? To what degree are the youth encouraged and challenged to trust Christ and follow Him wholeheartedly? What pagan practices (if any) are promoted? Does our youth ministry stand in the mainstream of those criticized by this video?
If, after personal study of the Scripture, you conclude that this is a matter of preference and liberty, then exercise grace to those whose preference is different from yours.
Conversely, if, after personal study of Scripture, you agree with the film’s thesis that age-segregated youth ministry is unbiblical and you adopt that view as your personal conviction, then you need to carefully consider the current thinking of the elders of our church, which is as follows:
We believe a church’s practice regarding infants and children being in the worship service, as well as decisions regarding which specialized ministries to offer (to children, students, young adults, those with disabilities, senior saints, singles, or whomever), are not governed by direct biblical imperative. Thus, a church’s practice should be based on preference and wisdom. We conclude that what a church practices is not an issue of being biblical or antibiblical, spiritual or unspiritual, pro-family or anti-family, or right or wrong per se.
Ministries designed for special groups rather than for the plenary congregation will continue to make up the fabric of FBC. Thus, we unapologetically encourage parents to utilize the children’s church ministry and various other specialized ministries, including those designed for children and students.
We also encourage parents, as a matter of liberty, to make choices regarding questions such as:
Whether or not to keep in the worship service children for whom the church provides a separate ministry. This assumes that children in the worship service are not a distraction to other worshipers, and that parents will take them out if they become a distraction.
Whether or not to allow their children to participate in other specialized ministries of the church designed for children or students. This assumes that if children do participate in selected specialized ministries, parents will not normally accompany them to these ministries.
Whether or not to participate in specialized ministries for adults. This assumes that children will not normally accompany parents to these ministries.
A privately held contrary view regarding this issue is a matter of individual liberty. We defend our members’ right to follow the dictates of their conscience. However, we believe members who espouse a view that labels other views as unbiblical are at odds with the core beliefs of the church and, perhaps unintentionally, are in danger of promoting discord. Thus, in the best interest of the congregation, promotion of the viewpoint of NCFIC by FBC members, including distribution of materials that state or imply that our ministry practice at FBC is unbiblical, is completely unacceptable.
© Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2013. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.
Posted on Sat, July 5, 2014
by Joe Flatt filed under