I know there are many more things that could be said and I would certainly welcome any comments someone might want to add to the conversation. It is a thorny topic to address because I fully understand how difficult is to be part of a traditional church that doesn’t appreciate the importance of parents discipling their own children. I also understand that there are times when a church can actually work against the efforts of the parents and once that line is crossed, it is difficult, if not outright unwise, to remain in that sort of environment.

At the same time, I also recognize the dangers that are lurking within a family integrated church, especially as they are related to the leaders within the patriocentric movement. Again, I see this model as a severe and unnecessary overreaction to the traditional church and, knowing what I know at this time, would only recommend this type of congregation IF no other Bible teaching church was available.

All of that being said, here are some ways I think the traditional church might minister to families, especially homeschooling families who seek to disciple and mentor their own children.

Pastors ought to regularly preach and teach the importance of family worship at home and should inspire fathers to take the lead. I recognize that before this can happen, pastors must be convinced, themselves, that this is the most effective way of mentoring sons and daughters. Each pastor ought to prayerfully consider the programs and activities within his church and question whether they strengthen the hands of the parents in this task or if they compete with the parents. They may be surprised to learn that some things are actually undermining the discipling efforts of mom and dad.

Pastors would do well to read the writings of Richard Baxter, a Puritan pastor in England who took very seriously his role in the discipling of families. His philosophy was that if he preached sound doctrine from the pulpit, making application as he did, and if met personally with his families every year to be certain that they were catechizing their children, he would need to spend less time in individual counseling. His books The Reformed Pastor and The Christian Directory both serve as a model, though some of topics seem archaic, for pastors today who understand the role sound teaching plays in instructing families, especially fathers.

Sometimes it is very easy to understand why pastors would be reluctant to abandon children’s ministries programs in their church. I can remember one time when I was on the ministry outreach board and we were faced with the problem of two AWANA buses that were in terrible need of costly repairs. The pastor talked with us and asked us if it wouldn’t be a better idea if we asked parents to bring their children to the church or if we would consider asking the club leaders or other church members to give rides to any of the children who ordinarily rode the bus. He felt that if we did this, we could make a better effort of reaching unchurched families with the Gospel rather than only the children who rode the bus. His goal was to find more opportunities for church members to make connections with entire families.

You would have thought the sky had fallen. Some members of the board thought that we couldn’t possibly expect parents to actually be responsible for the spiritual training of their children, let alone actually driving them to the church building. The truth was, some of the church members enjoyed using that time alone at home and THEY didn’t even want to bring their OWN children to the church.

The pastor used this as an opportunity to reassess the goals of the church and to preach about the responsibility of parents in spiritually training their own children. Frankly, it is much easier to just line up a bunch of people, buy some AWANA books, and give a portion of the church budget to a children’s ministry than it is to inspire some parents to train their own children. But, home discipleship should be taught as the norm and as what is expected of all Christian families.
Christian education boards should consider the many family worship guides that are now available and should include the purchase of them in their budgets. Pastors could take the opportunity at a men’s breakfast to instruct dads how to begin having devotions if they have never done so, bringing in a father or two to share a testimony of the benefits of having a regular worship time with your family. Testimonies could also be shared from the pulpit or printed as a bulletin insert. Encouraging home discipleship should be done regularly and purposefully at all levels of instruction throughout the traditional church.

An even better idea could be for homeschooling families who are already practicing this in their homes to take the opportunity to reach out to other families in their churches, inviting them over for a meal, singing, and prayer, even if it might be awkward at first. If it is included at the end of the meal while you are still around the table and no pressure is put on the guests, I believe it can go a long way toward encouraging others to make home discipleship seem doable and valuable in their own homes.

Something else the Christian education board or children’s ministries might sponsor is a family-integrated Sunday school class. This is another way to get parents to be more involved in the training of their children and it would give an option to parents who are not comfortable with age segregation. The options for doing this are endless and can involve older children who need to learn how to prepare and lead Bible studies and to work well with others. Many of the unit study materials that are used by homeschoolers could be adapted for family Sunday school use and if several families took turns preparing the lessons it wouldn’t be burdensome and could also give dads an opportunity to be creative as they teach, which is something most dads don’t have a lot of time to do on a regular basis.

Churches need to see homeschooling families as a valuable resource rather than “flies in their program ointment.” We have some awesome training materials for children and young adults that were purchased through homeschooling companies and that were written by homeschooling parents who understand how to teach. If you compare these resources with what is available in your average Christian bookstore, you quickly realize that there is no comparison. Homeschoolers don’t usually dummy down theology, but rather, encourage their children to think with maturity. Pastors and Christian education professionals ought to be able to humble themselves enough to seek Godly wisdom from Christian parents who have spent years mentoring and discipling young people.

Traditional churches need to step back and take a long look at their philosophy and methodology of youth ministry. Scripture has set before us a model that is too often ignored in the majority of churches, even the good Bible believing ones. Titus 2 instructs the older to teach the younger. It is really a perfect plan. So why don’t churches do this?

Typically, some young man whose best qualification for youth ministry is that he recently was one (a youth, that is) is hired to plan and execute activities for junior high and high school age young people. While the Bible studies may be really good and sometimes even meaty, there is typically no one in the room older than 25 who is having input into the topic. What a sad waste of the resources we often see in the church!

Traditional churches would be wise to begin their youth ministries with a team made up of parents and older retired Christians, those who have spent many years serving the Lord, asking them to brainstorm about those things that would have been the most valuable for them to know as they were growing up and becoming adults. This group should include both men and women and if some of them are grandparents, it is even better.

I am always amused when you have someone who has been married five or ten years with a few toddlers at home teaching about marriage and raising children. (It is even more amusing when these same people are instructing the parents of these same youth about marriage and family life, but that is for another blog entry. hint: Look at those who are frequently “instructing” at homeschooling conventions!) You know that same guy who rides a skate board down the center aisle at church to get teens to attend some event or other? What qualifications do they have, really, to be giving counsel? Why not tap into the group of believers who have been married 40, or 50, or 60 years and see what they have to say? Why not pay attention to those Christians whose Bibles are worn and marked and who have come through many fiery trials through the decades? I think many parents would be open to “youth ministry” if youth described the age of the attendees rather than the age of those who are offering the “sage” counsel to their young people. And homeschooling families would be even more interested if parents were included in all aspects of any youth ministry.

And here is one other thing about youth ministry. I am the first one to think that young people ought to have fun. But, too many youth activities in the typical church, whether it is a traditional church or a family integrated church, are centered on having fun. Where are the service projects and the outreach programs to the local community? (And by that I don’t mean a youth group car wash with bikini clad youth group babes holding signs.) And are the ones that are being done really productive or are they mostly symbolism over substance? That is a tough question that must be asked.

And here is one more word to those in leadership in the local church. Please realize that most homeschoolers have very strong convictions about raising their children and they want the freedom to have their children in worship with them. If I had a dollar for every time I have been told “We have a lovely nursery” I could take every one to lunch. Please realize that some families want to have their children in worship and that being in worship is normal, not the exception. This is not to say that nurseries or children’s church is inherently evil, but all children ought to feel welcome and so should their parents. I remember hearing one pastor say “Any preacher who is worth his salt can preach over the top of a crying baby.” He said it often enough that moms felt comfortable being in the service with little ones and I never did see any parent remain when a child was inconsolable.

And now a word for homeschoolers in traditional churches: LIGHTEN UP!!! If you really believe that the responsibility for discipling your children is yours, why are you so bent out of shape that the ministry in your local church doesn’t meet your qualifications? Don’t participate if you don’t want to. Continue what you are doing with your own family. Develop your own philosophy of youth ministry and then follow through on it yourself. Ultimately, you are responsible before the Lord and quite honestly there are times when what the pastor is preaching in some churches is worse for children to hear than what they would get in a Sunday school class! You have to make the decision as parents as to what they will or will not be taught.

But here is the difficult part. Don’t grandstand about what you will and will not participate in. I have been there and done that, to my own shame and folly, and all it does is makes you look like a legalistic jerk and shines the spotlight on your own children, singling them out for ridicule, something we get too much of as homeschoolers to begin with.

I know there are often horrendous influences on our kids, even while they are in church. I can remember one time when our oldest two were in a high school Sunday school class and the teacher brought in a bottle of beer and proceeded to slowly pour it into a frosted glass. He wanted to get the kids talking about underage drinking and he assumed that all the kids there were doing it or were in situations that put them in that situation. He never once thought that there were several homeschooling families whose kids weren’t exposed to this in the same way as the public kids were. And it never occurred to him that there were people in the church who didn’t drink at all. This is the same teacher who decided that worship service was boring and so he took the kids joy riding after Sunday school for several weeks in a row until someone finally asked what was going on. And this was the same guy who read the verse “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees” and insisted that “woe” meant “stop” as in stopping a horse!

But as awful and as ignorant as someone like that is, it is best to simply choose not to participate and then to tell someone about it who can actually do something to fix the problem. Making a big deal out of it only further alienates others and gives people who are already uncomfortable with homeschooling a green light to dislike us. Again, if we really believe in home discipleship, then we ought to be practicing it whether anyone else in the church is or not.

In retrospect, some of the worst influences we would like to protect our children from are most often found in the family integrated church model. The isolationism that is bred, the misogyny and racism that are allowed to pass as “biblical” Christianity, and the Pharisaical system that is imposed are all far worse, to me, than an inept Sunday school teacher or a VBS ministry.

Something else that I have come to believe is important is learning to serve those who are skeptical of what we are doing and finding ways to bless and encourage them along the way. During one of our first years of homeschooling, we were sensing some disapproval from people in the church, which was understandable since most people in our area had never heard of homeschooling before we started.

I remembered that when I was a little girl, one of my favorite days of the year was May Day because I had friends whose mom helped them make and deliver beautiful May baskets filled with candy or flowers. I would wake up early in the morning to find this beautiful surprise hanging on the front door knob and it delighted me so much that I thought it would be fun to have my children take part in the same sort of surprise.

Without telling the kids my reasons behind it, I picked out six or so ladies I knew who were talking negatively about homeschooling and they were to be the recipients of the baskets. We spent several days designing and assembling beautiful baskets decorated with doilies and ribbons, filling them with beautiful candies. We got up before dark and delivered them to each door. And we never told anyone we were the ones who had done it.

I don’t know if any of these ladies figured it out and I don’t remember if I heard any more gossip that came from them. But what I do know is that our attitude toward these ladies changed completely and we were able to love them and befriend them in spite of anything they didn’t like about how we educated our children.

I also think that we need to learn to be content where God has placed us. Of course there are times when it may become impossible to stay in a church. Maybe you have come to embrace doctrine that is contrary to what is being taught in your church. Maybe there is a genuine threat to your family where your convictions are being challenged or even purposefully undermined. Maybe you are in a situation where you have been singled out by the pastor and preached at from his “bully pulpit.” I have experienced all of the above.

But there also may be things that you just don’t like, that aren’t your preferences, that simply irritate you as a homeschooler. If that is the situation, I would encourage you to seek ways to not only grow in your walk with the Lord personally but to minister to others so that you can earn the right to influence other families who need to take responsibility for the spiritual guidance of their children. Seek to practice what you believe about ministering to and evangelizing the lost and caring for the widows and orphans in their affliction. Try not to be as focused on the local church as on the church universal and your part in fulfilling its mission. I believe that as you learn to be gracious and kind to others, the Lord will bless your family in ways you can’t even imagine.

I have said several times on this blog that I believe that homeschooling is an important part of the revival that is beginning to rumble across our nation. The Lord has opened the eyes to so many people inside and outside the homeschooling community to the importance of building solid relationships with children and in training them for God’s glory. To that end, neither the local church or homeschooling families within the body of Christ can afford to squander the momentum we have helped to set in motion.