'Family Integrated Church' Centered in HomeBob Allen06-16-06
Homeschooling parents often discuss the importance of having a strong support network at church. That isn't a problem at Grace Community Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Magnolia, Texas. All the families homeschool.
Ted Seago, a minister and church planter for three decades, was working in a "seeker-friendly" church in the 1990s, when he began to have doubts about the program-driven model. Adults were theologically illiterate, children really didn't understand the Bible, and people weren't growing spiritually.
Furthermore, he saw even good church programs were pulling families apart. Parents and kids would arrive at church together, go their separate ways, and never cross paths until everyone was back in the car.
"We have segregated churches," Seago told participants in Wednesday's Kingdom Education Summit, sponsored by the Southern Baptist Church and Home Education Association in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C.
At the same time, Seago, a homeschool father of nine, and his wife, Johnnie, were leading marriage conferences and retreats and speaking at homeschool conferences.
Seago, with a doctorate in curriculum development, began to ask if there might be a better way to teach the Bible to children.
He came up with a model called the "family integrated church," where Christians worship, learn and pray as families. Church is a place where believers come together for corporate worship, but the teaching of theology and doctrine to children is centered in the home.
"When you're talking about a family integrated church, you're just looking at a church that has brought everything back under the guidance of the family," Seago said.
Seago said there is "a holy frustration" going on in many churches. It starts when families begin to homeschool. Before long, they find the teaching in the typical church youth group is different from the value system they are teaching at home.
With studies showing that up to 85 percent of youth in a typical church falling away within three years after leaving high school, Seago questions why most Baptists continue to do youth ministry the same way. At Grace Community Church, they don't.
The church doesn't have a "youth ministry," but it has a "youth group." All recreation is planned by fathers. The church is fond of claiming it has "the greatest youth ministers in the world--our dads."
Fathers also serve communion to their families and pray over them. When a child becomes old enough to accept Christ, Seago's invitation is not for them to walk the aisle but to discuss it at home with their parents. Dads baptize their children.
Grace Community teaches that fathers are to be the spiritual leaders of their home. In the family integrated church, no adult except the parent is a significant influence on a youth's spiritual life.
"Men are called to lead their families," Seago said. "They are the priest of the home."
Women are instructed in "biblical" roles for wives, including remaining in the home during their child-rearing years. A lot of the women members have college degrees but choose to "put work aside in this season of their life" so they can be home with their children.
Families stay together for Bible studies, worship and fellowship, though optional childcare is provided for younger children and babies. It is not acceptable for a child to sit outside the family. If a child visits without a mom or dad, he or she sits with another family. "We do everything together as a family," Seago said. "We don't separate."
Grace Community Church is a "covenantal community" modeled after the early church described in Acts, where members shared all things in common. Members joke it usually means sharing power tools, but it also applies when a member has problems. If someone is sick, everyone pitches in to help, and if someone loses a job, church members are expected to help with car or mortgage payments. Church members eat together every Sunday in a "fellowship meal."
Started by five home schooling families 14 months ago, today there are about 50 families in Grace Community Church. Members include Voddie Baucham, an author and conference leader who in 2005 co-sponsored a Southern Baptist Convention resolution contending that parents, and not the government, are responsible for educating their children.
The church has two founding elders, with primary responsibility for teaching. There are eight deacons, who have no administrative responsibilities or monthly meetings. An administrative council takes care of most financial matters, allowing the pastors to focus on preaching and teaching.
While the typical church asks a new member, "What can you do to add to our program?" the family integrated church asks, "What can the church do for your family?"
"Leading our own children to Christ, that's our greatest mission field," Seago said. "If you have children at home, that's your mission field. That's your small-group ministry."
While the model appeals most naturally to families with children, several older women, mostly widows, have joined, as have some younger single men. Several older couples have visited and decided the church wasn't for them. While all the current families homeschool, Seago is hoping to reach some more "non-home schooling families that we can minister to."
The Southern Baptist Church and Home Education Association formed in 2004 to foster communication between Southern Baptist homeschooling families and the Southern Baptist Convention.
SBCHEA President Elizabeth Watkins endorsed the family integrated church model.
"The public school system has not only had a devastating impact on families, but in my opinion it has had a devastating impact on our churches," she said.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.