Multigenerational faithfulness. . . . Biblical patriarchy. . . . Family integrated church.” I thought I was hearing a foreign language. As I listened to the zealous young man across from me, I hoped our little country church was going to work out for him and his family. I could see he was a devoted Christian who was passionate about the Bible, his family, and his responsibilities as a dad.
But after months of involvement, they abruptly ended their relationship with our church. “Multigenerational faithfulness, Biblical patriarchy, and family integrated church” bumped into “Sunday School and children’s church,” and the former prevailed. My church separates ages, with restraint. Families sit together for the entire evening service, as well as the beginning of Sunday School and half of the morning worship service. And no children’s program competes with Wednesday prayer meeting. Also, participation in Sunday School and children’s church is optional. But for “family integrated church” (FIC) enthusiasts, that isn’t enough.
The family integrated concept
A leading proponent of the FIC model, Voddie Baucham Jr., describes what this model requires: “This is a reformation, a paradigm shift. This is a complete departure from current norms in the way we do church. There is no systematic age segregation in the family-integrated church!” (Family Driven Faith [Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2007], 297.)
Vision Forum, another strong FIC advocate, declares that age segregation is unbiblical: “The modern preference for grouping children exclusively with their age mates for educational and social purposes is contrary to scriptural wisdom and example (Deut. 29:10–11; 2 Chron. 20:13; Prov. 22:15 with 13:20; Joel 2:16; 1 Cor. 15:33)” (Vision Forum Ministries).
The FIC movement blames parental irresponsibility, high rates of defection from the faith, and other problems on what they consider to be an unbiblical practice of age-segregated ministries. But could these problems have other causes? More importantly, is age grouping really contrary to Scripture?
Though many churches are age segregated to excess, solid Biblical reasons exist for regularly gathering children together to focus on their true spiritual needs. Five facts suggest that these kid times have a vital role in any church that can provide them.
1. The dual responsibility of discipleship
A common error in the FIC philosophy is either/or thinking about the task of discipleship. Teaching the faith is either the responsibility of the family, or it’s the task of the church. Voddie Baucham puts it succinctly: “Our children are falling away because we are asking the church to do what God designed the family to accomplish. Discipleship and multi-generational faithfulness begins and ends at home. At best, the church is to play a supporting role as it ‘equips the saints for the work of ministry’ (Ephesians 4:12)” (Family Driven Faith, 7).
But this either/or perspective is absent from Scripture. Under the Sinai covenant, God commanded parents to teach His words to their children (Deuteronomy 6:7), but the task of passing on the faith was shared by the covenant community. Aaron (Leviticus 10:11), Moses (Deuteronomy 4:14), and the Levites (Deuteronomy 33:8–10; 2 Chronicles 17:7–9; 35:3) were to teach the nation, including the children (Nehemiah 8:2–8).
The New Testament connects the task of discipleship even more directly to the believing community, the local church. For example, the concern of Ephesians 4:11–16 is how to bring believers to spiritual maturity. These verses reveal a local church–centered believer-to-believer dynamic. Paul taught that gifted leaders should equip the saints (regardless of age), not that gifted leaders should equip parents, who then teach only their own children.
The view that discipleship is primarily a family task and that the church is secondary at best misunderstands both the Old Testament and the New.
It’s true that Ephesians 6:4 commands parents to bring their children up in the training and admonition of the Lord. But nothing in Ephesians 6 nullifies the discipling role given to the church in Ephesians 4. And the objection that church discipleship of children encourages parents to shirk their own responsibilities reveals that many parents have also succumbed to either/or thinking. The solution is to replace either/or thinking with both/and thinking.
Churches should have kid times, because the job of discipling believers is a dual responsibility of church and home.
2. The ministry of gifted adults
Churches should also have kid times because kids need the ministry of gifted fellow members of the Body, just as older believers do. In the New Testament, gifts play a crucial role in the church’s discipling dynamic. “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all” (1 Corinthians 12:4–7).
In both 1 Corinthians 12:4–7 and the greater context, Paul emphasized the variety of gifts, which means that many believers do not possess the gift of teaching. Kid times are one way to provide children the benefits of the teaching gifts their parents may lack. FIC’s “always together” approach frequently results in some children being denied that opportunity, while also improperly limiting teaching opportunities for gifted adults.
Many churches are excessively programmed and professionalized. And it’s true that nobody can teach children as their own parents can. But Scripture makes it equally clear that a parent can’t teach quite like someone gifted by the Spirit for that very task. Fortunately, we can provide children with both parental teaching and Spirit-gifted teaching.
3. The mandate for age-specialized teaching
Churches should also offer kid times because Scripture directs churches to offer age-specialized teaching. In Family-Integrated Church, J. Mark Fox threw down something of a gauntlet: “I would challenge them to find anything that vaguely resembles age-segregation in the Scripture. The burden of proof is on those who maintain age-segregation in the church, not on those who do not” (Camarillo, Calif.: Salem Communications, 2006, 55). When Paul dispatched Titus to Crete, he gave him a mandate to properly organize (Titus 1:5, “set in order”) the churches, and included instructions that more than “vaguely resemble” age segregation. Paul described his model in 2:1–10 and revealed that long before humanism, John Dewey, or progressive education, God identified age groups within the church, requiring specialized teaching.
Did Paul intend that all of this specialized teaching occur in one room with each family seated together? The passage doesn’t say so. And the younger women were to be taught by the older women, rather than by Titus. How would they do this without taking them aside in some way? Paul did not say that this older-to-younger teaching should occur only randomly in hallway and kitchen conversations rather than when and where the rest of the teaching would occur.
Though Titus 2 falls short of a Biblical mandate to have classes for children, it does require that churches deliver specialized teaching based on age. Kid times are the simplest way to do that.
4. The unique nature of children
Though some childhood experts claim that the concept of childhood is a modern invention (e.g., Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood), the Bible affirms what is obvious to most of us: children are different from adults and require special handling. Consider these passages:
“Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child” (Ecclesiastes 10:16).
“Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15).
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11).
Scripture suggests that common sense is also correct on another point: children change gradually as they move toward adulthood. For example, “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).
Some FIC advocates attempt to sully the origins of age grouping. In his Oct. 10, 2006, blog entry titled “The History of the Sunday School Movement,” Vision Forum president Doug Phillips offers this indictment: “Influenced by the educational methodology of evolutionary humanists like Darwin, Haeckel, Hall, and Dewey, the Evangelical church in America adopted the grade-based, age-segregated, adolescent theory–influenced training model of the government school systems, a model self-consciously designed by some of the most vigorous enemies of Christianity in the history of the West” (Vision Forum Ministries).
But recognizing that kids are different and in the process of becoming adults is both obvious and consistent with Scripture. Bible-believing ministries that provide age-segregated kid times do not believe in evolution; they believe in growth. They are not pursuing “modern individualism,” but are recognizing the Biblical uniqueness of children.
Churches should provide children with opportunities to receive teaching in words they understand, in chunks that fit their attention spans, and in groups small enough to allow them to interact. These times are not a substitute for the equally vital gathering of whole families for worship and teaching. But they are an important supplement to these times.
5. Spiritually thriving parents
It should be obvious that the spiritual vitality of parents has the greatest impact on the faith of children. But I have seen couples try to pursue the latter at the expense of the former. Sadly, when these parents deny themselves the focused learning and worship time they need at church, they are likely to fail in both their own growth and the growth of their children.
But churches that use kid times effectively also create mom-and-dad times in the same stroke. When they send the little ones out to enjoy the gifts of other teachers for a while, moms and dads also gain the opportunity to focus for a while on what God has for them in church. For an hour or so each week they’re able to listen with full attention to teachers God has called and gifted for their edification, without having to constantly monitor the behavior of the children sitting with them.
When flight attendants instruct passengers on the use of the oxygen masks, they tell parents to don the masks themselves before helping their children.
There are two reasons for that. First, children are more likely to accept the masks if they first see their parents wearing them. Second, parents can’t help their little ones if they are passing out for lack of air themselves.
If for no other reason, churches should provide kid times because these times help parents, and whatever helps parents spiritually helps kids spiritually.
Aaron Blumer (MDiv., Central Baptist Theological Seminary) is pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Boyceville, Wis., and publisher of SharperIron.org.