The Biblical pattern is for families to stay together in congregational worship and instruction. Indeed, without the littles one and women, there could be no genuine feast of the LORD (Ex 10:9). God repeatedly commanded that all members of the households of His people gather together before Him (Dt 16:11,14; 31:12-13). These commands also are beneficial to the spiritual leadership of men in their families. How can a man be a spiritual leader if he is not sharing in the worship and instruction of his family? How can the family discuss together matters which they have not all heard?
Nevertheless, many Christians who are committed to these Biblical principles attend churches which have age and gender segmented Sunday school, children's church, separate ministries for youth, women and men and other programs that divide the family and undermine Biblical spiritual leadership. What can be done in such situations?
First of all, genuine tolerance and acceptance of a family withdrawing from participation in these programs should be sought. In most cases families that do not turn over their children to Sunday school, children's church and youth ministries will be scorned and pressured. This can happen even when it is clear that the children are being nurtured in the Word at home.
Since opponents do not have a Biblical answer for those who withdraw from these programs, they tend to become nervous and repressive. However, if there is genuine tolerance and love, that speaks well for such people and it may be that the Lord will bless such a church with greater obedience. If it is a leader who withdraws from these programs it may even encourage change. I know of one case in which a new pastor refrained from having his children leave the congregation for children's church. The program was in place when he arrived. Although he did not speak out publicly his quiet non-conformity was a witness.
Secondly, a church which tolerates the non-conformity of one family may be willing to make room in its programs for alternatives which do not divide the family. For example, many churches have one or more "family-friendly" Sunday school classes open to all ages and genders. However, these classes remain part of congregation worship and instruction, they are an assembly of the congregation in effect and therefore the same norms applicable to the congregation in terms of who may teach and speak should be applied. In other cases separate youth outings have been replaced or augmented by activities open to all members of the church.
Thirdly, a church leadership may seek to change existing programs. One church in Florida considered the weakened condition of their families despite growth in membership and programs and decided that the role of the father in teaching needed to be strengthened. This church's Sunday school leadership was enlisted in transforming their work from teaching the children themselves to preparing weekly packets to be taken home and used throughout the week. Of course, the use of these materials is voluntary. In our view, it is better to simply use the Bible.
Fourthly, a church with a significant number of families who wish to move in this direction may ask the leadership to assist them in forming a daughter congregation. I know of several cases in which highly program-oriented churches have helped form daughter congregations that abstain from these programs. In our own presbytery churches have shown this kind of Christian love and acceptance in helping small congregations that do not have the array of programs that we have mentioned. However, in other places I know that a great deal is done to discourage the development of congregations that do not conform to the traditional program model.
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