In picking up where I left off yesterday, I will continue my saga of coming to the church that led us to our experiences with the family integrated church model. I believe that telling our own story is the best way to illustrate the main arguments pro and con for the FIC model and it will be helpful for others who are facing similar decisions regarding finding a church home for your family.

Initially, we were quite excited to be part of a small congregation that didn’t have endless activities or programs. The preaching was challenging and inspiring and we really appreciated the worship service and hearing the doctrines of grace taught weekly. We enjoyed the fellowship of other believers, though there were not as many homeschooling families as we had been led to believe would be there. In fact, most of the homeschooling families we met had only been there a few weeks before we arrived and shortly after we came a few more came, too. Though people were friendly enough, it was really only the other homeschooling families who welcomed us into their homes and it soon became apparent that there were those in the congregation who were feeling threatened by the ever-growing group of homeschoolers and that those of us who had come had done so because we had responded to the brochures that had been sent out.

Later, we discovered that that flier had been written and published by one of the elders who was hoping to turn the church into a family integrated one by filling it with homeschoolers, a method, I might add, that is sometimes suggested by those who are encouraging the FIC model, though one we came to see does not work.  Eventually, two things happened that confirmed to us that this church was not the one that had been portrayed in the brochure.

We had joined the church and had scheduled our annual visit from our elder in our home. He and his wife came for dinner and afterwards we spent several hours chatting with him as he asked questions about our family’s spiritual growth and as he shared the elder’s vision for the future of the church. Interestingly enough, he didn’t mention any of the priorities you would expect from a church that wanted to support homeschooling.

And then, as Clay mentioned family discipleship, the elder informed us, in no uncertain terms, that we were not to ever mention homeschooling in church, that it was fine if this is what we wanted for our own family but it was never to be talked about at church. My husband pressed him on this issue, suggesting that if we had found a method of educating our children that had proven to be successful, wouldn’t it only follow that we would joyfully want to talk about it? He was adamant that we were never to do so. This was a stunning revelation to us because he was verbalizing what we had been sensing from some of the congregation but we didn’t realize that it was also the growing consensus of the elders.

The second shoe dropped when we attended an annual congregational meeting not long afterward and it was announced that the church would be starting a youth ministry and would be placing a young woman, who was trying to complete a degree in youth ministry, in charge of it. Since our pastor had repeatedly remarked that we would not be a “program church” and that that meant we would never have a youth ministry, we began to feel like we had been deceived.

While none of us knew this woman very well and certainly didn’t know whether or not we would want to have any of our children mentored by her, we were shocked that this was being brought before the congregation for support without any details of her philosophy of working with young people being shared with us. Several of us began to ask questions about what she believed about youth ministry, what goals she would have, what activities she wanted to be involved with, how she planned to include parents, and all the questions any good parent would want to know. We were met with disbelief that we would feel we even needed to know these things. Finally, someone moved that there be a committee established to explore the possibility of beginning a youth ministry and Clay and I were placed on that committee.

Subsequent meetings were not productive and it was apparent that battle lines had been drawn, with the homeschooling parents, who were now in the majority, on one side and everyone else on the other. Clay suggested that each family come back to the next meeting with their own philosophy of youth ministry prepared to hand out to everyone else so we could have an understanding of where everyone was coming from. I still believe this was helpful, though were we to write that philosophy today I am certain it would look quite different now that we are older and have been able to gain some perspective on life and ministry, an appreciation for the concerns and convictions of others, and a clearer picture of the mission of the true church as taught in scripture.

When we returned to the next meeting, we were the only ones who had come prepared with our own views in writing. In fact, the woman who was to be the youth leader had prepared nothing and was still unable to offer anything of substance. The discussion continued with the turning point in the meeting being when one of the mothers asked this very astute question: “Are we wanting to minister to youth from covenant families or to covenant families who have youth in them?” This simple insight clarified the difference between a family integrated perspective on high school age kids and the normal perspective you find in most traditional churches.

I wish I could say that that was the beginning of unity within the group and that we moved on, having better understood each other and that the conclusion was a dynamic family-oriented ministry involving young people and led by parents who were assisted by this young woman. Unfortunately, that meeting and that clear defining of the differences between the way homeschoolers think about raising teen-agers and the way that the traditional church approaches youth only served to further galvanize the differences. The relationships between those who homeschooled and those who didn’t became even more strained and as more homeschoolers continued to come into the church, a battle zone was soon firmly in place.

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