Does the local church create a divide in family discipleship?


Does the local church create a divide in family discipleship?

The exchange of dialogue is only helpful if that exchange has a point that is potentially beneficial to others. So while it is common in this blog and on the internet to criticize the practices in Christ’s church, this post will hopefully help as we consider our church methods.  I grew up in church as a pastor’s kid, and spent time as a youth pastor, so I’ve seen processes in church from ‘behind the scenes.’  And while that’s important, this post will go beyond my personal experience since, and ask questions in more of a sociological or anthropological expression.

Before moving ahead, I want to address the ‘karen‘ comments.  Since America is the number one country for single parenthood, it would be foolish to say every family that enters the doors of the local church are a mom, dad, two kids with a picket fence. So, the following post is in general, and any responsibilities for supporting discipleship to address non two parent families falls at the doorstep of the local church.   There are always exceptions, but they don’t disprove the rule.

So the premise is, “How Consumer Friendly Churches Create a Disciple Divide in Families.”

  1. Do we care?  In church ministry, what do we care about?  What is the point?  If the point is not biblical discipleship, then there is another point to our efforts in the local church.
  2. What are our methods for Christian discipleship? Scripture tells us to have order, so processes are biblical.  Doing church ‘messy’ which is a fad, is not biblical.
  3. How will we measure the effectiveness of the local church discipleship?

As Christ’s church, how important is the family unit?  Aside from Christ himself, the health of the family should be at the forefront of our discipleship efforts.  I grew up going to children’s church.  Since the children’s building was the original church building, it looked like a mini sanctuary with pews, a pulpit, piano.  And we had our children’s service in the same method as ‘big church.’  What I remember most were the songs we sang, such as Father Abraham. We also had Sunday School on Sunday and then during services like Sunday and Wednesday nights, kids would be in the main service with the adults. So that was my young experience with Christian discipleship.  Your’s was probably different.  Which is why we can’t depend on our individual experiences as proof of success in church discipleship.

So let us address the elephant in the room head on and look deep into his eyes and have an honest conversation.  When a family shows up for the Sunday main service that is to be taught by the pastor, what happens to the family?  As Christians, we say that family is important.  But do we help or hamper the family unit as a local church body?

Scenario #1 The kids go to their age appropriate program and the parents go to the main service that is geared towards them.

Scenario #2 The kids stay with their parents and there is a portion of the adult service that is geared towards the kids.”

A Christian brother of mine was complaining about some of the youths behavior, having to remove them often from the youth service because of their poor behavior.  I suggested that the parents of the ‘trouble makers’ be brought into the youth service so they could parent their children and see the bad behavior first hand.  After all, parents should parent.  Or do parents leave the discipleship of their children up to the local church , just as some leave the education up to the schools?  Proverbs 22:6 gives us the direction.  Parents are to parent the whole child, not subcontract certain sections of child development.  Parents using the local church service to take a break from their kids is the wrong approach and is unlikely to yield any lasting discipleship in their children.  Kids know what is going on.

So how does the local church help parents parent the whole child?

  1. The parents need to know the message their children are receiving.  The writing was truly one the wall at a church we attended when I saw a Christ-less false teaching on the builtin board being taught to young kids.  Do you know what your children are learning at church?  How do you know?  Do you ask?  Do you care? Do you have a strong enough theology to ask the right questions? What would you do if your children are being taught false doctrine?
  2. Is the overall messaging in the local church even biblical?  We know that the consumer friendly local church, especially those who adopt a business model of numerical growth, seek to make the ‘congregation’ happy.   If the adult service isn’t biblical, it is unlikely the approach to children’s church will be.
  3. Is the overall messaging in the local church even for the whole family? And is it seamless? For example;  If the adults learn about Jesus feeding the five thousand, are the kids learning the same in their dedicated message? If not, why not? How is the connection made between the two messages?

So as we return to the two scenarios, we can practically answer which one is better.  If the goal is to make disciples, then why does the local Christian church split the family up?  It can be argued that children learn at a different level than adults, and that is absolutely true.  But that begs the wrong question?   If our approach is to disciple kids on their level, and adults on another level, then what are we doing is doing individual discipleship instead of discipling the whole family. It can’t be any other way if the family is split and never discipled together.

OBJECTION: “But our children’s program is the best around and it the number one draw for people to come!”  I used to think that was important too.  When we were looking for a church, it was my first question, ‘what is your children’s program like?’  But I was asking the wrong question.  I get it, the children’s program that churches do on Sunday morning is a huge investment of time, staff, and money. What I wasn’t asking was, ‘ How does a church disciple my family?’

But what if the Sunday main adult service teaches on Jesus feeding the five thousand and the kids dedicated service does a message, isn’t that family discipleship?  It isn’t.  The family is separated in two different locations. So do we toss our children’s program? Is there another way that the whole family is discipled together at the local church?  After all, just like school education, the parents are ultimately responsible and should be able to reinforce what their children learn.

So the question still remains though; “does the local church create a divide in family discipleship”?  If the local church is not discipling the family unit together, the answer has to be yes.

OBJECTION: “The children won’t understand the pastor’s sermon?”  Well let’s return to Proverbs, who has the primary responsibility of teaching and training their children?  Parents.  As for the approach of the pastor’s teaching, a skillful pastor can adapt the message of the Gospel so even a child can understand. And especially since there are different levels of an education in adults, the simplest expression of the gospel is the best approach.  Not everyone studies hermeneutics.

We attend a Sunday service where the children are invited to stay in the main service.  The pastor will provide a special message to the children at the front.  There is also Sunday school that has a curriculum geared towards the children.  But the main service has the whole family.

What are the benefits to this?

  1. Modeling:  Kids get to see their parents behavior in church.  Kids will do what their parents are doing. If it is important to the parents, the kids will take note.
  2. Questions: When parents are properly taught, they can fill in the blanks when the kids need further instruction.  Again Proverbs 22:6
  3. The local church puts the emphasis back on the family, the support of the family, the focus is back on the parents.

OBJECTION:”Kids don’t behave in adult church.” Well, when will they learn? It is like getting a credit card, but not having credit to get it.  When kids don’t learn to behave in church, it becomes obvious when they get older.  They have to be removed from youth group because of their behavior.  The benefit of having children in church with their parents is parenting their behavior.

Having children in church is something I had to adjust to.  Babies crying, kids squirming is something that I had to work through so to speak.  And what I figured out is, going to church isn’t about me.  It’s about the body of Christ.

What is the problem we are trying to solve?  It is found in the premise, “How Consumer Friendly Churches Create a Disciple Divide in Families.”  The best scenario for family discipleship is to have a method for the local church to hold up the family as the best way to disciple the family itself.  Does the Sunday message need to change for that? If the local church doesn’t have a method for discipling the whole family, then yes.

Why is this important? Because kids are leaving the church.  And the over arching reason is that questions are going unanswered.  Why?  Because in the consumer friendly approach, the most kids get are bible studies on how to be a better person. Consumer friendly churches are asking their consumers on what the speak on, instead of teaching the whole counsel of scripture.  They avoid tough subjects since it will anger people and they may not come back. The goal in consumer friendly churches is to make customers happy.  Of course this is the case, the budget is large and spending money on children’s church set design costs.

Is children’s church bad?  Of course not.  Does it provide family discipleship, nope.   Does your local church have a way of discipling the whole family?  If not, why not?   It is the parents that have the primary responsibility for discipleship of their children.  Yes.  And having them in the main service the only way to do it.  Having only divisional discipleship is subpar and doesn’t benefit the whole family, it creates a divide in family discipleship.

But so what?  Going back to why kids leave the church.  Questions aren’t being answered.  The kids blame the church.  So here comes the anthropological part, if the teaching comes to the family at once, the family discusses it, then there is one message.

But that begs the question, what is the message?  If the church is answering the questions that provide an out for kids to leave the church, then if they do leave still, the church will have successfully discipled the whole family and kept the family, not the local church, at the center focus. Which is how God created mankind to begin with.



Steven Davis is a well done preacher’s kid, musician, media producer, learning apologetic writer.

#apologetics #church #childrenschurch #seekerfriendlychurches #consumerfriendlychurches


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