Saturday, January 30, 2010
It's unfortunate enough that many churches tend to be populated by people of the same race or socioeconomic group. But to intentionally segregate worship by age makes things worse. Scripture tells us not to scorn the experiences and wisdom of our elders. Proverbs 16:31 teaches that "gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life."
The desire to reach young adults—or any other targeted demographic group—is noble, but we pander to them when we segregate worship. We should avoid such overreactions and trust the gospel as the creator and preserver of faith for all people of all ages.
Friday, January 29, 2010
I still want to respond to Jay Struther's (family-equipping ministry) response to Paul Renfro (family-integrated ministry). Strother manifests a genuine appreciation for the strengths of family-integrated ministry, but he poses some questions to which I would like to respond.
He asks, first of all, "How would you transition the typical North American church into this model of ministry?" He does not believe it would be feasible to transition many thousands of churches to this model. My answer is simply this - churches can be transitioned into this model in exactly the same way they were transitioned into their current practices. As Timothy Jones' opening historical sketch demonstrates, churches have not always operated with family-segregated systems. They obviously had to change somehow, and someone had to lead them to change. While we all acknowledge that change is difficult, does that pose a substantive objection to family-integrated ministry? It may takes centuries to effect the change, but if we believe on biblical grounds that it is best for Christ's church, then what difference does that make?
Next, Strother asks, "How do family-integrated churches plan to reach nontraditional families and help these families understand themselves as full participants in the body of Christ?" Struther says, "The structure of a family-integrated church could discourage many singles and nontraditional families from full participation in their communities of faith." Struther is entirely correct in this concern...if we conceive of participation in the community of faith the way contemporary churches conceive of it.
You see, one of the reasons I am attracted to family-integrated ministry is that it exerts pressure toward an entire re-ordering of life, a re-ordering of life which includes the vertical axis in covenantal relationships. Contemporary conceptions of human relationships tend to include only the horizontal axis, excluding the fact that God is the most important player in any and all relationships between two or more humans. This covenant-type conception of human relationships inherently integrates. It means that multiple relationships can overlap and integrate while preserving the integrity of each. Forgetting this, American evangelical churches have tended to create the church as a parallel culture to mainstream American culture. In this kind of structure, one way people participate in the life of the church is through participating in multiple programs which the church runs - the church softball team, the church youth activities, the church VBS, and so on. People do this instead of participating in parallel secular programs. Participating in the church means activity.
Now, you must understand that by this time in our history many evangelicals have recognized this problem on a surface level and have responded by dismantling the church as activity. "Let's not spend all of our time with only Christians," they say, "for then how can we reach the lost? Let's join the city's softball league so we can get to know unbelievers and witness to them. It is service to God to be involved with unbelievers." This is all fine, as far as it goes. But since people's idea of participating in the church has not matured, the net effect is to relegate the church to a peripheral and negligible place in their existence. The church becomes whatever I want to do in the name of Christ. It is basically a no thing. So contemporary evangelicals bounce back and forth between trying to make the church everything and trying to make the church nothing. We will never get past this impasse, and the problem that Struther has raised, until we re-conceive of the church.
In this sense, the status of the family in relationship to the church is merely one facet of a much broader problem. I believe that the broader problem is the church. Unfortunately, even many family-integrated types do not understand this, and so their family-integration takes place in the same way that other evangelicals do their family-segregating programs. The net result is basically the same - more fragmentation, more privatization, more parallel cultures being created. And then you have debates about different "models" of ministering to families, when the real debate ought to be about the nature of the church.
Let me take a little related rabbit trail. This week I have been reading Covenant and Communion: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI by Scott Hahn. Thinking about the pope's theology has made me realize that this pope presents a powerful challenge to American evangelicals. The reason is that he has a unified vision of all of reality and he knows how to apply it. I certainly don't agree with his vision, but the fact that it is coherent makes it very powerful. In a head to head match between generic American evangelicalism and this pope's
vision, I'd bet on the pope any day. It is a bit like an organized military taking on a bunch of disordered rag-tag rebels. The rebels may inflict some casualties, but the organized military will win every time. But my main point in bringing up the pope here is to say that his theology integrates everything into the church. His kind of a theological vision blows away questions like Struther's like so many dry leaves.
At their best, proponents of family-integration realize that it is fundamental theological reality which determines what "full participation" looks like. That's why Renfro makes statements like, "God created the family as the primary training ground for children. Cultural deterioration and family disintegration do not and cannot change that fact" (89). There are unchangeable God-given realities which inform us how to act. We must have a full-orbed theology in order to be truly biblically driven.
Struther's third question is "How do you equip children and youth to engage contemporary culture with their faith?" He writes, "Family-integrated church could create an environment promoting unhealthy sheltering of children and youth." This concern seems too vague to be useful in this discussion. Biblically speaking, what is "unhealthy"? Of course a family-integrated church could promote unhealthy sheltering. Any church could do this, and they could do it quite well without being family-integrated at all. I wonder if the question itself once again presupposes certain ideas about sheltering which would need to be hashed out before this could become a useful question in this discussion.
Following his questions, Struther challenges some "faulty assumptions" of family-integration. He makes some worthwhile observations here, such as that family-segregation does not necessarily mean that pastors must spend all of their time managing programs instead of shepherding people. This is true, and it also reminds us that in these kinds of debates, we should be careful not to criticize other positions for incidental faults.
But I cannot close without challenging some of Struther's statements in this section. He writes, "Millions of adolescents ... desperately need to experience the gospel of Jesus Christ in ways they can understand within their cultural contexts." To which I reply, "Of course. And every young person who has ever lived on the face of the earth can understand family-integration." They may not have experienced it, but they were created for it, and they know it in their hearts. It is simply created reality which is true for everyone. If a man had lived in a little cave underground for the first fifteen years of his life, his unfamiliarity with the sun and the trees and the mountains would not be an excuse for keeping him imprisoned for the rest of his life. Why does Struther think that an adolescent can't understand the gospel in a family-integrated church?
Sruther says, "Age-organized ministries can be expressions of missional zeal for unbelieving people around us." I agree. In fact, they almost always are. But missional zeal in itself is insufficient. Just because something is done to reach people does not justify it as a wise practice. It is not intentions which count as much as actual results. As I said earlier, we must have a full-orbed theological vision in order to have the discernment to know what ought to be done with our missional zeal.
Struther wonders if family-integrated churches remember that "unbelieving teenagers in North America make up one of the most significant people groups on the planet." Once again, I believe faulty assumptions show through. Teenagers are not a people group and should not be treated like one. This way of looking at them is part of the individualistic disintegration that has brought us the problems we are trying to solve. They cannot be treated in isolation from the covenantal contexts in which God has designed them to live, even if that context is broken. I believe that it is harmful to treat teenagers just like marketers treat them, exploiting their immature desires in order to get them to do what we want.
Perhaps I have been too negative in this interaction with Struther. I could have taken a fair amount of time to write about the good aspects of what he says, and perhaps I will be able to do this later. However, I have written this in order say that I do not believe Struther properly appreciates the difference between his approach and that of family-integration. He closes his response by saying, "the only glaring difference between the family-equipping model and the family-integrated approach is that we have chosen to maintain some age-organized ministries." I don't think this is true. I think there is something deeper at work - theological differences in the way we view reality.
"Humble yourselves...under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you."
1 Peter 5:6-7
Join us this Lord's Day to worship the God who cares.
Holy, Holy, Holy (#3)
There Is a Fountain (#267)
Call Jehovah Thy Salvation (#499)
Jesus, Lover of My Soul (#489)
Jesus Loves Me (#719)
How Good is the God We Adore (#738)
The Lord Delivers His People - Exodus 14-15:18
He Cares for You - 1 Peter 5:6-7
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Poor silly soul, whose hope and head lies low;
Whose flat delights on earth do creep and grow;
To whom the stars shine not so fair, as eyes;
Nor solid work, as false embroideries;
Hark and beware, lest what you now do measure
And write for sweet, prove a most sour displeasure.
O hear betimes, lest thy relenting
May come too late!
To purchase heaven for repenting,
Is no hard rate.
If souls be made of earthly mould,
Let them love gold;
If born on high,
Let them unto their kindred fly:
For they can never be at rest,
Till they regain their ancient nest.
Then silly soul take heed; for earthly joy
Is but a bubble, and makes thee a boy.
Friday, January 22, 2010
Come, We That Love the Lord (#223)
Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken (#220)
Church of God, Beloved and Chosen (#222)
The Church's One Foundation (#221)
The Living Stone (#225)
Communion Hymn (#228)
SermonSharing in God's Grace - 1 Peter 5:5
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Moral of the story for Christians: don't say you "love" Christians unless you're willing to submit yourself to [an] actual body of nose-blowing believers.
Friday, January 15, 2010
Shields leads off the critiques by noting what he appreciates about the family-integrated model; however, overall he finds the family-integrated view to be troubling. He is troubled because he believes that the family-integrated approach blunts the local church's efforts to "penetrate youth culture with the gospel." This is perhaps the most common criticism I have heard about the family-integrated approach, and it also reveals the underlying difference in perspective I alluded to in my last post.
Perhaps it would be useful to illustrate this difference in perspective before I move on to discuss Shields' specific criticisms. In order to do this, I want to use a separate social issue that has a lot of the same dynamics in play and that reveals men's overarching view of the good life and how it is obtained. Back in 1992, Marvin Olasky penned an impressive analysis of welfare ideals and policies in American history. Entitled The Tragedy of American Compassion, Olasky carefully traced the failures of welfare policies that were all well-intentioned, but futile. Compassion was severed from thought. More importantly, it was severed from the natural bonds and institutions which kept it knowable and workable, and transferred to the federal government. This separation of personal knowledge and accountability from the lives of the poor actually developed all of the bad traits of the poor which hinder them from ever becoming self-sufficient and stable. In today's America, the more benefits we pour into helping the poor, the worse the problem becomes.
There is a bedrock level difference between early American views of men and poverty and contemporary views of men and poverty. The former understood men to be fundamentally sinful, and also understood the necessity of operating according to created reality. The later assume men to be basically good and thus they aspire to operate according to a utopian dream. The contemporary view is deeply flawed from a biblical perspective. But the irony is that it is most often justified by attacking the morality of those who oppose it. "How can you oppose another federal program giving aid to the poor? That cruel! Don't you know how many children will go hungry if we cancel the school breakfast program?" And so on and so forth. The reality is that genuine conservatives do not oppose helping the poor. They simply see clearly that what the political liberals call "help" in their utopian world is oppression in the real world that God created and governs.
I would like to use this illustration as a window into what is happening in the debate represented by this book. In this debate, everyone says that we must "evangelize," and to be pinned with "not evangelizing" is like getting a broken arm in a wrestling match. You are sure to lose the debate. There is good reason for this, for if anything is clear in Scripture, it is that we ought to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ so that men can be saved.
But everything turns on how we conceive of evangelizing or reaching people. Let's see how this plays out in Shields' critique.
First, Shields criticizes family-integrated churches for describing the church as a "family of families." Rather, he says, it is the family of God which often cuts across biological family lines. I am actually sympathetic to this criticism. When I first started reading some family-integrated material, this was precisely one of my responses. Family-integrationists have responded to this criticism repeatedly by arguing that they are not talking about the nature of the church or the membership of the church. Instead, they are talking about the structure of the church and the symbiotic relationship between church and family (see Voddie Baucham's explanation here and here). I think this clarification helps a great deal. In fact, I would suggest that family-integrated types drop the language "family of families." It does not communicate clearly, at best, and it can be taken in unbiblical ways, at worst.
I believe that family-integrated types are trying to communicate something that they sense about the larger order of things. They sense that American evangelicalism's individualistic pursuit of discipleship is woefully inadequate. They sense that "grace" does not operate in a vacuum apart from "nature" (to use older theological language). They sense that becoming a follower of Christ cannot be separated from actually following what Christ says. This is not well-expressed by saying that the church is a family of families. It is better expressed by saying that there exists a symbiotic relationship between the church and the family. Perhaps this can be stated even better in future publications.
At any rate, it is evident that Shields doesn't get this. He appears to think that he has exploited a very serious theological flaw in the thinking of family-integrated churches, when all he has done is expose a poor turn of phrase. He does not appear to appreciate the fact that family-integrated types tend to see how all things hang together. All people live in relationships, and they cannot be arbitrarily isolated from these relationship for the purpose of discipleship. In fact, discipleship takes these relationships up into itself and eschatologically transforms them.
Shields' second criticism of the family-integrated model is that public school families are not being adequately reached. He says,
The fact is that the vast majority of Americans - Christians and non-Christians - send their children to public schools. Yet family-integrated churches do not seem to be passionate about or properly positioned for effecting Christ-centered change in the lives of nearly fifty million public-school students and their families. The public schools - and, specifically, the youth culture found there - are the largest mission field in America (82).
This criticism perfectly illustrates the deeper divide between Shields' family-based ministry and Renfro's family-integrated ministry. It is the divide over what constitutes "Christ-centered change." It is the divide over what it looks like to make a disciple. To a family-integrated church, effectively making a disciple out of a public school child would eventuate in that child leaving the public school. Since they believe this, they are positioned precisely where they want to be in order to effect Christ-centered change in the lives of fifty million public-school students.
Shields criticizes family-integrated churches for attracting primarily home schoolers. "For some families," he writes, "homeschooling enables them to escape the perceived corruption of the public school system" (82). Now, I would be the first to tell Christian families not to home school just because little Johnny is going to be given sex ed classes and they don't want his innocence to be spoiled. In and of itself, that is an insufficient basis for homeschooling. Christian families need to understand that there is a much more fundamental issue at stake, and it is the issue that Jesus is Lord. That fact creates a radical antithesis between all Christian and non-Christian systems of education (which is just another name for discipleship). A child will either be trained according to the reality that Jesus is Lord, or he will not, and the American public school system explicitly will not allow children to be taught that Jesus is the only Lord and Savior. This is the root reason that Christians must not allow their children to be discipled in paganism. Sex ed classes are just a fruit issue.
Back in the 1930s, when public schooling through high school was coming into its own as the norm in America, and long before prayer was taken out of the schools or other perfidious mischief was going on, Cornelius Van Til spoke of "antitheses in education." By this he meant that "the principles by which believers live are squarely opposed to the principles by which unbelievers live." "These antitheses," he said, "cover the whole educational field," including the philosophy of education, the content of education, and the child to be educated. He understood clearly that the American system of public education was anti-Christian at its core. Long before Van Til, when public schooling was still in its infancy in America, R. L. Dabney saw where this system would end up. The schools' "complete secularization is logically inevitable. Christians must prepare themselves then, for the following results: All prayers, catechisms, and Bibles will ultimately be driven out of the schools" (On Secular Education).
So my response to Shields is that he has an inadequate concept of what it means to make a disciple. Even if he would not agree with me that the American educational system is thoroughly anti-Christian from its core principles, for him to pass the current status of public education off as "perceived corruptions" literally blows my mind. The corruptions are not merely perceived. They are systemic. This is not a matter of guarding our children from negative influences. It is a matter of training them up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord.
I must press on. The third criticism Shields lodges against the family-integrated model is that every church segregates in some fashion; therefore, to claim to be family-integrated is inconsistent. This criticism, it seems to me, is fairly weak, for gets hung up on pedantic semantic issues rather than dealing with the actual family-integrated ideals.
So to wrap up this already-too-long post. Shields criticizes the family-integrated approach, in essence, because he does not believe it will reach people with the gospel. That is well-intentioned. But as for me and my house, good intentions don't cut it. I want to see much more robust biblical argumentation. Just calling something "evangelism" or "reaching people" or "discipleship" doesn't justify it. I suspect that the reason Shields and others find the family-integrated approach so troubling is that it conflicts with their worldview at a deep level. It feels quite foreign to them because it is so different than contemporary American ideals.
Arise, My Soul, Arise (#174)
The Savior to Glory Is Gone (#178)
From Depths of Woe (#337)
Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us (#503)
Thine Be the Glory (#162)
The Lord Is My Shepherd - Psalm 23; Micah 5:1-5a; Revelation 7:9-17
Shepherding God's Flock - 1 Peter 5:1-4
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Friday, January 08, 2010
Meet with us to worship the Lord this Lord's Day, and be strengthened by his word!
Ye Servants of God, Your Master Proclaim (#44)
How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds (#39)
Hail, Thou Once Despised Jesus (#81)
Though Troubles Assail (#45)
It Is Well with My Soul (#371)
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (#137)
Sharing in Christ's Sufferings - 1 Peter 4:12-19
Thursday, January 07, 2010
In chapter 5 of Perspectives on Family Ministry, Paul Renfro argues for "family-integrated ministry." The essay basically consists of a description of a family-integrated model, a biblical case for this model, answers to common questions, and recommendations for transitioning to this form of family ministry.
The essay closes with a section on "family integration and the measurement of success" (76-8). I want to start here, for it is here that Renfro reveals most clearly an important assumption that is a major difference underlying the competing views represented in the book. Renfro states that "biblical standards for success must replace ecclesiological pragmatism." The other contributors to the book would no doubt agree with that statement as it stands, but I think we will see that they understand "biblical standards" and "pragmatism" differently. Of the three perspectives discussed in this book, I think that Renfro comes the closest to actually implementing biblical standards which shape his worldview and flow into his ministry choices.
However, I say "I think" in the previous sentence because Renfro's chapter does not include enough biblical discussion to strongly substantiate the ministry model he describes. We should grant him all due allowance for the format he had to work with, for there is only so much that can be covered in one chapter. Yet I wish he had used a little less space on the descriptions and more on the foundational issues which differentiate his approach from the others. His description is of a finished house, carpeted and full of furniture, whereas his biblical discussion only provides a partial framing. How does he get from a few 2x4s nailed in a certain way (the biblical framing) all the way to the way the furniture is arranged (the finished ministry practices)? The essay doesn't tell us how the Scripture necessitates his particular model, at least in its full-blown order. Since Renfro himself has set the standard as being the Bible and not pragmatism, he needs to give more than a handful of principles in order to live up to his standard. Renfro certainly intends his model to be biblical (and a loud Amen! to that). I suspect that there is much, much more he could expound biblically, but the essay doesn't state it. It is this weakness that allows his opponents plenty of pragmatic wiggle room. He does not force them to deal with a muscular theological construct which cannot be wrestled into current American assumptions.
But let us now turn our attention to the biblical case that Renfro does make. He sets forward three propositions drawn from Scripture: "Fathers were responsible to train their families in God's ways, families worshiped God together, and family integration was normative in communities of faith" (67-8).
Of the first proposition there can be no doubt, and Renfro's critics do not take issue with him on this point. As I suspect we will see later, I question whether Renfro's critics take this biblical truth seriously enough; nevertheless, all are agreed, at least in principle, that this is true.
The second proposition, that families worshiped God together, is also not seriously in dispute. As Donald Whitney says elsewhere, "There is no direct, explicit commandment in Scripture about family worship. The practice of it, however, is implicit throughout the Bible." Since this principle is granted by everyone in the discussion, however, it still does not yet get us to the family-integrated ministry model.
This brings us to the third proposition. Renfro writes that, in the Bible, "children were integrated in the gathered assembly of God's people" (68). He cites Deuteronomy 31:12; Ezra 10:1; Ephesians 6:1-3; and Colossians 3:20 as examples. He also argues, "Never in Scripture do we find an example of systematic age segregation in temple, synagogue, or church." With this proposition we come to a true parting of the ways between family-integration proponents and opponents.
Given the importance of this proposition, I wish that Renfro had developed it more carefully, for all is not as clear and simple in Scripture as he makes it out to be. For example, in the OT only the males were required to appear before the Lord for the three major festivals (Exod 23:17; 34:23; Deut 16:16). It appears that the other members of the households could attend if they wished, but they were not required to do so. It seems to me that this is an example of the concept of covenantal solidarity of the household at work. The males appeared before the Lord because they represented their households when they came to renew their covenant with the Lord. So, should we apply this to the NT assemblies of God's people?
I ask the question in order to raise the crucial issue for the principle that Renfro is relying on. That crucial issue is one's theology of NT assemblies. How do the various OT assemblies inform our practice in the new covenant era? What exactly are we doing, theologically speaking, when we gather each Lord's Day, and how does that inform our practice of age integration? Theologians take various positions on this question, so to gloss over it in order to assert that age integration was normative is at least questionable. Citing a couple texts in which Paul assumes that children would be present is helpful and enlightening, but far from settling all questions.
At HCBC, we consider ourselves family-integrated. So why the criticism? It isn't that I disagree with Renfro's practice. As you will see, I think it is probably stronger than any other model presented in the book. Yet it is healthy for "family-integrated" churches to be well aware of the complexity of the issues involved.
You see, I believe that what is actually in play in the disagreement over the ministry models presented in this book is a bigger vision of the good life. Such an overarching view is never going to be proved by a handful of principles abstracted from the Bible. If this vision is going to be biblical, it must be grounded in a vigorous and wide-ranging theological vision. What that vision entails will, I think, become clearer as we interact with the various viewpoints in the book.
I appreciate Pastor Renfro's efforts in this chapter. It provides a good starting point for discussing family ministry. I would simply urge family-integrated churches to press deeper in the Scriptures. If family-integrated proponents are going to provide a compelling case for their model of ministry, then they are going to need to do a substantial amount of work. I hope they do.
Extra: Here is an interesting post criticizing the subtle narcissism of church segregation.
Today's military is not a conservative institution. It is on the cutting edge of liberal cultural change....Since 9/11, cultural change in the all-volunteer force has accelerated. We are accustomed to seeing female soldiers in fatigues, boots, and helmets, piloting aircraft, navigating ships, carrying weapons, and driving humvees in support of combat operations. We always knew that women were courageous, but never in our history have we seen so much evidence of bravery among servicewomen who are choosing to live -- and in unprecedented numbers, die -- in a man's very dangerous world. Women are in our military to stay, and no one is seriously suggesting otherwise.
Given the prominence of gender issues in today's military, it is wise to consider the cultural implications of the current course. Pentagon officials, feminist activists, politicians, media, and bureaucratic forces are uniting to push for elimination of all of women's exemptions from direct ground combat. Many of the same people expect officially mandated acceptance of professed ... homosexuals in the armed forces, with career penalties for anyone who dares to object or show resistance.
Update 1/14/10: According to this report, the civilians at the top of the military definitely have their sights set on social engineering.
Saturday, January 02, 2010
Rejoice, the Lord Is King! (#13)
To God Be the Glory (#16)
Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah (#495)
May the Mind of Christ My Savior (#476)
Not I, But Christ (#537)
Another Year Is Dawning (#732)
Four End-Times Resolutions - 1 Peter 4:7-11