Christian Education and the Local Church
By David L. Parrish, 2005
What is the church’s role in training (discipling) families?
What is the family’s relationship to the overall CE “program”?
How does the philosophy of ministry reflect the church’s commitment to the family?
How is the Scripture’s emphasis on parental responsibility reinforced and supported by the church’s practical ministry structure?
These are some of the questions to consider in developing the ministry philosophy and choosing the course of implementation. Given the clear Biblical instruction on the family’s role and responsibility for child-training, the church must carefully consider how it can best support and enhance the parental leadership. A key presupposition is that the church and family must develop and cultivate a symbiotic relationship that is mutually supporting. Both of these divine institutions are vital to the kingdom–and they need each other! Another presupposition is that some traditional approaches to ministry are detrimental to the family because they follow societal norms and patterns, such as age segregation and separating children from their parents. The basic presupposition of this document is that the Scriptures are our guide for understanding the relationship of church and family, parental roles, and ecclesiastical structures. Specific references can be added to the following points on child-training, corporate worship, cultural influences, educational (academic and spiritual) priorities, and so forth. But the main passages that frame this discussion are Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 5:18–6:4
The local church can have a vibrant and unique impact on Christian families by:
- challenging fathers to be godly dads that lead their families and train their children
- providing an environment for families to be strengthened through . . .
interaction with other healthy and godly families
specific church-based training (for example, men’s discipleship/growth groups)
mentoring by older men and women
inter-generational learning experiences: kids learning with and from adults
- ensuring that Scriptural precepts on family roles/responsibilities are taught, modeled and upheld
With that in mind, consider the following summary thoughts, most of which are in the form of propositional statements:
- Age graded programs are unwise, unnecessary and largely unproductive. Segregating and separating children is both unbiblical and unnatural. When families are referred to in the Scripture, the children are included in the family worship, never otherwise. The secular society has tried to keep kids from their parents. The public education system was influenced heavily by G. Stanley Hall, John Dewey, G.F. Hegel and Rosseau who advocated isolating children from their parents. This has been one of the fundamental problems of the public schools. But these secular ideals must be recognized and resisted on the basis of clear Scriptural teaching on how to raise children. The church needs to strongly resist the anti-christian culture that purposefully or unconsciously attacks the family and biblical values.
- The man’s failure to measure up to God’s standard for the husband and father is a major reason for the Church’s weakness. In this area, the Church largely reflects the sad state of manhood in most cultures. Therefore, biblical manhood needs to be a major focus in the philosophy of ministry.
- The Bible is clear in outlining and underscoring the role of parents in raising a godly heritage: what, why and how to do it. The church may have a supplemental role, but never in the sense that usurps the parental task nor provides an excuse for the father to neglect his job. One way the local church can assist is by training the parents as part of its overarching discipleship program (Ephesians 4). This training would include providing experience in the church-gathered setting, perhaps in a family Bible class.
- The church should lift the standard for both parents and children. Some parents will be “uncomfortable” with the challenge to train their children to listen, to follow through at home (and be held accountable for it!), or with strong preaching on the Scriptural admonitions. We should have high expectations for our children, giving them something to reach for–demonstrating our confidence in their ability to relate to adults and to learn at a higher level.
- Intergenerational activities (classes, programs, special events) provide an opportunity for individuals to relate to others of all ages in the natural way they are placed by God in society (church and family) instead of in the unnatural and negative peer structure. These cross-generational groups also furnish ample occasion for the church to follow God’s plan for older women to instruct younger women, for older men to instruct younger men, and for parents to train their children, etc.
- Children need to see their parents worshiping God and responding to His Word (preaching and teaching); children worshiped with their parents in the Bible record and this was part of the educational (learning to fear and trust God) experience. Deuteronomy 6 and Psalm 78 state the principles; examples are seen in Deut. 31:10-13, 2 Kings 23:1-3, Neh. 12:43.
- Sunday School was not formed originally as a biblically-based and balanced approach to discipleship. In some ways the pattern of the first Sunday Schools would be akin to government subsidized busing “ministries.” In relation to traditional Sunday Schools in most evangelical churches today, one must be careful to evaluate all discipleship programs in light of the core values of the local church. In other words, are we adding more classes or programs because people want something more to do or desire to acquire more information? The questions to ask in reference to the core values is: “what ministry ‘programs’ will have the greatest influence in making mature followers of Christ and thus accomplish our God-given vision for this church?”
- The local church needs to be more than “family friendly.” The philosophy of ministry, because of God’s plan for the family, needs to be decidedly based on building family values since that is clearly God’s plan and since strong families are a major component in producing healthy churches.
- Having the family-based church leads to effective and fruitful ministries that come naturally from the healthy family. For example, instead of creating artificial or contrived ministry programs, the family – in the context of their relationship to the local church – reaches out to the lost, embraces the “foreigner” (single parent, single adult, church visitor, unsaved individual, etc.), “adopts” newcomers, practices hospitality, and serves together. “HOME” groups can also be structured to include family groups, instead of creating another night out away from family members. The family learns a missionary mentality.
- Sundays need to be a family-together experience. Families are already fragmented excessively in American culture. We already spoke of the contrast between “sending away” and “walking along side” in parental education. Deut. 6:6-7 can be experienced on Sunday mornings. Churches can bear the “inconvenience” of having children learn to sit and worship with their parents, giving their parents the opportunity to train (and be with) their kids. See Exodus 10:8-10; Deut. 29:10-13; Psalm 78:1-4 for additional examples of all ages together in corporate worship. Child training can happen on Sundays.
Questions for Determining Ministry Philosophy
- Is our structure or operating procedure based on a carefully developed plan that is formed from biblical convictions and clear biblical principle? Or is it more a result of “the way we have always done it”?
- Who are the most significant influences and instructors in the children’s lives?
- If the parents are the primary influencers and teachers, then does it not seem logical and crucial that the principal objective of church education is parent education and not children education?
- Why do we separate children from their parents? Is that educational philosophy grounded in the Scriptures or tradition and culture?
- Would the overall discipleship process in the church be more effective if “Sunday School teachers” could be freed up to participate in the learning process, preferably with their own children if they have children at home?
- How do the primary passages on child-rearing affect our ministry philosophies and emphases? Are these principles being applied or ignored?
- Are marriage and parenting principles being taught and modeled with conviction?
- Can children’s (including older children or “young people”) needs be met through intergenerational ministries where segregation is avoided, and the children interact with and constantly see positive older models for life?
- Are biblical principles for parenting, marriage, marriage preparation, children’s roles and the family’s role in the church being taught from the pulpit and modeled by the leaders?
- The church must assist the family in understanding and applying biblical roles and responsibilities within the family structure. For example, what does it mean to “train children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?
- “Programs” like youth groups may have the best intentions of providing further instruction to certain age groups, and furnishing “fellowship” and friendship for peers. However, caution should be exercised in separating children from their parents. And the “fellowship/friendship” factor can be overemphasized since the more healthy interaction, learning and growth can come in the natural relationships within the church body and between families. The negative influence of children learning their values from other children is often overlooked or underestimated.
- Child care is also a negative factor if it is an excuse for the parents not training the children to be quiet, self-controlled, and respectful. Child and nursery care should not be promoted simply because children are distracting or bothersome. What are the greater values that are at stake?
Family Worship by Kerry Ptacek has some helpful information on the history of Sunday School and other “programs,” challenging the church to reconsider and reevaluate what true family worship implies. It is not well-written and is hard to follow because of the covenant theology, but is worth reading because of its consideration of key Scriptures.
Critique of Modern Youth Ministry by Chris Schlect summarizes the history of youth work, how the youth focus reflected the cultural shifts of the 1960s and 1970s, and highlights some grave biblical weaknesses with the youth group approach to ministry.
Vision Forum, a ministry led by Doug Phillips, provides resources to help families evaluate biblical convictions for the values in the home. One of their purposes is to aid churches in forming and reforming an overall ministry that supports the work of the parents in the home.
Scott Brown has some very helpful articles on church and family, what the family-based church should look like, as well as interaction with biblical concepts of family values. See www.scottbrownonline.com
Safely Home by Tom Eldredge documents the regression of education from the Hebrew model of parental involvement (parents having the primary role and regular influence in training children) to the Greek model (upon which education is based today) where children are sent away to learn. The Greek model is individualistic and societal (the “State”), whereas the Hebrew model is inter-dependent and familial.
Chuck Sell’s book Family Ministry is a helpful textbook on the challenges and issues relating to the church/family interconnection. It is a comprehensive treatment of theology, programs, family issues, parent training, marriage education, etc. He has a helpful section that explains what intergenerational ministries means.
What is Wrong in the Church? By Alexander Hay discusses, among other things, the problems with separating youth from adults, and how churches hinder the young person’s spiritual growth by taking them away from their elders, precisely where the Bible says they need to remain in order to be wise.
Spiritual Junk Food by Mickels and McKeever documents the seriously flawed curriculums and resources that are being produced by recognized Christian publishers. These include lessons and leader’s guides for various ages that weaken the gospel and undermine the truth in order to “reach” contemporary culture.
John Taylor Gatto’s in depth book on the history of public education details the influences of an antagonistic and humanistic culture on our society. This well-documented study by a non-Christian author is must reading for anyone with school age children. But beyond that, the research shows how contemporary culture has influenced Christian thought and church methodologies relating to peer relationships, Christian education models, and much more.