By Michael Miller
September 11, 2001, was a day on which many families were torn apart by terrorist attacks in the United States. But it was also the day on which a group of men assembled in an attempt to bring families together by calling fathers and churches to reclaim responsibility for the discipleship of their children.
Scott Brown, now director of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches, was among the several men who were invited by Doug Phillips, executive director of Vision Forum, to gather on that day. Those present discussed what to do about the many calls for help from families that Vision Forum had been receiving. They needed guidance on how to disciple their children and have their families more united with and in the local church.
Scott had seen similar problems in a church where he once was an elder. Young people knew little of Scripture and their salvation was in doubt. They had very little discipleship at home.
The men at the conference concluded that Scripture was not truly being applied in many churches—this was the age of the “feel-good” sermon, Scott says—nor were many churches equipping fathers to be shepherds of their families.
“We wanted to define what Scripture says about how the Church and the family actually work together in harmony,” he says.
The result was a confession now posted on the NCFIC web site titled “A Biblical Confession For Uniting Church And Family: A 21st century statement on the necessity of harmony between the separate jurisdictions of the local church and the family.”
“In the confession we tried to address questions like, ‘How do you have a Biblically functioning family? How does that relate to the local church? What does the church have to do with the family?’” Scott says.
Ultimately, the NCFIC was formed by Vision Forum and later spun off to be its own ministry under Scott Brown’s leadership.
“Some of the families, in desperation, were abandoning the Church,” Scott says. “That was bad. On the other hand, the Church was actually hurting its families by not teaching Scripture or equipping the fathers to be family shepherds. On both sides of the fence, there was a disconnect between Church and family.”
That’s not the way it’s supposed to be, according to Scripture, Scott says.
“When Moses commanded the fathers of Israel in Deuteronomy 6 to teach their children when they sat in the house, when they walked by the way, when they lay down and when they rose up, that’s not something you just add on to your life … it completely dominates your life,” Scott says. “My call here is for fathers to rise up and to take on the mantle of family shepherds and to take God at His Word and to focus enormous energy in the discipleship of their children by walking beside them.”
Scott also believes that churches should be family integrated, avoiding the age-segregated discipleship methodology that dominates much of evangelicalism. He and others are helping that to happen through the NCFIC. The ministry connects interested families with each other or with existing family-integrated churches, provides guidance, conducts conferences, and publishes books. More than 800 churches have signed on to the NCFIC confession.
“Family-integrated churches are being planted all over,” Scott says. “A Biblical discipleship methodology is being restored. This doesn’t mean these churches are perfect. These churches are full of broken people who are on a healing path. We are talking about churches that have said, ‘OK, Scriptures are sufficient for Church and family life; Scripture should define what we do in the Church and in the family. Now let’s try to apply it.’”
It helps if the home shares priorities with the Church, he says. The preaching of the Word should be the foremost activity in both places, and discipleship should be the primary goal in both places. In fact, Scott says, one of the goals of the NCFIC is to promote “God’s unified vision for Church and family.”
“It’s a unified vision in the sense that the two institutions, the Church and the family, perform different functions,” Scott says. “At the same time, they’re similar functions. In the Church, you have the preacher of the Word of God. In the family, you have the father, who is preaching the Word of God. In the Church, you have shepherds who lead the people, shepherds of the flock. At home, you have family shepherds called fathers.
“You have really a harmonious picture here where the Church and the family have their separate jurisdictions and separate governments, but they perform very similar functions. When you have strong families, families that are well-ordered and have been instructed in the Word of God, you have a strong church, because that family has been well-prepared for church life. And then church life in turn prepares them for family life as well, by giving them more resources, more relationships, and more gifts.”
But, Scott says, churches also need to be age integrated, not segregated.
“In Scripture, you only find age-integrated environments for discipleship,” he says. “You never find age segregation. You don’t find the teenagers off by themselves. You don’t find the old people off by themselves. In fact, you have the older teaching the younger. You have brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers of all ages gathering together. That’s why the church is a little bit like a family.”
Besides changes in how local churches are structured, the NCFIC also teaches that families need to value the local church more.
“That’s one of the great maladies that we have to grapple with as church leaders,” Scott says. “You don’t have people anymore who spend their lives pouring it out for the Church like Christ did. They’re living for themselves. They look at the Church as some kind of secondary thing.”
Rather, it should be primary.
“Parents in that church need to be really supportive of that church and follow their leaders,” he says. “When a leader says, ‘We’re now studying the Gospel of Mark,’ the whole family studies the Gospel of Mark. When the church says, ‘We’re going to pray,’ they gather together and pray. They’re not acting like they’re an island unto themselves.”
Scott says the NCFIC web site sells resources that help families and churches to develop sacred communities and disciple children. One of the best, he says, is Building a God-Centered Family: A Father’s Guide. He created the book from a sermon preached by Matthew Henry called “Church in the House.” Another book he wrote and recommends is A Weed in the Church (also in ebook format), which offers solutions to problems he says are caused by age segregation in the Church. Other resources address everything from church planting to Biblical fatherhood.
“My big prayer for the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches is that it be the heart of a movement for planting God-centered, Gospel-preaching, Biblically ordered, family-integrated churches.”