Now the long version:
When Mark and I were dating, one of the things we frequently would discuss was the make up of the church. We both have grown up in a Southern Baptist church and have thoroughly enjoyed the benefits of being a part of a denomination that supports the largest amount of missionaries in the world. Unknowingly to us, when we were married, we joined a Southern Baptist church but instead of it being Deacon led (as our churches were when we were growing up...meaning committees, not the pastor, made all the decisions) it was pastor-led (meaning the pastor made Spirit-led decisions and was accountable to the congregation, deacons, and other staff members). This was a great move and really got us to think about the New Testament church and discuss even more about how God intended for the church to be set up and how it currently was functioning.
Before we ever had children, we both agreed with the Bible in that God had clearly given parents the authority to raise their children up in His ways and truth. I've shared a lot of our ideas about how we view the church here. But in a nutshell, we believe the church should come alongside parents...not the parents dropping the kids off at church to be raised in a Biblical worldview.
While we were coming to these conclusions, and welcoming our first child into the world, Mark's brother and wife joined a family integrated church. We did some research (you know, to make sure they weren't joining a cult) and realized we believed a lot of those basic values but still saw no need to be dramatic in changing churches and dropping Sunday school and all the other traditional things we've always done in a Southern Baptist church.
After reading and listening to Voddie Bauchum in recent years, we were affirmed in our belief that church was not, indeed, responsible for our children's well being and raising. And after reading this startling statistic from Bauchum's book, Family Driven Faith
Researcher George Barna found that less than 10 percent of self-proclaimed "born-again Christians" in America have a biblical worldview." (pg 76)
we realized that, more than ever, we needed to be vigilant in insuring that our children's extremely influential years were full of us saturating their lives with a Biblical worldview. If you think about it, take 100 of the Sunday school teachers, Awana leaders, and children's worker and pull out ten of them (100 is a small number of the volunteers in our church)...what's the chance that those ten are actually the ones that you are lucky enough to have teach your children?
So after much prayer, last December, Mark resigned as a tech volunteer to help me in the service. And after much more prayer, we decided to pull our children out of Sunday school to continue to have Bible study at home and to give us a very much less stressful Sunday to worship Christ.
That decision was hard. Very hard. I mean my friends were in my Sunday school class. And guess what, I have lost some of my close friends. But God has been faithful to allow me to grow stronger friendships with others. This has not been easy and I am struggling with some bitterness at even losing, what I thought was a best friend, however...God opened my eyes to His word in Psalm 84 which tells us that His house is basically a house of worship...not of friends and fellowship first. I realized I had made it my "social hour" and that He was leading me to realize that worshipping Him was more important than any other part of our life.
To be fair, we had asked to lead a family-integrated Sunday school for all ages at our current church. However, the time has never been appropriate for it. They had started, in the fall, with a family-integrated Sunday school but that was only for middle to high school students (and I have heard nothing but excellent things from it...both from the students and parents who participate).
Backlash from our decision to miss Sunday school has been minimal. And while we know that worship is the first most important part of attending a church, fellowship is the second. And because we wanted to make sure our children were influenced directly in a Biblical worldview and took them out of traditional Sunday school, our fellowship with other believers has been lacking.
Aside from that, while children are not banned from corporate worship, they are certainly not encouraged to attend it at our current church. There are high energy "Disney" style activities during all corporate worship times to entertain the children and entice them and their parents away from worshiping together as a family. We've been blessed that only a small amount of times we've been told where the nursery is or take our screaming two week old out of the hallway because they were disturbing the other worshippers. And it's never been in a rude and ugly way. We've requested a "cry room" to help when we are training our children to be quiet (a cry room would be a room where you could still see and participate in worship but where a temperamental child could be disciplined and trained without disturbing others) but that, too, has been left unanswered.
So now, this all leads us to what God has been speaking to my heart as well as Mark's. And neither of us realized it until a couple of weeks ago. I had been feeling God leading me to talk to Mark about visiting a family integrated church, however, in my stubbornness to not let go of the familiar and wanting him to lead, I never said anything. I didn't want to be uncomfortable in a new place. I didn't want the kids to be transplanted away from friends. I didn't want the few people who were still friends to become angry with us. Bascially, I was being selfish.
So, since I wouldn't say or do anything...God did it for me. We drove past a church with a sign about training families in God's word. A small church, it appeared...Mark looked at it and made a comment as to wondering whether they were family-integrated, and noted they had Awana. I realized I had seen a church with a similar name listed on a family integrated directory. A few days later, we looked up the name and I mentioned to Mark that the idea of visiting a family-integrated church had been floating around in my head for awhile. He informed me that it had his too. He looked up the church, their website, their doctrine and other information we could find (Google rocks!)...none of it, although the church was non-denominational, contradicted what we believe through God's Word.
At that point, we realized we couldn't deny God moving in both of our hearts to visit. So, we talked to the kids about it. They, reluctantly (at least Zoe) agreed. After all, the current church we attend has been their home and family since they were born.
So, we stepped into the unfamiliar and visited the church. All of us a bit apprehensive.
We were welcomed, all be that it was a very small church. The kids were welcomed and the pastor didn't blink an eye as Ceili Rain came barreling down the aisle during his sermon (and yes, she was promptly caught and removed). Nor did he freak out when Liam raised his hand during testimony time...because that's what Liam does. However, I did stop him before he gave another sermon or expounded on mom's temper the previous week!
And Zoe, although very nervous, loved the church. The worship is quite a lot like what we're used to (yes, on a much smaller scale), and she made a friend right away (which may or may not be a good thing...they've been pretty inseparable since meeting). Besides that, when we asked them all what they thought of the church, they all agreed they liked it. And from Zoe, "I love that the preacher uses a lot of Scripture in his sermons." Yes, my seven year old daughter said that.
They have two Sunday schools for the kids. And we allowed them to attend (although Liam wanted me in there with him and Josiah didn't care)...but the kids are more than welcome to attend the main Sunday school time with us. Kids are welcomed in the service and on Wednesdays they do have a children's program...which, as I stated earlier, is Awana during the school year! There are a lot of friendly people there. Their doctrine is sound and what Mark and I believe. We are still planning on visiting and meeting with the pastor and his family in the future (probably after our family grows by one).
All this to say that the past two times we have visited we have been blessed by the worship and felt comfortable in the setting. Whether this means God is leading us to join, we still have no idea. We may be back at our "old" before the end of the summer, but God may be leading our family in a different setting. Either way, we are open to His will for our family and our lives individually and we will follow Him where He leads us.
Disclaimer: Mark pre-approved this post before sending it out!