During our last few months at the second family integrated church, our daughter and son-in-law decided to visit another church at the encouragement and invitation of some friends they knew from my son-in-law’s job. While they really liked being in the same church we were in, they had become frustrated, too, because, even though this was a church that was still in its infancy and, as such, had not yet clearly defined itself, there was little room for input or suggestions. And there was also little room for any of us to use our gifts.

Both of them had music degrees and had much to offer a church full of children, including experience directing a choir and teaching music to students. My son-in-law also had experience in orchestra directing and since there was a desire to begin an orchestra, he was excited about doing that. However, a music director from the mother church was asked to lead this ministry and he drove the 3 hours one way every week to do this, in spite of the fact that there was someone willing and able to do the same thing right in our own congregation. That seemed strange to us. Several times all of us spent Sunday afternoons talking about our concerns, mostly the ones I have already shared, and eventually our kids came to the conclusion that perhaps they needed to find another church home.

As time went on, our concerns grew and we realized they were shared by others who began to question their involvement in the church. When a family either stopped coming or their attendance waned, Clay talked to the dads and we soon learned that we were not alone in our disappointment at what a family integrated church appeared to be.

We even contacted the mother church, since there were no elders in our local church, to ask about some of the things we saw in our church that were so different than what we had seen in their church and we shared some of the comments visitors had been making to us. Their response was that, basically, our local pastor was authorized to make all the decisions and that they backed whatever he decided to do. Privately, we decided that we would stick it out and try to make an appeal to the pastor and the congregation to tweak some things that seemed to be off putting to visitors and that seemed inconsistent with the basic tenets of the family integrated church model as we understood them to be.

It was then that the mother church decided to place three of the men in the congregation in the position of leadership, not officially as elders since the church was not yet self-supporting, but as the ones who would serve in some capacity of leadership during the transition time. Clay was not chosen to be one of those men and the pastor approached him to tell him why he had been passed up. He said that though we were members in good standing in the local church and had been with them since day one, unless we were willing to go back to the traditional church who “defacto excommunicated us,” and seek forgiveness for questioning the elders, Clay would not ever be considered for any leadership. When we asked what we had done wrong there, it was suggested that we might just tell them that “in our frustration we…” and to think of something we could fill in that blank.

We then learned that the traditional church was threatening to publicly name the church plant as “an apostate church” for not upholding their church discipline of us. The pastor’s request was amazing to us, on one level, because we had been very forthright with what had happened in the past and had been told repeatedly that we certainly had not done anything that required repentance at that local church.

However, we also realized that we had been questioning the paradigm and that that had not been welcome, so not being in any leadership would certainly have solved that problem. We knew, then, that we had no input or influence to change any of the things that we knew were contrary to broadening the scope of the church plant beyond the inclusivity of homeschoolers only. It was with a great sense of sadness that we decided we would have to leave the church and also that we would need to leave the family integrated church model because we saw that the things that were important enough to us to make us leave were all the things that that model represented.

Our daughter and son-in-law had been encouraging us to visit their church for many months and so we finally did. Initially it was hard to assimilate ourselves into a church that was more than 10 times larger than the church plant. But within a few months, we came to see the Lord’s righteous hand of mercy in our lives. Experiencing God-honoring worship and challenging, expository preaching began to change our hearts and our minds. Our children started discussing the things we heard during the sermon and we soon began to see more clearly the mission of the church and the role that families have as part of that church, not as the center of the church.

We have often wondered why the Lord allowed us to wander as He did for so long. We have asked ourselves, many times, if the pain and struggle, especially in relationships, was worth the end result of where we are now and absolutely the answer has been “yes.” You see, I think we had to come full circle, back to a traditional church, through the path of experiencing family integrated churches, in order to really understand that there is an entirely different mindset you must embrace if you are in a family integrated ministry and that, as homeschoolers, that model seems so appealing. But, I believe it may be a siren song.