Paul Renfro, my fellow elder at Grace Family Baptist Church, has joined with Timothy Jones (editor), Brandon Shields, and Jay Strother to write a very important book. Perspectives on Family Ministry, takes a careful look at the very important question, “How should the church organize it’s efforts to disciple children and teens?” I am very excited about this project. So many people have dismissed family integration as a “fad”, or an “overreaction” to specious data. However, Southern Seminary professor, Timothy Jones, has taken the FIC seriously from the beginning, and this book makes it clear that the FIC is a model that can be dismissed no longer.
Some reviewers will argue that “All three models are rooted in Scripture,” and present the three approaches as theological, philosophical, and intellectual equals (see here). However, reader beware! The nature of this project guarantees that virtually every reviewer of this book will be part of a ministry model that is not family integrated (almost all of them in the neo-traditional, age-segregated youth ministry model). This is like the fox guarding the hen house and being asked whether or not it’s a good idea to buy a German Shepherd. I wouldn’t expect too many people to write, “I agree that the FIC model is the most faithful to the biblical text (and the history of the church), so I’m shutting down my VBS/Sunday School/Youth Ministry resource ministry (or giving back all that Youth Ministry degree tuition) and working for the reformation of church and family” (starting in my own home). So expect ‘guarded’ praise at best for the FIC section of the book.
Nevertheless, the beauty of this book is the fact that the FIC model finally gets to stand next to it’s critics and speak for itself. It would be naive to expect unbiased reviews in the current cultural/ministry milieu (I know mine wouldn’t be). However, this is a case where the reviews will matter far less than the experience of reading the book with an open Bible.
Paul Renfro’s writing in the FIC section is clear, winsome, insightful, and scriptural. The interaction between the three models is pointed, respectful, and very revealing. And Timothy Jones’s courage is evident not only in the evenhanded manner in which he handled the discussion, but also in his willingness to allow the FIC to have a voice when so many have merely dismissed the movement out-of-hand.
This book, like all “three views” books, will have little impact on those who have already committed to one of these positions. Nevertheless, having a place at the table is a monumental step forward for the FIC. We relish every opportunity to make a biblical argument for our philosophy of ministry. Especially when faced with the usual barrage of myths and misunderstandings. The aforementioned reviewer picked up on this when offering a brief synopsis of the critique of the FIC model:
Some difficulties to this model include that a “family of families” cannot define the church which is defined as the “body of Christ” in Ephesians 4. There seems to be an inability to reach public school families as well as the non-traditional families that are prevalent today. Finally, there is still the challenge of equipping the children to engage the culture with their faith.
Of course, most of these “difficulties” (or myths as we like to call them) are addressed in the book, so there is no need to fret. Moreover, every ministry has strengths and weaknesses. The FIC is no exception. However, the questions we must answer are, 1) has God spoken on the mission and method of discipleship? and 2) does our ministry model line up with what is written in the text? Of course, such a disposition calls for a commitment to a ‘faithfulness’ model as opposed to a ‘success’ model of ministry (i.e., the only measure that really matters is how closely we align our practices to what is written in the Word, not our ability to ‘draw a crowd’). Prayerfully, all of us in the Family Ministry/Family Discipleship world will continue asking and answering those questions and reforming our practice accordingly. Praise God for men like Timothy Jones who continue to point us in that direction.
Note: Dr. Jones will be our special guest at our Semper Reformanda church conference this year October 30-31.