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Are You Considering a Family Integrated Church?

September 5, 2008 at 9:31 pm

If you are in any way associated with the Family Integrated Church movement that embraces the doctrines of Doug Phillips, most of which are made up of all homeschooling families, I would encourage you to check out the latest series of articles by Cindy Kunsman. She has done a terrific job, in a very succinct article, of tracing the history of this modern movement to the antebellum south, and the renewed, though not historically supported, concept that the Civil War was a theological war. (For more study on this topic, here is another article that expands on this. It is interesting to note that many of the concepts promoted within the modern patriocentric movement, particularly as written by Phil Lancaster, are straight from these early writings by Dabney, Thornwell, and Palmer.

Also visit Grace and Truth to You, Wade Burleson’s Blog.

September 10, 2008 at 8:36 pm

I thought it would be a great idea to offer a few thoughts on the growing family integrated church movement after reading Wade Burleson’s recent article and also Cindy Kunsman’s thoughts about this movement over the past few weeks. I want to encourage good discussion here and hope anyone who is interested in this topic will feel free to discuss it. As always, I don’t mind anonymous comments as long as they come along with a real e-mail address and civility.

Having attempted to integrate our own family’s preferences and convictions into church life, sometimes succeeding and sometimes not, over the past 24 years, I fully understand why homeschooling families would love to find a church home where their lifestyle is not only accepted but is also the standard. Let’s face it, once you begin taking the responsibility for academically educating your own children, as a parent you begin to see all of the areas of your life where the Lord has called you to take responsibility for your family and your home. As you put into practice family worship, discipleship of your own children, caring for the needs of extended family, etc, you begin to see how the bureaucracy of the local church, especially if it can’t accommodate your own convictions, can become burdensome and frustrating. It only seems natural to turn to the family-integrated church model and many homeschooling families do just that.

Growing both in the number of churches and in membership, these churches have been established to meet the particular needs of homeschooling families and will eventually be available in most areas of the country. In fact, the National Center for Family Integrated Churches, established only 5 years ago, currently lists 657 churches and claims a membership of 1677 families who desire to further their mission.

While this organization does not represent all those who wish to follow a family-integrated approach to church life, they certainly have had tremendous influence through their conferences and publications. Founder and leader of the NCFIC, Doug Phillips, considered one of the most popular homeschooling speakers around the country today, promotes this off-shoot of his Vision Forum ministry while at homeschooling conferences along with other voices for pro-family-integrated worship such as Voddie Baucham, a SBC-ordained pastor, and Kevin Swanson, ordained in the OPC.

Not associated with Phillips but also a founder of what he calls “home-discipleship churches,” former church planter with the CRC, Pastor Henry Reyenga, is the head of the Christian Leaders Institute that seeks to launch churches and to prepare young men for leadership within those congregations. In recent years he has established his own denomination that reflects his family discipleship priorities and interpretations of Christian education.

His is not the first group to do go out on his own to form churches with this family emphasis. James McDonald, founder of Family Reformation Ministries and pastor with the Covenant Presbyterian Church, left the RPCGA and starting his own denomination, one that reflects his convictions about home education and paedo-communion, both views not necessarily advanced, and sometimes discouraged or forbidden, within traditional churches.

In contrast to the traditional structure found in most denominations and eschewing the long-established polity in most conventional churches, NCFIC churches each struggle to carve out their own paths and even theology based on the premise that homeschooling is the best and most biblical lifestyle for Christian parents. Placing fathers in leadership of these churches is to be the norm. To this end, the NCFIC mission statement says that they “deny/reject two unbiblical extremes of our day, authoritarian, one-man leadership/one-man ministry that impedes the biblical functioning of the body, and leaderless house churches that disregard the biblical necessity of elders.”

Further, claiming to follow in the footsteps of 17th and 18th century pastors Richard Baxter, John Bunyon, Matthew Henry, and Jonathan Edwards, all great men in history who stressed the importance of fathers discipling and catechizing their own children, the NCFIC seeks to provide tools for men training their own families and believes this is the means for seeing future generations of Christians.

While I whole-heartedly believe that fathers are to be instrumental in the discipleship of their children and while I appreciate so many of the reasons homeschooling families have for leaving their traditional churches, I have come to see some flaws within the family-integrated church movement that I think need to be addressed if it is to have the success so many homeschooling families are hoping to experience. In the next few blog articles I will be looking at some of the things I really like about family-integrated churches and at some of my concerns and am looking forward to some great discussion here.

September 11, 2008 at 8:59 pm

Yesterday I began a series of thoughts on the pro and cons of the family integrated church model and today I want to continue the discussion, talking about why I believe homeschooling families are so attracted to this new model of family church.

First, I would like to take you through the Reader’s Digest version of the past 25 or so years of our church life as a family.

Let me begin by sharing some of the ministries Clay and I have been involved in as adults: Clay has served as a children’s church teacher, a primary Sunday school teacher, VBS teacher, high school Sunday school teacher, a high school youth group leader, Chairman of the Board of Christian Education, adult Sunday school class teacher, AWANA leader and director.

I have been a high school Sunday school teacher, children’s church teacher, VBS teacher, After School Club for Kids Director, Chairman of the Board of Christian Ed, Chairman of the Board of Community Outreach, Missionary Conference Director, secretary and president of Women in Church in a PCA church, children’s choir director, church pianist, CPC counselor for 10 years, and those are just the things we can remember. Both of us found most of these ministries very rewarding and were blessed to serve in any way that we could do so.

But, in retrospect, none of these ministries have given us the blessings or have allowed us to see fruit in the lives of others in the same way or even in the greatest ways we have witnessed through our continued efforts toward discipling our own children. In fact, we have come to realize that some of the ministries we have participated in have, at their roots, a mission that is in stark contrast to many of the things we aspire to do as a homeschooling family.

When we began homeschooling, we continued to be involved in many church activities, all of us participating in programs and ministries that often took us separate directions on Sunday mornings or on Wednesday nights. While we didn’t allow them to cause division within our family, we did come to the place where we needed to evaluate our own family priorities against the backdrop of how much time and energy we would be spending in working within our local church.

Because we were homeschooling, we had made the commitment that we would be a family living on one income. That meant that there were certain activities that our children simply couldn’t participate in because of the cost. It also meant that our time schedule would need to work around Clay’s job, which grew increasingly demanding as the years went by.

We made the commitment to spend time together in the Word every evening so that meant that some of the evening activities at church would have to take a back seat to what we were doing at home. In essence, as our commitment to homeschooling grew and as we became more confident in how we were living out our convictions, we began to have less and less need for church ministry and eventually began to see our own involvement as a hindrance to our most important efforts, those of ministering to our own children.

We had to ask ourselves some hard questions regarding our use of time and resources. Would spending 4 hours preparing to teach an adult Sunday School class be better used in spending 4 hours in one on one time with each of my older children? Would my children glean more by spending time helping care for elderly grandparents or younger siblings than they would sitting under the teachings of the youth leader whose own wife and children didn’t even attend church? Would it be worse to offend some of the church leadership by not attending their activities than to offend our own children by exposing them to influences that weren’t godly or wholesome?

As you can imagine, responses to the decisions we began to make were not always well received and along our journey to finding a church home, we made many mistakes. While we weren’t looking for a church that would be custom designed for us, we really longed for one where sound Bible teaching was a priority and where we could feel the freedom to not participate in a myriad of programs but could use our weekdays as we saw fit to nurture and disciple our own children, to building relationships with them and with others, as a family rather than as scattered individuals each with our own lives. We knew, instinctively, that that day would come soon enough as our children grew up and left home and we wanted to make the most of our time with them as possible.

Then, one day, out of the blue, we were invited to attend a church that not only didn’t have a list of weekly programs, but one that published a brochure designed just for homeschoolers and that listed all the ways the church family and even the pastor would love to minister to homeschoolers. We were amazed and hooked.

But, in spite of the great hope we had that finally we had found a church that understood our parenting philosophy and even though we were eager and willing to believe that the church’s self promotion was legitimate, that next week’s visit was the beginning of what was to be the most painful season of anti-homeschooling abuse we were ever to experience.

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.

September 15, 2008 at 5:20 pm

The philosophy of youth ministry meeting, as I mentioned in part three of this series, did not solve the differences within the congregation regarding the proposed youth group but it did bring to the forefront all of the differences between the way the typical homeschooling family and other families approached the many aspects of raising children. As a result, the handful of families who were committed to public education for their children and who loved the idea of church programs felt more and more alienated. Homeschooling families were suspect any time they suggested doing anything at the church and everything began to reflect this tension.

One example of this was when the church building experienced water damage after a storm, requiring major reconstruction and we had to rent an empty school building for several months. This turn of events moved the church building program to the front burner and a new set of tensions that reflected the differences in family philosophy, as you can imagine, began to surface.

For years the church had owned 50 acres of land, most of it on the side of a hill and surrounded by beautiful woods. There were several hundred thousand dollars in the building fund and the big dream of a large sanctuary and educational wing was still in the hearts of long-time church members. An architect had been hired at one time and had drawn up plans that depicted everything from a soccer field to a retirement village on the property, which, because of the lay of the land, would require more than what was in the building fund just to prepare the current landscape to support the buildings.

Those in the congregation who had been around for a long time had caught the vision for this building and saw all the new families who were coming in as a reason to have better facilities, an educational wing, and there was even talk of a Christian school. They also saw us as the means to pay for their building.

Those of us who were new, which was nearly all homeschooling families, looked at the architectural drawings and saw a facility that certainly didn’t resemble the small country church that had drawn us in the first place. When several church members tried to sell us all on the idea of a Christian school, it showed us that they still didn’t understand our convictions about homeschooling.
One Sunday afternoon there was a meeting after church where one of the elders presented his perspective on how we could pay for the new building. Central to his plan was for all church members to consider selling their homes and downsizing, using the equity to fund the church building project. I was incredulous at this idea and could hardly believe what I was hearing. This man, an elder who was called to minister to and to serve his congregation, had absolutely no concept of the way of life for most of the families in his church.

When I looked at this same group, I saw half a dozen or so families with 3 or 4 pre-school age children and a stay-at-home mom, all already struggling to live on one income and all willing to open their homes to other babies. Some were even talking of adopting and knew the financial sacrifice that would involve. I saw other families, like ours, who had children in college and had a line-up of others behind them, all of us knowing that any extra income we had, had already been earmarked for their education. I saw two families, ours included, who had opened their homes to elderly parents and, as such, their living quarters were already feeling cramped. I knew, first hand, that when you homeschool, you use every available space in the house for books, school supplies, and even nooks and crannies where individuals can pursue their own hobbies and projects. I knew that, for most of us, inviting another family to your home for dinner and a time of fellowship required creativity and a willigness to be “cozy.”  At that point it really hit home to me how out of touch this church’s leadership was with the real lives of homeschoolers.

It was at this point, that several of us began to see what we thought might be a great solution for the congregation that could meet all the needs and even future ones as they presented themselves.

Every Sunday as we met together in the rental property, we began to see the potential that the building presented to us. We began to see how perfect this building would be for a church that was committed to equipping families in discipleship and for fellowship. We envisioned building a balcony above the gymnasium, for example, so parents had a place to take noisy toddlers to teach them how to worship. The school cafeteria, which opened on to the gym, was large and roomy, perfect for hosting fellowship dinners. There were several large classrooms that could be used to build a church library and a beautiful back lot that could be fenced in for a playground. The gym itself was perfect for not only worship but for any family fun nights or possibly homeschooling co-op activities, and even wedding receptions. The central location itself was ideal, just a few minutes away from the main interstate which nearly everyone used to come to church. And the best part was that the building could be purchased for cash and there would be enough money left over to do major remodeling without selling the 50 acres, which we suggested could be used as a family camp, opening it up to the entire denomination at some point in the future.

So several of us began to make the suggestion that we consider purchasing the rental property and you would have thought we were terrorists! Even the pastor, though he was fairly polite, had any number of reasons why this was a bad idea, none of them really making any sense at all. It was obvious that he would not be swayed from his vision for a church on the original property. The elders were divided on the idea, the homeschooling elders believing it was worth considering, the others seeing that they needed to push their building program ahead as quickly as possible, which is exactly what happened.

Finally, after many months, our church building was repaired and we moved back into it, any discussion about purchasing the rental property lost in the midst of serious problems that had surfaced among the church elders. Though it didn’t directly involve those of us in the congregation at large, it put the entire church into a state of paralysis.

Some of the issues were theological, some were personal preferences being treated as essential doctrines of the faith. But underlying the problems and contention was the negative attitude that continued to be held against homeschoolers, with left over bitterness about the youth ministry and frustration at the lack of enthusiasm for the building program often surfacing in comments. In fact, relationships had disintegrated to the point that the pastor told people that his problems would all be gone if all the homeschoolers left. Had this been a divorce, homeschoolers could have sued for alienation of affection.

During this time, homeschooling families began to trickle out of the church and any who happened to visit quickly sensed that they were unwelcome. Eventually, after several years, only a couple homeschooling families remained and those who did welcomed the new building program and even supported a Christian school where the parents were involved.

At this point, we had grown weary of not only the anti-homeschooling attitude but the direct attacks from the pulpit against those who held to convictions that were different than the elders’. Pro-homeschooling rhetoric that had drawn us to the church, anti-homeschooling rhetoric had driven us out.

We spent a year in another traditional church, basically trying to recover from what had been a terribly painful experience. It was at this point that we heard that several families we knew, including the author of the original brochure that had brought us to the previous church, wanted to begin a family integrated church so we decided to join them. We still have a picture of that first day we gathered for worship, 3 families standing in front of a rented American Legion hall, smiling children and hopeful adults. I don’t presume to know what thoughts went through the minds of everyone else that day, but I remember thinking that maybe we could have peace, at least for a while. And for a while, we did.

I might want to back up at this point and share a couple things about where Clay and I were theologically on that day. Both of us had grown up in American Baptist churches and had gone to an American Baptist college but had been greatly influenced by the writings of Francis Schaeffer and the preaching of John McArthur. We both embraced the doctrines of grace and had been members of a Presbyterian congregation but neither of us was convinced of the necessity of infant baptism, although we didn’t have an issue with babies being baptized. We had no preferences for worship style, the singing of hymns, psalms, or choruses, or any combination of them. We did want to feel the freedom to direct our own family’s spiritual training and education, free from the continual negative attitudes and statements we had experienced previously.

In retrospect, we probably should have had many more questions than we did about the direction the other families thought the church would be taking but we had been under the assumption that there would be freedom of conscience in these areas as well as others.

To begin with, we didn’t realize the amount of influence that the teachings of Vision Forum had on some of the families, including new ones that joined us. Many times someone would bring a tape by Doug Phillips and we listened to it after the noon fellowship dinner. When he was in town for a homeschooling convention, Phillips was asked to preach during our worship service, though it turned out to be an hour and a half talk on keeping daughters from losing the vision for multi-generational family life rather than an expository message. Many visitors came that day, several who later privately told us that they were horrified at the things he had said and certainly would never consider returning. We began to wonder if the church could grow if others had this same opinion.

We also came to understand that everyone in the church, except for our family, held to what is known as the Civil War as a Theological War theology. We began to hear phrases like “Abraham Lincoln was a wicked man. I hate him” and “Had the south only won the war, we would have had a truly Christian nation” and “the war wasn’t about slavery” At one men’s Bible study, one of the men commented “The Klan has done some good things,” referring to the KKK, leaving us dumbfounded. It wasn’t until later that we learned that some of the members had participated in wearing black face for a homeschool co-op production and we also began to see all of the racist teachings in books recommended by Vision Forum and the lauding of men like Confederate chaplain R. L. Dabney. A growing discomfort began to nag at us.

In the midst of this, we learned that a church planter from the Chicago area was interested in helping us grow our family integrated church and the offer was made to bring in a pastor who believed he was called to minister in a home discipleship church. After hearing him preach and getting to know his sweet family, we were thrilled to support his move to our area. And in the back of our minds, Clay and I felt that this influence would help to temper the patriocentric and pro-south leanings we were witnessing.

In a traditional church setting, the pastor’s presence and influence can set a tone, for good or for bad, that has far-reaching effects on everyone in the congregation. The same is true within the family integrated model church, in spite of the fact that most of these congregations are touted as being father-led or father-directed.

Depending on the polity of the individual church and the standards adopted by the denomination, if there is an affiliation with one, the expectations on the role of the pastor can be quite varied. So can the expectations of the local church leadership, especially as a new church is being established and when there are no “official” church officers.

In our first family integrated church experience, as I talked about yesterday, a pastor was brought in to an already organized congregation, one that was considered to be under the authority and care of an already established presbytery. However, because this presbytery was located 1000 miles away and the church, in all honesty, maintained its own autonomy, involvement with another denomination who saw us as a viable church plant seemed logical, especially given the fact that our church had initiated contact with and solicited assistance from a church in the Chicago area who wanted to plant a family integrated church locally. It appeared to be a win-win situation.

Since the church planter had spoken at a local homeschooling convention and had promoted the concept of family integrated church, our pastor had a list of contacts in the area. He opened his home to many on that list and we began to see visitors coming to the church every week. From the perspective that Clay and I had, it was encouraging because the people who came to visit were what we would categorize as “broadly evangelical,” mainstream Christian homeschool families. These were people who longed to have fellowship with other like-minded families and who desired to be encouraged in their home discipleship. There seemed to be less of a radical fringe-philosophy element.

And speaking of the phrase “home discipleship,” I would like to take a few minutes to talk about what that looks like in a family integrated church.

Clay and I both love the phrase and are big proponents of much of the home discipleship philosophy, having made this a regular part of our family life since our earliest days of homeschooling. Simply put, it is a model where families meet daily for family worship that includes reading the Bible, Scripture memory, prayer, and singing, with emphasis on teaching the great hymns of the faith, which also might include psalm singing, all led by dads.

Inviting other families to your home for fellowship and then sharing these practices is to be the means for growing your congregation and for opening the door to evangelism as you reach out to neighbors and unsaved loved ones.

Many FIC families then meet together for a monthly hymn sing and fellowship dinner where families can share the fruits of their Scripture memory efforts or musical abilities. I can’t begin to tell you what a blessing these evenings can be and what an encouragement it is to see so many precious children memorizing God’s word!

While it will naturally follow that these evenings take on the individual flavors of their particular congregation, we realized early on that the personal childhood experiences of the church planter who was involved with our group set the tone and example for many things that we did. His Dutch reformed heritage was one rich in home discipleship and it was a blessing to see how it influenced the entire ministry. While the principles in our own home had been the same, some of the particulars as he practiced them were foreign to us and we were certain that each family made their own adjustments as time went on, reflecting their own tastes and convictions.

But, as much unity as you would expect there would be among people who had similar goals for their families, there were still denominational and theological differences that needed to be addressed. Several of the men in the congregation had very strong convictions about certain things, including the use of the KJV Bible only, hymns and psalms used exclusively during worship, no overhead projector during worship, paedo-communion served by fathers, and one-household voting, excluding women from any decision making. The pastor and the church planter, on the other hand, preferred to use a more modern translation, wanted to include praise music, and the pastor preferred to use an overhead projector for his sermon outline, etc.

And then there was the problem of the church plant denomination and whether or not our church could really be a member of it. One of the men was being encouraged by long distance friends that this particular denomination was apostate because they allowed for women deacons and their denominational colleges had opened the discussion on how to deal with the issue of homosexuality. This translated into “if we go with this group, we will be known as the homosexual-woman church,” a phrase that sent me through the roof every time I heard it because it sent the message that choosing a homosexual lifestyle and the strong Biblical teaching that it is a sin somehow equates with being a woman, as though that is also sinful. While I would be certain that this man didn’t believe this to be true, this is just one example where the attitude that women are somehow lesser beings would repeatedly manifest itself.

These issues were unresolved until one of the men at the church decided that the solution would be to explore another option, that of bringing in another pastor. So he took it upon himself to write a letter to Phil Lancaster, one of the authors of the Basic Tenets of Patriarchy, asking him if he would consider coming to the area to pastor our church and, initially, Mr. Lancaster indicated that he would be open to the idea.

Though there were no elected or appointed elders at this point nor had Clay heard anything at all about this idea at any of the men’s meetings, it became obvious that this church, by this time a couple years old, was not really thought of as a part of the church planter’s efforts nor was it even a father-directed congregation. In fact, once again, we felt as though there had been a bait and switch, as we had experienced in that first church with the brochure.

But this time, we were really concerned not so much for ourselves but because our pastor had moved his family over 3600 miles to take this job, and we, as a church, had made a commitment to him and to the church planter to support him. And the truth was that the majority of families coming into the church weren’t interested in coming because of the regulated worship nor were they worried about any perceived concerns about the denomination. They simply wanted to be encouraged in their home discipleship efforts.

What happened next was amazing! The first church congregation who had come to disdain the influence of homeschoolers had now, in reality, become responsible for the planting of two family integrated churches, both made up entirely of homeschooling families!

In the last segment, I listed some of the differences that the church planter and the local pastor had with some of the men in the congregation regarding worship styles and denominational affiliation. These differences soon became central to the power struggle that was taking place in the church and once Phil Lancaster had been contacted, the pastor and church planter knew that they could no longer work with this congregation.

And Clay and I knew that we could not be a part of it any longer, either, since it signaled to us the patriocentric direction the church intended to take.

We also knew that the next step for our family would be a difficult one. On one hand, we had come to truly love the people in our congregation. But we also knew that remaining in this church would only delay the inevitable, especially if Phil Lancaster or any other patriocentric pastor were to be called. With much sadness but with full confidence that we were doing the right thing, we chose to join the church planter in his efforts to plant yet another family integrated church.

At this point, you have to understand that we were still experiencing some of the after-effects, both emotional and concrete, of the spiritual abuse from the past few years. I am not sure how Clay was feeling exactly but I know that I was battling a numbness, a flatness of feelings or emotions regarding this turn of events. I was glad that we could still participate in a family integrated church and that, as homeschoolers, we could be welcomed. I was relieved to know that we were not going to have to listen to all that pro-south rhetoric or that inane “homosexual-woman church” comment. But part of me was still not certain what I actually thought about how we were approaching “church.”

When we left the traditional church a few years before, there was still a breech between the leaders and our family. Over a period of months, Clay had challenged some of the over-the-top statements the pastor had made, to the point of filing a complaint with the presbytery. The first committee who heard his complaint agreed that the elders had not taught correct doctrine and that they had not treated us properly in the process and then gave them the opportunity to change their position. Rather than accepting the discipline from the denomination, the elders figured out a way to get around it by having the original complaint thrown out on a technicality, proving that our complaint had not been filed within the 30 days allowed. Our filing was 31 days after their decision had been made. Never having worked within this sort of system, we didn’t realize that there is a statute of limitations on righteousness.

When Clay filed an appeal, publicly he was told that they were really sorry, but this was the way the system works. Privately, several pastors and elders who were familiar with the situation confessed to us that both the system had failed us and that this was an elder board and pastor who were out of control and who needed help.

The end result for us was having the session announce that we had been “defacto excommunicated,” which made no sense to us or to many of the people who heard it announced from the pulpit. Two of the elders contacted us privately, one to tell us he wanted to come and visit us but who never did. The other one called me, saying that that he agreed that the pastor had been out of line but that he couldn’t do anything about it because the Bible says to “touch not God’s anointed.” He then proceeded to tell me that he had to believe that I was not even a born-again Christian because we wouldn’t go along with the pastor in spite of his false teachings. I remember getting off the phone that afternoon and weeping uncontrollably. A couple days later I providentially came across my baptismal certificate from 1963 and cried again, knowing the Lord had, in a very real way, reminded me that I was His child and no man could pluck me out of His hands.

When we first met the church planter, we told him our story and, after looking at his own denomination’s Book of Church Order and that of the former church, he welcomed us into membership in the mother church, again, providentially and unbeknown to us, on the very day of the “defacto excommunication.” We had been very open with everyone regarding what had happened, shared all of our paper trail with those who needed to see it, and had been assured that all that was behind us. Emotionally, as I said before, there was still residue but what we didn’t realize was that our past struggles weren’t as far behind us as we had thought and that the Lord would use them in a mighty way in our own spiritual lives.

Over the next few months, the new congregation slowly began to grow with new families visiting almost weekly and several deciding to stay. We soon outgrew the basement/garage of the pastor’s home and moved to a motel which was even further away for us, but we were happy to make the drive because we believed in what we were doing. Within a few months, we had the opportunity to purchase a small church building with the assistance of the church planter’s denomination. Clay worked with the other men to make the building suitable for our own needs, rewiring the sanctuary, painting, cleaning, and making it a warm, inviting place for adults and children.

As the months went by, two things began to happen. We really came to love and appreciate the wonderful families in our church and we enjoyed times of fellowship and friendship both in their homes and in ours. And adding to our situation was the fact that our daughter and her family had relocated to our area, bringing them into our church home, which was a special joy to us. Then, a series of events caused us to begin to look more critically at what we personally believed about what the mission of the church universal really is and whether or not what we were doing was fulfilling that mission.

The church building we purchased was located in a 1940’s sub-division that had been originally built to house Caterpillar employees. The houses, for the most part, are small but they are well-spaced with rolling lawns and little traffic on the streets. There is a nice neighborhood feel about the area with only a couple other churches, so it seemed like a great place to plant a church.

The truth was, though, that none of the church families lived in this area. All of us drove a distance to be there and the building was chosen partly because of its close proximity to the interstate highway which brought in families from 30 miles in all directions. Initially this wasn’t a concern because we were concentrating on the importance of home discipleship and welcoming the new homeschoolers who routinely came in as information on our fellowship spread by word of mouth. But we soon realized that those who didn’t fit into the “typical” homeschooling lifestyle, as depicted by the church planter and pastor, would not feel welcome in the church.

I first noticed this when my mom would make comments every Sunday about her being the only “old woman” in the church. In the 14 years she has lived in our home, we have tried to include her in as many family and homeschooling activities as possible, including daily worship time and Scripture memory, and her doctor is convinced that this has been the reason that she has stayed as healthy as she has in these later years of her life. As much as she enjoyed talking with the little children each week at our church, she often remarked that she wished there were older people to visit during the weekly fellowship meal after church.

Another time, a visiting middle-aged couple came into the service right after it had started and sat in the back. Since I was in the front at the piano that week, I saw them and hoped that someone in the congregation might see them and welcome them. At the end of the service, I thought that certainly the pastor would say something to them or hurry to the back to greet them. Instead, as we usually did, he continued on with his agenda of teaching the hymn of the month to the congregation. This couple, who probably had come from the neighborhood, left with no one greeting them and the impression I would have gotten, had it been me, was that unless you are a homeschooling family raising children, you should probably go somewhere else.

In fact, this was the exact feedback we got when we invited people we knew on several occasions. One was an elderly couple, another was a single man, and another was a family who had homeschooled with grown children who also came. One of our visitors also brought along a couple whose children were grownm but they had not been homeschoolers. All of them, while they enjoyed the children, sensed immediately that this church was geared only for a certain group of people.

And there were other occasions where it was obvious that visitors felt awkward. We quickly came to realize that it was mostly because the church had taken on the appearance that everything had a kid agenda. Rather than simply welcoming children into the worship service and not practicing age segregation with Sunday school programs and youth ministry, everything was now geared toward upper elementary aged children, which was the age of the pastor’s own two children.

Worship services included children taking offering and playing the piano, leading singing, and handing out bulletins. While we thought it was great to have them involved, one of our concerns was that the service soon began to have a Bible school program flavor with children participating, adults looking on at what they were doing, and the phrase “boys and girls” was repeatedly used during the entire service.

Another thing that concerned us was that a type of uniformity was expected both inside and outside of time spent at church. For example, there were certain methods of child training that were taught and encouraged as the “biblical” way and tapes and CD’s by certain authors were advertised, promoted, and stocked in the church library. Since there would be no church nursery, it was also assumed that parents would only take their children out of service to “discipline” them and I was even told that moms were to make the time outside of worship so miserable by holding their toddlers down in an empty room that they would beg to go back into the service.

Clay and I felt that this was not what we would want to encourage and many Sundays, when our 2 year old grandson became too wiggly to sit in the service, either his parents or one of us would walk him into a room and bring along crayons or small toys for him to play with. We were told that we shouldn’t make the room a fun place and that by doing so we were not teaching him to behave in church. But Clay countered with the truth that fathers and mothers were to make those decisions themselves regarding the training of their children and the applications of Scripture in that regard and to insist that everyone conform to someone else’s standards in the “how’s” of training was contrary to our basic tenets of home discipleship.

There was also the assumption that all the families in the church would study the same passages of Scripture during the week so the children would be prepared to answer questions posed to them at the beginning of the worship service. Then, the pastor would preach on that same subject.

While it seemed like a great idea to many people, especially those who were just beginning to practice family worship, there were some of us who had been doing this for many years and had our own convictions and methods of teachings and instructing. Clay suggested that dads needed to feel less pressured to make sure their children were prepared to perform with the “correct” answers on Sunday morning and to be encouraged to study themselves and look for areas where their own families needed biblical instruction and then to concentrate on those portions of Scripture that were most needful at the time. Again, we both felt that true discipleship takes into account the spiritual needs of the disciple and that parents ought to always be looking for that as well as encouraging their children to think outside of any prescribed box as they study the Word.

It was at this point that we began to feel very alienated because we weren’t on the prescribed bandwagon. And here was the really funny thing to us….we were the oldest couple in the church. We had been married for nearly 3 decades, had 6 grown children who were all believers and our married children were homeschooling our grandchildren. We were a picture of their stated goal, “multi-generational faithfulness.”

Yet, there were those I have referred to as the “johnny-come-lately” homeschoolers, those who had been homeschooling for two or three years and their children were all quite young, and they knew all the answers and felt compelled to tell us that we didn’t know what we were talking about. I had a groove in my tongue from biting it so many times, let me tell you. As I began to ponder these things, I saw that the Titus 2 principle requires not only older women who are willing to share things the Lord has taught them through the years, but also younger women (and men) with teachable spirits.

I want to be very clear. I am certainly not saying that we had or have all the answers. In fact, most of what I now know I had to learn the hard way, through the many trials I experienced by thinking I had all the answers when I was younger and by not ever seeking out counsel from older and wiser believers. Lord-willing, I pray that I have learned to listen to godly counsel and to seek out those who have walked the path I am struggling to stay on daily.

Perhaps it was because our children were older or because we couldn’t embrace the “formula for success,” we began to see that we were, once again, in a situation where we had gotten involved with something we had been led to believe was going to be fruitful and encouraging for our own family and it wasn’t.

Early on, when we had first been involved with the first family integrated church and the church planter had been invited to assist us, Clay and I wanted to visit his church for a morning worship service. We had previously attended a hymn sing there and enjoyed it immensely but we hoped to attend a service where family integrated principles had been incorporated for several years. Providentially, we were given an opportunity, though it happened most unexpectedly.

My sister-in-law, who lived in Michigan, wanted to give our daughter the grand piano that had belonged to her great grandmother and so we arranged to drive to her house and bring the piano back in a U-Haul rental truck. As our family drove back through northern Illinois on a Saturday afternoon, warning lights on the dashboard indicated engine trouble and since we were near an exit, we were able to pull-off the interstate and call for assistance. The company told us that no one would be available to help us until sometime the next day so our only option was to stay overnight. Clay and I remembered that the church planter’s church was located near the town we were in and after looking at the map, realized we were only 2 or 3 miles from the church building. So we made plans to attend worship services the next day.

As soon as we walked in the door, the church planter recognized us, introduced us to many families and, upon hearing about what had happened with our truck, quickly put together a group who would be available to help us reload the piano if we needed to do so later that day.

The worship service included many of the elements we had expected to see: a couple families sharing passages of Scripture as they had done at the hymn sing, a children’s orchestra, many children in worship service, the singing of praise music and hymns, instruction in singing 4 parts of the hymn of the month after the morning service, a solid, theologically sound and edifying sermon. All of us thought it was just the type of service we would love all the time and we were warmly welcome by more faces than we could ever remember.

Immediately after worship, one of the elders approached us and said that they had invited several families to their home for dinner and would love to have us join them. (In fact, we left the church that day having received several more invitations to various homes for dinner.) Clay was concerned about the truck repairs but when he called the company was told that it would be later in the afternoon before it was finished and since we didn’t need to transfer the piano, we had several hours that we could spend in fellowship. So we followed the elder and his family to their home, which ended up being about twenty minutes away in rural northern Indiana. 4 or 5 other families all appeared with casserole dishes and crock pots, including the church planter and his family.

There were children of all ages everywhere and our boys joined in with the rest of the teens, all of them quickly acting like long-lost friends. I was amazed at the strategy for welcoming a new family and it was obvious that there had been significant planning involved in order to be able to pull all of this off at the last minute with such efficiency. The hostess had several large quantity items she pulled out of the freezer, frozen fruits, breads, and the largest bag of chicken breasts I had ever seen. Other women produced a variety of side dishes and made fresh salads while the men grilled the chicken. I was welcomed into the kitchen, given a job to do, and we were all such kindred spirits that our exchange was warm and pleasant, as though I had known these ladies forever.

The older children each took their filled plates to various spots, inside and out, some of the oldest helping with the younger ones around the kitchen table. The adults went to the dining room where our lively conversation continued, turning to a discussion of raising older teens, courtship, the logistics of a family integrated church, and the new church plant in our area.

Even though the fellowship had the same sweetness as we experienced in our home church, there were two differences in the relationships that all of us noticed. The first was that there was no awkwardness between the young men and the young women. As Scripture admonishes, they all treated each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. And the second thing was that the women around that dining room table were all included in the discussions about theology, church polity, and raising children. It was refreshing, since we were used to the men and women separating for fellowship on Sunday afternoons.

After the meal, all the families gathered in the family room where several of them quoted Scripture together from memory, testimonies were shared, and we sang hymns. We had a time of prayer together, too, and all too quickly the truck company called to tell us they were finished so one of the men had us follow him through the winding back roads to get to the exit where we had turned off. Soon we were back on our way home, still talking about what a great day we had shared with our new friends.

In retrospect, I am so glad that we had had that day’s experience because it showed us some very positive things that can be done in the body of Christ to minister to one another and to facilitate times of genuine fellowship for all ages as well as to welcome new visitors into your group. I remember asking myself why the idea of a traditional youth group had been so troubling to us while this time of fellowship for teenagers was so positive and, again, the key factor was that parents with compatible goals were there with their children and that any stifling, adversarial gender issues, either for the young women or the mothers, were absent.

We also observed that while we were likeminded in the essentials of the faith and even in some of the nonessentials, there was no pressure to conform to a certain paradigm or a specific agenda that made everyone feel like they all had to do everything in the same way. One example of this was the large cardboard tree that had been mounted on the back wall of the sanctuary over the doorway. Along the branches of the tree were leaves with family names on them and when your family memorized a passage of Scripture, you could place your leaf on that tree. The branches were nearly full and nearly every book of the Bible was represented. It was a great encouragement to see that this was a church that was determined to memorize God’s word without everyone having to do the same thing and if you chose to not participate, it was your choice. In other words, memorizing Scripture was established as the norm but families felt free to do so according to their own needs, ages of children, and at their own pace.

On the downside, we did ask how many of the families were homeschoolers and were told that only a handful did not homeschool. While there were a few older couples, most of them seemed to be the grandparents of children in the church and there was one, dear single man who, each time we were there, stood up and shared the Scripture he was memorizing. We were also told that anyone who doesn’t homeschool quickly realizes that home discipleship, to be done properly, needs to be done within a homeschooling setting, that all the outside activities always interfered with the time needed to properly disciple children. While we are obviously huge advocates of homeschooling, we do believe that is an overstatement.

A couple years later when we were with the second family integrated church, the daughter church of the one I just described, we realized that our church had a much different flavor and tone than the mother church did, which was somewhat of a disappointment to us. In assessing why this was, again, the mother church was, at that time, a church that was welcoming children into the service but was not centering everything around them and, in our opinion, it made a huge difference is how worship was conducted, how inclusive or exclusive we appeared to be, and how welcome nonhomeschoolers might feel if they visited.