Divided

I’d seen references to this movie before, but it wasn’t until a friend in my family’s Bible Study recommended it that my parents and I watched it.  Divided is a powerful film showing Philip Leclerc and his journey through the controversy over youth ministry.  I recommend that if you haven’t seen it yet, you watch it before reading the rest of this post.  Some of the things I say will probably come better after you’ve had a chance to hear the arguments Philip puts forth.

Okay, so you’ve seen the movie now?  Good.  Hopefully you’ve been challenged in your beliefs about the church.  I was, and as I’ll explain, I come from a family-focused family myself.  I knew some of the reasons why I never participated in a youth group and left Sunday School at an early age, but my family has been in integrated churches so long that I’d never really gone through all these arguments and weighed out where I stood.  I was just riding on my parents’ coattails.

I went to Sunday School for several years, but when I was about seven or so, I “graduated” to the adult class where my father was teaching.  As my younger siblings grew older, they did the same thing.  Even when my dad was no longer teaching the class.  Our church at the time was big on programs, and by the time I was about to turn thirteen and be old enough for youth group, my family was experiencing some pressure because we were not participating in those programs.  It wasn’t enough that we were one of only two or three homeschooling families in a large fellowship, my siblings and I did not go to Sunday School, Children’s Church, VBS, or anything, and it had become known that there was no intention of my going to youth group.  We weren’t supporting the church’s ministries to its children and youth, and at that point, my parents made the decision to move to a new fellowship where we could support the church policies.

After a year and a half in a church that we eventually realized was too radical, too extreme in their focus on homeschooling as the way, the truth, the lifestyle and all others can go elsewhere, we finally came to rest in a small country church.  This family oriented church had two, family integrated services.  A “Family” School where parents and children learned alongside each other, and a regular service with a sermon.  We were there six years, the better part of my girlhood.  For about five out of those six years, my father taught Family School.  He has the gift of teaching, and we all loved to participate.  Dad has a way of putting the cookies on the bottom shelf, so to speak, of explaining doctrines in ways that even young people can grasp and take hold of.  That didn’t hurt the older generations one bit, either.

But then we began attending a new church, a larger church where there was a Sunday school program, youth group, and AWANAs ministry.  The change in fellowships this time was spurred by the need for sound scriptural preaching from the pulpit, and we found that in the new place, but we’ve been walking a thin line on the program issue.  My youngest brothers participated in the AWANAs clubs for two years, but neither they nor Mom and Dad want them in it again this year.  They each did well, earning the top awards both years, but they weren’t enjoying it as much as they could wish.  Most of the other kids cited the game time as their favorite — my brothers were more enamored of the counsel time.

And if it’s counsel time they want, they can get that at home.  Which they do.  My father leads a home Bible Study on Sunday nights.  He reads aloud to them (and my other siblings and I when we were younger) most nights, and often the book has been a biography of some hero of our faith or a history of the church.  Both my parents talk to us all the time about spiritual issues as well as all kinds of current events and how those two interact.  Because we’re homeschoolers, we get to bring up all kinds of things at any time of the day and be assured that Mom or Dad will help us search out the answers to our questions.  No disrespect to my fellow believers at church, but I’d much rather talk about these things with my parents than with just about any of the youth leaders in my current fellowship or in previous churches.  While these leaders may be great Christians, great leaders, whatever, when I have questions, I turn to my parents first and foremost.

So you see, I have a background of family focus.  And yet, I was challenged by Divided.  I think it’s because I’ve been taking my views for granted.  The film made me think about why I don’t believe in Sunday School as the end all to beat all, why I was glad that Mom and Dad chose not to let me go to youth group, why these programs are not working and whether they are just second best, or flat-out wrong.  I’m not going to say that everyone who has participated in them, led them, or supported them is bad.  Far from it.  Still, I think that this system, like the world’s dating game (as shown by Josh Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye and this article at Latitude 821), is flawed, and in some senses, yes, flat-out wrong.  We need to stop trying to make over the world’s systems for the church.

We need something better for our kids.

Even as a thirteen year old, I didn’t really want to hang out with kids who were more interested in each other than in Jesus.  I liked being around my siblings and parents a whole lot better.  Now, I’m glad that my parents, who led youth group themselves for a couple of years while I was a toddler, were wise enough to keep me with them.  I’m also glad that their training had primed me to follow their lead without a fuss.  I’m not saying that I wasn’t disappointed at first, because my idea of what youth group was and what it signified was skewed, but after talking about it with Mom, I quickly saw that youth group wasn’t all I’d pictured it, and I didn’t really want to go.

I’ve been blessed in my family, I know.  I have an amazing set of parents who are leaders and teachers themselves, but that’s not because they started out that way.  To all the parents out there who are thinking “but I don’t have the training,” neither did my parents.  They didn’t grow up with parents who were bastions of the faith (Mom is still the only one of her family to come to Christ, though Dad’s family are nearly all Christians).  They didn’t go to seminary; they studied the scriptures themselves.  They surrounded themselves with good teachers.  They took the step of faith, and once they got walking, well, I can see where it has gotten them, and I’m eager to follow the same path.

So can you.

Now I challenge you, whether you’re a parent or a child, married or unmarried, in church leadership or participating in the program, young or old, what is the basic building block of society?  Family.  Where should we feel safest to be ourselves and ask the questions that trouble us?  In our Families.  Who are the people who care most about us and have the most invested in helping us grow?  Our Families.  Why is the picture of our Father God so beautiful?  Because it’s one of Family.  Where is the best place to teach children the things of the faith?  Again, the Family.  I don’t say this just because I’m a homeschooler who was blessed to be taught at home by my parents.  God set this pattern in our hearts, and I think many would wish for it if they weren’t indoctrinated into believing that state or church education is the end all to beat all.  Some people wish for it anyway.

I have friends from both sides of this issue.  People whose opinions I respect.  But when it comes to what I believe, I have taken my stand with the Word, and with my Family.  And in case you want to know, my family is united — not divided.

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