Let the Church Become a True Family Again
In the last 150 years a massive shift occurred in church and family life, completely changing the sociology of the church. This resulted in shifting the discipleship methodology from a biblical model to a secular model patterned after public education and youth culture. This was unprecedented in the history of the church. It was so different that it transformed the nature of church discipleship, the discipleship agenda of the family, and even the entire way the family related to the church. It actually transformed the structure of the family. It was truly a mega-shift. But it happened so slowly that almost nobody noticed. What happened? Discipleship in the church gradually became age segregated, where the duties assigned to the family were handed off to church workers.
Why is the modern church age segregated? Why are the teenagers almost always worshipping and learning separately from the adults? Why are the senior citizens separated from the younger generation? Who thought it was a good idea for thirteen- to sixteen-year-olds to develop their own culture? Why is it that, in most churches today, the whole organizational structure is based on age segregation? The answer is simple: we have set aside the practices of the Word of God for the sake of our traditions.
If we had the Bible alone
If we only had the Bible as our guide, would children be separated from their parents during the meetings of the church? Would we set up children’s church? Is there any biblical explicit evidence for nurseries? Did the apostles ever organize a Sunday school, a youth rally, or any kind of age-segregated gathering? Are there any commands or examples to follow in Scripture for age segregation? Of course, the answer to all of these questions is no. The disciples suffered rebuke from their Master for trying to keep the children away. Let us bring our children back into the meetings of the church in the way that is consistent with both the Old and New Testaments.
The current design for discipleship breaks the church into a fragmented sociology of interests and ages. It creates new sub-cultures. It actually raises a social structure that stands in sharp contrast to Scripture, as the following chapters will illustrate. The real problem, however, is that it matches poorly with the clearly communicated contours of Scripture.
How do we make our way back to a biblical model of discipleship in the church and family? We must return to the beautiful design for the church.
God’s ways are beautiful
Think about how God has ordered His people in the church. He makes them a “family” (Matthew 12:49-50; 1 Corinthians 1:10), “a body” (Ephesians 1:22-23), a “building” (1 Peter 2:5), a “flock” (Acts 20:28), a people for God’s own possession (1 Peter 2:9). He gathers people from every tongue, tribe and nation, as brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers in the faith. He brings them together as “one body” (Romans 12:4-5). They are a spiritual family. He brings them together rather than separating them according to age. This is His beautiful design. It is beautiful in so many ways.
Imagine with me a church without a generation gap. The whole family worships together. Marrieds and singles and old and young and people from whole families and broken families worship together. A little child hears the singing and preaching while in his father’s or mother’s arms. This is a church where the biblical pattern of age-integrated discipleship is practiced.
Imagine a church, like the churches in Ephesus and Colossae, where it is assumed that the oldest to the youngest are involved together in discipleship, worship, celebration, and service (Ephesians 6:1-4; Colossians 3:20).
Imagine a church where fathers and mothers are daily fulfilling their responsibility to teach their children the Word of God in their homes.
Imagine a church where the excesses of youth culture are minimized and teenagers are growing wiser by walking through life with the older members of the church.
Imagine a church where every fatherless boy or girl worships and serves alongside mature spiritual fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers.
Imagine a church where groups of all ages talk together and minister to one another.
Imagine a church where the older teach the younger, the younger appreciate the older, and the older are energized and motivated by the youth.
This is a church where Scripture is sufficient for the discipleship of all ages, where Christ is the focus, where traditions bow to the Word of God, and where the generations walk together—and love doing so. Let the church become like a family again. This is the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Scott T. Brown is the President of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches and pastor at Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Scott graduated from California State University in Fullerton with a degree in History and received a Master of Divinity degree from Talbot School of Theology. He gives his time to expository preaching and local pastoral ministry, as well as conferences on Biblical doctrine and church and family reformation. He and his wife Deborah have four grown children. Scott helps people think through the two greatest evangelistic and discipleship institutions God has provided — the church and the family.