I am convinced that every path has a destination. I also believe that organizations, just like individuals can place themselves on a path that leads to a particular destination. This happens despite good intentions, despite how smart our leadership is, despite how relevant our programming is. Organizationally, the modern church has arrived at a destination. What it is facing is not a discipleship problem or an evangelism problem. It is not something we can fix by adding a program or ministry or hiring another ministry leader. The church has just arrived at a destination. It has simply arrived at the end of a path that it has been unknowingly walking for nearly 100-150 years. The church has arrived at a destination where church systems are in direct competition with God’s design for the family. One of the most troubling ramifications of this destination is that it has produced systems that short circuit our most powerful evangelism strategies and our most powerful form of discipleship. We have arrived at a destination where our church systems are not aligned with a fundamental principle of relationships—particularly family relationships.
I know that this is an audacious statement. What church doesn’t describe itself as “family-friendly”? We run children’s programs. Alongside every adult program we offer something for the kids. We preach 12 week series on family relationships. We have parenting classes, discipline classes, age-appropriate Sunday Schools. We have replaced education directors with family pastors and started family ministries. We invest lots of money and volunteers in VBS programs, summer camps, family camps, midweek discipleship programs, age graded Sunday school curriculum and colorful take-homes. We have experimented with intergenerational environments from small groups to large groups. Certainly by the shear number of resources and programs we offer we are living in an age when the church is the most “family friendly” it has ever been.
And yet . . . as I talk with children’s and family pastors there is a growing unease—a sense that things are just not right. We know that nearly 50% of those who say they are Christians tell us that they made the decision to follow Christ during their school years. We know this is true because we see kids coming to Christ in our programs; we have led some of them to Christ ourselves. But we also see 60-80% of them walking away from their faith in their first year of college. Some say they need a curriculum that has a more comprehensive Biblical Worldview. We know that they are right. Our children need a worldview that is based on the Bible. Some say they need the Bible to be taught in relevant and compelling ways. We know that they are right. Our children need to see that what the Bible has to say is relevant and compelling. Some say we need to make church irresistible. We know that they are right. Our children need to see church as the best hour of their week. And yet . . . when we arrive at the place where our curriculum teaches a comprehensive Biblical world view in compelling and relevant ways and church is irresistible will our children have arrived? Will we still feel uneasy? Do you notice the subtlety? What if the perfect curriculum, Sunday school class or church program is not enough? I think that the answer is that it is not enough.
C.S. Lewis said that once we discover that we have taken a wrong turn in our spiritual lives that we often assume we can just jump back on the right road where we left off. He insists that instead we must retrace our steps, go all of the way back to where we made the wrong turn, before we can begin moving in the right direction. I think that is exactly where the church is as it relates to the family. The problem is, that none of us were around when the church began taking this path. We don’t know what the detour looked like. Where is that fork in the road that led to the destination we are at? Worse, however, is many of our churches have traveled the path so long and are so far down the path that they don’t even realize that our churches are not family friendly. Jesus said “when the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness.”
What happened 100-150 years ago that placed the church on this path? What is God’s design on the family? In what ways do church systems militate against the family? What do we need to do to fix it? What do we need to do to restore the family?