A recently burgeoning movement in the church in America is the so-called “Family-Integrated Church” (FIC) movement. There is much to commend about their message of the need for parents, and especially fathers, to take responsibility for the discipleship of their own children; and not merely to shuffle them off to “youth group” and “youth pastors.” In addition, the FIC movement rightly recognizes the importance of “multi-generational” discipleship in contrast to the near obsession with life-phase segregation in American churches today: “high schoolers,” “married couples w/o children,” “couples with young children under 5,” “empty nesters,” etc. The FIC provides a helpful contrast to a culture that is all about self-oriented, self-serving ministry and calls out the pattern observed from Titus 2, where older and younger saints are commanded to interact with each other; the younger to learn from the older, so as to grow in godliness and maturity.
One of the common concerns of the FIC movement is the “high school ministry” typical in most churches. In far too many cases, it would seem that children in most churches are shuffled off to one side of the church campus (or “dropped off,” as the case may be), never to be seen until it’s time to pile into the car. And from what I’ve seen in my past through various churches, many of their parents expect that it’s “the job of the church” to teach their children how to walk with God.
Unfortunately, Eph. 6:4 says something far different: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
The text does not say that fathers should make sure their children go to good [Sunday] schools to learn about the Lord. It does not suggest that the key job of parents is to ensure that their churches have engaging youth pastors who will bring their children up to love Jesus — in the same way many parents try to ensure their children go to good schools for their education.
There is no delegation implied from this text (though partnership with the church family is critical).
Without question, it is up to dads to oversee and engage in the discipleship their children (yes, dads, it is not your wife’s job!).
In other words, if fathers (and mothers) fail to personally take responsibility on a daily basis for the discipleship of their children; if they fail to preach Christ through their marriages and through their words; if they allow the world to dictate what a “youth” should be interested in and simply try to keep their kids “clean” from the influence of drugs, illicit sec, etc.; if they fail to uphold a Biblical standard not only of belief but of long-term/eternal goals, values and lifestyle… then the “best” youth ministry in the world is unlikely to do anything to shepherd their hearts to love Jesus.
But don’t take it from me. Here’s a helpful blog post from a high school pastor who more or less admits (in my words) that his ability to shape the spiritual life of youth coming through his church pales in comparison the significance of parental influence on the same youth:
The common thread that binds together almost every ministry-minded 20-something that I know is abundantly clear: a home where the gospel was not peripheral but absolutely central. The 20-somethings who are serving, leading, and driving the ministries at our church were kids whose parents made them go to church. They are kids whose parents punished them and held them accountable when they were rebellious. They are kids whose parents read the Bible around the dinner table every night. And they are kids whose parents were tough, but who ultimately operated from a framework of grace that held up the cross of Jesus as the basis for peace with God and forgiveness toward one another. This is not a formula! Kids from wonderful gospel-centered homes leave the church; people from messed-up family backgrounds find eternal life in Jesus and have beautiful marriages and families. But it’s also not a crap-shoot. In general, children who are led in their faith during their growing-up years by parents who love Jesus vibrantly, serve their church actively, and saturate their home with the gospel completely, grow up to love Jesus and the church. … Parents, preach the gospel and live the gospel for your children; our work depends on you.
In effect, I think an argument can be made that “our work” — the work of youth pastors — is really just an addendum.
And if churches expended far more energy encouraging and equipping parents to effectively and faithfully disciple their children — instead of constructing youth programs/ministries and hiring youth pastors — and encouraging multi-generational relationships within the church — it would bear far more long-term fruit than much of what takes place in the name of reaching the younger people in our churches.